by Bruce Cherney (Part 4 of 4)
News of Thomas Scott’s execution in Red River reached Ontario when the Toronto Globe published an article on March 26, 1870. The report was greeted with indifference by Ontarians, something which the Canadian Party “refugees” from the settlement wanted to change to their advantage.
According to Col. G.T. Denison (The Struggle for Imperial Unity, 1909), during an April 2 meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, a Canadian Party (Canada First) committee was established to shape the events in Red River to their favour, as “so much did we dread the indifference of the public and the dangers of our efforts being a failure.”
The committee, which included Canadian Party leader Dr. John Christian Schultz, as well as George Kingsmill, Charles Mair and Denison, developed a plan to overcome the “indifference” by painting themselves as “sufferers” and “refugees,” who had “risked their lives in obedience to a proclamation in the Queen’s name (by William McDougall, the lieutenant-governor who was prevented from taking office). Their plan involved the staging of “indignation meetings” in Ontario to arouse public sympathy for the “murdered” Scott by denouncing the “crimes” committed by Riel and the provisional government.
As a renowned poet and a well-known journalist from Ontario able to attract the attention of Eastern Canadian newspaper editors, Mair’s participation was paramount to the committee’s success in changing the attitude of Ontarians. He was a founding member of the Canada First movement based In Ontario, which advocated Canadian expansion westward, and was the Red River correspondent for several eastern newspapers. During his brief stay in Red River, he managed to antagonize most of the community, including Annie Bannatyne, who horsewhipped him for his unflattering commentary in Ontario newspapers about mixed-blood women. He was among those imprisoned by Riel, but escaped and fled to Eastern Canada, adding his voice at the rallies to stir up the passions of Ontarians.
Actually, the indifference was welcomed by Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, who was initially no friend of the Canadian Party and its actions in Red River.
“The foolish and criminal attempt of Schultz and Capt. Boulton to renew the fight has added greatly to Riel’s strength,” said Macdonald, who feared the Canadian Party’s only contribution in Red River was to drive its inhabitants into the arms of American expansionists.
The commission’s first order of business upon reaching Ontario was to solicit the aid of Orange lodges in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal and the communities in between, as Orangemen were influential electoral support for Ontario of Prime Minister Macdonald’s Conservative government. This proved to be relatively easy task as Scott was a former member of an Orange lodge in Toronto, and the “refuges” from Red River were also primarily Orangemen.
With the help of the Orange lodges, the Canadian Party was able to quickly organize “indignation meetings” in April, the aims of which were to push for a military force to be sent to Red River, prevent Macdonald from negotiating with “rebel” delegates, Father Noel-Joseph Ritchot and Alfred Scott, as well as dissuade the prime minister from granting an amnesty to the leaders of the provisional government, including Louis Riel, Ambroise Lépine and William O’Donoghue.
On April 6, Schultz and other Canadian Party members attended such a meeting in Toronto, effectively repeating the unproven claim that Scott had not been killed outright by the firing squad on March 4 and was alive in his coffin.
“It is no wonder that Riel refused to give up the body to be a ghastly witness against himself and his fellow butchers,” reported the Globe.
Schultz told the sympathetic audience: “A Fenian flag (a fleur-de-lis and an Irish harp adorned the provisional government’s banner) floats from Fort Garry. Felons and robbers are within its walls and a fellow citizen (Scott) lies under its accursed shadow.”
The refugees claimed their only sin while in Red River was loyalty to the Queen and Canada.
Loyalty to the Crown was a strong message, and an even stronger one was raising the spectre of a Fenian threat, since Ontario had already witnessed a raid by Irish nationalists from the United States. The Fenian invaders had hoped to capture Canada and then use the “hostage” nation as leverage to obtain Irish independence from Britain.
The effectiveness of the propagandists is shown by the Toronto Leader changing its former conciliatory attitude toward Riel into one of open hostility. The newspaper called Riel a “tyrant” who had committed “a foul murder.”
An article by W.J. Healey, the Manitoba provincial librarian, appeared in the June 22, 1936, Winnipeg Free Press, in which he recalled his days as a Ontario school child in the early 1870s. At the time, Riel was portrayed as a “scowling, dark-visaged, savage, bloody, murdering half-breed rebel ...”
