Provisional Government (1869-1870)
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In 1869, an agreement was reached with the Hudson's Bay Company for
the transfer of Rupert's Land (which included the Red River Settlement)
to the Dominion of Canada. Unfortunately the people of the Red River
Settlement were unprepared for this sudden change. What was most
disconcerting to the Métis was the new wave of Canadian and American
settlers moving into the area. This led to growing concern that the
rights of the Red River community would not be preserved. For their
part, the Hudson's Bay Company and the Canadian Government did little to
assuage these fears.
This was the climate in Red River when surveyors arrived and began to
scribe off lines, across lots, with no explanation. Someone went to
fetch Louis Riel Jr who had just returned home from school in Montreal.
When he arrived, it is believed that he stepped forward and put his foot
on the surveyor’s chain. He warned them that if the survey began again
before they heard from Canada about safeguarding Métis rights the survey
would be halted by force.
The community was upset and wanted someone to speak for them. Their
resentment incensed them. Their highly developed sense of community
united them and Riel Jr was one of the few people in the community who
not only had an education, but who possessed the trust of his people as
well. Riel’s father had also been an influential figure in the
community. Meetings were held to discuss how to deal with the surveyors.
The Métis were determined that they would not let themselves be chased
off land where their families had lived for three generations. A section
of the community met and organized themselves as the Comité National des
Métis, with John Bruce as President and Louis Riel as Secretary.
William McDougall had been appointed as the new governor of Red
River. He was a pro-annexationist and he was also the owner of a Toronto
newspaper. He had also been Federal Minister of Works and a negotiator
with the HBC. He was also unfamiliar with the Red River area and was
deemed an unfit governor.
A group of forty armed Métis rode south to put a blockade across the
road that McDougall would take. They sent him a note, forbidding him
from entering the west, without the express permission of the Committee.
There are some who have counted this trip to the border as the first
illegal action of the Métis. Legally, the Métis action was a resistance
and not a rebellion. The sovereignty of Red River was still held by the
British Crown, as the transfer was not complete. The Dominion of Canada
at that time had no power in the west. The Métis were seeking to be
heard before the Canadians assumed power.
On the 2nd of November, the same date that the Métis horsemen at the
border confronted McDougall, Riel sent several hundred Métis to drift
across the Assiniboine in groups of three and four. The Métis soldiers
seized Upper Fort Garry without a shot being fired. The Fort’s defence
system included a cannon, small arms, ammunition and a considerable
store of pemmican. With that one step, they established military
dominance and Riel was now negotiating from a position of military
strength. In spite of the on-going military standoff, Riel refused to
challenge the sovereignty of the Crown, and moreover, kept careful lists
of what the Métis men used of Company property so they could be
reimbursed. Most residents did not view Riel as a rebel.