Riel House was built in 1880-81. The land on which the house stands (lot 51), had been given to Julie Riel on the death of her husband in 1864 by Bishop Taché. Julie and her children first lived in a house at the Seine River end of Lot 51.
Louis Riel himself never actually resided in this house. He visited only briefly in the summer of 1883, but it was here that Riel's body lay in state for two days in December of 1885 following his execution for his involvement in the North-West Rebellion. It was also in this house that his young wife, Marguerite, died in May of 1886.
The house remained in the Riel family until 1968, and was acquired by Parks Canada in 1969. It has been restored and re-furnished to its appearance in the spring in 1886, six months after the death of Louis Riel.
Riel House was built using a traditional French Canadian construction style known as "pièce-sur-pièce de charpente" or "poteau sur sole" (post on sill) In the North-West this style of building construction came to be known as "Red River Frame". It consisted of a dressed timber frame structure with horizontal log infill. The spaces between the logs were filled or "chinked" with clay and straw mud plaster. Traditionally in Red River both the outside and inside logs walls were covered in a whitewashed "mud plaster". By the 1880's, however, as is the case the Riel House, board siding was used on the exterior.
Land tenure in the Red River Settlement was based on the seigneurial system of New France. Unlike the English (and American) system which employed the square township survey, the French system was based on long narrow river lots. Each lot was up to 3 km deep but had a river frontage of only 8 - 12 chains (150 - 250 m). Along the Red River, this long narrow pattern suited the settlers' need for both access to the river and to their neighbours. It gave each family a share of fertile black river soil for crops such as wheat, oats, barley, and vegetables, as well as space further back for some hay and pasture.
For any information on Riel House National Historic Site of Canada, located at 330 River Road, Winnipeg, contact Parcs Canada.
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