Manitoba History: The Story of Elzéar Goulet

by Jérôme Marchildon
St. Boniface, Manitoba

Number 65, Winter 2011

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Metis martyr Elzéar Goulet (1836-1870).
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Personalities – Goulet, E. 1, N21685.

On 12 September 2008, near the corner of Taché Avenue and La Vérendrye Street in St. Boniface, a new heritage park was opened and a monument and interpretive signage was unveiled. [1] The park was created in the memory of Elzéar Goulet. The interpretive signs celebrate his life and tell the story of his tragic death during one of the most tumultuous times of the history of the Métis in Manitoba. In the local community newspaper, The Lance, Goulet is described by Elzéar’s great grandnephew, author George R. D. Goulet, in the 18 September 2008 issue as a “Métis martyr.” He states that Goulet “should be looked upon as a hero if you define a hero as someone who loses his life fighting for his people.” [2]

Prior to the opening of the park, few Winnipeggers were aware of Elzéar Goulet’s story.

St. Boniface councillor Dan Vandal initiated the project, telling CBC News on 26 November 2007, “It’s not very well known, but it’s one of those remarkable Winnipeg stories, and Winnipeg needs their stories, I think … to be brought to life.” [3] What is the legacy of Elzéar Goulet and how does his story resonate with the Métis in Manitoba today?

Elzéar Goulet was born on 18 November 1836 in St. Boniface. [4] He was the son of Alexis Goulet and Josephte Siveright, and was the third child in the family of six children. [5] The well-documented history of the Goulet family in the Canadian fur trade can be traced back to the voyageurs who paddled the waters from Québec westward from early in the eighteenth century. [6] One of Elzéar Goulet’s ancestors came west from New France with explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye, in search of the western sea in the 1730s. [7] La Vérendrye and his men were the first Europeans to set eyes on much of the landscape, flora and fauna, and peoples of western Canada.

Elzéar Goulet’s grandfather, Jacques Goulet, was posted in Athabasca where he worked for the North West Company as a voyageur from 1804 to 1821. [8] From 1821 to 1824, he worked in the Saskatchewan District for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Jacques Goulet retired from the HBC service in 1824. [9]

The legacy of the Goulet family, who worked for the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company as voyageurs, was passed from father to son, as Jacques Goulet’s son, Alexis Goulet became a Bay man, too. Elzéar’s father, Alexis, was born in St. Boniface in 1811 and died on 25 December 1856. Little is known about his life as a child, but he worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Brandon House as a Middleman, or middle oarsman position, on a York boat, from 1829 to 1832. When his contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company expired, he became a Freeman in the Red River Settlement until 1835. [10]

Elzéar Goulet came by his zeal for Métis rights from his father, Alexis. Alexis was one of twenty-two other buffalo hunters, traders and freighters who assembled on 29 August 1845 to write a letter demanding Métis rights to hunt and trade at a fair price. [11] This letter was written by James Sinclair, who was a factor for the Hudson’s Bay Company at the time and it was submitted to the Governor Alexander Christie of Red River. The letter demanded that, “as Natives of this country and as half breeds, [we] have the rights to hunt furs in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories where we think proper, and again sell those furs to the highest bidder likewise having a doubt that Natives of this country can be prevented from trading and trafficking with one another.” [12]

Very little is known of Elzéar Goulet’s mother. Her name was Josephte Siveright and she was born in 1816 and died in 1891. Josephte’s mother—Elzéar’s maternal grandmother—was a Métis woman named Louise Roussin, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. [13] Elzéar’s grandfather, John Siveright, was born in December 1779, in Drumdelgy, Parish of Cairnie, Scotland. [14] He began working for the North West Company in 1799. [15] John Siveright’s personal history is very interesting. In 1815, when he was at Portage la Prairie, the Hudson’s Bay Company considered him party to the North West Company conspiracy to destroy the Red River Settlement. [16] The following year, in 1816, after the pemmican war at Seven Oaks, he was charged as an accessory in the murder of Governor Robert Semple and twenty Scottish settlers. [17] Siveright went to trial in York (now Toronto), along with Alan McDonnell, Cuthbert Grant and other Métis, in October of 1818. The charges against him were dropped, as it was concluded that, “his involvement was peripheral at most.” [18]

