16 November 1869

The Courthouse, Upper Fort Garry, Convention of Tuesday, November 16, 1869.

The Council met as proposed, at the Court House near Fort Garry on Tuesday.” About noon, “the delegates as per appointment met … to discuss matters regarding the present and future welfare of the settlement.”

The English representatives are greeted on their arrival by a salute of a dozen guns for them and a dozen for the French.

John Bruce [presiding as] president [/chairman of the convention,] Louis Riel [as] secretary.

The English express their dissatisfaction with these joyous demonstrations of gunfire. They protest to a man against this display of military force.

The French are more light-hearted and explain to them that they have no hostile intention toward their English compatriots.

The English require a fresh election of a president and a secretary.

The French say that they are ready to proceed with one as soon as, by a frank and cordial understanding, the representatives of the two sections of the population, or at least the Majority, should agree on a line of conduct to follow in the existing circumstances. That for that purpose it is important the representatives of both languages, without delay, put before the assembly the instructions they have received, orally or otherwise, from their constituents. That there is need that the true intentions of the two sections of the Population should be fully known and understood,– to establish in what they were alike, and in what opposed, in what understanding was possible.

The English say that they protest against the taking up of arms by the French, against their seizure of the Fort, against their illegal opposition to the entrance of Mr. [William] McDougall, sent by the Queen.

The French say that it has always been their custom to take up arms to repel all who approach the portals of the Colony with adverse intent. As the Indian war parties have been repulsed, so Mr. McDougall will be. He too is feared, because already for some time it has been heard said that he is going to come to govern us, that the Company has sold rights of government here. And yet neither England nor the Company has warned us of this and Mr. McDougall has in fact made entry into the colony. Having been repelled, he is still there just over the line, wearing us down, trying to establish himself [as] already our master, without our authorities having told us that he is. My dear fellow citizens, because [of] our attachment to British institutions, which we respect as you do, let us not wait together until our liberties pass to [an] alien power, let us not wait to claim them, until they may be in other hands, etc.–

The English seem to be impressed.

Mr. J.J. Hargrave [secretary to Hudson’s Bay Company Gov. William Mactavish] knocks at the door, asks to speak, he bears a communication from Governor McTavish. [which he presents to Mr. H. McKenney]

The English wish it to be read immediately.

Mr. Riel says that it would be better to wait until the convention had done what it had to do, before concerning itself with what the Company had to say to us.

Animated discussion [ensues].

[Debate resolves:] Finally we are to read that communication at the end of the present session.

Mr. Ross — What cause led you to take the Fort?

Mr. Riel — To preserve it for the inhabitants of the country and in order that McDougall with his strangers should not come and establish himself there as absolute master.

Mr. Ross — The means you have taken to arrive at your end are unconstitutional — The Queen conferred authority on Mr. McDougall at [her] pleasure — All loyal subjects have only to obey.

Mr. Riel — Let Mr. McDougall show his authorization! We have never refused to obey the Queen of England.

Mr. Ross — Mr. McTavish is still the representative of the Queen. You occupy the Fort in spite of him.

Mr. Riel — I do not know whether our occupation of the Fort is very disagreeable to him.

Mr. Ross — (indignantly), Mr. McTavish is a worthy representative of the Queen.[1]

Mr. Riel — We think so still.

Mr. Ross — Well, then, if he is so, as it is a little late and time for us to think of adjourning, I demand that the communication which has been sent you by Mr. W. McTavish be read now. Mr. Riel will make no objection, I presume, because of what he has just said.

Mr. Lowman seconds the motion, and Mr. McKenney is requested to read to the convention what Mr. McTavish has sent to it.

[Mr. McKenney reads the document from Mactavish.]

“Whereas I, William Mactavish, Governor of Assiniboia, have been informed that a meeting is to be held to-day, of persons from the different districts of the Settlement, for the ostensible purpose of taking into consideration the present political condition of the Colony, and for suggesting such measures as may appear to be best adapted for meeting the difficulties and dangers connected with the existing state of affairs;

And whereas I deem it advisable at this conjuncture to place before that meeting, as well as before the whole body of the people, what it appears to be necessary for me to declare in the interests of public order, and of the safety and welfare of the settlement;

Therefore I notify all whom it concerns, that during the last few weeks large bodies of armed men have taken up positions on the public highroad to Pembina, and, contrary to the remonstrances and protests of the public authorities, have committed the following unlawful acts:

First. They have forcibly obstructed the movements of various persons travelling on the public highway in the peaceable prosecution of their lawful business, and have thus violated that personal liberty which is the undoubted right of all Her Majesty’s subjects.

Secondly. They have unlawfully seized and detained on the road at La Rivière Sale, in the Parish of St. Norbert, goods and merchandise of various descriptions and of very considerable value, belonging as well to persons coming into the Colony as to citizens already settled here and carrying on their business in the Settlement, thereby causing great loss and inconvenience, not only to the owners of those goods, but, as has formally been complained of also to the carriers of the same, and possibly involving the whole Colony in a ruinous responsibility.

Thirdly. They have unlawfully interfered with the public mails, both outgoing and incoming, and, by thus tampering with the established means of communication with the outside world, have shaken public confidence in the security of the mails, and given a shock to the trade and commerce of the Colony, of which the mischievous effects cannot now be fully estimated.

