Consideration of the political position of Women during the Resistance


Voting Privileges 1869:

In formalizing terms for confederating with Canada (where women did not have the voters’ franchise), the people of Red River were compelled to consider how, or whether, the rights and privileges of women of Assiniboia would conform to those of women in Canada. In the end, women of Assiniboia received no special consideration when it came to suffrage. There is evidence, however, that prior to the creation of Manitoba, although women as a class did not formally have the right to attend male councils and public elections held at Red River, they did hold voting privileges under some circumstances.

One example occurred during The Council of Twenty-four (16 November to 1 December 1869). The male elected representatives took time to consult with inhabitants of their parishes on “what would be best” for the country.[1] Beginning 26 November a two-day meeting was held at Emmerling‘s Hotel in the Town of Winnipeg. This ‘town council’ was called “to determine on the future action of the inhabitants of the Town of Winnipeg in reference to the present troubles.” It was organized and chaired by the husband of Annie McDermot, Andrew G.B. Bannatyne. Among the attendees was William B. O’Donoghue. He was an elected representative of the Council of Twenty-four for St. Boniface, but, according to Alexander Begg, who attended the meeting, and acted as chair on the second day, O’Donoghue was present in the capacity of “representing the Sisters.”[2]

The Sisters were Soeurs Grises/ Grey Nuns/ Sisters of Charity of Montreal, who lived in Winnipeg. They included:

  • Marguerite Dunn/ Sister Marie-Xavier (1837 – 1898), originally of St-Jean/ St. John’s Newfoundland[3];
  • Mary Jane Adélaide Macdougall (1844- 1896), daughter of Jane/ Jennie/ Genevieve Vandersluys Jasper/ Jaspard/ Gaspard (a Salish woman whose father had worked for the North West Company) and John George McDougall (formerly Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] Chief Factor at Lesser Slave Lake)[4];
  • Malvina Colette (1838 – 1925), originally of Verechères, Lower Canada[5]; and
  • Céline Allard (1843 – 1926), originally of Saint-Joachim and Châteauguay, Lower Canada.[6]

The primary convent of the Sisters’ order at Red River was in St. Boniface, but they were instituting a new school house/ boarding school and chapel across the river, the Académie Sainte-Mary/ St. Mary’s Academy “to serve the English-speaking Catholics on the west side of the Red River.”[7] Eventually (1881), the academy would be situated to the north of the Portage trail on Notre Dame East, just west of the trail’s juncture with Main Street, which wound from the Assiniboine River landing (known as the Coblenz[8]/ ‘The Forks’), past the east wall of Upper Fort Garry, and through the Town of Winnipeg to the parishes of the ‘Lower Settlement’ beyond.

The Sisters of Charity’s St. Mary’s Academy complex on Victoria Street, photographed (c. 1876) with pupils and staff, and showing buildings of the Town of Winnipeg in the background.

In 1869, however, for the time being the nuns and their academy were housed in a rented building on  a lane (later known as Victoria Street), between Main Street and the river and “between The Forks, and the corner of Portage and Main”[9]

[See map, William E. Ingersoll, “Location and Identity of Buildings in Village of Winnipeg 1872,” (1922), location no. 12.]

There, Marguerite Dunn, who had one arm, was headmistress/ administrator, while Mary Jane McDougall oversaw the day to day care of the children, principally orphans, boys as well as girls.[10] Malvina Colette and Céline Allard were the teachers, the former supplying lessons in French and piano.

The Sisters were among the few resident ‘householders’ in a town that could boast at best two dozen or so buildings of any size

[see Alexander Begg and Walter R. Nursey, map, “Winnipeg in 1869,” (1879)].

The nuns’ status as inhabitants of the riding was confirmed when a motion, put and carried at Bannatyne’s meeting, defined the boundaries of the town. The motion described Winnipeg as extending “as far as but not inclusive of Fort Garry on the South, as far as Mr. Alexander Logan’s on the north, as far as the Red River on the east and two miles out on the plains from the river on the west side.”[11]

After the question of the riding’s geographical limits had been settled, O’Donoghue moved that “all householders, property owners and [those of] seven months residence be allowed the right to vote.” His motion carried, giving women — the Sisters at any rate — voting rights in the town. It was likely understood, however, that their votes would be cast by a male proxy such as O’Donoghue.[12]

Significantly, the Sisters obtained the privilege of representation by a counted vote when some of the men living at Winnipeg did not. At the same meeting, John Christian Schultz had attempted to ensure that newly arrived Canadians could vote by having the term of residency requirement lowered to three weeks. His motion was defeated.[13]

Voting Privileges 1870:

nwsppr column womwn's privilegesPage 1, New Nation (28 January 1870), “Women’s Privileges,” highlighted.