Leaving the incident at Seven Oaks behind him, John Siveright went to Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Canada to work as a clerk for the North West Company from 1816 to 1821. [19] After the amalgamation of the North West and the Hudson’s Bay companies in 1821, Siveright was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company and was transferred to Fort Pelly, Saskatchewan, where he worked as a factor. [20] After 28 years of service to the Hudson’s Bay Company, Siveright died in 1856. Elzéar Goulet’s maternal grandfather, John Siveright is buried in Edinburgh, Scotland. [21]

Nothing is documented of Elzéar Goulet’s childhood, or as a young man. As his father Alexis was a buffalo hunter, it can only be assumed that he accompanied him in the hunt.

In 1861, when Elzéar was twenty-five years old, he took over the mail route from Pembina to Upper Fort Garry from his eldest brother Roger. He would travel by horseback in the summer and by dogsled in the winter. Each trip took Elzéar three to four days. His weekly trips between the two settlements made him well known and respected. [22] During this time, Elzéar met Joseph Rolette, who was the postmaster at Pembina. Rolette was a very influential person in the Pembina area. As well as being postmaster, Rolette was a merchant, freighter and politician, who built a fur-trading post for the American Fur Company at Pembina in 1840, and started a line of Red River carts between Pembina and St. Paul in 1843. [23] On one of his trips to Pembina, Elzéar met Joseph Rolette’s niece Hélène, and made her his wife. Elzéar married Hélène on 8 March 1859 in Assumption Church, at Pembina, Dakota Territory, where he became an American citizen.

Hélène Jérôme dit Sainte-Mathe lived with her uncle Joseph Rolette and his wife Angelique Jérôme. Hélène was born on 7 June 1844, in St. Boniface, and was the only child of Jean-Baptiste Jérôme dit Saint-Mathe and Josephte Courchêne. Just over a year after Hélène was born, Jean-Baptiste died; he was only nineteen years old. Hélène’s mother Josephte lived a remarkably long life, however. She was born in St. Norbert in 1826 and died in 1920 at 94 years old. [24]

In 1847, Hélène’s mother, Josephte remarried Pierre Deschenaux in St. Boniface. [25] Baby Hélène did not live with her mother and her new husband, but was raised by her aunt Angélique and her uncle Joseph Rolette in Pembina. It is not clear why Hélène was not raised by her own mother and her new family in St. Norbert, but she lived with Joseph and Angélique until at the age of fourteen she married Elzéar Goulet. Elzéar and Hélène were married for eleven years and had six children. [26]

In the late fall of 1869, Elzéar joined an organized group of Métis led by Louis Riel. The group had constructed a barricade at the bridge on the La Salle River, which was the main north-south route from Upper Fort Garry to Pembina. This was to prevent the Canadian government officials from claiming land already occupied by the Métis. [27] The barricade was called “La Barrière.” The site is now a park of the same name, just outside Winnipeg. [28]

Elzéar’s older brother Roger was born in 1834, and died on 25 March 1902, in St. Boniface. [29] He was the godson and protégé of Monseigneur Provencher. [30] Roger was educated at St. Boniface College and held positions of surveyor, district judge and member of the Council of Assiniboia. [31] His connections to the church, the Government of Canada and his seat on the Council of Assiniboia gave the Goulet name status and notoriety. The Honourable Roger Goulet was authorized by the Ottawa government to negotiate with Riel and the Métis leaders on the Métis land claim that was presented at the same time as the barricade at La Barrière. As a representative of Ottawa, he was obliged to oppose Louis Riel’s provisional government. Ironically, at the same time as these negotiations were taking place, Roger’s brother Elzéar joined Riel’s provisional government. [32]

