When Louis Riel Drew a Line in the Sand at St. Norbert

by George Siamandas


On October 1, 869 Louis Riel drew a line in the sand at St. Norbert initiating one of the first skirmishes of the Red River Rebellion. On Nov 1, 1869, the Metis led by Ambroise Lepine barred the entry to representatives of Lieut Gov McDougal by creating a three foot high barrier made of wood. The location today is the St. Norbert Heritage Park at Turnbull Drive and Pembina Highway.

Red River was about to become part of Canada. The Hudson Bay Co that owned the land and provided government, was about to hand it over to the Canadian government on December 1, 1869. The old days of the buffalo hunt were over. There had been crop failures. The Metis of Red River were in desperate straights. Life was about to change. There was a lot of anxiety over what would happen to the Metis lands which were "owned" only on the basis of occupancy.

What had yet to be resolved were the land rights of the Metis that were occupying River lots along the Red and the Assiniboine. The rights of approximately 12,000 people had yet to be addressed. Speculators were trying to cash in. Riel challenged the right of Canada to divide up the land it did not yet hold title to.


Skirmishes over land rights had happened before. The first incident occurred on Oct 11, 1869 on the north edge of what is now White Ridge, near the junction of Fleetwood Road and Scurfiled Blvd. It was here that Louis Riel and an unarmed party of 18 Metis resisted the efforts of a land survey party led by Col Webb. Riel literally stepped on the survey chain that was being used to resurvey the old Metis River lots forcing the surveyors to withdraw. Since July Metis men had patrolled and laid claim to all the land south of the Assiniboine River.


This intervention forced the Canadian government to negotiate with the Metis. As a result instead of Red River becoming part of the North West territories, Red River became Manitoba, part of Confederation on July 15 1870. It served notice that they would not permit the establishment of Canadian rule before they were guaranteed their land and language rights. It can be thought of as the beginning of the Red River Rebellion. That is where Riel and his men drew a line on the clay and said to the lieut. Gov "this is our land?

Riel's men went on to occupy Upper Fort Garry. They made a declaration of their rights and established a provisional government. The issue escalated in part through the efforts of Red River locals like DR Schultz who opposed Riel's actions and who wanted to see settlement and development by becoming part of Canada.


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