8th Day: 2 February

Previous page: 7th Day: 1 February

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Council Chamber, Upper Fort Garry

Wednesday, 2 February 1870[1]

Ten o’clock, A.M. — English and French representatives in session.

Debate resumed on Article 18.

Mr. Riel addressed the Convention in French, and, as translated by Mr. Ross, said — I have found great difficulty in arriving at any conclusion on this matter. It was difficult to form any plan which would please all sections of the Settlement, and establish a uniform rule. In some cases persons had ploughed on this two mile hay privilege; how were they to be dealt with? This shows the difficulty of the matter. Again, the people living on the River La Seine come into conflict with the hay privilege, and also those settled along the section as far as Rat River. This shows the difficulty of getting one rule to apply to cases so different. After looking at the whole matter, this idea occurred to me, and I throw it out for consideration. Instead of being so specific, would it not be wise in us to ask for a certain tract of country? Why not ask for a certain block of land, to be under the exclusive control of the Local Legislature? Let that land be disposed of as the people through their representatives, thought best for their interest. Of course when we attained the status of a province, we would at once have control of all the public lands of the country. But at present we were asking to go into Confederation as a Territory. In reference to the remark made last night, that we ought not to take the position of Indians, I say it is very true: and I would say further, that here is a request which we can make with perfect consistency as civilised men.

Mr. Bunn — Without going into the merits of the question, I think there is something in it worthy of consideration. But it does not meet the object contemplated in this article. We want it absolutely guaranteed to us now, whereas if we adopt Mr. Riel’s suggestion, it places us in the same position regarding the Local Legislature as we are now regarding the Dominion Government. We want this guarantee at once. As to a general rule not being applicable, I do not see that that ought to affect the question. If I cannot enjoy a right, I have no objection that another should enjoy it. If this hay privilege is guaranteed in fee simple to the present possessors, that takes nothing from the man not having the right. It simply gives something to the other (cheers).

Mr. Riel, as interpreted by Mr. Ross, urged that a large tract of land should be applied for, as it would better satisfy all parties in the Settlement. Being absolute masters of this tract it could be disposed of, as the people desired.

Dr. Bird — The two-mile grant which we ask for, does not at all clash with Mr. Riel’s proposal. We do not interfere with the rights of any who have not this privilege. We only desire to make absolutely certain of our rights. We will be glad to support their arrangements for the benefit of those who have never enjoyed this privilege. Let the Legislature set apart a portion of land for the old settlers, but let us have the land immediately in rear of our lots. True, some parties have settled on, and ploughed these hay privileges, but it has been done in very few instances, and nearly always under protest.

Mr. Flett — For all outside the two miles, I would say let it be a common for the present. And when the Local Legislature takes hold, then let those enjoying the hay privilege get the absolute ownership of it.

Mr. Bunn — You are going to take away the only little privilege we have.

Mr. Flett — I am speaking for the parties that sent me here.

Mr. Tait — I believe my constituents want all they can get.

Mr. Flett — Many of the people in that parish cannot get the two miles.

Mr. Bunn — That is no reason for taking it from us.

Mr. Flett — You will get your privileges when the Legislature takes hold.

Mr. Bunn — We have got his privilege already and want to keep it — what is more.

Mr. O’Donoghue — I approve of the remarks of Mr. Riel and Mr. Flett. By converting this two mile privilege into ownership immediately, we are giving occasion for disputes, quarrels and litigation. Many persons have settled on, and cultivated some of those hay privileges, without any protest being entered against them. Thus we have a class of squatters. Which of the two have the better right? Who is to decide? A decision in favor of converting this hay privilege into fee-simple ownership would ruin many who believe they have as good a right to the land as the first occupants. We may conceive of a case in which a father may have given his son the lot behind him, without saying a word as to this hay privilege. Is such an occupant to be ousted, because the father may subsequently come and say, I never gave you the hay privilege? The whole question is one of difficulty and needing a good deal of time to consider. I can see the reasons for asking such a tract of land as has been alluded to, and I can see none why the request should be denied.

