David Doyle, August 21, 2017
The Assassination of Thomas Darcy McGee
In the aftermath of events like Charlottesville and the Quebec City mosque attack, public attention to Canada’s racist movement surges, but its evil reach goes back to, and beyond, Canada’s confederation. In April 7, 1868, the transplanted Irishman, Thomas Darcy McGee, known as the “orator and prophet” of the Canadian Confederation, was assassinated. That evening, McGee participated in a parliamentary debate in the Canadian House of Commons that went on past midnight. Afterward, he walked to his Sparks St. boarding house where he was shot while waiting for the door to be opened. Patrick J. Whelan, an Irish Catholic, was arrested, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime.
Traditionally, McGee’s assassination has been alleged to have been carried out by the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish republican organization founded in the United States in 1858, the same year McGee was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. Others believe it could have been carried out by McGee’s other enemies, Protestant extremists from the nationalist “Canada First Movement.”
McGee first emigrated from Ireland to Boston in 1842 where he worked as editor of an Irish-American weekly journal. In 1845 he returned to Ireland where he was editor of the Nation, the organ of the “Young Ireland” party advocating Irish independence from England. Implicated in the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848, he escaped to Boston and New York where he founded The American Celt and The New York National, Irish newspapers supporting rights for the Irish and Catholics in the United States.
After a falling out with his allies in New York, McGee moved to Montreal in 1857 and established the publication the New Era where he attacked the influence of the Protestant Orange Order in Canadian politics and earning their eternal hatred by defending the right of the large Irish Catholic immigrant population to representation in the Legislative Assembly of Canada. Elected to the Assembly for Montreal West, as an Irish Roman Catholic, McGee, initially aligned himself with the “Reformers.” In 1863, after a falling out with the Reformers, he did a complete turnabout and transferred his allegiance to John A. Macdonald and the Conservatives, thereby becoming a “loyal subject of the Crown” in support of British colonialism, and in opposition to all forms of republicanism.
As a “Unionist,” and minister in the second Taché-Macdonald “Great Coalition” government of 1864, (Upper and Lower Canada), McGee worked tirelessly, stomping the country in support of the union of Britain’s North American colonies. At a time of tension, with rumours of war between American Union forces over British military support of the Confederate South during the American Civil War (1860-64), McGee’s pro-British stance earned the hatred of the Irish nationalist Fenians who sought to free Ireland from British oppression through attacks on the British colonizers in Canada. Having turned on Irish nationalism in favour of British imperialism, deserting his brothers in their struggle for independence to join the Anglo-Canadians in establishing this new British Dominion in Canada, the Fenians saw McGee as a traitor to all Irishman.
In 1864, “the year of coming together,” of the confederation forces in British North America (Conservative, Clear Grit-Liberals and Reform), McGee led a preliminary Canadian tour of the Maritime colonies, speaking on the necessity of a strong British Union in North America. A brilliant orator, McGee greased the wheels for John A. Macdonald, a barge-load of champagne, and an official Canadian delegation, that arrived at the Charlottown Conference of 1864 calling for the Maritimes to expand their vision, and join a broad “Canadian Confederation.” Charlottown would be followed by the Quebec Conference where Macdonald and McGee won over the influential Catholic hierarchy of Lower Canada (Quebec) in support of the consolidation of Britain’s North American colonies. After the Quebec Conference, with the British North America Act, (BNA), of the British Parliament in 1867, Upper and Lower Canada were transformed into the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and joined by New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, to form the British Dominion of Canada. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland would initially decline to join the Confederation and remained as British colonies.
Recognized as a “father of Confederation” Thomas Darcy McGee was elected to the first Canadian Parliament as a Liberal-Conservative representing the riding of Montreal. However, leading up to Confederation, at the Quebec Conference, McGee had introduced a divisive resolution calling for a guarantee ensuring the educational rights of religious minorities in the new dominion. This position, calling for French-language rights in Ontario and English-language rights in Quebec, as well as his Irish Catholic nationality and his denunciations of the Orange Order, would earn McGee the undying hatred of those who wished to see Canada as their English-speaking Protestant homeland in the New World, and may well have led to his death.
McGee’s funeral was an occasion to bring together the country’s elite, including a group of nationalists who dedicating themselves to “Canada First.” The evening of the funeral, with McGee’s body on the train headed to a grand burial in Montreal, and the masses back in their hovels, these gentlemen got together to toast and remember the fallen “orator and prophet.” As reported, as the night progressed, through the haze of their melancholy arose a thunder as they saw themselves more and more as the founders of a new country in the “New World.”
These gentlemen were the modern Crusaders, resolved to tread a glorious path, and show Canadians, and the world, the superiority of their race in North America. It was their belief that as descendants of the Aryan tribes of northern Europe they, the “Northmen of the New World,” were destined for greatness. As a group they held a common bond of sympathy in their determination to “advance the interests” of their native land and to build up “a strong and powerful community” in Canada. Calling themselves the “Canada Firsters” they would wield tremendous political power and set the stage for Canadian conservative politicians ever since.
