Songs of the Resistance

[under construction]

On 5 November 1869, William McDougall, the Lieutenant-governor designated by Canada for the temporary governance of Red River but turned away by the Métis, wrote that one of them, as “evidence of the earnestness and patriotic spirit of the insurgents,” had “showed me a song in French, copied partly on the Marseillaise, and which was being circulated among the half-breeds of the neighbourhood.” [Source: Great Britain, Colonial Office, Canada, Governor General, Correspondence Relative to the Recent Disturbances in Red River Settlement: Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty, August, 1870 (London: William Clowes & Sons, for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1870), 13.]

La Marseillaise was composed in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle and originally titled, “Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin”/”War Song for the Army of the Rhine.” The lyrics to la Marseillaise tell of the invasion of France by foreign armies (from Prussia and Austria) which were repulsed from France following their defeat in the Battle of Valmy. In 1795, in France, it was adopted by the French National Convention as the Republic’s anthem. It lost this status under Napoleon I; was banned by Louis XVIII and Charles X; but was briefly re-instated after the July Revolution of 1830. During the nineteenth  century, La Marseillaise became identified with international revolutionary movements. It was therefore adopted by the Paris Commune in 1871, and in 1879 it again became France’s national anthem, remaining so to the present.

As the first “European march” style of anthem, La Marseillaise’s melody and lyrics were much admired, leading to  its widespread use as a song of revolution and incorporation into musical compositions of both ‘high’/classical and ‘low’/popular culture.

“La Marseillaise, (France 1907),” uploaded to YouTube by Wert737 on 5 Feb 2007

[Incidentally, the first known recording of the human voice was made by Parisian inventor Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville in 1860 — see (and hear)]

On 8 April 1870, the New Nation newspaper at Red River printed the lyrics to another song of the Red River resistance composed in English by “Cousin Sandy.” It was followed on 29 April 1870 with a lyrical composition in French, which has been attributed to Pierre Falcon. “Cousin Sandy” then made a final contribution, printed on 6 May 1870. The three songs are transcribed below, with indications of the melodies to which they were sung.

Louis Riel also penned lyric verses — celebrating the fighting spirit of the women of Red River — though there remains no indication of whether he had tunes in mind. These were later styled ‘poems,’ but, as the humour and repetitive cadence of one (with particular, if veiled, reference to Annie Bannatyne), looks song-like to me, it is included as the last entry below (in French with translations in English of the telling verses).


The Political Death and Dying

Words of Recreant Willie

A New Song to an Old Tune [one candidate for the ‘old tune’ (because the cadence fits) is the long-popular Moorlough Shore/ ‘Maid on the Shore’;(which might be a varient of Drimen Duff); and which was revived by Stan Rogers with the 1976 release of the lp album, Fogarty’s Cove.

Stan Rogers, “Maid on the Shore,” uploaded to YouTube by MinistryofStabbing on 26 Oct 2010

Willie McDougall went to the Nor’West,
And to the Nor’West went he;
And he said to himself, “I shall feather my nest,
If the half-breeds and I can agree, ‘gree, ‘gree,
If the half-breeds and I can agree.”

He went, and he gazed at the promised land,
As far as his eye could see;
And he said, “I shall be a Governor grand
And a King in this far countree, tree, tree,
And a King in this far countree.”

But then he received a letter, so pert,
Saying, “Willie, you must not come here.”
Then his hair grew so stiff, that it lifted his hat,
And his knees knocked together with fear, fear, fear,
And his knees knocked together with fear.

He sent for Colonel Dennis to make a survey;
But before the survey had begun,
His envoy came back in fearful dismay
When he heard the report of a gun, gun, gun,
When he heard the report of a gun.

Then Willie, poor Willie, he thus moralised,
While his eye dropped a penitent tear,
Saying, “My glory has fled that so long I have prized,
And with it seven thousand a year, year, year,
And with it seven thousand a year.

“Those half-breed rebels have given me fits,
And Sir John my pretensions will spurn;
I’ll be treated with scorn by the Rouges and Grits,
When my henchmen and I shall return, return,
When my henchmen and I shall return.

“Ah! cried Joe Howe! that I got into place—
For I show’d him how’t could be done;
He has been to the West, and O shame and disgrace,
At me he is now poking fun, fun, fun,
At me he is now poking fun.

“Ah! sadness and sorrow, round my heart lurks,
For I see my descent has begun;
My shipmates have turned me out of the works,
Though there’s still dirty work to be done, done, done,
Though there’s still dirty work to be done.

“The loaves and the fishes, have gone from my gaze,
I’m a practical statesman in grief;
I am down in the world, and can’t make a ‘raise,’
And the Tories won’t give me relief, relief,
And the Tories won’t give me relief.

