11th Day: 5 February

Previous page: 10th Day: 4 February

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Council Chamber, Upper Fort Garry

Saturday, 5 February 1870[1]

Eleven o’clock, A.M. — Debate resumed.

Mr. Riel — We must not regard the Company as something detestable. At the same time we must bear in mind that the public interests must be above those of the Company. I object to this getting one-twentieth of the land as is proposed.— as it would give them a very unreasonable influence in the country. It would perhaps enable them to double the number of their Forts and their influence against the people. It meant five acres out of one hundred, and is, in my opinion, altogether too large. With greatly increased influence wielded by the Company, what would be the result? Had this tremendous influence been in the hands of the Company, possibly when Dennis was here, it might have been raised against us,— and the affair might have been so disastrous as to result in the death of many in the room (cheers). I do not say that the Company should be crushed, for they are a source of power in this country; but we must keep them on the same footing as the other merchants. They must take their chance with the people, as a portion of them, and not as a section having a predominant influence. We have seen how the agents of this Company acted towards our forefathers,— how a man may toil for them,— spend years in labor for the Government,— and how after years were past, when he asks for land, it is granted provided he has eighteen pounds and more to pay for it (hear, hear). Very often, after a lengthened service with the Company, and a term of liquor-drinking, these employees of the Company have returned poorer than they came, with scarce money enough left to take them home. Mr. Riel next alluded to some of his relatives who had lived long here, and died without attaining that competence which their labor and merits entitled them to,— owing to the screwing down process which the Company had adopted in this country (hear, hear). Again, on a late occasion they tried to sell us. There never was a parallel case. A Company of strangers, living beyond the ocean, had the audacity to attempt to sell the people of the land. Instead of being the “Honorable” Company, as they were usually termed, they ought to be stigmatised with the prefix “Shameful” (laughter and cheers). We serve their interests and purposes, they endeavored to subvert ours. But the truth of it is, the Half-breeds of the country must govern, with the other portion of the people if they are together. For four months the English speaking population stood aloof and took no part in the movement. But now they come forward and try to cut down the rights to half rights. This is a very serious matter. We have braved Indians and white men in maintaining our present position. And if we do not all join in support of the present order of things there will probably be massacre — not perhaps immediately, but within two years. Throughout, the Company has pursued a course which can only be called detestable; and it is our business to prevent them getting more influence (cheers). We, in this Settlement, must get control of all the lands in the North-West, or stipulate to enter as a Province shortly, in order to get that control (cheers).

Mr. Riel again rose and said — The presence of the Bishop of Rupert’s Land reminds me of something which was in my mind last night in speaking of the desirability of declaring the bargain for the Territory with the Hudson Bay Company to be null and void. I remember that some stipulation has been heretofore made to the Bishop of Rupert’s Land, and I go heartily for the continuance of these. In the negotiations for the transfer of this country it was struck out, and I see it forms no part of the bargain as it stands. I would now move, instead of my former motion, “That all arrangements and stipulations made by the Hudson Bay Company in the matter of the transfer of the Government of this country to the Dominion of Canada, be null; and that all arrangements on this subject on the part of the Government of Confederation, be made directly with the people of Red River.”[2] In explanation Mr. Riel stated that his motion had no reference to dealings with the Imperial Government, but simply provided that all negotiations for the transfer of the country should be carried on between Canada and the people of Red River and not between Canada and the Company.

X. Pagee seconded the motion.

The Chairman — Yesterday we were engaged in discussing what may be called questions of high politics (laughter),— Territorialism, Provincialism, Crown Colonial-ism, Annexation-ism (laughter). These are the prominent marks which bounded that wide region into which your thoughts were left to wander. And so large was the field of speculation on which some, at least, seemed inclined to enter, that, for my own part, I should have been quite prepared to hear almost any doctrine, any proposition, or motion (laughter). Indeed, if there were any one here, with a full faith in aerial machines, I should not have been very much astonished if such a one had invited us to consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of our being annexed to one of the highest peaks of the mountains of the Moon (laughter) — a connection, which, whatever its drawbacks in other respects, would at all events have conferred on us the luxury of breathing a purely lunatic atmosphere (laughter and cheers). My object in rising is to make my position in this matter clear. The motion is of such a character, that were I to sit silent, I might be liable to be misunderstood. I do not feel that I can discuss the motion at all. The character and conduct of the Hudson’s Bay Company is a theme on which I shall not here enter. But I would simply ask you, one and all, you who know the facts so well, that it would be superfluous in me to dwell upon them,— I say, I would simply ask you whether you believe that charge. The principal object, however, for which I aim is to say, that the question embodied in this motion is one which I cannot discuss. Whether it is a question you can deal with, is a matter you must determine for yourselves. It relates to arrangements between the Imperial Government, Canada and the Hudson Bay Company; and if you think that any expression of opinion you may give, can alter or modify such arrangements in any way, of course you may offer it. But I hope the doctrine is not to be put forward that this Convention arrogates to itself the power of sitting as a Court of Revision upon arrangements made in a quarter where, I rather think, higher authority is held than you can touch. And it was satisfactory to hear from Mr. Ross the explanation, that although Mr. Riel’s motion appeared to come into conflict with arrangements made by the Imperial Parliament, yet Mr. Riel did not wish to be understood as defying that authority.

