Chapter IX. Red River Rebellion (1869)
IT is a truism that the basis of government, in the ultimate analysis, is to be found in the power to maintain law and order--by force, but this indispensable attribute or condition was exactly what the government of Red River Settlement lacked. As was mentioned in a previous chapter, the weakness of the Governor and Council of Assiniboia had been shown in their inability to uphold effectively the judgments of the Court of Law in the Settlement; they had no soldiers, no militia, no body of police to fall back upon, in that primitive and patriarchal community; determined, not to say desperate, men could and did set their authority at defiance. No wonderful gift of perspicacity is required to see that this state of things could not continue long without the danger of some large and menacing upheaval being incurred. When the Imperial Government were asked to send troops for the protection of the Settlement, they declined to furnish them unless the cost was borne by the Hudson's Bay Company, because Assiniboia was not under the direct administration of the Crown, but of the Company; the latter, however, would not agree to bear the expense.
On Dr. Machray being appointed Bishop of Rupert's Land, he was invited by Mr. Cardwell, then Colonial Secretary, to write to the Colonial Office on any subject connected with his new sphere which he thought was likely to be of special interest or importance in the view of the Imperial Government. As soon as the Bishop heard of the negotiations for the transfer of Rupert's Land from the Company to the Dominion, he addressed a communication to the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, who had succeeded Mr. Cardwell, in which he pressed upon the Duke the urgency there was for sending a small detachment of troops to Red River, as there was "imminent risk any day of some outbreak leading to the utter prostration of law and order." He also stated it was necessary that a liberal provision should be made in the negotiations for securing to the settlers titles to the lands they had acquired either from the Company or by "squatting" tenure. A third point he raised was concerned with the position, after the transfer, of the Bishopric, which, it will be remembered, was a Crown Bishopric, and he suggested the propriety of arranging for the independence of the See and the succession to it in these changing circumstances. His letter was acknowledged, pigeon-holed, and in all probability forgotten--at any rate, nothing came of it. He had written to the English Societies which supported the missions of his Diocese that his great preoccupation and endeavour was so to prepare for the time that was coming as to be able "to hold the ground for the Church"; it had scarcely occurred to him, it may be imagined, even though he saw the peril in which the Settlement stood, that first he would be called on "to hold the ground for" the Empire--a struggle of a very different character.
Like the Bishop, Governor Mactavish, the Council of Assiniboia, and the inhabitants generally of Red River heard of the negotiations for the transfer of Rupert's Land to the Dominion, but they heard of them at second hand--from reports in newspapers and other indirect sources; they were given no official, authoritative information by either the Imperial or the Dominion Government, and, strangest thing of all, neither did the Hudson's Bay Company in London inform Governor Mactavish, their chief representative in the country and the Governor of Rupert's Land, of the course the proceedings were taking--their only thought or care apparently being for their shareholders. Governor Mactavish was so much in the dark, that in the summer of 1869 he made a hurried visit to the headquarters of the Company in Montreal to learn what was the real state of the case. Some more direct assurance of what was to happen was found by the people of the Settlement in the construction of the "Dawson Road", and in the British North America Act of 1867, in which the Imperial Government made some provision for the inclusion of Rupert's Land in the Dominion. In 1868 Canadian surveyors, under instructions from the Dominion Government, began a road from Lake of the Woods to Fort Garry, the land thus traversed lying in Assiniboia, and within the immediate jurisdiction of its Council, who were treated in this matter as a negligible quantity.
By this time there was in the Settlement a consider able body of Canadians, principally drawn from the Province of Ontario, and they formed what may be termed a "Canada party"; while they were loud in their praises of the country and eloquent of its possibilities, they were aggressively Canadian in sentiment, and some of them spoke and wrote with unconcealed contempt of the native half-breed population, who naturally resented this supercilious attitude--with the inevitable result that much ill-feeling was engendered; but it was not until well on in 1869 that this phase passed into one of positive hostility, fresh, though probably unintentional, provocation from the Dominion authorities being the cause.
