Memorable Manitobans: Louis Riel Sr. (1817-1864)
Métis leader, miller.
Born at Île-à-la-Crosse in what is now Saskatchewan, he went east to Lower Canada with his family in 1822 and was educated there as a wool carder. At age 21 he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company at Rainy River, where he served from 1838 to 1840. In 1842 he returned East to study for the priesthood as a novitiate with the Oblate Order, but left after a few months to settle at Red River.
He was married twice, first to Marguerite Frappier (c1820-1840) with whom he had a daughter, Marguerite Marie Riel (1840-1874, wife of Jean-Baptiste Zastre). On 21 January 1844, married Julie Lagimodière (1822-1906), daughter of Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière and Marie-Anne Gaboury. They had twelve children: Louis Riel, Elie Riel (1845-1845), Elsie Riel (c1846-c1848), Philomene Riel (1847-1848), Sara Riel (1848-1883), Marie Riel (1850-1873), Octavie Riel (1852-1890, wife of Louis Lavallee), Eulalie Riel (1853-1931, wife of William Gladu), Charles Riel (1854-1875), Joseph Riel, Henriette Riel (1861-1898, wife of Jean-Marie Poitras), and Alexandre Riel (1863-1938). He established a grist mill on the Seine River, near St. Boniface, to grind grain and card wool for the Grey Nuns of St. Boniface. Tradition has it that almost single-handed he dug a nine-mile channel to divert water to turn the mill wheel. However, the mill business failed in the late 1850s. The millstones are on display in Winnipeg.
He supported the free traders within the Métis, and also insisted that the Council of Assiniboia have Métis representation and that the courts of Red River employ French. With James Sinclair and Georges Belcourt he led the struggle at Red River to break the fur trade monopoly of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1849 when Guillaume Sayer was found guilty of trafficking in furs, Riel headed the three hundred armed men who surrounded the court hearing and demanded their right to free trade. Sayer was released without penalty. Later that year Riel was one of the petitioners demanding the removal of Adam Thom, the Recorder of Rupert’s Land. Thom was replaced with a bilingual judge, as requested in the petition.
Riel died at St. Boniface in 1864.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Obituaries and burial transcriptions, Manitoba Genealogical Society.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 18 November 2019