The status of women was given ongoing consideration during the Resistance. The front page column, “Woman’s Privileges,” was printed in the New Nation of 28 January 1870, four days into the sitting of the Convention of Forty/ La Grande Convention, during an adjournment that allowed an appointed committee to draw up a Bill of Rights — a list of terms for confederating with Canada.  The New Nation presented Illinois as a model to ponder:

“The privileges of woman under the laws and constitution of Illinois are, on the whole, much more satisfactory than in many other places, even if it be not quite so satisfactory as Mrs. [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton might desire. Under the Constitution, the only distinctions made against them are the withholding of the rights of suffrage, of paying the poll-tax, and of serving in the militia. They are entitled to hold any office unless in the militia. They reach their years earlier than men. Men are liable, in addition to their own debts, for those of their wives contracted before or after marriage – for those debts their property may be taken in execution. On the other hand, women retain after marriage their property which they possessed previously. They may hold it and its profits free from any debts of the husband and beyond his legal control. Should a man die intestate and without descendants, his widow takes one-half his real estate and all his personal estate, besides being entitled to her dower. But if a woman dies intestate, without children, the husband only inherits one-half her real estate. The wife may disinherit the husband, but the husband cannot disinherit the wife. The mutual concurrence of husband and wife is necessary to the sale of their real estate. The husband’s salary or income may be taken to pay his wife’s debts, but her earnings are not liable for any of the debts of her husband. Married women are not allowed to execute bonds or enter into covenants of any kind.”[14]

The day before the New Nation newspaper article was printed, on the third day of the Convention of Forty (Thursday, 27 January 1870), Thomas Bunn, James Ross, Dr. Curtis James Bird, Louis Riel, Louis Schmidt, and Charles Nolin had been tasked with drawing up the “bill of rights in accordance with the wishes of the people.” They were to take as a starting point a list of rights drawn up by Louis Riel “and friends,” that “might be curtailed or extended.”

The committee’s submission regarding suffrage was put before the Convention on the eighth day (Wednesday, 2 February 1870), as Article 19 of the Bill of Rights. The gendered wording of the proposed article was in keeping with the policy in Illinois and as well reflected prior formulations of the ‘Rights of Man’ in France, the United States, and England:[15]

“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.”[16]

The clause was put to discussion that day and the next. During debate, women figuring as ‘silent partners’ in the democratic process was also shown to be consistent with Canadian policy. Thomas Bunn cited the nearest Canadian electoral district, Algoma, as an example of the franchise extending to “every male British subject.” Alfred H. Scott (twenty-six years old and unmarried) had asked, “Is it the intention of the Convention to allow women to vote? No doubt many such will come in and be householders,” but his question seems to have been regarded as rhetorical, as it was met with laughter.[17]

It is possible that Scott had based his query on news from the U.S. In January 1869 the Dakota Territory had failed to pass the “woman suffrage bill” by only one vote. In December of 1869, Wyoming had granted suffrage to women because “the territory had over 6,000 adult males and only 1,000 females, and area men hoped women would be more likely to settle in the rugged and isolated country if they were granted the right to vote.”[18]

Women were excluded from the electoral franchise by a vote of the Convention of Forty on its ninth day. Thus, while on this issue the Rights Committee members and fellow convention representatives had an opportunity to consider something truly ‘revolutionary’ for their community — one that had been described by James Ross as “a peculiar people in exceptional circumstances” — their agreed-upon plan actually fell well within the bounds of Western European imperial and North American colonial and republican norms.[19]

The list of rights carried to Ottawa by the delegates Alfred H. Scott, Judge John Black, and Rev. Nöel-Joseph Ritchot — who had been selected during the Convention to present the list in negotiating confederation — stipulated:

“9. That in this province, with the exception of the Indians who are neither civilized, nor settled, every man having attained the age of twenty-one years [note: this includes ‘civilized and settled’ men who were ‘Indians’], and every foreigner being a British subject, after having resided three years in this country, and being possessed of a house, be entitled to vote at the elections for the members of the Local Legislature, and of the Canadian Parliament, and that every foreigner other than a British subject, having resided here during the same period, and being proprietor of a house, be likewise entitled to vote on condition of taking the oath of allegiance.”[20]