“Had I but served my country with half of the zeal
That I’ve lately been serving myself,
I might to Reformers have made an appeal,
Before I was laid on the shelf, shelf, shelf,
Before I was laid on the shelf.

“I have been an ingrate to my old friends at least,
When of power I was in possession;
But I swear that I never have murder’d a priest,
And that’s my retiring confession, confession,
And that’s my retiring confession.”

Cousin Sandy

[Printed in the New Nation (8 April 1870), page 1, Possibly written by Alexander William ‘Sandy’ Ross, brother of Chief Justice James Ross of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia, and brother-in-law to Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia William Coldwell, reporter for the New Nation.]


Les tribulations d’un Roi malheureux

(Sur l’Air du Juif Errant)

Est-il rien sur la terre
De plus intéressant
Que la tragique histoire
De McDougl et ses gens!
Je vous la conterai
Veuillez bien m’écouter.

Sur notre territoire
Devenue ses États
Il venait —  ce bon père —
Régner en potentat:
Ainsi l’avait réglé
Le Ministre Cartier.

Le cœur gros d’espérance
Partant du Canada
Il dit: J’en ai confiance
Qu’on vivra bien là-bas.
Ah! quel bonheur!! ma foi!!
Je suis donc enfin Roi!!!

Comptant sur les richesses
Qu’il trouverait chez nous,
Il eut la maladresse
De ne pas prendre un sou,
Même pour traverser
Un pays étranger.

Le Juis Errant — plus sage —
En portant cinq au moins
Dont’il faisait usage
C’était mieux fait, on dit,
Que de prendre à crédit.

Mais trove de remarque:
Allons droit au plus court,
Suivons notre Monarque
Entoure de sa cour —
Ce bon roi Dagobert
Traversant le desert.

Il parait que l’orage
Dans son gouvernement
Durant tout le voyage
Eclata fort souvent:
L’union qui rend plus fort
Était loin de se corps.

Mais, malgré la tempête
Cameron à son bord
Voulait décrire la fête
Qui l’attendait à port.
Et la voir imprimée
Avant qu’elle fût passée.

Ce ministre fidèle
Étant loin de prévoir
Qu’elle ne serait pas telle
Qu’il avait cru la voir,
Funeste illusion!
Quelle déception!!

Déjà de son royaume
Le sol il va toucher,
Quand tout à coup un homme
Lui défend d’avancer,
Lui disant — Mon ami,
(C’est assez loin d’ici.)

Étonné de l’audace
De ces hardie mortels,
Il emploie les menace
Pour vaincre ces rebelles;
Mais cela fut en vain
Il ne put gagner rien.

Obligé de reprendre
La voie du Canada,
Il lui faudra attendre
De l’argent pour cela,
Car, pour manger ici
Il prend tout à crédit.

Aujourd’hui sa couronne
Est un songe passé,
Le trône qu’on lui donne
Est un trône percé,
Mais il dit qu’à présent
Il est bien suffisant.


Adieu! Chateaux d’Espagne
Déja si bien batis!
Beau pays de Cocagne
Acheté à grand prix.
Il fut laisser les plans
Tirés depuis longtemps.

Trouver de riches mines,
Ouvrir un long chemain,
Pour pénétrer en Chine,
Et voir meme au Tonquin,
Etait pour tout ces gens
De petits jeux d’enfans.

[Printed in New Nation (29 April 1870), ; see also (some of the punctuation is hard to determine and some words are nearly illegible. The above is a best guess on my part). Margaret Arnett MacLeod, Songs of Old Manitoba (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1969), 38, attributes the song to Pierre Falcon, “As taken down from Pierre Falcon’s grandchildren by Henry Caron.” The version McLeod printed was several verses shorter than the song in the New Nation and without the moral, but with the final verse below:

Aujourd’hui que va dire
Monsieur le Gouvernement?
Sera-t-il noir de rire
Quand il verra ses plans
Déjà tous culbutés
Par les Bois-Brûlés?]


The Statesman of the Period.

Air—The Fine Old English Gentleman

The Statesman of the Period, in this, our New Dominion,
Must not say what is riht or wrong or dare have an opinion:
But should he ‘gainst authority but threaten to rebel,
And urge his friends to do the same, the move will answer well,
For this Statesman of the Period; one of the present time.

And if the wheels of progress he will struggle to retard,
They’ll make that man a Minister, by way of a reward—
Thus offering a premium to those not over nice.
Sir John can spy, with half an eye, their acts and their price;
Of the Statesman of the Period, one of the present time.

