13th Day: 8 February

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Council Chamber, Upper Fort Garry

Tuesday, 8 February 1870[1]

            Noon — Convention is in session.

The Chairman, in opening the proceedings said — Happily, very happily, when we last separated, it was under circumstances that opened up a fair prospect of a peaceful termination of all the difficulties and disturbances which we have been engaged in considering; and I hope that by the steady prosecution of the course that had then been entered upon, you may soon arrive at final and satisfactory conclusions.

Mr. Fraser — The first business before us is to see whether we will send delegates to Canada — how many; and also —

Mr. Scott — It seems to me that we should see first whether the Convention has the power to send delegates.

Mr. Riel — We have arrived at that point — or very near it — where we must consider the nature of this Convention. Notwithstanding our differences of opinion, we have been friendly up to this point. But we are yet in a loose, unsatisfactory way. It is now necessary for us to place ourselves in a more suitable position. We must have a more fixed existence before proceeding much farther. Unquestionably our position can be improved by drawing closer together than at present; and it is equally unquestionable that we ought to be bound together by bonds of friendship and self-interest. Union is strength. United, we command a hearing from Canada, where our rights are to come from, which we can command no other way (cheers). It is also to be borne in mind that a feeling of insecurity reigns in the minds of people which can be successfully combated in no other way than by a union. This feeling of insecurity, I need hardly say, is unsatisfactory — and all the more so when it is in our power to remove it. Here is a large Convention of representatives — able, honest and good men, — the choice of their people — men who are needed at a crisis like this. Here we have the elements from which the people look for something good. Why not throw them into a shape in which we can act effectually, and work in a more satisfactory manner? We must recognize the fact that perhaps in pushing opinion too far, we may go a long way to repeal the work we have done. We have worked carefully and wisely, and consequently believe we have done a good work. Let us not spoil it by pressing our peculiar opinions too far. For myself I feel the last four months’ work to be a good one, and to be consistent, I feel called on to work to the end for the interests of the people. Still the Convention must not for a moment imagine that there is any disposition on our part to disown, or not to acknowledge others, in wishing to maintain what has been accomplished. If matters had been pushed to the extreme, there would in all probability [have] been something disastrous before now. But there has been a spirit of moderation and friendship under all this earnest working to secure the rights of the people. One of these days, then, manifestly, we have to form a Government in order to secure the safety of life and property, and establish a feeling of security in men’s minds, and remove a sense of apprehension that it is not desirable should continue for a moment. How often have we not, on our side, expressed a fear as to the security of property and life. It is our duty to put an end to this, and it will be our glory as well as our duty (cheers). As for the past, it can never be admitted that a proceeding which has saved the country is a thing to be despised. The result shows it to be a meritorious and good thing. Should this Convention separate without coming to an understanding, we leave matters worse than ever — we leave open a gap in which all our people may be engulfed; and in the angry waves of the flood which might sweep over the Settlement, we may find reason for regret that a wiser course had not been adopted when it lay in our power. Dark, mysterious, dangerous rumors are afloat all the time. I have heard a rumor as to armed men gathering in the Lower Settlement. I do not believe it. But all these rumors have a mischievous tendency. These rumors and counter-rumors are injurious to our prosperity; and we should do what we could to put an end to them (cheers). Let the Convention decide on delegates to Canada, if they will, but after that we ought to take this step for the promotion of order I have alluded to.

At this stage, one o’clock, P.M., Convention adjourned for an hour and a half, to dine.

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Three o’clock, P.M. — The Chairman said that the business before them, had been alluded to in Mr. Riel’s speech that forenoon, wherein he touched on several prominent and important matters, and in a very proper way.

Mr. Ross — I have a proposition to offer, with respect to sending delegates to Canada. We have received from the Commissioners an invitation to send delegates to Canada, and have had their promise that these delegates would receive a most cordial reception at the hands of the Canadian Government. That being the case, and looking at the matter as desirable and fitted to do good to the people of the country, I would propose that Commissioners be sent. The course proposed is one of the best that can be now taken for the country. At Ottawa, information will be required as to the wants and wishes of the people here — and it is impossible to get that information from books or in any other way than by written information or delegates. Seeing that we have drawn up a bill of rights, and that it has to be presented to Parliament, it is of great importance that we should have delegates there to give all the requisite information and furnish details which it would be impossible to get in any other way (cheers). Our circumstances are peculiar in a peculiar sense, and without the presence of such a delegation, the legislators in Ottawa might be unable to understand or appreciate properly the merits or bearings of all the points brought forward in the list (hear, hear).

