For my readers who aren’t from Manitoba today is a special holiday in our province. Begun in 2008 it honours Louis Riel who was the leader of the Metis people on the Canadian prairies in the 1870s and 1880s. Louis Riel is considered the founder of the province of Manitoba and he was elected several times to Canada’s Parliament. He was also quite a controversial figure and led two resistances against the Canadian government and its first prime minister Sir John A Macdonald. Louis Riel wanted to preserve and protect Metis land rights and culture from undue influence and direction from the federal government of Canada.
I live in an area of Winnipeg where I am surrounded by reminders of Louis Riel.
Just a few blocks from my home is the St. Boniface Museum. There is a statue of Louis Riel on the front lawn.
Inside the museum, you can see the wooden coffin that transported Louis’ body back to Manitoba from Regina after our first prime minister Sir John A MacDonald ordered him hung. Louis was buried in another coffin made from rosewood.
His grave is right near the St. Boniface Museum.
This statue of Louis Riel is even closer to my house. It stands on the grounds of St. Boniface College. It used to be at the Manitoba legislative buildings but it was so controversial it was moved. It shows Louis Riel with his face contorted in anguish. His body is naked and twisted. Artist Marcien Lemay who created the statue in 1970 said he wanted to show Riel as a martyr who had suffered for his people. Some people, however, found the rather grotesque statue an insult to both Louis Riel and the Metis people. They said Riel had been a great statesman, the founder of Manitoba and his statue should reflect that. In 1994 the statue was moved to the grounds of the college.
I have frequently taken a boat ride down the Assiniboine River which is just a block from my home and have seen this other statue of Louis Riel which faces the river on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. It is by artist Miguel Joyal. He 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 included among many other things recognition of Manitoba as a province by the federal government, the right to representatives in the House of Commons and Senate and the use of both French and English in all government communication.
This is a photo of my brother-in-law Paul and sister-in-law Shirley when they were visiting us in Winnipeg. They are on the Riel Esplanade which is the pedestrian walkway on the architecturally stunning Provencher Bridge just a short walk from our condo. The esplanade is named after Louis Riel.
Manitoba is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2020 so there will be lots of events both big and small that highlight Louis Riel’s contributions to our province and I am excited to be a part of one of them. Chester Brown wrote a fascinating graphic novel about Louis Riel in 2003. I will be leading a book club about the novel at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on June 9th. You can read more about that here.