That half-start [illegible] call’d honesty, by him must be ignored;
And condolences [?] he must send adrift, for that he can’t afford;
And should the Opposition ‘gainst his policy combine,
Then he must [illegible] himself—because he won’t resign,
This Statesman of the Period, one of the present time.

Like Bounderby, he boasts that he by matchless talent rose
From Cornwall mud; to gentle blood, to toady to his foes.
He talks [illegible], too. like any well bred Don—
Then snubs his friends and makes amends by crawling to Sir John—
This Statesman of the Period, one of the present time.

Though if to join with honest men, convenience ever led him,
If he will turn and bite the hand, that hand that one day fed him—
He’ll claim to be an “Excellency,” with honors and with riches,
When he wears his regimental coat, and new white satin breeches—
The Statesman of the Period, one of the present time.

If the Statesman but “exaggerates” and owns the simple fact,
They will send him to the savages; and if he lacks the tact
To make them love injustice, through their perceptions dim,
Their blunders they will justify, and throw the blame on him.
This statesman of the Period, one of the present time.

This Statesman was deserted, and left alone to shift,
And saw the storm impending, but he concealed its drift,
And the Monarch of the forest, “ah” in an evil hour,
Sent out his proclamation to shew he had no power,
This Statesman of the Period, one of the present time.

An apostate Annexationist, they’ll send to the Nor’-West,
Or half-repented Fenian, perhaps, will answer best,
And they will try, perhaps, to buy each discontented resident,
And in that case will give a place to Riel, the rebel President,
The Statesman of the Period, one of the present time.

They’ve lately brought to Canada—and this we think is queer,
An old discarded Governor to be her Financier,
And now the Artful Dodger his healing course begins,
By giving us a plaster new, to stick upon our shins.

Cousin Sandy

[ Possibly written by Alexander William ‘Sandy’ Ross, brother of Chief Justice James Ross of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia, and brother-in-law to Clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia William Coldwell, reporter for the New Nation. New Nation (6 May 1870), 6,]


un chien de Mer’ (Là-bas)

[The following ditty, written by Louis Riel, is dated ‘1869.’ The title is invented — there was not one with the source (Archives of Manitoba, MG3 D2, file 28, “Riel family correspondence and poetry, 1869-1923”). See Glen Campbell, ed., The Collected Writings of Louis Riel, vol. 4 (Edmonton: 1985), 85. The subject mocked is Charles Mair, who wrote letters home to Ontario from Oak Point. Hence the play on his name: chien de Mer/ sea dog (and Riel’s additional fun with Mer: Mer’ being an abbreviation of merde). The lady who demonstrated how best to deal with Mair’s ilk is Annie McDermott Bannatyne — who according to one story, pulled his nose.]

A la pointe de chênes
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
A la pointe de chênes
Se trouve un chien de Mer’

[C’est le refrain:]

Accourez! accourez
petites filles
petites filles
accourez!! accourez
Venez ce soir vous amuser

Un chien à courtes pattes
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
Un chien à courtes pattes
Encor plus courtre queue!

[le refrain]

On s’en sert pour courir
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
On s’en sert pour courir
Là-bas sur le chemin

[le refrain]

Quand il revient du large
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
Quand il revient du large
Si vous saviez sa soif

[le refrain]

Mais il a beau boir’ boire
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
Mais il a beau boir’ boire
Il n’est jamais trop soûl

[le refrain]

C’est alors qu’il aboie
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
C’est alors qu’il aboie
Qu’il jappe contre nous!

[le refrain]

On dit qu’il veur nous mordre
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
On dit qu’il veur nous mordre
En mêmenous chasser!

[le refrain]

On dit que sur nos terres
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
On dit que sur nos terres
Il veut demeurer maître

[le refrain]

Renvoyons donc bien vite
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
Renvoyons donc bien vite
Ce chien de Mer sous l’eau!

[le refrain]

L’atmosphère est trop sèche
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
L’atmosphère est trop sèche
Pour qu’il demeure ici.

[le refrain]

Mettons-nous donc à tordre
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
Mettons-nous donc à tordre
Les nez de chien de Mer’

[le refrain]

C’est un’ dam’ qui nous montre
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
C’est un’ dam’ qui nous montre
Comme il faut les traiter

Partial translation to English:

We say on our lands
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
We say on our lands
He wants to be the master
Over there!!!

Send us back quickly
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
Send us back quickly
That sea dog under water
Over there!!!

The atmosphere is too dry
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
The atmosphere is too dry
For him to stay there
Over there!!!

Let’s put out to dry
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
Let’s put out to dry
the nose of the sea dog
Over there!!!

It’s a lady that will show us
La-i-tou-trà-la! Bis.
It’s a lady that will show us
How we should treat them
Over there!!!



Published: 27 April 2012


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