The Canada First movement was organized in Ottawa in 1868. Among its first members were the English intellectual Goldwin Smith, a rabid Anglo-Saxon racist opposed to the Roman Catholic faith, Irish, Quebecois, Aboriginal, Jewish and other non-Anglo-Saxon races, and Edward Blake who would go on to become Premier of Ontario. On his arrival in Toronto, Smith had discovered a nascent nationalist movement whose platform had been set out in a pamphlet by William Alexander Foster called “Canada First” and which would later be given as an address in Toronto in 1871 on “our new nationality.” Ontario residents, George Denison, Charles Mair, William Foster and Robert Grant Haliburton were also founding members of the movement and would go on to play significant roles in Canadian history. John Christian Schultz, the leader of the “Canadian Party” in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Red River territory (Manitoba), would also join the group and lead their attempt to seize the North-West as a colony of Canada.
The Canada Firsters planned to use their version of racist nationalism as the basis to build a new “Aryan Canada.” They also had a super-ordinate goal; the seizure of the great wealth of the North-West through Canadian ownership and the repudiation of Hudson’s Bay Company rule and monopoly. Influential in Canadian affairs they followed events in Red River with a keen interest with the conviction that the North-West was Ontario’s natural territory. Like all reactionaries, all they needed to glue their new country together was a war. They considered that the “miserable half-breeds” (Indigenous, French-speaking, Roman Catholic) Métis, out in the North-West would be no problem; rattle a few sabers and they would go running back to their “squaws in their wigwams.”
Louis Riel and Canada First
When the 12,000 inhabitants of the Red River Settlement, today’s Winnipeg and St. Boniface, discovered they, along with their hereditary lands, had been secretly sold to Canada there was near to universal outrage. The only approving voice was that of the 600 or-so members of the “Canadian Party” under the direction of Canada First leaders, Charles Mair and Christian Schultz. When Canadian surveyors moved on to Métis lands, Louis Riel, the son of the former leader of the Métis National Council (MNC), Jean Louis Riel, stepped on the Canadian survey line and told the Canadians: “You go no further.”A year after confederation, with the assistance of the British Colonial Office, Canadian prime minister Sir. John A. Macdonald’s government negotiated with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) to purchase the Hudson’s Bay Company’s chartered lands of Rupert’s Land, and the North-West Territories. Although the actual residents were not informed or consulted about this sale, under this “secret” agreement, Canada was to acquire sovereign control of the former HBC lands and people on September, 1, 1869. Due to the logistics of the sale, this was changed to December, 1, 1869.
When Canada attempted, ahead of the scheduled date of transfer, to insert Canadian Lieutenant-Governor William McDougall into the Red River community, Louis Riel and Amboise Lépine, on behalf of the MNC, blocked the governor designee’s entrance into the North-West. With McDougall on the border, and the Canadian Party in Winnipeg, threatening to seize Lower Fort Garry, the HBC seat of governance, Louis Riel and the Métis commandeered the fort to prevent a Canadian takeover.
On December 1, 1869, blocked in the United States, Canadian designate lieutenant-governor McDougall forged the signature of his monarch, Queen Victoria, on a proclamation transferring jurisdiction of the North-West to Canada and giving William McDougall sovereign control and the power to declare war on those who oppose him. Under instructions from McDougall, Canadian Party leader Christian Schultz led forty-five men in an armed resistance in downtown Winnipeg. The Canadian “surveyor,” Colonel Dennis, rounded up 400 Canadians and mercenary Indians and marshalled them for war in the old “stone fort” to the north. From the west, the little prairie village of Portage la Prairie, Colonel Bolton and his company of “surveyors” marched on Riel and his forces at Fort Garry. In reserve, on the American border, William McDougal, with his “ready-made” government, had 300 rifles at the ready for invasion.
Following Métis tradition, Riel and his Métis forces were not only able to defeat the Canadian attempts to seize control of the North-West, they also worked to establish consensus around a provisional government with authority to negotiate with Canada for terms of confederation. Jailing the culprits, they sought to unite all parties. In the absence of any “official” government, as per the law of nations, in convention, they established the Provisional Government of Assiniboia (Manitoba). Electing an equal number of delegates on behalf of both the English-speaking and French-speaking communities, they established a List of Rights as a basis of negotiations with the Canadian Government. When Prime Minister Macdonald found MacDougal had bungled the take-over, he had no alternative but to enter into negotiations with this new entity, the Provisional Government of Assiniboia. Three delegates were sent to Ottawa to negotiate the entry of Manitoba into Canada as a province and not a colony as originally conceived of by Prime Minister Macdonald. Based on the List of Rights, an agreement was established recognizing Aboriginal title and language and religious rights for both English-speaking and French-speaking populations. When the negotiations were ratified by both the Canadian government and the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, the acting Prime Minister, George Etienne Cartier, asked Louis Riel to remain on as acting governor.