With tempers so inflamed in Ontario, the safety of Red River delegates Ritchot and Scott was placed in jeopardy. Along with John Black, an American, the men had been appointed by the elected provisional government to represent Red River during negotiations with Macdonald in order to bring the settlement into the Canadian Confederation. Black followed the other two delegates to Ontario, and in the end played only a very minor role during the negotiations, while Ritchot proved to be the most effective negotiator.
The Canadian Party and their Orange lodge backers were incensed that Macdonald and his Québec lieutenant, George-Etienne Cartier, were prepared to meet with the delegates. Actually, Macdonald had little choice as pressure was placed upon him by Lord Granville, the secretary of state for the colonies (Colonial Office in Britain) to quickly resolve the “troaubles” in Red River, and insisted that the delegates be heard. To ensure action was taken, the Colonial Office sent Sir Clinton Murdoch to Ottawa as a witness to the negotiations.
It should be noted that Canadian foreign policy was then in the hands of the British government, which feared American annexation of Red River if the negotiations failed.
Since the Canadian Party had not prevented the negotiations, they opted to enlist the aid of a friendly magistrate to issue Ontario warrants for the arrest of Scott and Ritchot for the murder of Thomas Scott. When they arrived in Ottawa, the two “rebels” were charged with the murder of Scott. It took a month and the intervention by a lawyer hired by the federal government to get the two men released on April 23.
Their arrest was the initial indication of the effectiveness of the tale of woe told by the refugees. And as Ontario voters rallied to their cause, Macdonald decided it was in his best political interests to inform Ontario voters that he intended to send a military force to Red River “on an errand of peace.” Secret plans for an expedition were begun between the British government and Macdonald prior to Scott’s execution, but were not announced until the negotiations with the delegates from the settlement were well underway. These negotiations were also of the hush-hush variety in order not to add more fuel to the fire of public discontent.
Sir Stafford Northcote, president of the Hudson's Bay Company, explained the difficulties confronting Macdonald in an April 28 letter to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “The situation here is curious and interesting. Macdonald and Cartier, so long as they hold together, and so long as Cartier commands the French vote, are very strong. Ontario, however, is the dominant element in the Dominion and tends to become more and more so, and Macdonald is not supreme in Ontario, if even he has a majority there. Quebec, on the other hand, is alarmed at the power of Ontario, and desires to neutralize it by creating a French Catholic province in the North West... The result has been the almost open raising of a national struggle between French and English, the former openly advocating Riel's cause until he made the stupid blunder of shooting Scott and setting themselves strongly against an Expedition that it seemed very doubtful at one time whether Cartier would be able to retain his command of them. Ontario on the other hand has been for war and forcible measures from the first, and when Scott's death was known there was an outburst of fury, and a band of filibusters would have gone off had the Expedition been checked. Upon any division that might have taken place ... (the) ... results must soon have destroyed the present combination and would probably have produced permanent hostility between the two races. The two leaders have shown great skill and tact in avoiding the catastrophe.”
“To receive the delegates, to meet their terms as far as possible, even to create a province in the North West, all were necessary to avoid a French and English break and to preserve Confederation” (W.L. Morton, The Birth of Manitoba).
The final plan for the expedition involved 350 British regulars and 800 militia being sent westward under the command of Col. Garnet Wolesley. The militia contingent from Ontario was filled with Orangeman intent upon revenging the “murder” of Scott.
Prior to the expedition’s arrival in Red River, the Canadian Parliament passed the Manitoba Act which was given Royal assent on May 12. The act was to come into effect on July 15, 1870, officially creating the new province of Manitoba.
Ironically, the act was passed before the Canadian government actually took over legal control of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s vast territory in Western Canada, which included the Red River Settlement. On June 23, 1870, Queen Victoria signed an order-in-council finally transferring Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territory to Canada. A year earlier, the HBC had handed the land ceded to the company in 1670 by King Charles II back to the British Crown. The Crown was then to transfer the land to the Canadian government on December 1, 1869, after it paid £300,000 ($1.5 million) in compensation to the HBC. But Macdonald asked the British government to delay the transfer to Canada until the “troubles” in Red River came to a successful conclusion.
It was the Canadian government’s failure to consult Red River residents about the intended land purchase and the premature sending of surveyors and newly-appointed Lieutenant-Governor McDougall to the settlement that precipitated the resistance, which began when Riel stepped on a Canadian surveyor’s chain in October 1869 and announced, “You go no further!”