The same list obliquely addressed rights of women of Assiniboia that did not pertain to suffrage by maintaining:

“5. That all properties, rights and privileges enjoyed by us up to this day be respected, and that the recognition and settlement of customs, usages and privileges be left exclusively to the decision of the Local Legislature.”[21]

The Convention of Forty had also endorsed a provisional governing body for Red River Settlement, providing for a legislature within that government. On 18 March 1870, which was the fourth day of the first session of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, the Committee appointed to draw up a Constitution for the Provisional Government (Louis Riel, Ambroise Lépine, W.B. O’Donoghue, John Bruce, William A. Tait, Dr. C.J. Bird, Thomas Bunn, and A.G.B. Bannatyne), affirmed the gender divide in formal political activity in the settlement, putting forward a preamble which stated:

“That the only qualification necessary for a member to serve in the Legislature be, that he shall have attained the age of twenty-three years, that he be a citizen of Assiniboia, and a resident of the country for a term of at least five years.”

The twenty-eight honourable members in assembly voted to adopt the preamble.

It was during the debates of the second session of the Assembly (26 April to 9 May 1870), almost concurrent with the negotiations in Ottawa, that the recommendations, put by the Law Committee (James Ross, Thomas Bunn, Dr. C.J. BirdA.G.B. Bannatyne, Edward H.G.G. Hay, John Bruce, Louis Riel, W.B. O’Donoghue, William A. Tait, and Louis Schmidt), and adopted by the Assembly, codified the position of women within the settlement with respect to points not directly related to suffrage. The second article of the general stipulations of the committee’s report on proposed laws stated, “Every enactment shall be interpreted without regard to the distinction of Gender.” This was a provision of longstanding, previously set by the HBC Council of Assiniboia[22].

Because entering confederation as a province implied that the laws in force at the time of union would continue afterwards [23]; and because the provincial legislature was to be empowered to protect existing customs and privileges; and because there was an expectation that the first provincial legislature would consist overwhelmingly of original settlers, most of whom were native to the settlement[24]: it can be argued that, to some extent, the male representatives of the Convention of Forty and Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia did what they could to protect the rights and privileges traditionally enjoyed by Settlement women, while yet conforming to the gendered code(s) that determined rights in confederated Canada.[25]

Entering confederation as a province, rather than a territory, was a condition that Louis Riel had insisted upon, despite hearty opposition.[26] Credit for gaining provincial status — and thereby obtaining the greatest possible protection for existing customs and privileges of the women of Assiniboia — is largely his.

Postscript: Voting Privileges in the Province of Manitoba:

After Manitoba became a Canadian province, under the new Lieutenant-governor, Adams G. Archibald, the statutes of the Legislative Assembly (along with its existence), were largely ignored. Instead, the system of customs and privileges that was considered in order to carry them forward, reformulate, or cancel them, was that of the HBC Council of Assiniboia.[27] Exclusion of women from the voters’ franchise became thoroughly entrenched.

“the right to vote in provincial elections was assigned to male householders; that is, to ‘the master or chief of a household; one who keeps house with his family, if he either owned his home or occupied ‘a separate maintenance and table enjoyed by himself and his dependents, distinct from other householders’.”[28]

By the time of the provincial election of 1871,

“the voter, identified specifically as a ‘male person,’ was re-defined as a ‘rate-payer,’ required to have owned property valued at $100 or more for a year prior to the election, or to have paid a yearly rent of at least $20. A single woman, under certain conditions, could be a property-owner and a rate-payer; once married, however, her holdings generally passed to her husband, and if widowed or separated, she had no ‘dower rights,’ no legal claim on any part of her husband’s estate. In any case, whether she did or did not own property, no woman could vote. The federal Election Act, indeed, decreed flatly that ‘no woman, idiot, lunatic, or criminal shall vote’.”[29]

Women would not have the right to vote in the province of Manitoba until 1916, when they also attained “the right to be elected to a seat in the provincial house.”[30] In 1918, women were allowed to vote in federal elections. These rights were not extended equally to all women, however. Some were excluded on the basis of ‘race’/culture. First Nations women (some of whom were of Métis heritage) — in the most extreme example of denying democratic representation — did not obtain the right to vote in Manitoba or Canada until 1960[31]

“It wasn’t until the introduction of the Universal Right to Vote in 1963 and the addition of the equality clause [section 15] in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1985 that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, mental or physical disability, or gender.”[32]

See also Timeline: Changes in Citizenship and Rights, Canada 1900-1945 (and Beyond).


