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Louis Riel

Louis Riel was born on October 22, 1844, in St. Boniface, a parish in the Red River Settlement.  He was the eldest of eleven children.  His parents were Louis Riel Sr. and Julie Riel nee Lagimodiere.

Louis RielHe was brought up with religious beliefs and leadership traits which were main factors in his life.  Louis Riel was a well educated man.  He attended the College of Montreal in 1858, and in 1865 he withdrew from college.  He then found work with a Montreal law firm.  In 1866 Louis Riel left Montreal.  He travelled to the United States, working in various cities.  He then returned to St. Boniface in the Red River area on July 28, 1868.

Riel’s background, education, fluency in both English and French, and legal training, all helped him in becoming a leader in the confrontation between the Red River Settlement and the Canadian government.  He was elected Secretary of the National Committee of the Métis formed in October 1869.  Later, at the age of twenty-five, Riel was elected President of the Provisional Government, which replaced the National Committee.  He governed the colony until 1870.  During that time, Riel made a decision that would affect the rest of his life.  He permitted the execution of Thomas Scott.  Scott was an Ontario Orangeman who was arrested twice for bearing arms against the Provisional government and attacking the guards.  He was then charged with refusing to swear allegiance to the Provisional government.  He was found guilty and executed by a firing squad.

In 1883, Riel married Marguerite Monette dit Bellhumeur.  They had two children, a boy and a girl.  To support his family, he became a school teacher at St. Peter‘s Mission in Montana. 

In May of 1884, four delegates from Saskatchewan; Gabriel Dumont, James Isbister, Moise Ouelette, and Michel Dumas, located Riel and persuaded him to return to Canada to help negotiate their grievances with the Canadian government.

After three weeks of travelling, Riel, Marguerite, their two children and the four delegates arrived in Fish Creek. The next day they moved on to Batoche and stayed there with his cousin, Charles Nolan, for four months. Several petitions were sent to Ottawa demanding the settlement of the grievances and guarantee of rights since 1873. On March 18, 1885, they received the news that the Métis petitions will be answered with bullets and that 500 soldiers were on their way to capture the agitators. Riel immediately formed a Provisional government and the decision was made to take up arms. Riel appointed Gabriel Dumont as General of the Resistance forces, while he played a secondary role in the battles.  The opening skirmish was at Duck Lake, which was a victory for the Métis forces.  Then the battle of Fish Creek occurred, and that battle was viewed as a victory.  The Métis weren’t able to drive Middleton’s forces back, but were able to halt his march on Batoche.  The Battle of Batoche lasted from May 9 to May 12.  The Métis forces were defeated.

After the defeat, Riel surrendered on May 15, 1885.  He was charged with high treason.  After his arrest, Riel’s trial was supposed to be in Winnipeg, but was moved to Regina.  His trial began July 20, 1885.  On August 1, 1885, the jury found Riel guilty which was automatically a death sentence.  Riel was sentenced to hang on September 18, but it was postponed until November 16.

While awaiting his execution, Riel received news that Marguerite gave birth prematurely to a child who died hours after.  Marguerite died in the spring of 1886 from tuberculosis.  His daughter Angelique also died in childhood.  His son Jean Louis died in 1908 due to injuries in a buggy accident.  Riel has no direct descendants.

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