Though the bargain for the transfer of Rupert's Land from the Company was not consummated, the Dominion Government acted as if it were. In July 1869, the Hon. William M'Dougall, the Dominion Minister of Public Works, instructed a surveyor, Colonel Dennis, to go to Red River officially for the purpose of laying out townships and making a general survey of the country. Mr. M'Dougall had been one of the most eager and persistent advocates of the inclusion of Rupert's Land in the Dominion, and there is no doubt that he meant well, but his precipitancy was so great that he never stopped to ask permission from Governor Mactavish and the Council, though he must have known that he was stepping beyond his legal rights and infringing theirs; he does not appear even to have consulted them. Colonel Dennis and his assistants arrived in the Settlement, and all that summer its people saw them at work "running lines" and taking measurements in and about their fields and lands with what seemed an absolute disregard of the existing and old-time divisions and boundaries of their farms; many of the settlers jumped to the conclusion that the result of the transfer of their country from the Company was that they were about to be dispossessed of their lands. If the conclusion was hasty and ill-considered, it at least gained colour from the fact that some of the Canada party staked off tracts of ground which they boastfully declared would become their property when the Dominion entered into possession. The Bishop, in his letter to the Duke of Buckingham, had referred to the necessity there was for generous dealing with respect to titles and tenures of lands, some of which, in a strict legal sense, were not well supported.
But the doings of the surveyors alarmed not only those who held their lands by no stronger tenure than that of "squatting," but also some of those who could exhibit deeds from the Company by which their holdings were legally conveyed to them; there thus was aroused a feeling of insecurity which became contagious, and spread throughout Red River, finding its strongest expression among the French half-breeds or Métis, as they were locally termed. The Métis formed a half or rather more than a half, of the whole population of the Settlement; they were more ignorant, excitable, and open to suggestion than their English or Scottish neighbours; they listened eagerly and responded readily to the words and counsels of their leaders they were strongly attached to their homes and modes of living. They saw with their own eyes lands surveyed and roads constructed by these alien and often insolent Canadians; when they were told that they were to be deprived of their homesteads they believed it, and the effect on them can be easily imagined. The dismay and fear which they first experienced passed into anger and rage that speedily led to acts of open antagonism to Canada.
The Métis of Red River found a leader in Louis Riel, a young man born in the Settlement, and one of themselves, but he was much better educated and more intelligent than the great majority of his confreres. The "Riel Question," which once convulsed Canada, has been for many years one of the "deadest of dead" issues, and at this distance of time it is possible to make a clearer and fairer estimate of the man than was to be obtained in his own day, when passion and prejudice had their customary blinding influence. Professor Bryce, of Manitoba College, Winnipeg, and the historian of the Hudson's Bay Company and of Manitoba, states that Riel professed to be loyal to Great Britain, but hostile to Canada, and that he was "of fair ability, but proud, vain, and assertive," with the "ambition to be a Caesar or a Napoleon." Mgr. Taché, the Roman Catholic Bishop of St. Boniface, a designation at that time synonymous with Rupert's Land, had been his early friend, protector, and patron, and had sent him while a boy to a seminary in Montreal. Writing of him in after years Bishop Taché said that Riel was afflicted with megalomania, or, as the Americans phrase it, "swelled head."
What is certain is that Riel possessed considerable courage, determination, and force; it seems unjust not to admit that he was inspired, at all events in the beginning, with a species of patriotism. Something of an orator, he voiced in the meetings of the Métis the sense of intolerable wrong that burned in the breasts of his countrymen as in his own. It is usual to represent him as a mere demagogue and agitator, eager only for his own ends, but probably this would not have been said of him if he had been content to place himself in the van of a purely "constitutional movement." But from speech he went on to deeds. It is only right to say that, even after the first acts of revolt had taken place, had Riel been more moderate in his conduct and not so self-seeking, he could have had the support of practically the entire Settlement, but his megalomania carried him away.
On October 11, 1869, Riel, at the head of a party of these French half-breeds or Métis, interrupted the surveyors while at work, ordered them to desist from their operations, and threatened them with violence unless they obeyed his commands. The surveyors protested that they were only carrying out the instructions they had received from the Canadian Government, and appealed to Dr. Cowan, the officer of the Hudson's Bay Company in charge of Fort Garry, for protection while they went on with their work. Dr. Cowan remonstrated with Riel, but without effect; no doubt both men knew that the Canadian surveyors had no legal locus standi, a fact which weakened the force of Dr. Cowan's remonstrances, and strengthened the determination of Riel, who was well aware that Dr. Cowan had no armed strength behind him in the local Government. Riel persisted in his opposition to the surveyors, who were compelled to stop all that they were doing, to the great dissatisfaction of the Canada faction in the Settlement, who, as a matter of course, took sides with the surveyors, whom they regarded as the representatives of the Dominion.