But I am satisfied that with the delegates there — men acquainted with the discussions here and the state of the country and the public feeling,— I am satisfied that they could give such information that the bill of rights could be got easily, and more if necessary (cheers).  Mr. Scott raised the question as to whether this Convention had the power to send delegates. Mr. Scott’s opinion is a very valuable one: for he takes an intelligent view of things; and I do not think that he is opposed to the view that we have the power. For my part, I have no doubt of it; and I have as little doubt of the utility of the movement. Suppose a man like Mr. Riel at the seat of Government — a man thoroughly conversant with all the feelings and sentiments of his people. Is there another man who can so well express these views and sentiments? Such a man would do immense good in that position (cheers). I now beg to move — That inasmuch as the Canadian Commissioners invited delegates from this country to Canada to confer with the Canadian Government as to the affairs of this country — and as a cordial reception has been promised to said delegates — Be it therefore resolved that the invitation be accepted, and that the same be signified to the Commissioners.

Mr. Riel — It is for the Convention to accept or refuse the invitation extended by the Commissioners, and notify them accordingly. For my part I am not ambitious to go to Canada as a representative for this country. My country has given me a position here, and I am not going to leave it for any other position, so long as my country holds me there. I am not going to descend to the position of delegate, as long as my country chooses to hold me where I am. After we accept or reject the proposition of the Commissioners, I would like to see this question of Government come up. Our first step, in my opinion, is union. An actual Government is in existence. If we join with that, we establish a Government for the country generally. It may be well that I should here repeat that in all that has been done, we have never had the least intention to interfere with, in any improper manner, our English-speaking friends (hear hear). All our efforts [have been directed?] to the benefit of the whole country; and we did so without wanting recognition. We sought the welfare of the country in good faith and without prejudice. What we have done in the past has been wholly our own. We are willing to guarantee you against all responsibility for any of our acts, even by a written instrument.

Mr. Ross’s motion, seconded by Mr. Riel, was then put and carried, and Messrs. Tait and Laronce were appointed to convey the resolution to the three Commissioners.

Mr. Riel — The question of forming a Government is now fairly before us; and from the indications of feeling shown by the English delegates, I infer that they appreciate the importance of the question and the necessity of dealing with it.

Mr. Ross — I would like to express my conviction that we ought to deal with this question in a frank and friendly spirit. The tone and sense of Mr. Riel’s speech this morning, the spirit it breathed, and the object at which it aimed, were such as to command our approbation. We can no longer waive this question (cheers). We are not in a satisfactory position in this Settlement at present. We all feel that; and, as we are met here to take such steps as may be best for the future welfare of the country, we must deal with this question of Government. I hold it to be our duty, before we separate, to come to some basis of a Government in which we can work a common cause — the good of the whole country (cheers). The fact is, we have no option in the matter. We must restore order, peace and quietness in the Settlement. The details are another matter, and I trust we will consider them calmly and on their merits. I am confident we can do so — and, further, that it is our duty to do so (cheers).

Mr. Sutherland — The grand question, to my mind, has relation to the head of the Government. Once that is settled, everything else is comparatively easy.

Mr. O’Donoghue — It must be borne in mind that the French party took action not for the benefit of any one section, but of the whole country. I have had the honor of taking a trifling part in the Government of the country during the last four months, and in that way have become pretty fully acquainted with the feelings of the people. The Provisional Government was established on the 24th of November and proclaimed on the 8th of December. Among some, I know, its advent was feared, as under such circumstances the feeling was not unnatural. But time, I believe, will obliterate all these feelings, and show that it was in the interest of the country we were working. And if, for the moment, we were not helped by all, the good effects of our action will be more thankfully recognised hereafter. The Provisional Government which was established has been recognised by the whole world — order has been preserved and life and property secured by them. As far as the influence of that Government extended, it was perfect. As Mr. Ross says, it is necessary to establish a more general form of Government. For my part I think it is only necessary to join that Government which is already in existence. I do not think it generous on the part of those who have not joined the Government to throw out the suggestion of bursting up that Government, and going to form a new one. I hope there is no such desire. This Provisional Government ought to continue till the rights of the people are secured and then let a Government constitutionally formed according to negotiations with Canada take its place. For my part I recognise the Provisional Government, I recognise its head, and until his people declare otherwise he ought to hold that position.

Mr. Ross — I would suggest as an easier and more satisfactory way of arriving at a conclusion in this subject that we refer this matter to the committee previously appointed by the Convention, whose business it would be to discuss it fully and report to-morrow morning, and that in meantime the Convention adjourn.

Mr. O’Donoghue — I object to that committee. I do not myself think it is the business of a committee. There seems to be in this matter a want of gratitude and generosity to a gentleman whom, were he not present, I would speak more. Persons who have not done one single thing to achieve this unparalleled political triumph, now wish to depose the leader of the movement,— a man who forced Canada to recognise us as a people, and not as buffaloes. It is not for those people to come here now, and with feelings of ingratitude, seek to throw aside the leader of the movement as one unfit for the position of governor of the country.

