14th Day: 9 February

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Council Chamber, Upper Fort Garry

Wednesday, 9 February 1870[1]

Eleven o’clock, P.M. — Debate on the establishment of a Provisional Government resumed.

Mr. Ross — We have been discussing for some time past, the organization of a Government for Red River and the North-West, and have, I think arrived at a point, whence we may come to a conclusion. We are all anxious for union (cheers) — provided that union can be effected on a basis which we can justify to ourselves, our consciences, and our constituents. I look upon union as a boon above almost anything else we can secure at present (cheers). So far we have not acted in one way with the same means. We are but a small Settlement, and it cannot be possible but we can find a common basis, on which we can work together harmoniously and like brethren (cheers). We are natives of the country with common interests and common aims and yet we are disunited. Is there any sufficient reason to justify this divergence — a divergence fraught with peril and injury to the public welfare? For my part, having looked at the matter fairly and fully, I have come to the conclusion that there is a basis on which we can unite, and yet save our principles. The greatest difficulty the English people had to come into a union with their French brethren, was the legality of the Government. We did not like to go outside the law, lest it might involve us in responsibilities which we did not like to incur. That difficulty is, I conceive, now done away with. The man in this country who has — if any body has — legal authority — authority from England — has told us plainly that for his part, we are at perfect liberty to go forward and form any Government we think best for the welfare of the country (cheers). I am glad we have got rid of that difficulty. It relieves our people at one stroke from a sense of responsibility which they felt to be weighing them down to the ground. Another serious difficulty our people felt was that the Government organized by our French brethren had done certain things which we could not endorse. Our French friends were the party of action, and chose to act in a way respecting which we had strong scruples. Now we find ourselves in this position. From the words uttered by the head and front of that Provisional Government — uttered in all frankness and sincerity — we find that he, and those acting with him are willing to assume the whole responsibility of all that is done up to the time of union. If necessary, he will give us in writing a contract freeing us from all the responsibility of any acts done by his party and himself up to the time of union. There again, a load has been removed from our minds (cheers). I will refer to one other topic, because our people feel strongly on it,— I mean the prisoners (hear, hear). This question has troubled the English mind. It has been the act, not of the whole Settlement, but of the Provisional Government, representing one half the Settlement. And I have not the least doubt but that our French friends will meet us on this point in a manner to satisfy us (cheers). I believe we will have such assurances on this ground that we will feel perfectly at liberty to come to an agreement, and shake hands once for all with our French friends (loud cheers). Apart from this general view of the question,— which I believe will command the attention and approval of our people,— I would say that in my opinion, if we agree on the principle of union, the mere matter of details as to the particular form of Government may be settled easily by committee.

Mr. Riel having complimented Mr. Ross on the views he expressed, said — In view of the great benefits to be secured by this union, if it is consummated, we, on our part, will withhold nothing. Not only will we rejoice, but Canada and England will rejoice if we find a basis on which we can all unite (cheers). Having spoken at some length Mr. Riel concluded by saying — This moment is a happy one for the Red River people — for we are determined to unite and be brethren henceforth (cheers). To secure such a boon anything in our power will be granted (renewed cheers).

At one o’clock the Convention adjourned for dinner.

~~~

Three o’clock P.M. — Debate resumed.

Mr. Ross suggested that the committee appointed to draw up the List of Rights, be appointed to arrange the details of the new Government for the North-West.

Mr. Fraser, seconded by Mr. D. Gunn, moved — That the Committee previously appointed to draw up the List of Rights be reappointed to discuss and decide on the basis and details of the Provisional Government which we have agreed is to be formed for Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territory,— Carried, with the substitution of Mr. O’Donoghue for Mr. Schmidt,— who was absent.

Convention adjourned to allow the committee to proceed with their labors.

 ~~~

Seven o’clock P.M. — Convention sitting.

The committee which had been at work stated that Mr. Ross had been appointed Chairman and Dr. Bird Secretary. Dr. Bird then handed in the following resolutions which had been agreed to by the committee.

1. That the Council consist of twenty-four members; twelve from the English and twelve from the French speaking population.[2]

 2. Each side decide as to the appointment of its own members of Council.

3. That Mr. James Ross be Judge of the Supreme Court.

4. That all Justices of the Peace, Petty Magistrates, Constables, &c., retain their places, with the exception of William Dease, Justice of the Peace, whose place shall be taken by Norbert Laronce.

5. That Henry McKenney, Esq. be Sheriff as before.

6. That Dr. Bird be Coroner, as before.

7. That the General Court be held at the same times and places, as formerly; and that the Petty Court be held in five Districts: Lower, Middle, Upper, St. Ann’s (Point de Chene), and St. Margaret’s (Laprairie).

8. That Mr. Bannatyne be continued Post-master.

9. That John Sutherland and Roger Goulet be Collectors of Customs.

10. That the President of the Provisional Government be not one of the twenty-four members.

11. A two-thirds vote to over-ride the veto of the President of the Provisional Government.

12. That Mr. Thomas Bunn be Secretary to the Provisional Government, and Mr. Louis Schmidt, Under-Secretary.

13. That Mr. W.B. O’Donoghue be Treasurer.

Mr. Nolin — Since a number of officials has been named I think it would be well to name also the President of the Council.