Even at this stage all might still have been well, or, at least, the course of affairs might have assumed a more pleasant complexion if the Dominion Government had put themselves in the right, but they did not do so.
It had been agreed that the £300,000 purchase money of the rights of the Hudson's Bay Company in Rupert's Land was to have been paid on October 1, 1869, and it was anticipated that a proclamation would then be issued fixing the date of the union of Rupert's Land with the existing Dominion; the money, how ever, was not paid to the Company until May of the following year. What actually happened was that Mr. M'Dougall resigned the portfolio of Public Works, and was appointed by the Dominion Government Lieutenant-Governor of the country, styled the "North-West Territories of Canada," on September 28, although the terms of the bargain for the transfer had not been fulfilled; he was instructed to proceed to Fort Garry to take over the administration of the government from Governor Mactavish and the Council of Assiniboia, and, attended by a small retinue, he arrived at Pembina, on the American side of the international boundary, on October 21.
In the meantime news of his appointment and prospective arrival had reached Red River, and Riel and the Métis resolved to oppose his entry into the Settlement; they erected a barricade across the public highway at Rivière Sale, on the Red River side of the frontier, and sent a messenger to him at Pembina with the subjoined peremptory letter
MONSIEUR--Le Comité National des Métis de la Rivière Rouge intime a Monsieur W. M'Dougall l'ordre de ne pas entrer sur le Territoire du Nord-Ouest sans une permission spéciale de ce Comité.
Par ordre du Président, JOHN BRUCE.
Louis RIEL, Secrétaire.
On his way to Red River Mr. M'Dougall must have heard that there was disaffection in the Settlement, but could not have counted on its having reached such a pitch. Hearing that the Comité des Métis meant business, though at first he could not believe it, he sent out to reconnoitre, and quickly learned that there was a band of from forty to fifty armed French half-breeds stationed at the barricade, who declared that if he attempted to pass it they would shoot him. Deeming discretion the better part, he did not make the venture, but remained in Pembina, from which he wrote to Governor Mactavish and others in the Settlement, setting forth his humiliating position and asking, or rather demanding, assistance. The local Government had already been apprised of the building of the barricade at Rivière Sale, and of what was taking place on the frontier, for at Fort Garry, on October 22, the day after the notice had been served on Mr. M'Dougall, an affidavit was sworn before Dr. Cowan, who was a magistrate, which gave an account of the proceedings of the Métis. That Mr. M'Dougall had been "held up" on the boundary by the French half-breeds was soon known throughout Red River, and the surprise and indignation of the Canada party were extreme. The Council of Assiniboia was summoned to consider the situation on October 25; unfortunately, its head, Governor Mactavish, at this crisis was seriously ill, and physically quite unfit to cope with it energetically and decisively.
The Council was composed of the leading men of Red River, both English and French, including the English and French Bishops, but the French Bishop, Mgr. Taché, who was in Rome, was represented by his Vicar-General. Amongst those present at this meeting was Bishop Machray, who urged that the rising of the Métis--as a movement that had no sanction from the Governor, and the Council, but was, in effect, a setting at defiance of their authority, or, in plain terms, a rebellion--should be summarily put down by the raising of a sufficient force of men from within the Settlement; but this bold course found no support from the other members of the Council, the majority thinking that matters might still be arranged amicably, and it was resolved to resort to negotiations with the rebels--a line of action which in itself was a confession of weakness, and was unproductive, as might have been foreseen, of any good results.
If the Bishop's plan had been adopted, it would probably have been successful, as the Métis at Rivière Sale were indifferently armed, and the insurrection did not assume formidable dimensions till some days later, when its real character was demonstrated by the seizure of Fort Garry, and the opportunity had passed away. With respect to Mr. M'Dougall the Council still had no definite, authoritative information from the Imperial Government or the Hudson's Bay Company in London, and they probably did not know that his appointment was ultra vires of the Dominion Government, but they knew that terms had been arranged for the transfer, and were willing enough to receive him. While they were conducting their futile negotiations with the rebels, they advised him to remain at Pembina, in the hope that things would take a turn for the better--a hope not destined to be fulfilled.