The National Council of the Métis of Red River was established on October 16, 1869, and then followed by two provisional governments, which were succeeded by the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. It was the 40-member elected assembly, with Riel as its president, that voted sto end the delegates to Ottawa and to accept the terms of the Manitoba Act.
On August 3, 1870, prior to the arrival of the force under Col. Garnet Wolseley, Canadian Party members met with the Mechanics Institute in Toronto. At the meeting, a resolution was passed emphasizing the need for Ontarians to quickly commence immigration to the new province.
Once the resolution was passed, J.D. Edgar stood up and pronounced: “Ontario had laboured long and hard to acquire that fertile region, and now that it was within her grasp, she must see to it that the land was peopled and settled by a population liberal and intelligent, and in sympathy with her own language and traditions. As Dr. Schultz had hinted there was a determined effort being made to import another element into the population, whose political and national sympathies would be a bar to progress, and to the extension of a great Anglo-Saxon Dominion across the continent. This attempt could be counteracted only by the people of Ontario and by such action as (was) proposed ...”
The subsequent flood of immigrants from Ontario, which was promoted by the North-West Emigration Aid Society of Canada formed during the meeting, doomed Riel’s contribution toward the founding of Manitoba to a decades-long enforced obscurity. In effect, Canadian Party members, who played no active role in the formation of the new province — except one of obstruction and fomenting antagonism — backed by wide-scale immigration from Ontario, would usurp history and falsely declare themselves the true heroes of Manitoba’s entry into the Canadian Confederation.
As related by Healey in 1936, it was the Ontario version of Manitoba history that was taught in schools.
When the expedition arrived in Red River, Riel, Ambroise Lépine and William O’Donoghue fled, despite the promise of an amnesty that Father Ritchot had presumably negotiated with Macdonald and Cartier. The Canadian politicians had been careful not to put down any promises on paper, which made it relatively easy for them to later deny the amnesty existed to Ontario voters, as well as dangle amnesty as a carrot in subsequent dealings with the “rebels.”
Riel fled first to Minnesota and later to Montana. Macdonald arranged that the politically-contentious amnesty question would remain in the background by promising Riel money to stay in exile in the U.S. beyond the authority of Canadian courts.
Meanwhile, the militia and Schultz’s followers were creating havoc in the new province of Manitoba. “The wildest disorder reigned,” reported the Toronto Globe in September 1870. “Of the Canadian volunteers 800 were Orangemen, and these men were frantic in their expression of hatred and contempt for the half-breed (Métis) population. Among them were a number of persons who had been expelled from the settlement by Riel. These bigoted partisans thirsted for the blood of the French half-breeds.”
Eastern newspapers began to call this period of Manitoba history the “Reign of Terror,” which began on September 6 when Schultz and three supporters ransacked the offices of the New Nation and assaulted its editor Thomas Spence. The New Nation was noted in the community as formerly being the political organ of the provisional government.
Under the guise of meting out justice, the militia beat André Nault half to death. Nault’s fate was sealed in the minds of the militiamen since he was the captain of the firing squad that executed Scott.
Elzéar Goulet, a member of the military tribunal that condemned Scott, drowned when attempting to elude a revenge-crazed mob.
François Guilmette, another member of the tribunal and firing squad, was allegedly shot and killed by militiamen while on a trail near Pembina.
Le Canadien, a Québec-based newspaper, reported on April 13, 1871, that English-speaking Canadians were “still making a fuss about Scott ...” but, “they don’t get so excited when the Ontario volunteers massacred French Métis under the eyes of their officers.”
“The tactics of the self-styled ‘Loyalist party’ of this Province, have taken a new phase,” according to a December 10, 1870, editorial in the Manitoban. “Their course, in the present political contest (provincial election), has generally taken the shape of rowdyism at meetings — preventing free discussion, and sometimes ‘pitching out’ or ‘kicking out’ ... those who differ from them in opinion.
“A new and more fatal development in their rowdyism occurred at Poplar Point (24 kilometres east of Portage la Prairie) on Wednesday evening of last week ...”
Following an election meeting, James Tanner, who was described as “a venerable Half-breed of about 60 years of age,” was thrown from a wagon about 300 metres from the meeting hall when two persons laying in wait threw an object that caused the horse pulling the wagon to bolt. Tanner died about a half hour after the incident from a fractured skull.
Tanner had been involved in a heated argument during the meeting with Dr. James Spencer Lynch, a supporter of Schultz who had been imprisoned by Riel. Lynch had criticized Lieutenant-Governor Archibald and the Hudson’s Bay Company. According to Lynch, the HBC had been “criminally implicated in the rebellion” (of 1869-70).
