Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Project

Introduction to the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Project:

The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia History Project marked an exciting moment in the writing of history in Canada. It is rare that a gap in historical knowledge about political development during Canada’s formative years exists to be filled — given longstanding interest of historians in the subject. It is rarer still to discover that under-utilized documentary bases exist for building knowledge, promoting understanding, and duly recognizing the past achievements of Aboriginal Manitobans. With this project, the Government of Manitoba, the Manitoba Métis Federation, and the Métis people of Manitoba came together to make a valuable contribution to written history in Canada.

Link to Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Manitoba Métis Policy page (with link to History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia pdf).

Link to Manitoba Legislative Library, which has posted the materials generated in 2010 online [whereas the materials on the site you are viewing right this second are updated and expanded as new information is encountered and mistakes identified]:

About Manitoba History and the Assembly:

The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia formed during the turbulent Red River Resistance and functioned from 9 March to 24 June 1870. It was then ‘forgotten’ in the formal annals of history devoted to describing the advent of Manitoba. Early accounts, including the reminiscences of eyewitnesses to the events of 1869–1870, sometimes mentioned a ‘council’ of the Provisional Government, but did not refer to any legislative function.[1] Some later histories read as though the Legislative Assembly did not exist.[2]

As part of putting the province of Manitoba’s new Métis Policy into practice, Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Manitoba commissioned original research to bring details of the Legislative Assembly to light. The research team consisted of historian Norma Hall, analyist Clifford P. Hall, and genealogist Erin Verrier.

Although one would be hard pressed to know it from existing historiography about the Métis, the Red River Settlement, and the Resistance of 1869-1870, there are primary sources relating to the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. Principal among these is the Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia.[3] There are also a series of newspaper reports printed in the New Nation newspaper, which was published in Red River.[4]  Additionally, there are the minutes of a committee formed to review and revise local laws for the consideration of the Assembly, and a set of printed Bills passed by the Assembly.

A first step in the research process was to review these primary documents to identify members of the Assembly. A second step was to transcribe the documents to reconstruct the debates of the Assembly. As part of this step, the debates of the earlier Convention of Forty were also reconstituted — members of that convention having created the Legislative Assembly. Finally, a short history of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was composed as a report on the findings that re-inserted this forgotten portion of Manitoba’s political past into its historical context.

What the research project made clear is that the Métis played a the central role in the political and social history of the province. Ignoring that contribution constitutes a distortion of the past.

[1] For instances of elision see Roderick George MacBeth, The Making of the Canadian West: being the reminiscences of an eye-witness, 2d ed. (Toronto: William Briggs, 1905), 86-87,whocompletely misses the Legislative Assembly’s existence; Alfred C. Garrioch First Furrows: A History of the Early Settlement of the Red River Country, Including that of Portage la Prairie (Winnipeg: Stovel Company, 1923),240, makes a brief and obscure mention; W.L. Morton, ed., Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal: and other papers relative to the Red River Resistance of 1869-1870 (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1956), 2, acknowledges self-government was a test of the civilized nature of Red River Settlement that “in no forced sense” it met, but does not clearly describe the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia; Raymond Huel, ed., The Collected Writings of Louis Riel/Les Ecrits Complets de Louis Riel, vol. 1 (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1985), 62 n.1, after citing “Minutes of the Proceedings of the Legislature of Rupert’s Land, Wed. March 9th, 1870,” counters that “Despite the title ‘The Legislature of Rupert’s Land,’ this body was the Council of the Provisional Government created on 10 February 1870”; Thomas Flanagan, ed., “Chronology,” Collected Writings of Louis Riel, vol. 5, 78-80, does not clearly identify “The Assembly of the Provisional Government” as a legislative body within the government; Emily Katharine Grafton, “The Manitoba Legislative Assembly,” paper, Canadian Study of Parliament Group: Studies of Provincial and Territorial Legislatures (n.d.), 4, online version, http://www.studyparliament.ca/English/index_en.htm, accurately acknowledges the formation of the Assembly of Assiniboia, but does not clearly distinguish it from the first Legislative Assembly of Manitoba.

[2] Edmund A. Aunger, “Justifying the End of Official Bilingualism: Canada’s North-West Assembly and the Dual-Language Question, 1889-1892,” Canadian Journal of Political Science/ Revue canadienne de science politique 34, no. 3 (September 2001): 461, observes “Scholarly critics of this accord [between Canada and the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia on a dual language system] have … systematically ignored or out-rightly denied the very existence of this legislative assembly.” For instances of denial see F.A. Milligan, “The Establishment of Manitoba’s First Provincial Government,” Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, ser. 3 (1948-1949 Season), online version, http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/provincialgovernment.shtml, who observes that prior to the creation of Manitoba, “There was, of course, no legislature”; and Nelson Wiseman, “The Questionable Relevance of the Constitution in Advancing Minority Cultural Rights in Manitoba,” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de politique 25, no 4 (December 1992): 703 n.23, finds it “amusing” that anyone would cite the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia “– a body that never existed.”

The ‘forgetting’ in many early histories can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Canada, as a country and a nation, was in the process of being constructed geographically and socially as a politically distinct state (rather than an entirely dependent colony). For a good part of Canada’s first century, much of the ‘history’ that was written would qualify today to be classified as ‘heritage’ stories (very much at the myth-history end of the historiographical spectrum): historians, who sought to contribute to nation building, concentrated on developing a ‘grand narrative’ that celebrated Canada as an ‘Anglo Saxon’ (or ‘European’ or ‘white’) accomplishment. The theory was that such a story would inspire everyone who lived in Canada to adopt the precepts of an ‘Anglo Saxon’ ideal — if they could not ‘be’ the ideal they would at least accept it as the model of superior behaviour. Later historians, who relied on early histories (as secondary sources), perhaps assumed that if no mention of a legislative assembly occurred, then it had not existed. See “Sorting History, the Past, and Heritage,” and “Historiography and Red River Settlement,” this site.

[3] Norma Hall assumed the Journal was compiled by Thomas Bunn (Secretary of State of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia and hon. member for St. Clements in the Legislative Assembly), identifying him as the author on the basis of handwriting comparisons.

[4] Norma Hall assumed the minutes reported in the New Nation were recorded by William Coldwell, who was a reporter for the paper and the Clerk of the Assembly.


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