The Red River Rebellion is the name
given to the events of 1869-70, in which the Métis of
Red River took up arms against the Canadian government.
The crisis arose because the Hudson's Bay Company had
agreed to sell Rupert's Land, which included Red River,
to Canada. This pleased the Canadian settlers who had
already moved to Red River. The Métis, however, feared
and resented the change. They were descendants of mixed
marriages, mostly between French fur traders and Plains
Indians. They had been the largest group of people in
Red River for generations. They believed that they had
inherited their land. Now their fate was in the hands
of a country that hardly knew they existed.
In the summer of 1869, surveyors from Canada arrived
in Red River to mark off the land for settlers. In
October, the survey crews moved onto Métis land. In
protest, Louis Riel and other Métis stopped the surveyors.
Then they formed a National Committee, which decided
to prevent the governor sent by Canada from entering
Red River. Governor William McDougall was turned back
at the border by a group of armed Métis. Finally,
in a bold move, the Métis seized Upper Fort Garry,
the main base in Red River. Angry Canadian settlers
prepared to attack the fort, but the Métis surrounded
them and took them prisoner.
On December 8, Riel proclaimed a "provisional
government," to negotiate with Canada. The Métis did
not object to becoming part of Canada, but they felt
they must have protection for their land, their French
language, and their Roman Catholic religion. They
wanted Red River to become a province of Canada, not
just a territory. The Canadian government sent men
to negotiate with Riel, and during the winter an agreement
The peace was destroyed in February 1870 when
the Canadian settlers took up arms and marched on
the Métis at Upper Fort Garry. One man was killed
on either side, and several Canadians were taken prisoner.
One of the prisoners was Thomas Scott, who had been
captured in December but had escaped. Scott was an
obnoxious man who hated the Métis. He taunted his
captors, who held a council and sentenced him to death.
The Métis executed Scott on March 4. "We must make
Canada respect us," Riel said.
To many Canadians, Scott's death was cold-blooded
murder. English-speaking Protestants in Ontario called
the Métis rebels and demanded revenge. French Canadians,
however, felt a common bond with the French-speaking
Métis. Thus, the events at Red River caused a deep
and emotional split in Canada itself.
Because of the outcry in Ontario, the Canadian
government sent troops to Red River (the Red River
Expedition). At the same time, the government was
making arrangements to meet some of the demands of
the Métis. The result was the Manitoba Act, which
created the province of Manitoba.