[1] “Public Notice to the Inhabitants of Rupert’s Land,” Bruce Peel, Early printing in the Red River Settlement 1859-1870 (Winnipeg: Peguis Publishers, 1974), 6; see also 24 November 1869, and The Convention of Twenty-four this site.

[2] See Alexander Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River journal: and other papers relative to the Red River resistance of 1869-1870, ed. W.L. Morton (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1956), 186. That A.G.B. Bannatyne was the husband of Annie Bannatyne is not insignificant in this particular instance. She was both Catholic and dedicated to charitable works — particularly projects that had to do with looking after children of Red River Settlement. Annie therefore must be suspected of having had a hand in arranging that O’Donoghue’s motion and position as representative of the Sisters would be accepted by the Chair at the meeting.

[3] Diane Michelle Boyd, “The Rise and Development of Female Catholic Education in the Nineteenth-Century Red River Region: The Case of Catherine Mulaire,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1999), 72 n. 38. See also Margaret Malloy, “The History of St. Mary’s Academy and College and Its Times,” M.Ed. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1952), 12 – 13; and Raymond J.A. Huel, Archbishop A.-A. Taché of St. Boniface: The ‘Good Fight’ and Elusive Vision (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2003), 167 – 168.

[4] Boyd, “Rise and Development of Female Catholic Education … Red River,” 76 n. 56; “Memorable Manitobans: Mary Jane McDougall (1842–1896),” Manitoba Historical Society [MHS], (accessed 31 January 2012).

[5] Boyd, “Rise and Development of Female Catholic Education … Red River,” 72 n. 36

[6] Ibid, 72 n. 37.

[7]  “MHS Centennial Organization: St. Mary’s Academy (Winnipeg),” MHS, (accessed 22 January 2012); and “History,” St. Mary’s Academy, (accessed 29 November 2012).

[8] In Winnipeg, at least as of 1857, ‘The Forks’ was “usually called Coblenz,” possibly a contraction of confluence, according to a letter to the editor, from Red River, printed in the Toronto Globe (27 Feb. 1857): 2,  and a name “given to the good old classic place in Rhenish Prussia, owing to the junction there of the Rhine and the Mosella.” See also, “The Late Flood,” Nor’-Wester (1 June 1861), 3, which notes, “the point of land opposite Fort Garry, … might pass for the Coblentz of this country.”

[9] “MHS Centennial Organization: St. Mary’s Academy (Winnipeg),” MHS, (accessed 22 January 2012).

[10] On the orphans see notice, “The Grand Concert,” New Nation (6 May 1870),, announcing the concert planned to celebrate the Queen’s birthday, being “A Grand Concert, Vocal and Instrumental,” to be given in support of the orphans, on Tuesday evening, 24 June 1870, at the Court House, Winnipeg (there is an ad on page three, which includes the programme, but the Manitobia link does not connect to the content,; “The Grand Concert,’ New Nation (27 May 1870), review of venue, ladies’ dress, and performances,; and “Card of Thanks,” New Nation (27 May 1870), in which girls of the Red River Orphanage thank Mr. Spence for managing the benefit concert, along with the performers

[11] Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 187.

[12] Ibid, 187.

[13] Schultz had tried the previous day to have the residency requirement set to one week, see ibid, 186.

[14] “Women’s Privileges,” New Nation (28 January 1870), 1,

[15] Marquis de Lafayette, with Thomas Jefferson, “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens,” [approved by the National Assembly of France, 26 August 1789], in Rights of Man: being an answer to Mr. Burke’s attack on the French Revolution by Thomas Paine (London: James Watson, 1856), 53, open with the following three articles: ‘I. Men are born and always continue, free, and equal in respect [of] their rights. Civil distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on public utility. II. The end of all political associations, is, the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression. III. The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any individual, or any body of men, be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it.’ See also “Women’s Rights,” in “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen [1789],” Wikipedia,

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

[17] Ibid. See also New Nation Comment on Bill of Rights, Voting Clause.

[18]; and

[19] James Ross quoted in “Convention at Fort Garry, Very Important Debates,” New Nation (11 February 1870), 1. See also Feminism as Imperialism; and Imperialism and women|28Oct06|Socialist Worker.

