1876: A.G.B. Bannatyne recounts the Resistance

In 1870, Andrew Graham Ballenden Bannatyne had been a member of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia.

On 31 March 1875, he was elected by acclamation to the Canadian House of Commons as the representative for Provencher (Louis Riel having been declared an outlaw and expelled from the commons, leaving the seat vacant).

In 1876, in the House of Commons, during a debate on whether William Bernard O’Donoghue (also formerly of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia), was being unfairly treated by Canada, Bannatyne recounted the events of 1869-1870.[1] He stated:

He knew that the late Mr. [William] Mactavish [Bannatyne’s brother-in-law and Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Governor] never did advise Louis Reil [sic: Louis Riel], but to warn him and his party to give up their actions and return to their homes, and the first trouble commences long before [projected Lieutenant-Governor appointed by Canada, William] McDougall‘s arrival at Pembina [in 1869] — indeed, he might say, was caused by the hon. member for Lisgar [John Christian Schultz] and other agents of his, whom, whom he styled “friends of Canada,” men who never lost an opportunity of both of writing against and abusing the people of the country, saying that they would soon be ruled differently when they got in power, as they soon would be. Not long after this a meeting was called, through the organ of the member for Lisgar [the Nor’-Wester newspaper, owned by Schultz], by one Wm. Dease [of the HBC Council of Assiniboia], which over one hundred French Métis attended. Mr. Dease addressed the people, and informed them that the Hudson [sic] Bay Company had sold their lands and themselves to Canada, and were to receive some £300,000 sterling. Dease was well furnished with information on the subject, and he (Mr. Bannatyne) would like to ask the hon. member for Lisgar [Schultz] if he did not know who furnished him with it, and also advised him with it, and also advised him to take this step, was it not the hon. member [Schultz] himself? Dease advised the people to organize, demand the public money from the Hudson [sic] Bay Company, and form a Government of their own. Governor Mactavish was sent for, came and explained all he knew, and said that there were negotiations going on in England, but that the money was only for their chartered rights and not for the people’s lands. On the few occasions in which the interference of the [HBC Council of Assiniboia] authorities were practicable, their efforts to calm the existing excitement were met by the assertion that they were regarded as mere nominees of the Hudson [sic] Bay Company, which had sold the country and its inhabitants, and were, therefore, entitled to no consideration. Another source of all the troubles from which they had suffered lay with the Secretary of State for the Colonies [George Leveson-Gower Granville, 2nd Earl Granville]. The manner of Confederation was a blunder. From the year 1857 to 1869 the Imperial Government had been trifling with that country and refused to give any useful assistance towards its progress and development.

When the papers from Ontario and Quebec came up, and when they learned McDougall was going in armed to take possession of the country, they organized and kept everyone out of the country. Mr. McDougall was turned away, and a Government formed. Reil [sic] was elected at their head, and he sent to Governor McTavish [sic] asking him to delegate his authority to them. He said no, not while there was life in his body. After this the unfortunate death of [Thomas] Scott occurred, and it is a wonder only one life was lost. During the time the delegates were at Ottawa, [William B.] O’Donoghue was not loyal to the Métis. When the British Flag was raised, a few minutes after, O’Donoghue ordered it to be taken down. News of this was brought to Reil [sic] who went out and told O’Donoghue there should be but one master, that the Métis expected to have their rights secured and would live under the British Flag. In proof of it he nailed it to the mast and there it remained until the troops were brought in. O’Donoghue on many occasions did all he could to work for annexation [to the U.S.], so much so that at one time a gentleman of high standing came from the American side and offered Reil [sic] $50,000 in cash and $100,000 more and a position if he would only work for annexation. Riel told him

Take your money, keep your assistance, I want none of them; I will never work for annexation, and I trust the day will never come when Canada will be annexed to the United States. I left my farm where I was working when I was told we were to be transferred to another power without being consulted. I will fight for the last until we get a representative Government. I want not your money, and when our point is gained, I will go back to my farm again.

