HBC Council of Assiniboia 25 Oct.

Minutes of a Meeting of the Governor and Council of Assiniboia, held October 25th, 1869[1]

“Present:– John Black, Esq., President; The Right Revd. The Lord Bishop of Rupert’s Land; Dr. Cowan, Dr. Bird, Messrs. [Thomas Bunn,] Dease, [sic: absent] Sutherland, McBeath [sic: absent], Fraser and Bannatyne [sic: absent], Esquires.

Mr. Black stated that in consequence, as he very much regretted to say, of Governor McTavish’s continued illness, he was again called upon to preside at the present meeting of the Council.

The minutes of the last meeting having been read and approved, Mr. Black proceeded to say that at their last meeting, as the Council was aware, an address had been prepared for the purpose of being presented to the Honorable William McDougall on his arrival in the settlement, an event which was expected to take place at some very early date; that the Council while preparing that address, were impressed with the conviction that the feelings of welcome and loyalty therein expressed were concurred in by the settlement generally, or at least were so far shared by the great majority of people, as to preclude all idea of open demonstration of dissent; but he was very much concerned now to say that unhappily such was not the case, and that a large party among the French population appeared to be animated by a very different spirit. It had become too evident, that among them sentiments of a directly opposite nature prevailed so strongly, that according to information lately received, and of the correctness of which there could be no doubt, they had organized themselves into armed bodies for the purpose of intercepting Governor McDougall on the road between this and Pembina, with the avowed intention of preventing his entrance into the settlement.

It was to consider that serious state of affairs that the Council had been assembled, and to see whether any, and what measures could be adopted to prevent the threatened outrage.

The Council unanimously expressed their reprobation of the outrageous proceedings referred to by the President, but feeling strongly impressed with the idea that the parties concerned in them must be acting, in utter forgetfulness or even perhaps ignorance of the highly criminal character of their actions, and of the very serious consequences they involved, it was thought that by calm reasoning and advice they might be induced to abandon their dangerous schemes before they irretrievably committed themselves.

With this object in view therefore, Mr. Riel and Mr. Bruce, who were known to hold leading positions in the party opposed to Mr. McDougall, had been invited to be present at the meeting of the Council, and on being questioned by the Council as to the motives and intentions of the party they represented, Mr. Riel, who alone addressed the Council on the occasion, substantially said in the course of a long and somewhat irregular discussion, that his part were perfectly satisfied with the present Government and wanted no other; that they objected to any Government coming from Canada without their being consulted in the matter; that they would never admit any Governor, no matter by whom he might be appointed, if not by the Hudson’s Bay Company, unless delegates were previously sent with whom they might negotiate as to the terms and conditions under which they would acknowledge him; that they were uneducated and only half-civilized, and felt that if a large immigration were to take place they would probably be crowded out of a country which they claimed as their own; that they knew they were in a sense poor and insignificant, but that it was just because they were aware of this that they had felt so much at being treated as if they were even more insignificant than they in reality were; that their existence or at least their wishes had been entirely ignored; that if Mr. McDougall was once here, most probably the English-speaking population would allow him to be installed in office as Governor, and then he would be our ‘Master or King as he says,’ and that therefore they intended to send him back; that they consider that they are acting not only for their own good but for the good of the whole settlement; that they did not feel that they were breaking any law, but were simply acting in defence of their own liberty; that they did not anticipate any opposition from their English-speaking fellow country-men,[2] and only wished them to join and aid in securing their common rights; that they might be opposed by some Canadian party in the country, but for that they were quite prepared; and that they were determined to prevent Mr. McDougall from coming into the settlement at all hazards.

The Council endeavored to convince Mr. Riel of the erroneous nature of the views held by himself and the party he represented; explained the highly criminal character of their proceedings, and pointed out the very disastrous consequences which might accrue, not only to themselves, but to the settlement generally, if they persisted in their present course. He was earnestly advised to exercise his influence with his party in dissuading them from attempting to molest him in any way, and inducing them to return peaceably to their homes; assuring him that sooner or later heavy retribution would fall upon them if they carried their plans into execution.

Mr. Riel, however, refused to adopt the views of the Council, and persisted in expressing his determination to oppose Mr. McDougall’s entrance into the settlement, declining even to press the reasoning and advice of the Council upon his party. although he reluctantly promised to repeat to them what he had just hear, and inform Governor McTavish of the result by Thursday at 11 o’clock.

Mr. Riel and Mr. Bruce having retired, the Council resumed the consideration of the subject before them, and the expediency of calling out an armed force to meet and protect Mr. McDougall was suggested; but as it was seen that it would be from the English-speaking part of the community that such a force, if forthcoming at all, would be chiefly drawn, the result would evidently be to bring into armed collision sections of the people who, although they had hitherto lived together in comparative harmony, yet differed from each other so widely in point of race, of language and religion, as well as general habits, that the commencement of actual hostilities between them would probably involve not only themselves, but the surrounding Indians, in sanguinary and protracted struggle; and the Council therefore felt that without a regular military force to fall back upon, they could hardly be held justified under almost any circumstances, in resorting to an experiment so full of possible mischief to the whole country.

The Council, at length, having learned that a number of the more intelligent and influential among the French were not implicated in the hostile movement against Mr. McDougall, adopted the following resolution, which was moved by Mr. Bannatyne, and seconded by Mr. McBeath, viz.:–

‘That Mssrs. Dease and Goulet be appointed to collect immediately as many of the more respectable of the French community as they could, and with them proceed to the camp of the party who intend to intercept Governor McDougall, and endeavor, if possible, to procure their peaceable dispersion; and that Mr. Dease report to Governor McTavish on or before Thursday next, as to their success or otherwise.’

The Council then adjourned.”

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[1] Among the “certified extracts” from the HBC council’s the minute book, sent to Donald A. Smith in 1874, in Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Select Committee, Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70 (Ottawa: I.B. Taylor, 1874), 97-99. See also “Minutes of a meeting of the Governor and Council of Assinibois, held in the Court Room of Assiniboine, on Monday, the 25th October, 1869,” Canada, Parliament, Correspondence and papers connected with recent occurrences in the Northwest (Ottawa: 1870), 135.

[2] William Cowan, quoted in Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, vol. 1, session 1875, ed. A.M. Burgess (Ottawa: C.W. Mitchell, 1875), 1066, deposed that at the meeting of the HBC Council of Assiniboia on 25 October 1869,

That on the discussion of the question as to what action should be taken, it was the opinion of the Council that the well-affected settlers would not respond to any call on the part of the executive to assist in bringing in the said Mr. McDougall and party, members of the Council stating that they had made inquiries in their respective districts, and that the people refused to act either armed or unarmed, alleging, generally, that the Canadian Government had been preparing for a long time to assume the Government of the country, and should be able to do so without calling on one portion of the settlers to take up arms against another.

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