Louis Riel, the Rebel and the Hero

The rise and fall of Louis Riel (1844-85) spanned only fifteen years, yet he is one of the most controversial and colourful people in Canadian history. The central figure in two rebellions, which he led on behalf of the French-speaking half-breeds called Metis, Riel has caught the imagination of Canadians as few other historical personalities have done. His career began with the acts of resistance at the Red River Settlement in 1869, and continued through the formation of a Provisional Government and the notorious shooting of Thomas Scott in 1870, through years of mental illness and exile in the United States, to the North West Rebellion of 1885. It reached an inevitable climax with his surrender and trial and the passionate outpouring of feeling that rocked the country when he was found guilty of treason and executed. The religious and racial emotions of the time, the bigotry and opportunism of politicians, and Riel's own unstable mental condition all combine to make of his life a Canadian tragedy, one that had profound consequences for Confederation.