Today is Louis Riel Day in Manitoba. I see reminders of Louis Riel everywhere in my downtown Winnipeg neighbourhood.
I live only about a fifteen-minute walk away from the Manitoba Legislature where this statue of Lois Riel faces the river. It is by artist Miguel Joyal. It shows Louis Riel wearing his Metis sash and moccasins and holding the Manitoba Act in his hand. The act was based on a List of Rights Louis Riel wrote that asked for Manitoba to be recognized as a province by the federal government.
Even closer to my Exchange District home is the stunning Provencher Bridge. The walkway across the bridge is called The Riel Esplanade. There is beautiful artwork you can see from the esplanade that reminds us of how Louis Riel worked to preserve and protect Metis land rights and culture in Manitoba. Currently, some 90,000 Metis make their home in Manitoba.
You will find another public art piece recognizing Louis Riel just over the Provencher Bridge on the grounds of the St. Boniface Museum. It is housed in a former convent of the Grey Nuns. The nuns were Louis’ first teachers and they took him to Montreal to further his studies there. The museum contains a large collection of Louis Riel’s personal belongings. Louis Riel’s sister Sara became a Grey Nun.
This statue of Louis Riel is on the campus of the Université de Saint Boniface just a short walk from the St. Boniface Museum. It used to be at the Manitoba legislative grounds but it was so controversial it was moved. It shows Louis Riel with his face and body contorted in anguish.
Artist Marcien Lemay said he wanted to show Riel as a martyr who had suffered for his people but many Manitobans thought it was an inappropriate representation of Riel who was a statesman elected to Canada’s Parliament three times.
I live on Bannatyne Avenue. It is named after Andrew Graham Bannatyne who acted as a mediator, trying to broker an agreement between the provisional government Louis Riel established in Manitoba and the federal government. Louis Riel greatly admired Andrew’s wife Annie McDermott Bannatyne and once wrote a poem about her.
At the end of the Provencher Bridge is Joseph Royal Park. It is named after the lawyer who argued for amnesty for Louis Riel when he was tried for treason.
On the St. Boniface Basilica grounds, just a minute away from Joseph Royal Park is Louis Riel’s grave. He was tried for treason and hung in 1885.
Louis Riel was a complex man and I have read some interesting books that have helped me get to know him. But there are also many places within easy walking distance of my home in Winnipeg’s Exchange District where I can learn more about Louis Riel and the important place he holds in Manitoba history and Canadian history.