“The very men who shout ‘rebel’ and ‘rebellion’ the loudest,” countered Tanner, “are now seeking election ... The very people who never lose an opportunity to stigmatize as ‘disloyal.’ but who, nevertheless, are just as loyal themselves. We are all ‘loyal’ in this country ... Pray, who were the rebels?”
“The French of course,” replied Lynch.
“Against whom did they rebel?” asked Tanner.
“Against the legally constituted authorities of the country,” answered Lynch.
“And who were they?”
“The Hudson’s Bay Company,” claimed Lynch.
“The rebellion was against the Hudson’s Bay Company, and yet you say that the Company was as much in the rebellion as Riel and his party,” said Tanner. “That would make a strange kind of rebellion indeed.”
Knowing the background, Tanner pointed out that Canada had no legal standing in Red River during the time of the so-called rebellion.
Tanner said the real “rebels” were “those who took up arms to make good the usurpation of Canada ... when some of our ‘old’ settlers resolved to oppose that unceremonious absorption, others (Tanner cited ‘strangers” from Eastern Canada), took up arms on behalf of Canada’s pretensions. The latter are rebels.”
After the deaths of Tanner and Goulet, Catholic French-speaking Métis were so fearful that they rarely ventured across the Red River to Winnipeg, preferring the relative safety of St. Boniface.
When HBC Chief Commissioner Donald Smith defeated Schultz in the December 27, 1870, provincial election in the riding of St. John, the Globe reported that “the village was ... in the hands of this rabble (100 militiamen rioting) for four hours ... During this time Colonel Jarvis of the 1st Battalion, was informed, and a picket went to surround these unhappy soldiers and bring them to the fort. The guard however did not arrive soon enough to prevent those followers of Dr. Schultz from running through the village crying ‘Death to the Pope! Death to Catholics! Death to the Half Breeds! Death to the priests!’ and from burning Donald Smith in effigy.”
The arrival of the troops and the promise by Macdonald that they would bring peace to Red River had emerged as a falsehood. Their presence only instigated a period of violence that reigned with virtual impunity.
A letter appearing in the Manitoba News-Letter on January 7, 1871, riled “against Jesuitical fanaticism,” adding that the “by the influx of Protestantism, it would be the deathknell of their soul-destroying superstition.”
The letter called Riel “the creature of the priests,” who murdered Scott “because he was an Orangeman — a warning to Protestants what they have to expect if Catholicism gains the ascendency.”
The Manitoban on November 19, 1870, accused Schultz of using religious prejudices for his own purposes. “We warn those who approve of Schultz’s Protestant cry that they are assuming a grave responsibility,” wrote the editor.
“The leading perpetrators of these acts of cruelty and bloodshed (during 1869-70) have not only been permitted to escape with impunity,” wrote the editor of the Manitoba Liberal, a newspaper controlled by Schultz, on July 20, 1871, “but strange to say great numbers of them have been rewarded with the best offices in the gift of government, while those who have risked their lives, lost their properties, and suffered persecutions, have been altogether overlooked in the formation of the government of this country ...”
Enhanced by immigration, the tide turned in favour of the Ontarians, who methodically began to take over the province’s political apparatus. First on the agenda was the removal of Archibald, who became the victim of a smear campaign in the Schultz-controlled newspapers. It was Schultz who threatened Archibald after the 1872 federal election riot, led by Liberal editor Stewart Mulvey and Francis Cornish, a recently-arrived lawyer from Ontario who became Winnipeg’s first mayor, not to make any arrests. If dared to make arrests, Schultz claimed, he would call out the militia he controlled and cause a civil war to erupt.
When Archibald wrote Macdonald about his plight and that the Métis “feel as if they are living in a state of slavery,” the prime minister replied that Schultz could not be touched as he was a friend of the government.
Instead, Archibald was recalled to Ottawa. The manipulations of the Canadian Party were aided by the heavy criticism levelled at Archibald by his opponents in Ottawa and Manitoba for having been seen shaking the hand of Riel, who rallied the Métis to fight against the 1871 threat of a Fenian invasion. Naively, Archibald later said he didn’t know he had thanked Riel, since he shook the hands of many Métis, who added their numbers to the force mustered by Archibald to repel the Fenians on a plain south of Winnipeg.
