November 16 marked the 127th anniversary of the hanging of Louis Riel, a fascinating and important figure in Canada’s, and especially in Manitoba’s, history. Much has been written about him, the Northwest Rebellion, the creation of the Province of Manitoba, his dealings with the federal government, his mental state and his trial and execution. The controversies surrounding his trial have still not died away, and re-enactments and mock trials continue to be performed, sometimes with “not guilty” verdicts being delivered. There is a wealth of information available at York and Osgoode on Riel, from his times, causes and trial, from contemporary reports and transcripts and his diaries to modern analyses to plays, a musical drama, to a graphic novel about his life. CBC’s Canada, A People’s History naturally includes Riel (video available through the library), and in 1985, the CBC also broadcast a panel discussion on whether Riel should be pardoned. In 2002 it televised a re-trial of Riel, “starring” Eddie Greenspan as Riel’s counsel, Alan Lenczner for the Crown, Mr. Justice Thomas Berger as the judge and Guy Bertrand as Riel himself. As you can see from the news clipping below, even the mock trial caused controversy.
I have assembled a small subset of the multitude of resources available through YUL on Riel. Decide for yourself whether he was mad, wrongly convicted, a traitor or a founder of Canada:
Louis Riel : a comic-strip biography / Chester Brown.
Epitome of parliamentary documents in connection with the North-West Rebellion, 1885.
The diaries of Louis Riel / edited by Thomas Flanagan.
The Queen vs. Louis Riel, accused and convicted of the crime of high treason [electronic resource] : report of trial at Regina.-Appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench,…
The execution of Louis Riel [microform] : speech of the Hon. John S.D. Thompson, minister of justice, delivered March 22, 1886.
In the case of Louis Riel, convicted of treason and executed therefor : Report of Sir Alexander Campbell.
The gibbet of Regina [microform] : the truth about Riel : Sir John A. Macdonald and his cabinet before public opinion / by one who knows.
Exemplification of the proceedings and judgment of outlawry of Louis Riel : the Queen vs. Louis Riel.
Message from the president of the United States, transmitting, in response to Senate resolution of February 11, 1889, a report upon the case of Louis Riel.
[Trial of Louis Riel] [electronic resource].
The Queen v Louis Riel / With an introduction by Desmond Morton.
The trial of Louis Riel : justice and mercy denied : a critical, legal and political analysis / George R.D. Goulet ; principal research associate, M. Terry Goulet.
Louis Riel [videorecording] : a music drama / by Harry Somers ; libretto, Mavor Moore in collaboration with Jacques Languirand, with their grateful acknowledgement to John Coulter’s play Riel.
Rejection of Riel pardon / Metis National Council.
The re-trial of Louis Riel. Part 1, The re-trial [videorecording] / CBC Newsworld in association with The Dominion Institute.
A re-enactment of the trial of Louis Riel, based on Canadian law of the present day. The case is argued by Edward Greenspan for the defence and Alan Lenczner for the prosecution and is presented before former B.C. Supreme Court Judge Thomas Berger. Both lawyers present their arguments, cross-examine Riel, played by Quebec lawyer Guy Bertrand, and give their closing arguments. Louis Riel addresses the jury, and the judge gives his summation of the case.
Métis leader blasts televised Louis Riel trial as an ‘abomination – CBC