Fourthly. Not only without permission, but in the face of repeated remonstrances on the part of the Hudson Bay Company’s officer in immediate charge of Fort Garry, they have, in numbers varying from about sixty to one hundred and twenty, billetted themselves upon that establishment, under the plea of protecting it from a danger which they alleged was known by themselves to be imminent, but of which they have never yet disclosed the particular nature. They have placed armed guards at the gates of an establishment which, every stick and stone of it is private property; in spite of the most distinct protestations against such a disregard of the rights of property, they have taken possession of rooms within the Fort; and, although they have there, as yet, committed no direct act of violence to person or property, beyond what has been enumerated, yet, by their presence in such number with arms, for no legitimate purpose that can be assigned, they have created a state of excitement and alarm within and around the Fort, which seriously interferes with the regular business of the establishment.

Fifthly. A body of armed men has entered the Hudson‘s Bay Company’s Post at Pembina, where certain gentlemen from Canada, with their families, were peaceably living, and, under threats of violence have compelled them to quit the establishment at a season of the year when the rigors of the winter were at hand, and forced them to retire within American Territory.

And in the last place, they have avowed it as their intention, in all those unlawful proceedings, to resist arrangements for the transfer of the Government of this country which have been made under the sanction of the Imperial Parliament, and thus virtually set at defiance the Royal Authority. Instead of adopting those lawful and constitutional means which under the enlightened rule of Her Most Gracious Majesty, our Queen are sufficient for the ultimate attainment of every object that rests upon reason and justice, the persons who have been engaged in committing those unlawful deeds have resorted to acts which directly tend to involve themselves in consequences of the gravest nature and to bring upon the Colony and the country at large, the evils of anarchy and the horrors of war.

Therefore, in the interests of law and order, in behalf of all the securities you have for life and property, and, in a word, for the sake of the present and the future welfare of the Settlement and its inhabitants — I again earnestly and emphatically Protest against each and all of these unlawful acts and intents — I charge those engaged in them before they are irretrievably and hopelessly involved immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, under the pains and penalties of law; and whatever in other respects, may be the conclusions of those who meet to deliberate upon the present critical and distracted state of public affairs, I adjure you as citizens having the interests of your country and your kindred at heart, to ratify and proclaim, with all the might of your united voices, this public notice and protest, and so avert from the country a succession of evils, of which those who see the beginning may never see the end.

You are dealing with a crisis out of which may come incalculable good or immeasurable evil; and with all the weight of my official authority and all the influence of my individual position, let me finally charge you to adopt only such means as are lawful and constitutional, rational and safe.

Given under my hand and seal at Fort Garry this 16th day of November, 1869.

Wm. Mactavish

Governor of Assiniboia.”[2]

After having heard the reading of the Proclamation of Mr. W. Mctavish,

Mr. Ross says: I am sure that our French compatriots will obey, now that the will of the governor is known and that he orders them in his capacity as governor to leave the Fort. I hope that they are going to do it, for their own benefit and the satisfaction of their relatives and friends, the English of the colony.

There is silence.

Mr. Ross rises and says that he awaits with confidence the evacuation of the Fort by the French of the colony.

Mr. Riel — Not yet.

Mr. Ross — You can no longer protest ignorance.

Mr. Riel — A Proclamation, however emphatic, still does not remove what is just in our pretensions.

Mr. Ross — Your acts are now acts of rebellion.

Mr. Riel — If we rebel against the Company which sold us and against Canada which wishes to buy us, we do not rebel against the English government, which has not yet given its approval to the actual transfer of the country. What! [sic: Well then!] We recognize the government of Assiniboia so far as it exists — (laughter).

Mr. Ross — you make a pretense of recognizing it.

Mr. Riel — (turning to the French) Do we indeed only pretend to recognize it? Come, speak.

All — no! no!

[Mr. Riel –] Moreover, we are faithful to our native land. We shall protect it against the dangers which menace it. We wish that the people of Red River be a free people. We are all brothers and kindred, says Mr. Ross, and it is true. Let us not separate. See what Mr. McTavish [says]. He says that from this assembly and from the decisions of this assembly can come an inestimable good. Let us unite. The evil that is feared will not take place. See how he speaks. Is it surprising? His children are of mixed blood like ourselves.

Adjournment “After a long sitting”  “to meet on the morrow”.


[1] Here Ross appears to take a stance contrary to that held several years earlier in an editorial in the newspaper of which he was then the editor, see “Red River Council,” New Nation (15 April 1861), which opines “The Councillors are, fortunately, roused to the conviction that matters are in an unsatisfactory condition; and bowing to the pressure of a stern public opinion, they have diligently set themselves to allay dissatisfaction by making timely concessions. This is so far creditable for a non-elective, irresponsible Council,” but objects to the councellors representing themselves as “acting in the Queen’s name” when in fact “the people usually regard the Council as acting in the name properly of the Hudson’s Bay Company and not her Gracious Majesty.” On other points, see “Present Unsatisfactory Condition of Red River,” Nor’-Wester (15 February 1861), 2, columns 3, 4, and 5.

[2] Punctuation and minor adjustments taken from “Governor Mactavish and the Situation,” Nor’Wester (23 November 1869), 1.


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