In June of that year he (Mr. Bannatyne) found O’Donoghue was doing all in his power to secure Riel and his party. He had sent down to the United States and parties were noticed travelling through Minnesota and down the Red River armed. The name of the party who led them could be mentioned if necessary. Riel saw it and wrote to Archbishop [Alexandre-Antonin] Taché urging him to hasten to Red River as O’Donoghue was determined still to resist the Canadian Government, and also instructed the speaker to write his Grace to the same effect. The immediate cause of all the troubles was Mr. McDougall himself, vigorously aided by the member for Lisgar [Schultz], with whom he took counsel, who grossly deceived him. McDougall afterwards stated that, send where he liked, to the Portage la Prairie or Stone Fort [Lower Fort Garry], all his information was certain to come back from Dr. Schultz — information unfortunately for the peace of the whole country, wholly unreliable, giving an entirely erroneous impression of the actual circumstances of the country and settlers.

The late Governor Mactavish did all he could, and had he or the hon. member for Selkirk [Donald Alexander Smith] done otherwise than they did when the latter acted as Commissioner from Canada, there would have been much bloodshed to deplore, that country would then have been in ashes, and to-day would not have been ours, the almost certainly [sic: certainty] being there would have been civil war all over the North-West.

Here Mr. Bannatyne read extracts from a letter of the late Governor Mactavish to the late Hon. Joseph Howe, the Secretary of State for the Provinces, dated 14th May, 1874, which were as follows:–

The ground on which Mr. McDougall pretends to base a belief in the connivance of the Company’s officers at the seizure of their fort, is contained in a report of Major [James] Wallace, who appears to have been commissioned as a spy.[2] I have made dilligent enquiry into some matters relating to the visit of the person in question, to the settlement and the probability of his having arrived at the sentiments of those with whom he came in contact. I am informed that the plan taken by the Major to win the confidence of his interlocutors was free indulgence in coarse and unseemly abuse of the gentleman in whose interest he had come. By some people these representations were quickly swallowed as the sentiments of a person who had enjoyed the privilege of long intimacy with the object of his abuse and was therefore a reliable authority; but by the more intelligent of his hearers the ‘Major’s’ deportment caused him to be regarded as a schemer, or a man lacking discretion to a dangerous degree. On the whole I am inclined to think the mission of Major Wallace an error of judgment on the part of its originator. ‘Relying on the accuracy of his assurance’ Mr. McDougall remarks that the Company’s officers in charge of [Upper] Fort Garry were told of the intention of the Rebels to take the Fort the day before it occurred, and that the Chief Constable, [James] Mulligan, who is an old soldier, offered to raise a force, partly composed of pensioners, with which he declared he could hold the country against all the rebels who would be likely to attack it, but he was told by [HBC Chief Trader] Dr. [William] Cowan [of the HBC Council of Assiniboia], the officer in charge, that ‘his services were not wanted.’ To this I reply there was no such man as ‘Chief Constable Mulligan.’

A force of policemen has for some years past been employed to keep the peace in the village of Winnipeg. Of those men, Pensioner Mulligan is one, but he is vested with no authority or pre-eminence whatever over the others as the description of his office above quoted would lead one unacquainted with the fact to believe. The other two policemen are French half-breeds, and were among the Insurgents.

Mulligan did not advise Dr. Cowan of the intended seizure of Fort Garry the day before it occurred, but some time after it had taken place, he and another old pensioner named Michael Power called upon the Doctor and offered to expel the French. On being asked what force he would require to effect his object, Mulligan was silent, but Power replied:– “One man to raise the flag and another to stand below and defend it.” The ridiculous offer was forthwith declined.

I deny that any of the Company’s officers as a body are capable of the gross breach of trust assumed by Mr. McDougall, and I protest against your acceptance of the report of Major Wallace as authoritative, or even fairly reliable in the matter on which it treats.

At no time was Mr. McDougall or the misery of his position absent from my thoughts. I felt and still feel most deeply on his account and that of the members of his party. Advise [sic: Advice] or suggestions I had absolutely none to offer, except those which at the rare intervals complained of, I sent in the letter, the length of which seems to be unpalatable. These letters were, as Mr. McDougall correctly supposes, written by my legal advisor, Mr. [Judge John] Black,[3] at a time when, from excessive weakness, I could only with difficulty sign my name. He [McDougall] is incorrect, however, in imputing to Mr. Black personal views, the attainment of which might have influenced the policy of the local authorities and found expression in their official correspondence. As a man of strict honour and integrity, Mr. Black commands the fullest confidence of myself and Council, and I have no hesitation in assuming responsibility for any statement he has place over my signature. I object to having been laid under the necessity of formally denying charges which should never have been made or entertained against me by your representatives, unless supported by incontrovertible proof. Complicity with those who degrade the Magisterial office by countenancing and supporting armed rebellion against the Sovereign, combined with betrayal of trust, the aim of which would be to sacrifice to a ruinous amount the property of those whose commercial interests have been placed in my hands, imply a moral obliquity of character to the imputation of which I must not be indifferent.