The people of Pembina supported Riel’s ideas on the Métis land claims. Elzéar’s loyalty to Riel and his social standing, thanks to his brother, elevated him to the military rank of captain in Riel’s provisional government. [33] Elzéar served directly under Ambroise Lépine, Riel’s adjutant general. [34]

On 3 March 1870, Elzéar served as a member of the court martial for Thomas Scott, who was accused of treason against the provisional government in the Red River. [35] Scott was an Orangeman who had recently immigrated to Red River from Upper Canada and protested violently against Métis land rights. [36] Scott not only was in support of the Canadian government’s claiming of Métis land to be redistributed to Ontario immigrants, but voiced racist and anti-Catholic sentiments. [37] On the day following the trial, Elzéar, with other members of the court, escorted Scott outside the walls of Upper Fort Garry and executed him by firing squad. [38]

After Scott’s execution, Elzéar Goulet and Elzéar Lagimodière, who was Elzéar’s brother-in-law, were given the duty of disposing of Thomas Scott’s corpse. [39] To this day, no one really knows where the corpse was placed, but it was rumoured that they dressed Scott’s body in Métis clothing, placed it on a sled and drove the sled onto the ice, and into the Red River. [40] By dressing Scott as a Métis, they intended that he would be unrecognizable if his body was found later in the spring. The disguising and disposing of Scott’s body in the river this way denied Scott a proper Christian burial to add further insult to injury to a man clearly hated by Riel and his supporters.

In August 1870, the Garnet Joseph Wolseley military expedition arrived at Upper Fort Garry. The Wolseley expedition was sent by Ottawa to take control and maintain peace in Red River until Lieutenant Governor Archibald arrived. Wolseley and his militiamen were to act as a police force and secure the west from any future up-risings. Louis Riel and many members of his provisional government left the area for fear of a violent retaliation for Thomas Scott’s death. [41] Elzéar chose to stay at Red River, a choice that would prove to be fatal.

A few weeks after the arrival of the Wolseley expedition, on 13 September, Elzéar entered the Red Saloon located at the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street, in Winnipeg. The Red Saloon was a wild and rowdy drinking establishment run by American brothers from New York City, Bob and Hugh F. O’Lone. [42] So wild was this saloon that Bob O’Lone was killed in a bar room brawl in his own establishment shortly after Elzéar’s death in the fall of 1870. [43]

Hugh O’Lone was a member of Riel’s provisional government, which made the Red Saloon a safe watering hole until the Wolseley military expedition arrived at Red River. [44] Wolseley’s soldiers were stationed at Upper Fort Garry, only a few hundred metres away from the Red Saloon. The Red Saloon soon became the tavern of choice for the soldiers and other Orangeman supporters.

It is unknown why Elzéar Goulet entered the Red Saloon on 13 September 1870. He boldly walked into the saloon in the middle of the afternoon believing that it was a safe time to avoid conflicts with patrons, but he realized too late that he had walked into a hornet’s nest of a deadly brood of drunken men. [45] He was recognized for his role in the resistance by John Farquharson, who had been a prisoner of the provisional government. [46] Goulet was chased down Post Office Street, now Lombard Avenue, by Farquharson and a band of vigilantes led by officers of the Ontario Rifles. [47] At the end of the street, a desperate Elzéar Goulet dove in the Red River from the steamboat landing in an attempt to swim across the river to safety in St. Boniface. He was pelted with stones by his pursuers and was knocked on the head unconscious in the muddy currents of the river and drowned. [48]

Many soldiers in the Ontario Rifles and Canadian volunteers joined the Wolseley military expedition to take revenge for the execution of Thomas Scott. [49] They clearly saw this situation as an opportunity to do so. The mob attack was out of control. According to a witness, Joseph Tennant, who held the position of bugler with the Ontario Rifles, stated during the inquest, “The frenzied mob in pursuit hurled missiles of all kinds at the hunted man and stoned him to death in the water.” [50]

