Louis Riel

Louis Riel

Louis, the first child of Louis Riel and Julie Lagimodière, was born on October 22, 1844 in St. Boniface, Manitoba. Louis spent his childhood on the east bank of the Red River, not far from St. Boniface. He grew up among the Métis and was extremely conscious of his identity. At the age of seven, he began his education, eventually studying at the school established in the settlement in 1854 by a Christian brother.

With the aim of training priests for the young colony, in 1858, Bishop Tache sent him and two other boys, Daniel McDougall and Louis Schmidt to Montreal to continue their studies. Louis was admitted to the Collège de Montréal where he spent the next eight years studying Latin, Greek, French, English, philosophy and the sciences. Louis proved an excellent student, rising quickly to the top of his class.

In January 1864, Louis was overwhelmed with grief by the death of his beloved father whom he had not seen since leaving Red River. A subsequent attitude change  prompted his teachers to question Louis’ commitment to a religious vocation. A year later he left his residency at Collège de Montréal to become a day student. But after breaking the rules several times and repeatedly missing class, he was asked to leave both the college and convent.

He left College and returned to the Red River in a world fraught with intense political activity and intense nationalism. Louis lived with his aunt, Lucia Riel, and managed to find employment in a law office. He fell in love with Marie-Julie Guernon and even signed a marriage contract, but the romance ended because Marie's parents were opposed to their daughter marrying a Métis. Disappointed, Riel made his way to Chicago and St. Paul. He returned to St. Boniface after an absence of ten years, an educated but unemployed young man, with no idea that he would soon become the defender of Métis rights and the future father of Manitoba.

During Louis’ absence from 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 to the Rocky Mountains, belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) and was  administered by a company appointed governor and council. Fort Garry, located at the juncture of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers was at the heart of the settlement, referred to as the District of Assiniboia, and was headquarters for the Hudson's Bay Company.

During the 1850’s the Métis had succeeded in breaking the HBC fur trade monopoly. As a result, the HBC was forced to concede both a political role and certain property rights to the Métis. The separation between East and West could not last forever - contact between Canada and Métis society was inevitable. The inevitable conflict was just beginning to take shape when Louis returned.