After some further remarks, the Chairman said — Of course if you think proper, you may go into the discussion of this question. I can have nothing to do with it. It lies beyond my reach. In conclusion I have but to ask every one of you to say from your own experience whether the Hudson’s Bay Company in this country can fairly be described in the terms to which I have already referred, and whether, on the contrary, they may not be described as a Company who with a father’s hand have led and often even fed you on many occasions? Let me hope that that past will not be wholly forgotten. If there are any in this assembly who do forget it, and if through such forgetfulness the Company, like the King of old, is to be taught by bitter experience, “how hard it is to have a thankless child.”— yet the Company may under the smart of such fearful experience, draw consolation from the thought, that even if it should be so, it will not be the first time in the history of the world that the best of friends have been forgotten, and the most bountiful and generous of benefactors has been abased (cheers).

When Mr. Riel had translated the Chairman’s address into French,

Mr. Dauphinais said — If the Company never evicted any one from their lands, they threatened to do it.

A proposition having been made for adjournment,

Mr. Riel urged that a great effort should be made to place the List of Rights in the hands of the Commissioners as soon as possible,— as the Canadian Parliament met on the 15th February.

Mr. Riel’s amendment was then put and lost on the following division:—

Yeas — Messrs. Thibert, Birston, X. Pagee, Poitras, B. Beauchemin, O’Donoghue, Lepine, Genton, Schmidt, Riel, Parenteau, Laronce, Touron, Lascerte, Delorme, Dauphinais, Scott — 17.

Nays — Messrs. C. Nolin, Harrison, Klyne, Cochrane, Spence, Bunn, Ross, A. McKenzie, Black, D. Gunn, Boyd, Bird, Fraser, Sutherland, Flett, Tait, Taylor, Lonsdale, K. McKenzie, Cummings, G. Gunn, Spence — 22.

Mr. Riel, (with great warmth, marching up and down the Council Chamber) — The devil take it: we must win. The vote may go as it likes; but the measure which has now been defeated must be carried. It is a shame to have lost it; and it was a greater shame because it was lost by those traitors — (pointing to Nolin, Klyne and Harrison).[3]

Mr. Nolin (jumped up and said with indignation, in French) — I was not sent here, Mr. Riel, to vote at your dictation. I came here to vote according to my conscience. While there are some things for which we blame the Company, there is a good deal for which we must thank them. I do not exculpate the Company altogether, but I say that in time of need we have often been indebted to them for assistance and kindness.

Mr. Riel — While I say this matter must be carried, I do not wish to speak disrespectfully to the Convention. But I say it will be carried at a subsequent stage. You must remember (he added angrily) — that there is a Provisional Government, and though this measure has been lost by the voice of the Convention, I have friends enough, who are determined to add it to the list, on their own responsibility. (Turning to the French section of the Convention, he said, speaking rapidly and with great vehemence, and pointing threateningly at those he addressed — As for you Charles Nolin, Tom Harrison and Geo. Klyne — two of you relatives of my own — as for you, your influence as public men is finished in this country. Look at the position in which you have placed yourselves. You have lost your influence, (he added emphatically) — forever.

Mr. Nolin — Let me tell Mr. Riel that I was sent here by my parish. I never sought the position, and, personally, if I am lost to public affairs, I would be rather glad of it. You, Mr. Riel, did what you could to prevent my coming here and failed; and if it suited my purpose to come back again, I would come at the call of my parish, in spite of you.

On motion of Mr. Ross, seconded by Mr. Riel, the Convention adjourned till Monday at one o’clock, and the Secretaries were instructed to furnish Mr. Smith with a copy of the List of Rights at eleven on Monday forenoon, and request his answer at one o’clock the same afternoon.

At half-past one the Convention adjourned till Monday.

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Next page: 12th Day: 7 February


[1] “Convention at Fort Garry,” New Nation (11 February 1870), 2, 4; HBCA, E.9/1, 15.

[2] HBCA, E.9/1, 15.

[3] The epithet ‘traitor’ is likely a reference to the men having cooperated with the ‘Canadian Party‘: Nolin by passing on information about Comité National deliberations (he had been a member of the Council of the Comité National at its inception); Klyne by transporting as messages between John C. Schultz and William McDougall. See notes on their activity in “Chronology: 1st Canadian Attack on Fort Garry, 1869,” this site.

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