Sunday, 26 February 2012

One Happy Louis Riel Day

Louis Riel, father of Manitoba.

Image Source: Photo by The Analyst. Taken a
few weeks ago (on a day less cloudy than today).
While my posting frequency is going to decline, I can't help but talk about Louis Riel Day.
It was quite an interesting day and has reaffirmed my love of Manitoba; the only province in the federation to have a civic holiday designated to Louis Riel.1
For the civic holiday I traveled into the Franco-Manitoban hub of Saint Boniface. On the way I went throw the Forks, noticing that the packed snow of the South Winnipeg Parkway was sometimes easier to bike on then the iced-up street paths and lanes of this city. My ultimate destination was to the Festival du Voyageur - even if I was rusty on the location.

South Winnipeg Parkway, running alongside the
Red River.

Image Source: Photo by The Analyst
The Forks marketplace was rather lively and bustling - hosting a diverse crowd on this mild yet cloudy day.

The Forks marketplace, late in the afternoon.

Image Source: Photo by The Analyst
  From there it was onwards to Saint Boniface, Winnipeg's Franco-Manitoban hub. As someone with a bad sense of direction who seldom visits the neighborhood, I got lost.  Fortuitously, it allowed me to explore the area.

The various photos below of Saint Boniface sights - which are of a Radio Canada building (top), Saint Boniface homes (middle, left), a bilingual stop sign (middle, right), and the Franco-Manitoban Society (Société franco-manitobaine) building (bottom left and right) - were all taken by me ("The Analyst").

I finally found the the proper location of the Festival du Voyageur, after travelling a few blocks in the wrong direction. The staff were quite informative and educated - fully capable of answering most of my very specific questions about life in Fort Gibraltar in 1815 (which is when the reenactments at Festival du Voyageur are set).

I found out the significance of Fort Gibraltar's similar name to Southwestern Europe's Gibraltar. Just as whoever controlled Europe's Gibraltar controlled the Mediterranean Sea, whoever controlled the intersection of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers (where Ft. Gibraltar was located) controlled strategic fur trade routes.
A reconstructed Fort Gibraltar in Saint Boniface,
Winnipeg. Site of Festival du Voyageur.

Surgeons and physicians in the Western Canadian frontier would treat bullet wounds. Two years of postsecondary education was the requirement in those days to be a physician. However, there wasn't enough work for them to stay full time in one area on the frontier so they had to hop between many outposts to get enough work - meaning no settlement had a full-time physician. 

The Metis started to emerge at this time due to relationships between First Nations women and European fur traders.

Woman portraying an 1810s Fort Gibraltar Metis
wife of a fur trader.
Many of the relationships were between French men and First Nations women, although there were also Scottish fur trader-First Nation woman pairs as well. The Scottish generally exerted a stronger influence on the education of their children than the more laissez-faire French. 

As this Metis community became increasingly developed and distinguishable from their European and First Nation ancestors, they developed a unique way of speaking with one another - a language called Michif. The language was a mix of Cree, French, and some English. It's difficult to learn without a background in French and Cree as it mixed many complex elements from both languages.

This was all rather interesting, but Louis Riel day has a very tragic note to it. By the late 1860s-early 1870s life along the fork of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers were changing. There was an influx of settlers from Ontario and many Metis were being displaced - the Buffalo herds (which many Metis and Plains people relied upon) were swivelling up. Riel resisted Ottawa's colonization of the the region until Metis rights were respected - executing one insurrectionist/Anglophone supremacist Thomas Scott in the process. For this, years later, the father of Manitoba would be executed.

1 Which is quite fitting - as Louis Riel is the father of Manitoba. Unfortunately, the 36th Parliament and Conservative MP Peter Goldring don't see things that way.

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