I object that civil disorder should have been excited in the Colony through official mismanagement.

Apart altogether from the military episodes of the last few months, it has long been patent to all men of intelligence connected with this place that the mode in which Canada was preparing the way for political incorporation with this country was injurious and likely to create trouble. The mission of Mr. [John Allan] Snow, though represented as an act of delicate charity to a famished people, made a good deal of mischief. Mr. Snow’s apparently close connection with the faction already alluded to, appeared to lend the countenance of your Government to the promoters of tumult and disorder. Canadian newspapers containing absurd carricatures [sic] of the country and people, from the pen of the paymaster of the works [Charles Mair], were dilligently [sic] read by the objects of attack. Complaints arose of unjust dealing, of liquor selling to Indians, of interference with pre-emption rights of settlers, of extortion and other disorders, the results of which were a law suit and several uprisings among the French halfbreeds, which were with some difficulty suppressed. The bad feeling, however, remained.

Very unfortunate for Mr. McDougall was the impression which even then prevailed in the colony, that he was determined to support his subordinates in everything, and was, although at the time employed with Sir George Cartier, as Canadian Commissioner in England, encouraging political disturbance in this place, with the object of precipitating the downfall of the Company’s rule, and the consequently more certain and easy success of his mission.

I think the Imperial Government ought to satisfy English interests in this country on the basis of justice, the more so as this territory has hitherto cost it nothing.

He [Bannatyne] could only say that while O’Donoghue charged the Hudson [sic] Bay Company and others with having instigated and kept up this rebellion, these charges were untrue, and when he stated he was not present at the death of Thomas Scott he also stated what was not true. He was there, and giving directions on the morning Scott met his death, and O’Donoghue alone, he believed, was the instigator of that crime. O’Donoghue never cared for the interests of the people. His whole wish and determination was to make the people believe that they could not expect mercy from the Canadian Government, and that they would be glad to hand themselves over to the American Government. When O’Donoghue stated that the so-called Fenian raid [1871] was only a continuance of the troubles that had already existed, he knew he stated what was untrue, for the moment the Governor General’s proclamation [to prevent a Fenian attack] was issued Riel and Lepine [sic: Ambroise-Dydime Lépine] were found twenty miles from home inciting the people to rise and saying that this was a different matter from the other, and if they were willing to protect their homes before, there was much more reason to do so now. It was said they were rather slow in coming forward to offer their services — that was because the proclamation was not issued in French. Had the mention of the hon. member for Victoria only been for amnesty for O’Donoghue — as a member of the Provisional Government, and had he in that capacity acted only as Reil [sic] and the other members of it — he [Bannatyne] would have been most happy to vote for it.


[1] A.G.B. Bannatyne, quoted in Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, 3d session, 3d parliament, 1876, ed. A.M. Burgess (Ottawa: McLean, Roger & Co., 1876), 804. What Bannatyne failed to mention, as a factor that might in part explain O’Donoghue’s anger, was that two of the delegates invited by Canada to Ottawa had been arrested on arrival.

[2] See “Notes by J.W. between 4th and 22nd November, 1869,” in Canada, Sessional Papers vol. 5, 3d session, no. 12 (1870), 61. ‘J.W.’ is likely Major James Wallace of Whitby, Ontario, mentioned by Joseph Howe in the letter immediately preceding the one cited above. Howe writes that Wallace “was sent from this place [Pembina U.S.] on the 4th November on a special mission to Fort Garry, and … returned on the 22nd.” See also “Interesting Revelations, One of McDougall’s Spies, Major J.W., The Pembina Detective On Our Track,” New Nation (15 April 1870), 1 columns 1-4.

[3] See Margaret Caldwell, “Black, John (1817-1879),” Australian Dictionary of Biography online; and Lionel Dorge, “Black, John,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography online.




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