Louis Riel

Louis, the first child of Louis Riel and Julie Lagimodière, was born on October 22, 1844 in St. Boniface, Manitoba. His mother was the sixth child of Jean Baptiste Lagimodière, a French Canadian coureur de bois and Marie-Anne Gaboury, the first white woman to settle in the Canadian west. Louis Sr. had been born at Île-à-la Crosse in 1817, the son of Jean-Baptiste Riel and Marguerite Boucher, a Franco-Chipewyan Métisse whom he married in 1789 "after the custom of the country". In 1843, after spending his childhood in Québec where his parents had returned to live and following an attempt at being a seminarian, Louis Sr. went back to settle in the west, where he had been born. Here, in Red River he met and on January 21, 1844, at St. Boniface Cathedral, married Julie Lagimodière. Both were devout Catholics, and Julie had also considered a religious life before marrying Louis Riel. This piety was to be an important factor in the family's daily life.

Young Louis spent his childhood on the east bank of the Red River, not far from St. Boniface and the property of his Lagimodière grandparents. He grew up among the Métis, extremely conscious of his identity. At the age of seven, he began his education, eventually studying at the school established in the settlement in 1854 by a Christian brother. With the aim of training priests for the young colony, Bishop Tache sent him to Montreal in 1858, along with two other boys, Daniel McDougall and Louis Schmidt, to continue his studies. Setting out on June 1, 1858, in the company of the Reverend Sister Valade. They travelled for five weeks before eventually arriving in Montreal on July 5. In Montreal, Louis was admitted to the Collège de Montréal run by the Gentlemen of St. Sulpice, where he embarked upon an eight year classic course of studies, which included Latin, Greek, French, English, philosophy and the sciences. Louis proved himself to be an excellent student and was soon at the top of his class.

However, in January 1864, he was overwhelmed with grief by the death of his beloved father whom he had not seen since leaving Red River. Although he continued his studies, his instructors found that his attitude had changed. They began to question whether Louis really had a religious vocation. In March, 1865, finding its regulation too restrictive, Riel left the Collège de Montréal. He requested and was granted permission to continue his schooling as a day student while living with the Grey Nuns. After breaking the rules several times and repeatedly missing class, he was asked to leave both the college and convent.

The world which confronted him when he left the college was fraught with intense political activity. Nationalism was at the fore, ultramontanism, (an ultra-Catholic dogmatism that insisted on the supremacy of the church over the state and forbad any freethinking not approved by the pope) and federalism were clashing and the issue of confederation was being hotly debated. During this period, Louis lived with his aunt, Lucia Riel, the wife of John Lee, and managed to find employment in the law office of Rodolphe Laflamme, an anti-confederate and an anti-cleric. He fell in love with Marie-Julie Guernon and even signed a marriage contract. However, this romance was quickly broken off because Marie's parents were opposed to their daughter marrying a Métis. Disappointed, Riel made his way to Chicago and St. Paul. It would appear that he lived for a while with the poet Louis Fréchette and a group of exiled French Canadian nationalists. It would also appear that he worked briefly for Edouard Langevin or Gilbert Lachance before returning to Manitoba. He arrived in St. Boniface on July 26, 1868, after an absence of ten years, an educated but unemployed young man, with no idea that he would soon become the defender of Métis rights and the future father of Manitoba.

At the time of his return to the Red River Settlement, Canada included only the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The territory known as Rupert's Land, which extended west from Ontario all the way to the Rocky Mountains, belonged to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). The company appointed a governor and council to administer the settlement situated at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Fort Garry lay at the heart of the settlement, referred to as the District of Assiniboia, and was the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company.




On November 16th each year, the Métis Nation hosts commemorative ceremonies at locations throughout Ontario and western Canada to honour Riel's contributions to Canada and to his people, the Métis.

Photo Gallery
Riel Day 2001
Riel Day 2000

Watch our tribute clips for Riel -
"What does Louis Riel Mean to you?"
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