M4845 | Riel
1885, 19th century
Ink on paper - Lithography
58.2 x 50.6 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Print (10661)
Keys to History
Confederation turned out to be more difficult than either Macdonald or Cartier had imagined. The expense of building a transcontinental railway led to scandal, regions complained about the centralization of power in Central Canada, and the rights of French Canadians outside Quebec were cut back. The most dramatic crisis occurred in 1885 when the Métis leader, Louis Riel, was executed. Roman Catholic Quebec, in particular, was shocked by what they perceived as a heavy-handed exercise of power by the Protestant majority in Canada.
Source : Confederation: The Creation of Canada [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)
Riel's execution strengthened French Canadian nationalism in Quebec and made him a symbol of English Canadian oppression. His hanging remains a contentious issue to this day.
Riel's execution in Regina on November 16, 1885 and his interment in the cemetery of St. Boniface provided the Métis and French Canada with a hero. His execution played an important role in the accession of Honoré Mercier to power in Quebec.
Strongly religious and a visionary, Riel formed a provisional government in 1885 but found it impossible to overcome the North-West Mounted Police, who were able to utilize the new Pacific Railway for their purposes. Fighting ended after two months and his treason trial began in July1885.
A Métis leader and founder of Manitoba, Riel played a critical role in the history of Western Canada. In 1870, he led a provisional government in Manitoba and, 15 years later, led a popular rebellion.