Mr. D. Gunn — I have had some considerable experience in the working of the narrow lots down our way, and have known cases where three families were settled on a three chain lot, all fronting on the river; but I have not known a case where a son settled behind a father (hear, hear). Really, if the people down below do not get some rights beyond the limits of the two miles,— and in many cases only a mile and a half, as the length of the lots depends on the curves of the river — I do not know what they can do. Those who have borne the heat and burden of making this Settlement what it is — and let me say, without egotism, that I have been a toiler here for forty-six years — ought not to be deprived of property which is justly theirs. Take this two-mile privilege from us, and you really compel us to leave our homesteads. Would that, I ask, be fair or reasonable? As to the Riviere la Seine lots, I would say,— Could not something be done to give these or others similarly circumstanced, an equivalent which would make them equal with those getting in perpetuity the two-mile privilege?

Mr. Ross — The proposition which is laid before the Convention by the committee is fair and desirable, and does not necessarily conflict with what Mr. Riel seems to be aiming at. His proposition is difficult and vague; and this vagueness is the very thing we wish to guard against. We want absolutely that these two miles shall be given us. We claim it as of vital consequence; and in such a list of rights, I cannot see that this one would be at all counted unreasonable or unjust. I wish it to be distinctly understood that this two-mile hay privilege is vitally necessary for such of our inhabitants as live on the banks of the river. We must get it, whether we ask for it absolutely as a free gift, or claim the first right by purchase. Whichever way we adopt, it is vital that we should get it.

Mr. Riel — I say so, too.

Mr. Ross — Get it we must, or it will be absolute ruin to three-fourths of the Settlement. Hereafter the possession of this land will become of more importance than in the past,— for in the past we have had a vast common outside of it, for wood or hay, and could go where we wished without let or hindrance. It is a new thing in this country to speak of raising hay, but we may have to do it, and if we do not secure room enough, we will be practically destroying one-half or three-fourths of the Settlement (hear, hear). I cannot see, either, how Canada could object to such a demand. Looking at this vast country, with its small population, what would she think of giving us double what we own at present? I say, let those living on the river get this right, and let those living elsewhere get an equivalent in some way or somewhere else. As to Mr. Flett’s remark, that all outside the first two miles ought to be common, it would be exceedingly unsatisfactory. If that rule came into play, it would be a rule for the rich man as against the poor. The rich man would have only to get behind twenty of his neighbors, and get twenty or thirty ploughs, and get the full benefit of their land, because they would not be able to cope with him in the number of ploughs or men. In laying down general principles on this subject, one or two persons may be affected injuriously, but we cannot help that. Those who settled immediately beyond the first two miles, did so against the local law; and in a great many cases, of which I am aware, this was done against the protest of the man living on the banks of the river. As to litigation among relatives, which Mr. O’Donoghue so pathetically alluded to, I think it is more theory than fact.

Mr. Riel — It is very strange that Mr. Ross should stick at two miles and want me to help him, when I am really asking for more. I say that my proposition is not only in the interest of those born in the country, but of all.

Mr. Ross — The difference is, that your provision, liberal as it is, does not secure us what we want.

Mr. Riel — You will secure it.

Mr. Ross — Perhaps. We do not know what the Legislature may do. We want absolute security.

Mr. Riel — You cannot secure it today, and may not have this list returned to you till June.

Mr. Ross — Why not ask it?

Mr. Riel — We ask twelve times more than you do.

Mr. Scott — Mr. Ross is not consistent. According to the proposition he advocates, the rich man having six chains would have six chains extra, while the poor man, having but one chain, will have but one chain extra. Mr. Riel wants a certain block of land, to be apportioned equally.

Mr. Ross — Mr. Riel does not say that.