An example of the Ontarians’ growing power was the arrest in 1873 of Lépine on the charge of murdering Scott. Cornish had the warrant sworn out for Lépine’s arrest (the warrant also included Riel and Nault) and was a member of the prosecution team during the trial.
Lépine’s trial before Chief Justice Edmund Burke Wood, a recent federal appointee from Ontario, was delayed until October 13, 1874, following numerous stays of proceedings.
Seventeen witnesses for the prosecution and 12 for the defence were heard. The chief justice’s charge to the jury leaned heavily toward the prosecution. The words from Wood were so slanted that he gave the jury little choice but to give a guilty verdict. Although the jury did declare Lépine’s guilt, they added a recommendation for mercy, which was ignored by Wood, who pronounced that on January 29, 1875, Lépine was to be “hanged by the neck until you are dead.”
Four days before his execution, Governor General Dufferin commuted the sentence to two years in jail.
Following the trial, rumours began to circulate that Wood had been in financial difficulty and had relied upon funds provided by Schultz to resolve his condition.
Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Morris wrote to new Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie on December 11, 1874, that the debt had placed the judge under Schultz’s control.
“I regret extremely the foolish course of the Chief Justice,” Mackenzie wrote to Morris on September 22, 1875. “... I foresaw from the first that serious trouble would be sure to arise from the relationship with Schultz.”
By March 4, 1881, a petition was in the House of Commons, questioning Wood’s impartiality and charging him with having procured the illegal outlawing of Riel, preparing a list of Métis enemies of Lépine to serve on the jury during the trial, taking an active part in politics and having no confidence in French jurors (juries were to be half French-speaking and half English-speaking under the Manitoba Act), among other complaints. A departmental investigation was ordered, but Wood died before the investigation could be completed.
What was surprising was that Schultz had turned against the chief justice and urged the House to proceed with his removal from the bench.
André Nault was next tried before Chief Justice Wood, but the outcome was different than Lépine’s, as the jury said they “could not agree, and there was no prospect of their agreeing.” The hung jury resulted in the release of Nault, but he was not yet free from prosecution of another variety. Two years after his trial, Nault was beaten, stabbed and left for dead in Pembina, allegedly by men who disagreed with the result of the trial and intent upon revenging Scott’s execution.
Once the trials of Lépine and Nault ended, a clamour arose for the distribution of a $5,000 reward offered by Ontario government, although it took two years before a decision was reached. Chief Justice Wood wrote a report in 1876 that was commissioned by the Ontario government “respecting claims made to the reward offered for apprehension of the murderers of Thomas Scott.”
Using the findings of the report, the attorney-general of Ontario allocated the reward as follows:
• William A. Farmer — $2,000.
• Francis E. Cornish — $400.
• C.B. Thibaudeau — $400.
• Leon Dupont — $330.
• John S. Ingram — $330.
• Edward Armstrong (sheriff) — $330.
• John A. Kerr — $330.
• George M. Young — $300.
• Thomas Hughes — $290.
• H.W. Smith — $290.
As the trial witness who “influenced by a sense of right” by being unwavering in his pursuit of the arrests of Riel and Lépine, Farmer of Headingley received the lion’s share of the reward. According to the report, “... he is a gentleman who stands well, at an early date took steps to procure the arrest of the two murderers of Scott, although baffled and beset with all sorts of difficulties, persisted, until at a certain extent, it was accomplished.”
When he came to trial for treason in 1885, Riel tried to justify the execution of Scott: “If there was a single act of severity, one must not lose sight of the long course of moderate conduct which gives us the right to say they ought to disarm, rather than fight, the lawless strangers (originally from Ontario) who were making war against us (in 1869-70).”
He told his priest just before being led to the scaffold: “I swear as I am about to appear before God that the shooting of Scott was not a crime ... I commanded the shooting, believing it was necessary to save the lives of hundreds of others.”
Whatever Riel’s belief, a martyr was made and a villain created in the minds of those who sought economic and political power in the new province.
“Scott and Riel ceased to exist as men,” wrote historian Joseph K. Howard, author of Strange Empire: Louis Riel and the Métis People. “They became symbols solely: Scott the Protestant, Riel the Catholic ... That was the picture: young, progressive, dedicated Protestantism, destroyed by entrenched, superstitious, corrupt Catholicism. It was a good sharp picture and it made a foul and vulgar fight, whose repercussions echoed ominously throughout the next fifteen years.”