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July 15, two stars began to wane

by Lillian Gibbons

Winnipeg Tribune, 15 July 1966

Manitoba shares a date in history with France. The day this province was born France declared war on Prussia, July 15, 1870.

Maps were being changed on both continents. A little square ‘postage stamp’ province went into position on the 49th parallel, right in the middle of vast, empty Canada.

Lopped off France—the loser in the war with Prussia,—were the rich Rhine provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

The stars that rose for both President Louis Riel and Emperor Napoleon III on July 15 set the beginning of September. Riel fled from Fort Garry before the troops of Col. Garnet Wolseley which included the vindictive Ontario militia of Orangemen. Napoleon laid down his sword in surrender to Count von Moltke at Sedan in northeast France.

Manitoba never had another president. France never had another emperor. The Canadian province became part of the responsible government democratic system of the Dominion of Canada, the European country became a republic.

Manitoba began her new life with money granted by the Ottawa authorities to set up her public services. France faced her dark future with an indemnity of 2200 million to pay to conquering Germany—and she cleared it off in two years.

The French story got better play than the Manitoba one in the miniscule type of The New Nation, the local Winnipeg paper seized by Riel. The July 16 edition made no mention of The Manitoba Act proclaimed the day before. But the Wolseley expedition was “working its way forward,” Riel reported ironically of the force that would be his ‘Waterloo.’

“No battle yet” said the paper Aug. 6, and “French jealousy of Prussia.”

It made rather amusing reading, this story of Napoleon’s delay in his departure for the front. The press wanted to cover the war but French General LeBoum would “remove restrictions only on condition the correspondents promise to print nothing untrue.”

A London dispatch dated July 23 noted “the French government still discourages newspaper correspondents but undertakes to supply war news to the journals through official despatches.”

That of course did not satisfy the avid press. A London Standard man got as far as the French camp at Metz, which he entered brandishing his British passport, and was promptly arrested.

On Aug. 13, local readers learned the Manitoba boundary, as yet unsettled, would be set up by a federal-provincial commission.

Then, an outdated London despatch told them: “A fortnight ago the Emperor had no thoughts of war with Prussia. But France was slipping from his hands and in order to rule he had to lead her into war.”

Aug. 20 brought alarming news: “French defeat, Empire on verge of collapse, Empress Eugenie preparing for flight.”

Sept. 2 Winnipeg saw the first lieutenant governor arrive by canoe. But there was no mayor to welcome him—because incorporation and election was three years away.

The news seemed tame by comparison with both France and Prussia claiming the same victories.

My Love Affair With Louis Riel

Page revised: 6 October 2012

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