The rising, so far, had been confined to a comparatively small number of French half-breeds; many of their compatriots did not approve of their actions and did not join them, but others of them did, and the ranks of the rebels were steadily augmented, the situation daily becoming more and more grave. Any small possibility that existed of the efforts at conciliation then or afterwards being successful was rendered abortive by the attitude of Mr. M'Dougall, who issued proclamations for which he had no legal justification, and virtually accused Governor Mactavish and his Council of aiding the revolt.
During this period of excitement and suspense Colonel Dennis, the chief of the Canadian surveyors, went to Pembina to see M'Dougall, and then made a tour through the English parishes and Kildonan with a view to getting together a force to escort him into the country, but he did not receive much encouragement. He discovered that what may be termed the British part of the Settlement--Englishmen and Scotsmen, and English and Scottish half-breeds--felt confidence, generally speaking, in the future administration of the government of Rupert's Land by the Dominion; they represented, however, that they had not in any way been consulted, as a people, with respect to entering the Dominion, and that they knew little or nothing of what the Dominion proposed to do with or for them; and as for beginning a conflict with their French neighbours, they had no inclination for it whatever, particularly as a struggle between them, the issue of which was doubtful, might result in placing the whole Settlement at the mercy of the Indians, already on the alert and restless.
Meanwhile Riel's band at Rivière Sale had grown considerably, and the rebels began to carry matters with a high hand; persons coming into the country through the United States were stopped and examined, merchandise was seized, and the mails were detained and searched. Riel then brought off his greatest coup. Leaving a sufficient body of the Métis to guard the barricade and frustrate any attempt on the part of M'Dougall to pass it, he marched with a hundred of his followers to Fort Garry; and as no preparations had been made for its defence and he encountered no resistance--an extraordinary thing, giving unfortunate colour to the statements freely made that the Company secretly sympathised with the rebels--he occupied it on November 2, taking possession of its cannon, consisting of some serviceable six-pounders and other pieces, its large magazine of rifles, guns, and ammunition, and its stores of provisions. Here installing himself and his men, he established his headquarters, and drew without stint on the provisions in the Fort, on the plea that he was protecting the Company from some terrible, though inexplicable, danger. Never, it is safe to say, had he or his supporters had so good a time. Surprise and fear seized on the Canada party, something approaching a panic made itself felt in the Settlement, the wildest rumours flew about, and the slow anger of the British section of the community was at length aroused.
To give some show of justification to his audacious and lawless acts, Riel, under cover of a manifesto issued in the name of his figure-head of a President, John Bruce, who, in spite of his Scottish name, was a French half-breed, convoked a convention for November 16 of representatives of the English-speaking parishes, with an equal number from the French-speaking parishes, to consider their grievances. The town of Winnipeg was to elect two delegates, while St. John's, Kildonan, St. Paul's, St. Andrew's, St. Clement's, and St. Peter's, on the Red River, and St. James's, Headingley, Poplar Point and High Bluff, and Portage la Prairie, on the Assiniboine, were each to select one delegate--twelve in all.
With the seizure of Fort Garry by Riel, the rule of the Governor and Council of Assiniboia came practically to an end. On the English side the most prominent member of the Council was the Bishop, and next to him Judge Black, the Recorder; of the other members the most influential was a Scotsman, Mr. A. G. B. Bannatyne, a "Free Trader," but allied by marriage with officers of the Company. On the French side Mr. Dease, a French half-breed, was the chief lay member of the Council, and throughout the Rebellion remained the leader of the French loyalists. They consulted with Governor Mactavish and with each other, and on the Bishop's suggestion Mactavish drew up a protest against the actions of Riel and the insurgents. English and Scottish delegates to the convention were elected by the parishes, and a first meeting was held on November i 6; in spite of the objections of Riel, the protest of Governor Mactavish was read and discussed, and had a moderating effect on some of the rebels; but Riel announced his intention of forming a Provisional Government, whereupon the convention adjourned to November 22. It met on that date and again on December 1, and a Bill of Rights, prepared by Riel, was adopted with amendments.
