February 15 is Louis Riel Day – but who was he?

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While many provinces across Canada celebrate Family Day, February 15 marks a different holiday in Manitoba and for many Métis peoples.

(Early Canadian History/Website)

Riel’s legacy

Louis Riel, born in 1844, was a Metis leader who is widely considered a “founding father” of Manitoba, which joined Confederation as Canada’s fifth province in 1870.

Riel advocated during his time for the rights of the Metis people. In 1869, he began the Red River Resistance to fight against the Canadian government as they were surveying Métis land in hopes of acquiring it from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The following winter, he formed a provisional government and presented Canada will a Bill of Rights that became the Manitoba Act.

In the years following, Riel was elected to the Canadian Parliament several times but was denied his seat. He was also convicted of murder in 1874 but negotiated to receive amnesty on the condition that he remain in exile for five years, which led him to move to the U.S., where he raised a family in Montana.

Riel returned to Canada when asked to negotiate with the government on behalf of the Saskatchewan Métis. This turned violent, and Riel’s resistance was defeated in 1885 in what is known as the North-West Rebellion.

Riel was tried and executed for treason in Regina that same year.

For many years, Riel was considered by historians to be a trouble-causing rebel. Now, he is more widely recognized as an important figure in Canadian history who fought for the rights and land of his people.

Creation of Louis Riel Day

Statue of Riel in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Government of Manitoba/Website)

Louis Riel Day was founded in 2007 to add a holiday in February as other provinces in Canada did, with the first Louis Riel Day being celebrated in 2008.

To learn more about Louis Riel and his important contributions, click here.