Mr. Laronce — I would move that the name of Mr. Riel be added to the report, as President of the Provisional Government.

Mr. Riel left the chamber.

Mr. Flett — The other officers having been named, for my part I have no objection to our appointing the President at once. But I would like to hear from my parish on the subject, and would return an answer as fast as possible.

Mr. Tait — This is a new matter on which we really are not authorised to act.

Mr. Riel (having again entered the room) — I assume that some of the English delegates are a good deal changed and bound, and in that possibly, have possibly deceived us. You may be bound by certain pledges, but I do not see how you can let these stand in the way of union. We have arrived at a feasible, sensible plan for getting out of our trouble, and the report of the committee ought, I think, to be adopted. Even were I President, the two-thirds vote, would leave me feeble, weak and powerless. Under all the circumstances I hope you will finish before leaving. Your people are full of prejudices; and I can only say for my part that if a better head is secured for the Government, I am at your service. I know that you are bound by your people; but why did you not say so when we were organising the committee? What was the use of appointing the committee, if you could not act? That committee gave the English people all of the officers but one or two. But it is an organisation without a head. I will give you a bit of advice. Let us give public notice of what you think and have said to-day, and get an expression of public opinion. If it is your duty to go back, go; and if you do not come again, why your people can stay as they are. As for us, we will work as we have done,— we will do, not our work alone, but your work — without distinction. If you do not come back we will look upon what has been done as nothing at all. We will make out a new bill of rights, form a Provisional Government, and try to make it obeyed. On my life (continued Mr. Riel in a passionate outburst) I will say so. If the prejudice of your people are to prevail, they may do so,— but it will be in my blood.

Mr. Ross — I think, with Mr. Riel, that we have arrived at a point where we ought to cast all mere prejudices aside. I should be sorry to think that under the commission by which we sit here we should be trammelled by mere prejudices, and should not take into hand fairly whatever concerned the welfare of the country. For my part I have no hesitation in saying that were Mr. Riel the choice of the people of Red River to-morrow, I would vote for him as head of Government. I move the adoption of the report.[3]

Mr. Scott — I think it but right and proper that Mr. Riel should be declared President. He has worked nobly, and not only in my own name, but that of my constituents, do I acknowledge him.

Mr. Boyd — If this programme is to be taken up point by point, I decline to vote on it. If taken up as a whole, then I say that every man in my parish has a right to know what we are asked to agree to, and how are they to know unless I get time to tell them. I will undertake to go down at once to my constituents, point out to them the advantage and necessity of forming a Government, and leave it to the [people to?] decide (hear, hear). Their decision [illegible line].

Mr. O’Donoghue compared the [act?] of the Convention that day in obj[ecting?] to the Provisional Government, to [that?] of the first Convention, which [came?] to nothing, so far as the English delegates were concerned. Then, as now, said Mr. O’Donoghue, the English delegates came here bound hand and foot, and said nothing about that binding till the last moment. Is it any wonder that the sincerity of men who thus act should be doubted? What did they come here for? Was it not merely to criticise all we had done before? Just think what might have been the result of this action of the English delegates on a former occasion. If Providence had not ordered it otherwise, where, let me ask you would Red River have been to-day. It would have been desolated by a deluge of civil war. Dennis’s infernal proclamation and all the movements of that party were only evil continually. And some of the unfortunate results which succeeded that last Convention, may follow this, if once again we break up without uniting. It seems strange to me that the English population cannot place that confidence in their representatives that the French do, but must always bind them down.

Mr. Fraser — I do not know that we have received from our people the necessary powers to sanction us in setting to work to form a Government. Such a thing as our forming a Provisional Government never came into their heads when they sent us. Further, let me say that since we came here it took some time and labor to convince us, delegates, of the propriety of having this Government. Our people have no such knowledge. They did not give us carte blanche — to do as we liked. We must have time for reflection and consulting our constituents.

Mr. Riel (walking the chamber and soliloquising) — My goodness. I like better to fight than to work this way.

Mr. Spence (Indian Settlement) — I will do anything to secure the peace and welfare of this country. Let us not be servants of man but of God!

Mr. O’Donoghue — It is very strange that while seeking security for life and property, the English delegates do not recognise the Provisional Government,— which gives that necessary security.

Mr. Fraser — I think it is not all surprising our people have not thought of joining the Provisional Government. They esteemed the Hudson Bay Company, the only legal authority in the country, and therefore did not wish to subvert it. We feel, as well as you, that some change is needed, as for months back many in the Settlement have not done six pence worth of work.

Mr. Ross again put his motion. Mr. Nolin seconded it.

Mr. D. Gunn — I am exceedingly sorry I have not power to deal with the question before us summarily. Individually I would be satisfied with the appointments proposed.

Mr. Xavier Pagee moved in amendment that the name of Mr. Riel be added to the report of the committee, as President of the Provisional Government.

