Challenge in the west
In 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company ceded the whole of Northwest Canada to the new Dominion, but without consulting the 12,000 Métis who lived on the Red River. This provoked an armed rebellion led by Louis Riel who captured the territory’s capital, Fort Garry. This represented a severe threat to the new nation, whose ambitions would never be realised if it could not control its own interior.
In 1870, Fort Garry was retaken by Canadian soldiers and Riel escaped to the USA; the province of Manitoba was established. Although Riel was elected to the province’s parliament, he never took up his seat. Another rebellion occurred in 1885 in what is now Saskatchewan when westward movement of settlers once again threatened the rights of the Métis and other First Nations; as a result of this, Riel was tried and executed for treason. Many in Quebec strongly opposed this action, and today Riel is frequently regarded as an heroic figure who defended the Métis and founded Manitoba.
Following the 1869 uprising, the Prime Minister created the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1873 to bring peace to the west of the country and help negotiate with the First Nations. The NWMP created Forts Calgary and MacLeod along with other settlements which grew into substantial towns and cities. The headquarters of the NWMP was established in Regina. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or “Mounties”), as they became, are now Canada’s national police force and symbolise the nation. The Mounties have supplied Canada with some of her most famous heroes, like Major General Sir Sam Steele.