Red River Rebellion 1870

There had been minor Fenian uprisings throughout these years. These escapades were, of course, the cause of the previous active service warnings. The last Fenian raid occurred at Eccles Hill in 1870. This name, our sister rifle regiment The Victoria Rifles, carries as a battle honour.

The same year saw a military operation carried out which, although no shots were fired or lives lost, proved itself a masterpiece of organization. The occasion was the Red Rivcr Rebellion. The Imperial Government and Hudson’s Bay Company’s right to lands in the North-West Territories were transferred to the Dominion Government. Thus a vast area was added to the Dominion of Canada. In 1869, our former acquaintance, Lieutenant-Colonel Dennis, was appointed to initiate a survey of the land. The Métis [a person of mixed North American Indian and European ancestry], alarmed at the possible disappearance of their lands and livelihood, stopped the survey party. Later, the newly appointed governor of the Northwest Territory, the Honorable William McDougall, was turned back at the border by armed patrols of rebels. The leader of the Métis was Louis Riel. Emboldened by his initial successes, he then seized Fort Garry and set up a “Provisional Government”. No immediate steps were taken by the Canadian government to arrest him. There was some excuse for the Métis as sufficient care had not been taken to explain the situation to them. There was no excuse for Riel. He understood very well.

During the winter of 1869-70 loyal citizens were pillaged and imprisoned. The climax came when an outspoken loyalist, Thomas Scott an Irish Protestant, Orangemen and very anti-Catholic, repeatedly taunted his captors and threatened to kill Riel. A Métis court voted to execute Scott and Riel went along with their decision.  Scott was executed by firing squad on 4 March, 1870. The news of this so enraged the people of Ontario that the government was forced to take action.

On 16 April, 1870, a military contingent under Colonel Garnet S. Wolseley was authorized to quell the rebellion, arrest the leaders, and restore law and order. The force, numbering 1,200, consisted of two guns of the Royal Artillery, the 1st Battalion The 60th, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, under Lieutenant-Colonel R. J. Fielden, two specially raised battalions of Canadian rifles and about two hundred voyageurs. It is of more than passing interest to note that the QOR representatives were brigaded with a battalion of British riflemen whose fame was known to every student of military history; that eighty-six years later the two regiments would be allied; and to remember that the QOR was represented in this initial step of securing the Northwest Territories for Canada.

The battalion from Ontario was known as the 1st (Ontario) Battalion of Rifles. It was under command of Lieutenant-Colonel S. P. Jarvis and had an establishment of 375, all ranks. The volunteers enlisted for one year, or longer if required. The ranks were quickly filled. The QOR quota was two officers and twelve riflemen. The two officers were Captain Bruce Harman and Ensign Hugh J. Macdonald. The rates of pay were “Colour-Sergeants $15.00 per month, Sergeants $15.00 per month, Corporals and Buglers $13.00 per month, Riflemen $12.00 per month. Men must be between 15 and 45 years of age; each man had to have a medical examination.”

As a Fenian lobby prevented the force going through the U.S.A. the route to the Red River Settlement had to be via Lakes Huron and Superior; to Prince Arthur’s Landing, near the present Port Arthur; across the fifty mile watershed to Lake Shebandowan; then via various waterways through Rainy Lake, Lake-of-the-Woods; Winnipeg River, Lake Winnipeg and finally the Red River. Forty-seven arduous portages had to be made. It rained for forty-five days out of the thirteen weeks required for the trip. Mosquitoes and black flies made life utterly miserable.

Yet there was no loss of morale, no crime and little sickness. Every man was well fed and well looked after. Despite the hazards, not a life was lost. With the delightful frankness that marked the strong-minded individualists of those days, Wolseley remarked that he considered the success and economy of the operation arose “chiefly from the fact that it was planned and organized far away from all War Office meddling”.

Wolseley reached Fort Garry at the end of August, 1870. Riel and his associates fled over the border. Law and order were rapidly restored. Later, in 1870, the Canadian parliament passed an act creating the Province of Manitoba. Both Métis and loyalists were to have exactly the same rights of self-government as had the other provinces.

Excerpted and edited from “THE QUEEN’S OWN, RIFLES OF CANADA 1860-1960; ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF CANADA By Lieutenant Colonel W. T. Barnard E.D. C.D.

8 thoughts on “Red River Rebellion 1870”

  1. Thanks for the reply to my question. Forty years ago I worked at Dawson Trail Camp Grounds for the MNR and we all heard the story. Occurred (allegedly) as Wolseley and the troops paddled across French Lake on their way to the rebellion.

    In any event. I think next time through that area I’ll check with the staff to see where the story originated.

    Thanks again.

  2. We’re any cannon left behind along the Dawson Trail during the march to the rebellion? There is a long held belief that at least one was lost while crossing French Lake in what is now Quetico Park.

  3. is there ny way to find the memebers names of the royal canadian rifles regiment 1840-1870 who huarded the red river settlement.
    my great great grandfather thomas franklin was a member
    of these older regiment

  4. There was mention of 2 guns from the royal artillery on the expedition in 1870 from Ontario to Manitoba were these a type of canon and if so how could they be transported in canoe’s. Finally did both guns survive the trip? Thanks

  5. I just received a photo of my grandfather’s regiment heading out to the riel rebellion. How would I find out what branch he was in? The uniform is clear in the regimental picture but I don’t know how to take it from here. His name is Thomas Mollard.

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