The Chairman — There has been a great deal of discussion on this point, and some considerable apparent difference of opinion, though not, I think, in reality. However insignificant this stipulation about the hay privilege may be in the eyes of some, it is perhaps of all others that which comes most home to the bosoms and business of the inhabitants of Red River. I have not the least doubt that the feeling regarding it is such, that if the government, whose advent we are looking to, were to interfere with it practically, to the extent of taking it away from them — it might be difficult to convince the people of Red River that they had derived any substantial advantage at all from the Canadian Government. It is a principle which above all others is most valued. Let us look at the privilege as it stands. It amounts to this. That at a certain period — a fortnight, I believe — every owner of a lot of land fronting on the river has the exclusive right to the hay on the land stretching for two miles immediately behind it. It is now proposed not only that these proprietors should have exclusive privileges on these second two miles, but that they should have the absolute ownership for all time. This is the nature of the privilege, and the claim we base on it. No doubt, it is a very considerable structure to raise on such a foundation; but I do not mean to say it is an imprudent claim, or one so formidable that it is not likely to receive favorable consideration on the part of the Government. As to Mr. Riel’s proposition, I would ask, may we not be doing something injurious to ourselves by adopting it? When the debate was going on last night, it occurred to me that if we could stipulate that the hay privilege should be held intact until dealt with by the Local Legislature, and that when so dealt with, it should be in such a manner as to give the owner of the lot, gratis, the land held as hay privilege; and as to those not having the hay privilege, I think that finding an equivalent for them might form a very fitting subject indeed for consideration in the Local Legislature.

Mr. Boyd — As to turning this hay privilege into a common, which has been spoken of, we must remember that those purchasing lots fronting on the river, consider that they have purchased that hay privilege already; and if they are not left to the enjoyment of that privilege, not only do they lose that in their junction with Canada, but actually lose what they have purchased.

Mr. Bunn — I do not think the Chairman’s suggestion covers the ground. We want the land guaranteed to us now. As to Mr. Riel’s proposition, it depends upon contingencies — on a Legislature not now in existence. Besides I do not like the appearance of dictating beforehand to the Local Legislature.

Mr. Riel, seconded by Mr. Poitras, moved in amendment — That the local Legislature of the Territory have full control of all the lands inside a circumference having Upper Fort Garry as a centre, and that the radii of this circumference be the number of miles that the American line is distant from Fort Garry.

Mr. Riel remarked — If we are going to ask for any land, let us ask for the greater rather than the lesser quantity.

Mr. K. McKenzie — I object to Mr. Riel’s proposition, as it appears to me that, if adopted, it would encroach on the boundary of the Portage.

Mr. O’Donoghue strongly urged that the Local Legislature should have control over this tract of land.