Elzéar died at the age of 34 and he was buried in the St. Boniface Cathedral cemetery. Manitoba’s first Lieutenant Governor, Sir Adams George Archibald appointed two Hudson’s Bay Company magistrates to conduct an inquest into Elzéar’s death. Twenty witnesses were heard, warrants for the arrest of the pursuers were prepared but no arrests were ever made. [51] The government in Ottawa left all decisions about the outcome of the inquest to the local authorities, who were clearly either biased, or simply trying to keep the situation from spiralling out of control into mob rule. [52]

During this period, Elzéar was not alone in being singled out and attacked by vigilantes. Other Métis men who served on Riel’s provisional government were badly beaten and one was murdered by unidentified assailants. [53] It was commonly believed in Red River that these were acts of revenge for the death of Thomas Scott, and since no official action was taken to bring these crimes to justice, the law seemed to favour those who were committing the crimes. [54] As many Métis feared for their safety, several Métis families moved away to places such as Montana, Saskatchewan and Alberta. [55]

In 1870, after Elzéar’s death, the Red River census showed Hélène Goulet as a twenty-six year old French Métis, currently living in St. Boniface, and as a widow and Catholic. [56] She had then moved with her six children, Alfred, Elise, Albert, Roger, Sara, and Elie to live with her mother-in-law Josephte Siveright Goulet and fifteen-year-old brother-in-law Maxime Goulet in St. Boniface. [57]

Hélène applied for land scrip in Manitoba on 13 July 1875 in the name of her children. Hélène also stated in the application that Elzéar worked as a labourer while he was alive. [58] She later moved to the North West Angle of the Lake of the Woods and was buried in the town of Kenora on 18 October 1920. [59]

Elzéar and Hélène’s son, Roger, was born in 1867, and like his uncle Roger, he was educated at St. Boniface College. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Manitoba in 1891, and his Masters of Arts in 1895. In 1900, he was appointed inspector of bilingual schools in Manitoba and principal of the St. Boniface Normal School. In 1909, he became president of l’Union Nationale Métisse, and was a member of the Société Historique de St. Boniface. [60]

In the 1901 Canadian census, Roger was recorded as living at 97 Masson Street with his family. He lived directly across from St. Boniface Normal School. [61] In the column of the census labelled “race,” he curiously stated he is “Scottish.” [62] It is a mystery why Roger claimed to be Scottish and not French; however, as he was an elite academic scholar in Manitoba, it is plausible that he did not want to be identified or linked to his Métis ancestry to protect his interests and social status in the community early in his career.

Elzéar Goulet’s youngest brother, Maxime, who was born in 1855, and died in 1932, was elected in December of 1878 to represent St. Vital in the Manitoba Legislature, and in January 1880, he entered John Norquay’s cabinet as Minister of Agriculture. [63] Goulet Street in St. Boniface was named after him in 1891. [64]

The Elzéar Goulet story represents the political and civil tension which existed at the time the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg were being created. Dan Vandal, city councillor for St. Boniface, stated that “Goulet represents the unknown, non-Riel, Métis leadership of the era. Riel was certainly not alone in the Métis struggle…Goulet fills some of that void.” [65] There are other heroes and other stories to be told about the Métis and their endeavour to be recognized as a legitimate nation, deserving of a legitimate homeland. Elzéar Goulet’s story is a tragic story of the fight to preserve a culture and way of life and to find a place of one’s own.

Goulet’s story is also a story of misunderstanding according to Dr. Phillipe Mailhot, curator of the St. Boniface Museum. Mailhot feels Goulet never wanted Thomas Scott executed. “Goulet offered to take personal responsibility for Scott as an alternative to having him executed, but others—leaders and supporters of the provisional government—felt they had to send the Canadian government a message by executing Scott. His story is relatively unknown even to those who live in St. Boniface and Winnipeg today.” [66]

The telling of the Elzéar Goulet story symbolizes a bigger issue than a single event in time. It represents a dark period in the early beginnings of Manitoba that needs to be acknowledged. It is a human rights issue; where all people should be treated equally and fairly despite their colour, race, gender or religion. Elzéar Goulet was not a politician, government official, or an educated man. He wanted a good life for his family and to bring stability and fairness to Manitoba. He stood up for what he believed in, what was right and just. He did what he did for his children, so that they could live in a harmonious state. This is the message of his story. The impact Elzéar Goulet’s story has on the Métis people in Manitoba is the pride and the means to tell their own story, with their own heroes and martyrs.

