The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia

On 15 November 2010, the Premier of Manitoba, Greg Selinger, unveiled a permanent display of historical documents and photographs that pay tribute to the central role of the Métis in the political and social history of the province. This edited transcription of the debates of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia brings the content of some of those historical documents to light.

Editorial Approach:

The debates of the Legislative Assembly took place prior to the institution of The Debates (a.k.a. Hansard) in Manitoba. I have therefore reconstituted them from several sources. The first source is a journal preserved in the Archives of Manitoba among the Red River Rebellion Records.[1] The journal contains entries penned by Thomas Bunn — the Secretary of State for the Provisional Government of Assiniboia and elected representative of the parish of St. Clement’s from November  1869.[2]  Bunn’s journal also includes newspaper accounts clipped from the New Nation. The newspaper is the second source used for this transcription. The New Nation published non-verbatim accounts of legislative proceedings and speeches that were recorded by William Coldwell, reporter for the paper and Clerk of the Assembly. A third source is the Report of the Law Committee, written by Curtis James Bird and presented in the Assembly, but not included in either of the other two sources.[3] None of the sources should be taken as absolutely accurate representations of what was said. What they preserve is the substance of a speech or the outcome of debate, and though they might contain a great deal of verbatim material, much might also be condensed or, in some instances, ignored. Bunn, Coldwell, and Bird recorded what they personally considered to be most interesting or important. It is reasonable to assume that, at best, as little as one third of the actual words spoken may have been preserved.[4]

Although the existence of a French-language record is probable, to date none has been found. Of Bird and Bunn, both of whom were classed among the English-speaking settlers of Red River, Bunn is known to have also spoken, read, and written French. His journal was written in English, however, as was Bird’s report and Coldwell’s account. It is not clear whether the latter two spoke French. It is possible that there were remarks, jokes, or even extended discussions out of which a French-language recorder might have made more. In the case of Coldwell’s reports in the New Nation, the same observation might apply to remarks made in Aboriginal languages.

For the purpose of this transcription, Bunn’s journal served as the core source. Coldwell’s and Bird’s reports were used to fill in gaps, to confirm the order of proceedings, and to check possible errors. In the reconstituted debates that follow, text taken from Bunn’s journal appears black. Text from other sources appears grey.

The process of reconstituting the debates out of multiple document sources, some printed and some handwritten, necessarily meant making editorial decisions to ensure internal cohesion, establish some consistency, and enhance readability. The end product cannot be considered a literal transcript of any of the sources, though editing was minimal. The most obvious change is in the formatting. Conventions that are standard in early (and similarly reconstituted) sessional journals of Manitoba and Canada were followed. Thus, uniform headings were applied and the names of speakers who had the floor were set in bold type. For the most part, idiosyncratic spelling (including variations of surname spellings), punctuation, and capitalization have been preserved (absent accents, for example, are in keeping with the sources – thus Taché might appear as Tache). Nevertheless, there are instances where editorial intrusions were made. These were limited to correcting what appear to be unintentional spelling errors; inserting a comma or a full stop at the end of a line or paragraph; and writing out in full abbreviations that occurred only occasionally – such as ampersands, numerical values, given names, or titles. Where an omission is obvious, missing words have been inserted in square brackets. Where words are illegible, possibilities have likewise been suggested in square brackets.  Overall, my goal was to preserve the integrity of the sources and leave the original authors’ choice of wording alone – whether their communication was clear or obscure. Footnotes indicate the location of the originals on which the transcription is based and, where possible, links have been supplied to scanned facsimiles as an aid in referencing a primary document if absolute accuracy is required.

The Debates:

[1] Archives of Manitoba [AM], MG3 A1-15, Red River Disturbance collection, “Seasonal [sic: Sessional] Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, March 1870.”

[2] On the basis of comparison — of handwriting in  documents held by the Archives of Manitoba that, according to archival notation, have been “authenticated” as belonging to Thomas Bunn — with the handwriting in the Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, I concluded that Bunn was the author of the Journal. See Norma Hall, “Hon. Thomas Bunn (St. Clements),” doing canadianhistory n.0 site, for a list of handwritten documents attributed to Bunn. I might have been mistaken — see the comments posted by Archives of Manitoba subsequent to my research having been conducted and communicated, which, on the basis of chain of provenance, conclude the author was William Coldwell. I am nevertheless holding with my initial surmise until such time as I have sufficient and compelling evidence to conclude otherwise (perhaps, for example, someone will find a sample of William Coldwell’s handwriting). By 1874, Bunn was apparently unsure of the whereabouts of “the record of proceedings of the Provisional Government” — presumably referring to the Journal that recorded  the Legislative Assembly’s proceedings. See Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869-70, 122; and A.-A. Tache, Separate Schools, Part of the Negotiations in Ottawa, 1870 (St. Boniface?: Canadian Publishing Company?, 1893?), 1. After Bunn’s death in 1875 papers pertaining to that government were found to have been in his possession, although which papers, and whether or not the Journal was among them is unknown. Some of the papers appear to have been passed to the Manitoba Historical Society and eventually to have been archived by the Archives of Manitoba. See George Bryce, “Two Provisional Governments in Manitoba, Containing and Interesting Discussion of the Riel Rebellion, With an Appendix Embodying the Four Bills of Rights Verbatim,” Manitoba Historical Society Transactions ser. 1, no. 38 (read 9 January 1890), who refers to having some of Bunn’s papers in his possession. Additional note: for an unknown period of time, the AM finding aids mislabelled the Sessional Journal as the ‘Seasonal Journal.’ On historians’ difficulties with archives, see call for papers, “Failure in the Archives, A conference celebrating the failures & frustrations of archival research, 30 October 2014,” Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, London [UK] (accessed 11 May 2014), which asks, “How do we respond to the resistance, or worse, the silences and gaps, that we find in the archives? Scholarship tends toward success stories, but this conference seeks presentations from a range of disasters that arise when navigating the depths of the archive: damaged, destroyed, mislabelled, misrepresented materials, forgeries, exaggerated significance, and gaps in the historical record.”

[3] AM, MG3 A1-24, Red River Disturbance collection, Curtis James Bird, “Minutes of meeting of Committee to codify and arrange laws. 1870.” AM, MG3 A1-19, 20, 21, 23, 24, Red River Disturbance collection, includes Bills 1 through 4, documents which were also consulted.

[4]  P.B. Waite, “Introduction,” House of Commons Debates [1870] vol. 3 (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1979),  vii.


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