3 — The Goal
In the fall of 1869, Canada invaded the North-West Territories. A 25-year-old Métis, a failed priest and indifferent law clerk, said, Wait a minute! You didn’t ask me.
Canada did not ask the Métis of Assiniboia if they wanted to exchange the rule of the Company for rule by Ottawa. Louis Riel led a charge of disaffected Métis through the Gate — sometimes called the North Gate — shunted the HBC aside, and established a Provisional Government for a new country.
Canada didn’t like that. It sent Colonel Garnet Wolseley and twelve hundred troops to quell the Rebellion.
There was no Rebellion by the Métis. There was a Resistance to invasion by a foreign power. You know, there’s a kind of parallel to Ukraine’s situation. Russia has virtually invaded Ukraine on the pretext of protecting Russian settlers. Canada invaded Assiniboia on the pretext of protecting Canadian settlers. But Russia doesn’t own Ukraine. And Canada did not own Rupert’s Land and the District of Assiniboia, even if they had paid the HBC for it, which didn’t own it in the first place. The HBC did have trading rights there, but did not own the land itself.
Now here I was, looking through a security fence and a blur of machinery at the historic North Gate. I had to get closer.
I followed the line of the security fence down a long private driveway and found myself within metres of the North Gate. I poked my camera lens through the security fencing. The cut limestone blocks rise 4.7 metres to crenellated battlements, like a vision from King Arthurian times. On either side are short sections of 3-metre-high wooden walls.
When Colonel Wolseley arrived at the North Gate in late August 1870, he was not a happy camper. He and his men had started off from Quebec City and Toronto, rode the rails to Collingwood, boarded a steamer and traversed the Great Lakes, and arrived at an insignificant hamlet at the head of Thunder Bay. That was on May 25th. He named the hamlet Prince Arthur’s Landing. All winter long, Riel’s emissaries had been negotiating with the Canadian Government to bring the new country into Confederation on terms acceptable to the Métis and white settlers of Assiniboia.
So, when Wolseley arrived in Thunder Bay, the new Province of Manitoba was already two weeks old. That must have really frosted
Colonel Wolseley. So, did he turn back? Not on your life. The PM of Canada, John A. Macdonald, would not let him turn back. So he forged ahead.
He plunged with gusto into the wilderness between Lake Superior and Red River. His troops hacked out trails, laid corduroy roads over which to haul their cannons, blistered their hands on the oars of the wooden boats they had brought along, fought off battalions of mosquitoes and blackflies, deflected guerilla attacks from assorted wildlife, and suffered innumerable imagined massacres by barbarous bands of wild Indians. And as they bled and blistered and cursed, they dreamed; they dreamed of catching up with Riel, the perceived cause of all their misery and of all their ignominy. Historians describe the Red River Expedition as probably the most arduous military trek ever undertaken.
When Wolseley and his 400 British regulars and 800 weekend-warriors arrived at the North Gate, they were in a foul mood. They hankered to meet the newest Father of Confederation. In order to shoot him dead, or to hang him from a second-storey window of Government House, or to draw and quarter him before they shot and hanged him.
I could empathize with those jolly fellows.
I had to face once more the traffic on Main Street.