The English delegates then desired that the convention should hold a conference with Mr. M'Dougall on the basis of this Bill of Rights; but Riel negatived the proposal, declaring vehemently that M'Dougall would in no circumstances be permitted to come into the country as its Lieutenant-Governor. Before this third meeting he had taken decisive measures to show his power by the arrest in his rooms in the Fort of Governor Mactavish, and by the patrolling of the streets of Winnipeg by armed rebels; he intimated that other arrests might soon follow. It was from this time, or a little before, that he showed in increasing degree that megalomania of which Bishop Taché said he was the victim. His overbearing conduct displeased even some of the French who had supported him, but a report that the English and Scottish settlers were about to attack Fort Garry united them all under him again.
There was some truth in the report. The seizure of the Fort and the arrest of Governor Mactavish had incensed the English settlers, and Colonel Dennis had been able to get several parties of them together for drill. With his headquarters at Lower Fort Garry, he set about organising a force to oppose Riel, but many of the English, though they disapproved of the rising, remained passive. While attending to his episcopal work and his lectures in the College and his teaching in the College School, the Bishop viewed the situation in Red River with great misgivings and deep anxiety. Knowing most of what was going on, he was well informed as to the strength and character of the force Dennis was getting together, and he could not see that it had a chance of success against the French--the time when success was so probable as to be almost a certainty had gone past. Riel now had the enormous advantage of position; he had cannon in the Fort; his men were armed with Enfield rifles; there was an abundance of ammunition and of provisions; he had his spies all about, and the English could make no move without his being aware of it.
Most members of the Canada party, of which Dr. Schultz, afterwards Sir John Schultz and a Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, was the leader, had assembled in Schultz's house ready to support Dennis, but even with their assistance the Bishop thought the enterprise was hopeless. On December 6 the Bishop went to Fort Garry and demanded of Riel that he should have an interview with Mactavish in the general interests of the Settlement, and Riel did not refuse him his demand. Admitted to the Fort, the Bishop used his eyes while he was being escorted to and from the apartments of the Go with whom he had a lengthy conversation. The result of his observations and of this conversation was a long letter, written on the same day, to Colonel Dennis, in which the Bishop urged him to abandon the attempt on the Fort. He wrote:
Instead of a breaking down of the force of the insurgents, I feel certain, from my observations at Fort Garry to-4ay, and from information from Mr. Mactavish and others I can rely on, that over 600 men are now in arms, and they are well armed. I see no reason to depend on want of courage or determination on the part of these men. In addition to this strong exhibition of force, there is a belief; apparently on good authority, in a determination to avenge loss of life, if they are attacked, by house-to-house massacring, or, at any rate, by individual assassination.
I feel, therefore, that success in an attack with such forces as you can bring together, with nothing of the common action of the insurgents here, is problematical, and that the warfare is likely to be such that a victory will only be less fatal to the Settlement and the interests of the Canadian Government than a defeat. . . . The force of the insurgents has only grown with opposition, and is now, I believe, quite a match for all that can be brought together against them. I would therefore earnestly advise the giving up of any idea of attacking the French position at Fort Garry at present, and also any idea of seizing by stealth on any rebel. Put away such counsel, for a time at least; I feel that the result to be anticipated would be very disastrous. I see everything to be gained by delay; at any rate, there would be an opportunity perhaps of bringing about some direct communication between Governor M'Dougall and the disaffected people; I think you should, on every account, bring that about.
Further, it would be well not to act until you ascertain clearly the mind of the Canadian Ministry and people on the way of settling this affair; and I think something is due to the people from Governor McDougall. I for one am at this moment perfectly ignorant of any detail of the character or policy of the (Canadian) Government. Personally, I do not care for this: I am not only fervently loyal to the Queen (Victoria), but I have unquestioning confidence in the management of Canada. I know all will be right; still, there is, nevertheless, a great want; a very conciliatory attitude is what is wanted from Governor M'Dougall, and a plain setting forth of how the Government here is to be conducted, meeting, as far as possible, the wishes expressed by the disaffected persons, and perhaps referring others to Canada, but promising a generous consideration of the whole grievances. This may not be altogether palatable, but the crisis is a grave one for Canada, and much wisdom is needed.