Mr. Sutherland — I would like to say that we did not take any active part in the proceedings alluded to, because we did not see our way clearly. Many of our people say to-day that they did not consider these proceedings at all necessary. The greater part of the list of rights which has been drawn up, we expected to get at all events. The commission given to Mr. Macdougall[2] includes in the main your bill of rights; and on these grounds we did not consider it necessary to join in the former proceedings. But at present we occupy a different position and are willing to form a government for the sake of harmony and good will. We are willing to go as far as we can with our friends on the other side, and form a Government. Another point is, that it was generally felt that by joining the Provisional Government our people incurred too much responsibility, and threw away a certain portion of loyalty. We are all British subjects, and the general enquiry among our people was how far would it be right and proper for us to join a Provisional Government unless we have legal authority for so doing — and where can we get that authority?

Mr. O’Donoghue — In reply to Mr. Sutherland, I would observe that my remarks did not apply to the Convention. The authority coming here from Canada was not, certainly, a legal authority in any sense of the word. When that bogus proclamation was issued by Macdougall, it was said that it was all right and everything was legal. Was it so? Had not the Provisional Government a better authority for its acts? As to the English people having any fear of joining the Government lest they might throw away a part of their loyalty, I do not see how there can be any fear on that score. If we are to hold to our loyalty as British subjects, then we must have our rights as such, and we have never had them here; and yet we hear men harping continually on their loyalty as British subjects.

Mr. Riel, in alluding to Mr. O’Donoghue’s sentiments towards him personally, said — I have worked in the past for the good of the country, and that will be my guiding sentiment in the future (cheers). As to the gratitude or ingratitude of any party, all I can say is that I will do my best to deserve the thanks of all, and will retain my position as long as the people wish to keep me there (cheers).

Mr. Fraser — I do not wish to detract from the respect due to any; but I must say that the good we are to realize from the movement of the last three or four months, remains to be seen. If good comes out of it, I have no doubt the whole Settlement will gladly honor and praise those who risked so much to secure that good.

Mr. O’Donoghue — If the English people are sincere — if they wish a union — here is a Provisional Government established,— now is the time for them to recognize it,— and form one body for the Government of Rupert’s Land and the North-West.

Mr. Riel — The Provisional Government is an actual fact. Why not recognize it? You have, in reality, practically recognized it by your acts in this Convention. It has accomplished some good. Help it to do more. A proclamation was issued from Mr. Macdougall on December 1. Some of you would hardly admit of dispute, when I offered to doubt the genuineness of that document. It turned out to be a baseless affair, from first to last; and the blame rests between Mr. Macdougall and the Canadian Government. For my part, I think that whatever faults Mr. Macdougall has been guilty of he can be freed from that, and the blame laid upon the Canadian Government. But suppose the real proclamation from the Queen to be out, as was then supposed, where would the Hudson Bay Company now be, legally? Outside the line — stuck somewhere on the plains, around Boivaeris house (laughter).[3]

At this stage, there was a lull in the business, while two members of the Convention, Messrs. Sutherland and Fraser, were “interviewing” Governor Mactavish. On their return, at the request of the Convention they gave a brief account of what passed.

Mr. Sutherland said — In order to clear away my own doubts, I went with Mr. Fraser to see Gov. Mactavish, I asked his opinion as to the advisability of forming a Provisional Government. He replied, “Form a Government for God’s sake, and restore peace and order in the Settlement” (cheers).

Mr. Fraser — Another question we put to him was,— Will you delegate your power as Governor, to another? He answered,— I will not delegate my power to any one.

Mr. Riel — I would like to ask Mr. Fraser whether Mr. Mactavish declared himself the Governor.

Mr. Fraser — He did not.

Mr. Riel, (hastily) — It is well he did not, as out of this Convention I would have formed a Council-of-War; and we would have seen the consequences.

At seven o’clock P.M. the Convention adjourned till next day.

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Next page: 14th Day: 9 February


[1] “Convention at Fort Garry,” New Nation (18 February 1870), 1.

[3] See Alan Macdougall, “Eighth Ordinary Meeting: Canadian Cattle Trade and Abattoirs,” Proceedings of the Canadian Institute, Toronto: Being a Continuation of ‘The Canadian Journal of Science, Literature and History,’ new series, vol. 2, Session 18831884 (1884?): 59, which suggests that ‘Boivaeris house’ might be an inaccurately rendered  translation: in the Canadian cattle trade the sheds or barns where animals were kept to cool down after being driven to market were known as ‘bouverie.’ Riel appears to have been referring to hapless Governor-in-waiting McDougall’s ignominious lodging at Pembina.

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