[20] The final version of Article 19 at the Convention read: “That every man in the country (except uncivilized and unsettled Indians) who had attained the age of twenty-one years, and every British subject, a stranger to this country, who has resided three years in this country and is a householder, shall have a right to vote at the election of a member to serve in the Legislature of the country and in the Dominion Parliament; and every foreign subject, other than a British subject, who has resided the same length of time in the country, and is a householder, shall have the same right to vote on condition of his taking the oath of allegiance,— it being understood that this article be subject to amendment exclusively by the Local Legislature.” Note: it is important not to take the term ‘civilized’ out of context — see Note(s) on Terminology this site. In 1856 Joseph ‘Jolly Joe’ Rollette, elected representative for the Pembina district in the Minnesota legislature, had introduced a memorial to Congress calling for an extension of the franchise to First Nations individuals who had adapted in terms of their “habits and mode of life.” He argued, “By granting the right of citizenship … a great step would be gained in the progress of tribes around us, in the path of civilization.” [Read ‘developing tax-paying citizens of the state’ (see discussion of ‘civilized’ this site). Carolyn Gilman, “The Gens Libres,” Making Minnesota Territory 1849 – 1858, Anne R. Kaplan and Marilyn Ziebarth, eds. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1999), 40, notes, “the memorial, which passed both bodies of the territorial legislature, clearly reflected the belief common among people of mixed ancestry that cultural attributes were more important than so-called racial background.” That belief was shared trans-border, and was operational at Red River.

[21]  See W.L. Morton, ed., Appendix 1 (2), “The Third ‘List of Rights’,” Manitoba: The Birth of a Province (Winnipeg: Manitoba Record Society, 1965), 245 – 247; and Appendix 1 (3) “The Fourth ‘List of Rights’,” 248 – 250; see also List of Rights, Tabled before Assembly (this site).

[22] See “Laws Passed by the Governor and Council of Assiniboia on 13th July, 1852,” E.H. Oliver, ed., The Canadian NorthWest, Its Early Development and Legislative Records vol. 2 (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau 1914), 1317.

[23] See Section 129 of the British North America Act (1867). See also Darren O’Toole, ”The Red River Resistance of 1869-1870: The Machiavellian Moment of the Métis of Manitoba,” Ph.D. diss. (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2010), 193-194.

[24] See debates, fifth day, Convention of Forty; and Norma Hall, with Clifford P. Hall, and Erin Verrier, A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/le Consiel du Gouvernement Provisoire (Winnipeg:  Manitoba, Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, 2010), 4.

[25] As Judge John Black, Chairman of the Convention of Forty observed on the 6th day of debate: “We profess a desire — and I believe you have a sincere desire — to be admitted into the Confederation on just and equitable principles. Having that desire, it seems reasonable that we should endeavor to include nothing in this list likely to be so objectionable in the eyes of Canada, as to endanger our chance of being admitted into Confederation.” Norma Jean Hall, “‘A Perfect Freedom’: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810-1870,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2001), 162.

[26] Riel’s insistence that Assiniboia confederate as a province has been roundly criticized and cited in Canadian historiography as evidence that he was “an adroit and ruthless dictator, [who] had no intention of permitting democracy to have its own way at Red River.” See Donald Creighton, “John A. Macdonald, Confederation, and the Canadian West,” MHS Transactions ser. 3, no. 23 (1966 – 1967 season).

[27] See F.A. Milligan, “The Establishment of Manitoba’s First Provincial Government,” MHS Transactions ser. 3 (1948 – 1949 Season); K.G. Pryke, “Archibald, Adams George,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography online; and Richard S. Bowles, “Adams George Archibald, First Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba,” MHS Transactions ser. 3, no. 25 (1968 -1969 season).

[28] Harry Gutkin and Mildred Gutkin, “Give us our due!” How Manitoba Women Won the Vote,” Manitoba History 32 (Autumn 1996).

[29] Ibid. Qualifying Manitobans participated in their first federal general election in 1872.

[30] Ibid.

[31] See “A History of the Vote in Canada,” Elections Canada, (accessed 30 November 2012).

[32] “The Persons Case and Womens Right to Vote in Canada.” (accessed 30 November 2012).


Published: 24 February 2013

by Norma Jean Hall



  1. […] of Women During the Resistance” (February 24, 2013), Provisional Government of Assiniboia,… (accessed April 14, 2016). An 1870 article of Winnipeg’s newspaper the New Nation addressed […]

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