I would not so write did I not feel certain that, if the present numbers of the insurgents keep up, an attack is not feasible, and did I not also feel that some attempt should be made by those having authority and knowledge to enter into explanations with them before making any attack. The late Government of Assiniboia could not do this, for it had no information: all that could be done was to counsel loyal obedience, but at this time something more is called for than that.
On the following day Riel, with 300 men and some guns, surrounded the house of Dr. Schultz, and compelled the surrender of practically the whole Canada party, including Schultz, Mrs. Schultz, and two other ladies, the total number being forty-eight, though rumour magnified the figure into sixty. This crushing blow to the hopes of the militant loyalists was delivered by Riel with such astuteness and complete success that not a drop of blood was shed on either side. The captives were conducted to the Fort and imprisoned, under a large guard of armed rebels, who had instructions to shoot any one attempting to escape. On the evening of the same day the Bishop sent a messenger to Colonel Dennis at Lower Fort Garry, with the following letter:
There is a report that you think of coming up at once with the force you have. I do not suppose this is the case, but I am sure any effort at present is hopeless. They (the insurgents) now hold about sixty prisoners, and are more than 600 in number, and elated. You must be quiet; probably the lives of the prisoners may depend on this. The truth is, nothing can be done by you; only evil is now to be apprehended from action.
At the foot of this letter was a note from the Archdeacon of Assiniboia:
I most fully concur in all the Bishop says.
J. M'Lean, Archdeacon.
The Bishop's advice, which in his second letter took more the form of a positive command, that Colonel Dennis should abandon an attack on Riel and Fort Garry, was not exactly "palatable" to all who had joined Dennis, but its effect was instant and pro found. Colonel Dennis disbanded his force and gave up the enterprise altogether. He issued a peace proclamation from Lower Fort Garry, asking the loyalists to unite peacefully in sending a deputation to M'Dougall. On December 11 he went to Pembina to see M'Dougall, and as the state of affairs continued unpropitious for them, both M'Dougall and Dennis left for Canada a week later. Two months afterwards Dennis wrote an acknowledgment of the wisdom of the Bishop's action, and expressed "heartfelt thankfulness that my proceedings had not been the cause (even to the extent of a drop) of bloodshed among the people." On December 10 Riel hoisted the flag of the Provisional Government on Fort Garry, and re fused all requests to set his prisoners free. When he heard that M'Dougall was returning to Canada, Riel's megalomania became still more pronounced.
Hitherto he had refrained from laying hands on the safe of the Hudson's Bay Company in Fort Garry; he now took it and helped himself to all the cash in it, paying his "soldiers" fifteen to twenty dollars a month in addition to their rations, also supplied in voluntarily by the Company. As the Company had acted as the bankers of the Settlement, cashing and issuing drafts on London, the confiscation of their funds meant what amounted to a stoppage of nearly all payments in Red River generally, and consequently much financial embarrassment ensued. To add to the intense tension of the time, a rumour gained currency that 1100 Sioux were on the war-path from Minnesota, and another rumour was that Riel was acting in secret collusion with Fenians and Americans to bring about the annexation of the country to the United States. On Christmas Day, 1869, John Bruce resigned the Presidentship of the Provisional Government, and Riel appointed himself to the vacant position.
While the Bishop was averting civil war from the Settlement, and by that means also making improbable an Indian war with all its unspeakable horrors, the situation in Red River was exciting increased attention both in England and in Canada. Very little interest had been taken in it till after the capture of Fort Garry by Riel, and after that event, the news of what was going on in the Settlement which reached London and Ottawa, being mainly received through the agency of unfriendly American journals, was not regarded as particularly reliable. Letters were sent from Red River by the settlers to both capitals, but the rebels tampered with the mails, and some of these communications never arrived at their destination. In time, however, the British and Dominion Governments got a tolerably accurate notion of the state of affairs.
