Louis Riel - Back home

At the time of his return to the Red River Settlement, Canada included only the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The territory known as Rupert's Land, which extended west from Ontario all the way to the Rocky Mountains, belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company. The Company appointed a governor and council to administer the Settlement situated at the junction of the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers. Fort Garry lay at the heart of the Settlement, referred to as the District of Assiniboia, and was the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company.

During the 1850's, the Métis had succeeded in breaking the fur trade monopoly that the Company had held until then. The Company had been forced to concede a political role in governing the Settlement and certain property rights to the Métis. The years between 1850 and 1860 marked the end of the old way of life in the North-West. Before 1849, changes in the Settlement had occurred because of internal events, but after 1850 they would be the result of external factors, centred around Canadian and American politics.

With its east-west axis of development, Canada was inevitably bound to come into contact with Métis society. The first clash occurred in 1857 when the Dawson-Hind exploration expedition arrived to study the land. The expedition recommended that the Canadian government acquire the arable part of the Company's land. At the same time, an annexationist movement in the United States threatened future occupation of the Territories. Canada could not count on any military action to thwart this movement and the Company did not have any force at its disposal to ward off this threat. The only remaining alternative was annexation of the North-West Territories by Canada. In 1869, a unique opportunity presented itself, for the Hudson's Bay Company agreed to sell this territory to Canada. It was at this point in time that Louis Riel returned to the settlement he had not seen for ten years.

Many changes had taken place in the Settlement since his departure. With the arrival of numerous settlers from Ontario, Fort Garry had become an active commercial centre. For economic and political reasons, these "Canadians" were opposed to the Company's authority, while the Métis were worried about the future under the Canadian government. They were afraid the country would be invaded by people from Ontario and that this would create a problem for the Métis, since these newcomers would be English-speaking Protestants, unlike the French-speaking Métis who were Catholic. In addition to the problems of language and religion, they were justifiably afraid of losing their lands, for most of the Métis were squatters or settlers without title.


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