Mr. D. Gunn renewed his statement, that the delegates from St. Andrews were not sent to the Convention to form a Provisional Government, and urged that they should be allowed to consult their constituents.

Judge Black — With regard to this motion, I rise merely to say, that I have refrained altogether from speaking upon it, and that I shall decline to vote upon it. Apart from other considerations, there are obvious reasons, personal to myself, why I should take that course: and I am sure you will all easily understand my motive.

Mr. Riel — We very well understand the position our President occupies. We always found Mr. Black an honorable member of the Hudson Bay Company. Public necessity is paramount to any private feelings we may have, and with all respect we have for that gentlemen, we still make the change. But my last words are, respect and thanks to Mr. Black (cheers).

Mr. Bunn — Before Mr. Pagee’s amendment is put, let me say that I believe it to be absolutely necessary to secure a unanimous vote. For one I am ready to cast in my lot with a Provisional Government, and any reasonable man will understand that the formation of such a Government is our only safe course just now (cheers). There is really no other course open to us. Look back at the past four or five months. You know as well as I do, the oppression resting on the minds of all, which still rests there. This morning a gleam of light broke through that gloom (cheers). But again the gloom is gathering. Is it to overspread all our fair prospects? What is, after all, the objection to joining in a Provisional Government? This morning we all agreed that it was essentially necessary to form such a Government. A committee was struck to lay down a [report?] of union. They reported — and this evening members hark back on account of groundless fears and prejudices (hear, hear). Why should these gentlemen be afraid of their constituents if they took the motion urged? I am not. When I go back to my constituents and tell them that I have secured peace — that, at last, there is safety for life and property — and that this has been effected by forming a Provisional Government they will be astonished (cheers). When I tell them further that we have released the prisoners,— that they may now proceed confidently with their avocations, as property, public and private, will be respected, they [illegible line] and I [illegible phrase] future to predict that I will be thanked and not blamed for helping to form a Government (cheers). I am rather doubtful, if we part to-night, as we are, whether we will ever again have an opportunity of uniting. People’s minds are disturbed: and I say it will endanger the future welfare of the country if we part tonight without finishing the work which we have labored at so long and anxiously (cheers). I now appeal to you, in the interests of this country — I appeal to you in behalf of the whole industrial population of the Territory — for your own sakes — for the sake of your homes — your firesides — your altars — and by yet another appeal, to which all must bend an ear, by all who are near and dear — you do not leave us disunited,— finish the work which you have so well begun (loud cheers).

Mr. G. Gunn — It is too far for me to go back and consult my constituents. But I would say it would suit our people very well to be let alone. The people here ought to cast aside prejudice and form a new Government by all means. As for us, we don’t need much governing, and can get on very well alone.

Mr. Riel (to Mr. Cummings) — Are you of the same opinion?

Mr. Cummings — Yes.

Mr. Riel (angrily) Then I ask that your name be struck off the minutes everywhere you voted.

Mr. Cummings — I am quite agreeable.

Mr. Riel denounced the Poplar Point and High Bluff delegates, and said that if they did not decide at once in joining in a Provisional Government arrangement, there would be war — war within fifteen days.

Mr. Ross withdrew his amendment in order to allow Mr. Pagee to incorporate it with his.

Mr. Boyd — I have no objection to the programme placed before us, and will do what I can to carry it through among my people, believing, as I do, that we must all make concessions in order to assure the union; but I decline to vote on it.

There was a brief interval here, while the English delegates consulted.

Mr. Pagee, seconded by Mr. Thibert, then moved — That the report of the committee be adopted, and that the name of Mr. Riel be added to it as the President of the Provisional Government.

The motion was carried without a dissenting voice — the Chairman, Mr. Boyd and Mr. Cummings did not vote.

Mr. Riel — In view of the present attitude of affairs,— appointed head of the Government, by the voice of the people — I feel a greater responsibility than ever before. (Turning to the French delegates he said) — I would ask you as an act of grace, to consent to Dr. O’Donnel’s[4] immediate release from confinement (cheers). Let us also release Mr. Bannatyne, Dr. Cowan and Mr. Mactavish from all confinement (renewed cheers).

Orders were given for the release of these prisoners.

The Chairman — No one can be more rejoiced at this than I am; and since the thing has reached this stage. I hope the rest of the prisoners will be restored to liberty as soon as possible.

Mr. Ross — I, too, must express the very great pleasure I feel at this result. It is one I have longed to see. We are meeting here as brethren and let us hope that soon we’ll hear of the release of all the prisoners (cheers).

At a quarter past ten, P.M. the Convention adjourned till to-morrow.

~~~

Next page: 15th Day: 10 February


[1] “Convention at Fort Garry,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 1–2; HBCA, E.9/1, 16–17.

[2] HBCA, E.9/1, 16; see also Alexander Begg, The Creation of Manitoba: Or, A History of the Red River Troubles (Toronto: A.H. Hovey), 270.

[3] HBCA, E.9/1, 17, has notes, apparently on the debate about Ross’s motion, but they are crossed out.

[4] Dr. John Harrison O’Donnell, who arrived at Red River in November of 1869 from Canada.

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