Among those who wrote to the Imperial Government was the Bishop. Earl Granville was the Secretary for the Colonies at this time, but the Bishop, fearing lest the rebels would inspect and perhaps destroy correspondence dealing with political matters, did not write direct to him, nor were these letters in ordinary English. He had arranged, as it happened, with his friend, Mr. Williams-Ellis, who was still in Cam bridge, to employ a cipher, should the necessity arise to have recourse to such a medium. The cipher used was a somewhat original one, being made from the Latin Grace read in Sidney College by the Scholars of the College before dinner in Hall. The words of the Grace, which is similar to that of the other colleges of Cambridge, are:
Oculi omnium ad te spectant, Domine: tu das eis escam eorum in tempore opportuno. Aperis tu manum tuam et imples omne animal benedictione tua. Sanctifica nos, quaesumus, per verbum et orationem; istisque tuis donis, quae de tua bonitate sumus percepturi, benedicito per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
The alphabet for the cipher was formed by taking a sufficient number of letters in the first words of the Grace, avoiding repetitions of letters; thus oculi supplied a, b, c, d, e, omnium gave in m and n the next letters f and g, ad furnished h and i, and so on. Mr. Williams-Ellis received several letters in this cipher from the Bishop during the Rebellion, deciphered them, and sent a version of them, or of portions of them, in ordinary writing to Lord Granville, who in this way was kept informed, to a certain extent at any rate, of what was taking place in Red River Settlement. Naturally the Bishop did not despatch many letters to other people at this critical period, but on December 21 he wrote to the C.M.S. in London a letter which duly reached the Society. In this he said: "The insurrection may probably result in the loss to the British Empire of a country full of hope, and that might have become a prosperous home for millions of England's poor."
Evidently the fear to which he gave utterance was based on the idea that some occurrence might give a pretext for the intervention of the United States, with the result that, once having gained possession of the North-West, they would not have relinquished it; besides, there were several American citizens in the Settlement who made no secret of their desire for the annexation of Rupert's Land, and sought to influence in that direction their countrymen in America. He went on to state to the C.M.S. that the Rebellion had brought, for the time being at least, all Church and missionary action to a standstill; he ended the letter with the now familiar words, which expressed for both Church and State the desire of his heart and the aim of his being: "We shall try to hold our ground."
Amongst those in Canada who regarded with grave apprehensions the disturbances in Red River was Mr. Donald A. Smith, now Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, known throughout the Empire for his philanthropy and a patriotism singularly spirited and unselfish. When these events were happening in and about Fort Carry, this gentleman was the chief officer of the Hudson's Bay Company in their "Eastern District," and his headquarters were at Montreal. In his connection with the Company he was in a position to be especially well informed with respect to much that was taking place in the Settlement, and from his long and intimate acquaintance with the country, in which further he was interested by ties of marriage, he was able better than most to under stand the situation of affairs in Rupert's Land. On November 24, 1869, he wrote to the Secretary of State of the Dominion at Ottawa offering the Government the services of the Hudson's Bay Company wherever they could be of use, and intimating at the same time his readiness personally to give any assistance in his power.
After some delay, the Dominion Government appointed him their "Special Commissioner," and asked him to proceed to Fort Carry. Writing to him on December 11, Sir John Young, afterwards Lord Lisgar, then Governor-General of Canada, said that he had sent letters to Governor Mactavish, to Bishop Machray, and to the Vicar-General in Red River representing Bishop Taché, stating that he, as the representative of the Queen in British North America, assured them that the Imperial Government had no intention of acting otherwise than in good faith towards the people of Rupert's Land, whose claims and grievances would be considered and satisfied. By this time it had come to be suspected, if not realised, in Canada that serious blunders had been committed by the Dominion Government and by Mr. M'Dougall, and prior to the appointment of Mr. Smith as Commissioner the Ottawa authorities had selected two French-Canadians, Roman Catholics, Vicar-General Thibault and Colonel de Salaberry, to go to Red River as their Commissioners, but had not conferred on them such extensive powers as they gave to Mr. Smith.
The three Commissioners arrived in the Settlement about the same date. Mr. Smith, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Mr. Hardisty, also an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, reached Pembina on the American side of the frontier, where he took the precaution of leaving his Commission and other important documents in safe hands, and, pushing on, presented himself on December 27 at Fort Garry, to which he was admitted by Riel, who kept him a prisoner, more or less, for the next two months: he was allowed a certain amount of freedom, and was permitted to see persons from the Settlement. Learning of his arrival, the Bishop and other leading members of the community called on him immediately, and made him fully acquainted with all that had occurred since the beginning of the Rebellion.