On February 24th when we celebrated Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, I realized I had done any number of blog posts that involved Louis Riel, the founder of Manitoba. When I visited the Grey Nuns’ Convent I found out Louis Riel was a student at a school run by the nuns and one of the sisters traveled to Montreal with him so he could attend college there. I have since learned as well that Louis Riel’s sister Sara joined the order of Grey Nuns in the 1860’s and remained a serving sister till her death of tuberculosis in 1883.
When I wrote a post about James Ashdown who built the warehouse which houses my condo in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, I noted that Louis Riel had imprisoned Mr. Ashdown for 59 days because he voiced resistance to Louis’ take over of the Red River Settlement.
I did a post about Joseph Royal and the park named after him at the foot of the Provencher Bridge. I wrote about how Joseph had argued for Louis Riel’s amnesty and had defended two of Louis’ compatriots who were accused of the murder of Thomas Scott.
I explored the life of A. G. Bannatyne in a post since I live on Bannatyne Avenue. Mr. Bannatyne acted as a mediator between Louis Riel’s provisional government and the Canadian government. I noted that Louis Riel even wrote a poem about Annie Bannatyne, A.G’s wife.
In my post about the Provencher Bridge I said that the pedestrian walkway on the structure was called Esplanade Riel in honor of Louis Riel.
I realized I had written quite a bit about Louis Riel, but how much did I actually know about him? My last Canadian history course was in high school and I had never read a book about Louis Riel. I decided it was time to remedy that. I didn’t have time however to read some thick tome about the founder of my province so I decided to get Chester Brown’s Louis Riel- A Comic Strip Biography from the library. I had introduced my high school students to a couple graphic novels and I knew they were a good way to tell a story.
Although I was a little disappointed that the book didn’t deal with Louis’ childhood it did provide a good overview of his life from the time just before the Riel Rebellion/ Resistance till Louis’ execution. The book was easy to read and I finished it in a day. I learned that Louis Riel was elected to Canada’s Parliament three times while he was a wanted criminal and in exile in the United States.
I learned quite a bit more about the role Canadian prime minister Sir John A McDonald had in the resistance movements in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan that Louis was involved in. Brown depicts Sir John A as mean-spirited, self -serving and willing to sacrifice anything to get his railway built across Canada.
I learned quite a bit more about the relationship between Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont. Dumont was more of a pragmatist than Riel and more interested in violent resistance. If you want to know more about Riel and Dumont listen to this excellent interview with Joseph Boyden who has written a book about the two men.
I also learned what a deeply religious person Louis was and how that influenced his decisions.
Chester Brown’s graphic comic gave a good overview of Louis’ life. Since Riel plays such a prominent role in the history of the province of Manitoba and in the history of Winnipeg it is good for me to know more about him.
What next? I am currently reading Louis Riel-Firebrand by Sharon Stewart to learn more about Riel’s childhood and personality.
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