Goulet walked these streets (and drowned at the X symbol). This map reconstructed in 1922 shows Winnipeg as it looked fifty years earlier: 1. Upper Fort Garry, 2. Dominion Lands office, 3. William Drever’s building, 4. Red Saloon, 5. Holy Trinity church, 6. Brian Devlin’s restaurant, 7. Red River hall, also called McDermot’s Row, 8. O. Monchamp’s hotel, 9. Garrett House, 10. Indian Department, 11. Customs House, 12. Roman Catholic convent, 13. Andrew McDermot’s windmill, 14. Andrew McDermot’s residence, 15. fire hall, 16. post office, 17. parliament building (in A. G. B. Bannatyne’s residence), 18 and 19. Bannatyne’s store and salt warehouse, 20. McKenny block, first building in Winnipeg, 21. White saloon, kept by McIvor and McIntyre, 22. Davis hotel, formerly kept by George Emmerling, 23. John Higgins’ store, 24. F. Gingras’ building, 25. W. H. Lyon’s building, 26. Henry Coutu’s butcher shop, 27. jail, 28. Archibald Wright’s building, 29. J. H. Ashdown’s building, 30. Dr. John Schultz’s drug store, 31. Free Press office, 32. Good Templars’ hall, office of the News Letter and the Manitoba Liberal, 33. Knox church, 34. steamboat landing and small warehouse, 35. flatboat stores on river near levee, 36. office of The Manitoban, 37. Thomas Lusted’s blacksmith shop, 38. Grace church, 39. William Harvey’s livery stable, 40. A. M. Brown and Company’s building, 41. Dr. Curtis J. Bird’s building, 42. A. Strang’s residence, 43. John Hackett’s backery, 44. brick block owned by J. C. Schultz, 45. Robert Stalker’s harness shop, 46. Royal Canadian hotel, later Brouse’s hotel, 47. old Ross house, residence of William Coldwell, editor of The Manitoban, 48. Lyster Hayward’s auctioneering building, 49. W. Palmer Clarke’s general store, 50. Alfred Boyd’s store, 51. Bernard R. Ross’ block, 52. shop shared by gunsmith William Chambers and jeweller and watchmaker George D. Northgraves, 53. “Pride of the West” billiard saloon, 54. W. J. Macaulay’s lumber mill, men’s boarding house, and office, 55. old tumble-down corduroy bridge across Brown’s Creek, 56. Brown’s Creek, 57. Merchant’s hotel, 58. Immigration sheds, 59. Alexander McMicken’s bank, 60. Alexander Begg’s soda water factory, 61. Dick and Banning’s sawmill, 62. residence of surveyor Duncan Sinclair, 63. group of residences, from river: John Johnston, H. Hodges, Thomas Collins, George E. Fulthorpe, James Irwin (city waterman), Matthew Davis (blacksmith), Thomas Jeffers (ferryman), Sam Spencer (drover), John Kennedy (registrar), William McGaw, Alexander Dunlop (Free Press employee), and Stewart Mulvey, 64. Hudson’s Bay Company steamboat warehouse, 65. ferry from St. Boniface, 66. ferry across Assiniboine River, 67. Thistle store, 68. John Higgins’ residence, 69. General hospital (moved to this location at end of 1872), and 70. St. Boniface Cathedral and College.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Maps Winnipeg 1872 #1. [Manitoba Free Press, 9 November 1922, page 22]


1. “St. Boniface Park honours Métis martyr,” The Lance, 18 September 2008.

