Learning about Louis Riel on Louis Riel Day

Today is Louis Riel Day here in Manitoba and I am determined to write about it. I remember being taught about Louis Riel in school and his story was always positioned as – Louis Riel: hero or traitor? Interestingly enough, no other Canadian historical figures were presented this way, at least when I was in school. For instance, we were never asked to debate – John A. MacDonald: hero or villain? All the other historic figures were presented in uncomplicated ways. Their stories were simple, straight-forward, without controversy. I sure do hope that things have changed since I was in school.

I got the sense, though, that the controversy over the legacy of Riel had faded and that he was generally regarded, in Manitoba at least, as a hero … that is until I read some angry comments online suggesting that our February holiday in Manitoba should be called “Family Day” like some of the other provinces. Of course, more or less any holiday is a time to spend with family, so that name seems redundant to me. I much prefer a name that asks me to learn about history.

I’m far from an expert, and I have much more to learn, but here are a few places I’ve learned something about Riel.

Just today, I finished reading Chester Brown’s graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. The book is interesting, complex, and as far as I can tell, very well researched for a graphic novel. I do feel like I’ve learned a lot about the Métis leader and founder of Manitoba. Although he was never allowed to take his seat in Ottawa, he was elected twice as MP of Provencher, the very same riding I live in now. Yup, the same riding as Vic Toews and Ted Falk, believe it or not.

This is a great book, you should read it. And I need to read it again.

Another excellent place to visit is the Riel House in Winnipeg, which we finally visited this past summer.

And, of course, a visit to the St. Boniface Museum is a must. I believe that if you have an annual or lifetime membership at the MHV in Steinbach, you also get free admission at a number of other museums, including the St. Boniface Museum! You can also visit the St. Boniface Cathedral nearby, where Riel is buried.