When they failed to defeat Riel militarily, the Canadian Party sought to have Louis Riel arrested for the “murder of Thomas Scott,” an Ulsterman supporter of the Canada Party, who had been executed by the Provisional Government for taking up arms leading to bloodshed and fermenting rebellion against the provisional government. On their return to Toronto, and Ontario, the defeated Canadian rebels, Christian Schultz, Charles Mair and others were treated as heroes. Rallies and demonstrations were held accusing Riel of murdering Thomas Scott. Edward Blake, a Liberal candidate for premier of Ontario, offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest of Louis Riel. Schultz, Mair and the other toured rural Anglo-Ontario carrying “the rope that will hang Louis Riel.” Whipping up anti-French and anti-Riel sentiment in Orange Halls, Masonic Lodges and on the streets of Toronto, they created a racist fervour that ranged from the pulpits of the Protestant churches, to the halls of the Ontario legislature, to the office of the prime minister.
Under the pretext of escorting the new governor to his post in Manitoba, Prime Minister Macdonald sent a senior British military officer, Colonel Garnet Wolseley, and 1,400 British regulars and Canadian volunteers to Red River. Wolseley’s Canadian troops entered Manitoba as a conquering army, sending Riel and other members of the Provisional Government into exile. Putting the Red River community under martial law, the Canadians committed all sorts of mayhem, seizing Métis lands and committing rapes and murders, as they sought out “the murderers of Thomas Scott.”
Thereafter, three times, Louis Riel was elected as the Member of Parliament for Provencher, Manitoba. Riel would not be allowed to take his seat for fear of arrest or assassination. Expelled from Parliament, and exiled from Canada, Louis Riel was a wanted man. After six years “hunted like an elk,” sick and destitute, Riel had visions of religious exaltation contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Seen as a danger to the Church, Riel was involuntarily committed to the Catholic asylums of Quebec for two years. Upon his release, exiled in the United States, he took out American citizenship, married and worked to advance the interests of the Montana Métis—the State’s first settlers.
In 1884, while teaching school at a Jesuit Mission in Montana, Riel received four visitors headed by Saskatchewan Métis leader Gabriel Dumont. They requested Riel’s assistance in their ongoing struggles against Canadian colonial intransigence, exploitation, and indifference on the Saskatchewan. After years of uncertainty, the settlers needed patents to their lands and their democratic rights as Canadian citizens. The Métis, and their cousins the English-speaking “half-breeds,” sought title to the lands granted, and guaranteed, them under the Manitoba Act of 1870. Having given up their territorial lands for their reservations, the Indians sought relief from starvation and the goods and services negotiated under their treaties.
With Riel back in Canada, leading the constitutional struggle, John A. Macdonald sought to limit his old adversaries influence. As Macdonald made preparations for military intervention, using the political authority of North-West Territories Governor Edgar Dewdney, the economic authority of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s chief factor, Lawrence Clarke, as well as the spiritual influence of the Roman Catholic priest Father Andre, Macdonald attempted to isolate Riel from his own people and amongst the settler and half-breed populations. With increased North-West Mounted Police presence on the Saskatchewan and Lawrence Clarke spreading rumours of 500 more police coming to arrest Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, a provisional government was established. Attacked at Duck Lake by the North-West Mounted Police, the Métis defeated the police, giving Macdonald the excuse he needed for all-out war against Louis Riel and the Métis. Seeking revenge for Riel’s earlier victory in Manitoba, John A. Macdonald refused to send negotiators to resolve issues and instead mobilized over 5,000 Canadian troops and logistics to crush the Métis and First Nations of Saskatchewan. Defeated at the battle of Batoche, Louis Riel surrendered in hopes of gaining a fair trial to air the grievances of the people. Riel’s trial, in a territorial court, was a sham and he was convicted of high treason and hanged on November 16, 1885. As stated by one of the jurors at his trial, although Louis Riel was tried in Regina, he was hanged for the “murder of Thomas Scott,” and the remnants of Canada First got their revenge.
LOUIS RIEL Let Justice Be Done
Activist, educator, historian and “honourary” Métis, David Doyle (Honoré Jaxon II) has spent the last thirty-plus years on the trail of Louis Riel. Offering a case study of Anglo-Canadian colonialism, and its devastating effect on the development of the Canadian Confederation, David Doyle’s new book LOUIS RIEL Let Justice Be Done interweaves Métis leader Louis Riel’s speeches, writings, and transcripts. Through the eyes of Louis Riel, Canada’s “illegitimate” Father of Confederation, readers uncover the deadly secrets behind Canada’s most controversial state trial, and the true motivation behind Canada’s first prime minister, Sir. John A. Macdonald’s persecution of Louis Riel, a fighter for Indigenous and settler rights and the “prophet of the New World.”
David Doyle is available as an author and speaker.
Please contact David: email@example.com