2. Ibid.

3. “Councillor wants park named after Métis killed by mob,” CBC News, Manitoba, 26 November 2007. []

4. J. A. Jackson, “Elzéar Goulet”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-Line, Vol. IX 1861-1870. []

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (hereafter, HBCA), Biographical Sheets, “Goulet, Jacques”. []

9. Ibid.

10. HBCA, Biographical Sheets, “Goulet, Alexis”. []

11. Lewis G. Thomas, The Prairie West to 1905: A Canadian Source Book, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1975. pp. 56-57.

12. Ibid.

13. Peter J. Gagné, French Canadians of the West, Volume 1: A Biographical Dictionary of French Canadians and French Métis of the Western United States and Canada, Orange Park, Florida: Quinton Publications, 2004. pp. 80-81.

14. Elizabeth Arthur, “John Siveright”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-Line, Vol. VIII 1851-1860. []

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. French Canadians of the West, Volume 1, pp 80-81.

21. Ibid.

22. “Elzéar Goulet”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-Line.

23. Jerome Family: Decendants of Jean Jerome. []

24. Jerome Family: Decendants of Jean Jerome. []

25. W. R. Cushing, Genealogy of the Cushing Family. []

26. Ruth Swan and Edward A. Jerome, “Unequal justice: The Métis in O’Donoghue’s raid of 1871,” Manitoba History, Number 39, Spring/Summer 2000, note #82. []

27. Larry Haag, “Elzéar Goulet”. []

28. Ibid.

29. Peter J. Gagné, French Canadians of the West, Volume 2: A Biographical Dictionary of French Canadians and French Métis of the Western United States and Canada, Orange Park, Florida: Quinton Publications, 2004. pp. 93.

30. French Canadians of the West, Volume 1, p. 80-81.

31. Ibid.

32. Larry Haag, “Elzéar Goulet”.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid.

35. “Elzéar Goulet”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-Line.

36. “The military reign of terror,” Famous People of Manitoba. []

37. F. Pannekoek, “Some comments on the social origins of the Riel Rebellion of 1869”, MHS Transactions Series 3, No. 34, 1977-1978 Season. []

38. “Elzéar Goulet”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-Line.

39. French Canadians of the West, Volume 1, pp. 80-81.

40. Ibid.

41. “The military reign of terror,” Famous People of Manitoba.

42. Graham A. MacDonald, “‘Kootenai’ Brown in the Red River Valley,” Manitoba History, Number 30, Autumn 1995. []

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.

47. J. M Bumsted, The Red River Rebellion, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1996, p. 222.

48. Rev. A. C. Garrioch, The Correction Line, Winnipeg: Stovel Company, 1933, p. 333.

49. Red River Rebellion, p. 221.

50. Ibid., p. 222.

51. “Elzéar Goulet,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography On-Line.

52. Ibid.

53. Red River Rebellion, p. 221.

54. George F. G. Stanley, The Collected Writings of Louis Riel, Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 1985, pp. 159-164.

55. Ibid.

56. Archives of Manitoba, Red River Settlement Census, 1870.

57. “Unequal justice: The Métis in O’Donoghue’s raid of 1871,” Manitoba History, Number 39, Spring/Summer 2000, note #89.

58. French Canadians of the West, Volume 1, pp. 80-81.

59. The Story of Manitoba, Volume III, Winnipeg: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, p. 145.

60. J. M. Bumsted, Dictionary of Manitoba Biography, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999, p. 94.

61. Archives of Manitoba, 1901 Canada census, microfilm T-6435, page 2, line 23.

62. Ibid.

63. French Canadians of the West, Volume 2, p. 93.

64. Mosaic of Winnipeg Street Names, compiled by J. B. Rudnychyj, Winnipeg: Canadian Institute of Onomastic Sciences, 1974.

65. Dan Vandal, “Elzéar Goulet: Little-known Métis figure”. []

66. Ibid.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Elzéar Goulet Park Marker and Plaques (Winnipeg)

Page revised: 8 August 2016