At half-past one, the Convention adjourned for an hour and a half.

~~~

Three o’clock, P.M.

Mr. Riel — There seems to be a fear among the English members that if this matter is left to the Local Legislature this point will not be carried. Where, I would ask, is there a parish in the country which will elect a man who will not vote for this. No one having the interests of his people at heart could venture to do so. I say leave the matter to the Local Legislature.

Mr. Ross — If Mr. Riel is really in earnest in desiring to see us secured in possession of this, why object to securing it to us now?

Mr. Riel — It is to make a useless demand. I say it is far better to get sixty miles than four. I would like the Local Legislature to have its power exerted from Fort Garry. I want this country to be governed for once by a Local Legislature. Our country has been hitherto differently governed and they were within an ace of selling us. But now, I say let the authority of the Legislature be everywhere and influencing everything.

Mr. Sutherland — I consider there is great weight in what Mr. Ross says. We have a chance to get what we ask, and ought to avail ourselves of that chance. For my part, if this is not carried, I will consider that we have done nothing. It is the first point which came up in which my constituents were directly interested.

Mr. Riel — If I am not wrong, I see where all this goes. [But? Yet? ] some days more will explain it. Hitherto I have made no allusion to this fact — but now I claim the liberty to do so — when we speak of making laws — that I am President of the Provisional Government, which is in actual operation, and in that capacity I can say that this claim which is made will be at once guaranteed, if the Convention will first dispose of the claim for a tract of land, with Fort Garry as its centre. Hitherto, I have been acting at the head of my people, with many others, and only in the present connection do I mention it. I hold this position without any pretensions, and whenever the interests of the country call on me to resign,— if I see that the voice of the people is there, I will obey it.

Mr. Sutherland — Suppose that Government passes away soon, would not its laws pass away too?

Rev. Mr. Cochrane — I would like to ask a question about this sixty miles or more for which it is proposed to ask. I represent here the Indian Settlement. Of course, there is a Chief there, who thinks he has control over those lands. How would it affect him if this large tract were granted?

Mr. Riel — His right would stand good. We are not here to deprive anybody of their rights. For my part, I wish the whole country was under the control of the Local Legislature. We have to work for the country, in case the Canadians will not work for us.

The Chairman — Is it intended that Upper Fort Garry, or any private property immediately around it, shall be placed under the control of the Local Legislature?

Mr. Riel — We will respect the rights of everybody,— even the Company.

The Chairman — I see no reason why their rights should not be respected.

Mr. Riel — And I do not see why the question should be put. If this doubt exists regarding the property of the Company, a similar doubt would exist regarding everybody’s property. As to the land, I will say that for ourselves we cannot fix on any general rule at once which will meet our requirements. But if you want this two-mile grant absolutely, I will leave it to yourselves. I only object to the way in which you propose to get it.

Mr. Bunn — We are very much obliged to Mr. Riel. But we are very strongly opposed to anything like a division between the French and the English people.

At this stage the debate took a sharp turn and the question of revenue came up.

Mr. Riel — When we asked for the Public Accounts, Mr. Mactavish told us he had everything in his memory, and the clerk in the office told us the same thing. I say that the revenue of the country has been great, but no proper account was ever kept of it by the Company. I have seen the books.

The Chairman — There must have been accounts kept of it year by year. I am pretty certain there have been accounts of the revenue and expenditure every year.

Mr. Fraser — I move in amendment, that Article 18 be struck out.

Mr. Ross — I would suggest that this question of the hay privilege be voted on first, and that afterward this sixty mile claim come up as a separate article. I propose that Article 18 be now voted on, on the understanding that Mr. Riel’s proposition be taken up afterwards and disposed of on its own merits.

Mr. Riel — I move my amendment.

Mr. O’Donoghue — One reason why we wish this land to be under the control of the Local Legislature, is to prevent persons doing as has been done in town, taking up what lots they like and putting their names on them.

Mr. Riel — No man will take this tract of land here from us. We have asked for it, and Canadians will not take it from us, unless they take our lives.

Mr. Riel’s amendment was put and carried in the following division:—

Yeas — Messrs. Thibert, Dauphinais, Birston, X. Pagee, Poitras, Beauchemin, O’Donoghue, Lepine, Genton, Schmidt, Riel, A. Beauchemin, Parenteau, Laronce, Touron, Lascerte, Delorme, C. Nolin, Klyne, Harrison, Scott — 21.

Nays — Messrs. Cochrane, Spence, Bunn, A. McKenzie, Black, Ross, Gunn, Boyd, Bird, Fraser, Sutherland, Flett, Tait, Taylor, Lonsdale, Cummings, Gunn, Spence — 18.

Mr. K. McKenzie, of the Portage, protested against this decision of the Convention, on the ground that it appeared to stretch beyond the limits of Assiniboia proper and encroached on the Portage boundary.

Article 19 was next proposed:—

“19. That every male person, twenty-one years of age, resident in the country one year, shall be entitled to vote for the election of a member to serve in the Legislature of this Territory and in the Parliament of the Dominion.”

Mr. Bunn — I would recommend the adoption of the provision for the District of Algoma. It provides for those who may vote at elections, as follows:—

“That, until other provision is made in their behalf, that every male British subject having a stated residence in the Territory at least one year next previous to the date of the writ of election, and being a householder therein, of the full age of twenty-one years, shall be entitled to vote for member” — in our case it would be for the Local Legislature of said Territory, and for the Dominion Parliament.

At half-past six the Convention adjourned till ten the following morning.

~~~

Next page: 9th Day: 3 February


[1] “Convention at Fort Garry, Very Important Debates, The Bill of Rights,” New Nation (11 February 1870), 1; HBCA, E.9/1, 12–14.

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