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Louis Riel – Martyr, Hero or Traitor?

Where does one begin writing about Louis Riel and how does one encapsulate his life, accomplishments and his mistakes. Mysteries of Canada is not intended as a singular source of reference for any one subject. Our intent is to pique your imagination and your interest in a subject so that you will want to read more.

So it is with the story of Louis Riel. There is so much which needs to be left out to make this story fit the site. We can only urge you to investigate and come to your own conclusion. Louis Riel was born October 22, 1844 on a farmstead at the juncture of the Red and Seine rivers, present day Winnipeg. He was hanged as a traitor on November 16, 1885. During those 41 years he would help found two Canadian Provinces.  He also helped find identity for the Métis people and shake up the status quo of Canada.

Louis Riel Head Shot

Louis Riel Traitor or Hero

Louis Riel was branded a traitor to Canada – but he was no traitor. He was a patriot who stood up for his people and his beliefs. He was also a victim of prevailing prejudices of his time.

In November of 1869 Riel, as a leader of the Métis people and the territory of Red River, spearheaded the writing of a List of Rights preceding the entry of Manitoba into confederation. These rights were not the musings of a revolutionary – but rather that of a democrat. Understand that when the French-speakers (as they were called) and the French-speaking Métis were very much in the majority in the Territory.

In part, the List of Rights included:

  • That the people have the right to elect their own legislature.
  • That all sheriffs, magistrates, constable, school commissioners, etc. be elected by the people.
  • That English and French were to be commonly used by the government.
  • That all documents and Acts of the legislature be published in English and French.
  • That (the Territory) have a fair and full representation in the Canadian Parliament.
  • That all privileges, customs and usage existing at the time of the transfer be respected.

There was, at this time, in the territory, however, a group of transplanted Loyalists who saw this list as evidence of sedition. And they had the ear of the Government of Canada. The Government procrastinated on accepting the List of Rights.

In frustration at the lack of action from Canada and in response to a transfer of the territory from Hudson’s Bay Company, he established a provisional government to fill a perceived governance void.

Part of the reason for the Provisional Government was a response to pressures from the United States for the territory to become part of the Union. Riel fought against the Americans and helped bring, what was to be later called, Manitoba into confederation with Canada.

However good and well-intentioned the Provisional Government was, it was seen as a revolution by the Government of Canada.

It was also seen as thus to a group of Orangemen originally from Upper Canada. A group of these men took their revenge on Riel and his Provisional Government by trying to overthrow it.

Thomas Scott Posing for Picture

Thomas Scott

Thomas Scott, a violent and racist man and one of the persons attempting the overthrow, was caught and charged with treason. After a lengthy trial (which seems to have been more democratic than Riel’s own trial!) Scott was found guilty and executed by a firing squad.

For his part in the creation of the Provisional Government (and partly for the death of Scott), Riel was branded a traitor himself. He was promised an amnesty by the Prime Minister of Canada but it never came. In 1875 he was banished to the US for five years.

Banishment was not easy on Riel. Cut off from his country and his people he lapsed into deep states of depression mixed with states of utter euphoria. He began to talk about encounters with the “Divine Spirit” and believing himself to be a prophet of the New World. He was smuggled by friends across the border and on March 6, 1876, he was committed to an asylum in Quebec.

Some say that Louis Riel was suffering delusions. Some say that he was acting crazy for his own purposes. Whatever the truth, he was treated as insane for almost two years and finally released January 29, 1878.

In June 1883, Riel decided to return to Manitoba. Finding only menial work and an uncomfortable environment, he uprooted his family and moved to Battoche, Saskatchewan. In Battoche he was greeted as a hero by the Métis who had relocated to the area from Winnipeg when immigration from the east had made them a minority.

The Prime Minister of the day was John A. MacDonald. He was not considered a good friend of the people of the prairies. There was even secession talk. The idea of the West forming a new country with Manitoba, the North West Territories and British Columbia was a big topic of the day. Combine this with the widespread starvation and scurvy epidemic which affected the west in 1883 – 84 and you just knew that something was going to happen. And John A. didn’t help matters any when, in response to the pleas for food, he sent in more police.

On March 5, 1885, Riel met with 10 other Métis and swore an oath to: “Save our country from a wicked government by taking up arms, if necessary.”  It all went downhill from here.

It all seemed to boil to a head at a place called Duck Lake. Here some of Riel’s compatriots, but not Riel, had a confrontation with the local constabulary. A number of police were killed and captured.

Louis Riel Gravestone Monument


On March 29, the Stoney Indians shot and killed a government teacher who refused to give them food for their starving tribe. On March 30, the Cree, similarly hungry and frustrated, sacked the fort at Battleford. On April 2, nine whites were killed by Indians during an attack on Fort Pitt.

In all this he was seen by the Métis and the Indians as the “spiritual leader”. The government of Canada, on the contrary, saw him as a trouble maker, a zealot and a traitor.

By May 15, it was all over. The armies and police of Canada had put down the revolt and a shoeless Louis Riel surrendered his freedom to the police. He was transferred to Regina and charged with high treason.

In a trial which lasted two weeks he was found guilty. His lawyers appealed of course but to no avail. His fate was sealed.

November 16, 1885 at around 8:30 AM. Louis was led to the gallows, the trap door snapped open, and Riel was into the history books.

Was Louis Riel a hero and a martyr or just a criminal? Even after 120 years the jury is still out, although it leans towards him as a bona-fide Father of Confederation or, at least, a patriot.

We urge you to read more about Louis Riel. Understand him. Understand the time in which he lived. Come to your own conclusion!

Louis Riel – Martyr, Hero or Traitor?
Article Name
Louis Riel – Martyr, Hero or Traitor?
Louis Riel was branded a traitor to Canada – but he was no traitor. He was a patriot who stood up for his people and his beliefs.
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Mysteries of Canada
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86 Responses to “Louis Riel – Martyr, Hero or Traitor?”

By Gregg C. Kelly - 7 September 2019 Reply

Yes, I have always felt Louis Riel got a bad deal from Canada.
Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was close to the scenes of his activities (St. Vital). In fact I think he should be on the ten dollar
bill, nopt some obscure woman from Nova Scotia.

By Fred Harrison - 24 July 2019 Reply


By Nona, nona bisnuss - 4 June 2019 Reply

ITS NOT okay

By tye - 28 May 2019 Reply

louis riel was hung for saveing the metis rights


By boyyyyy - 6 February 2020 Reply

thats not funny

By bob - 27 May 2019 Reply

louis riel was not a traitor he was a murderer!!!

By Lilly - 26 May 2019 Reply

Thanks this was alot of help

By ross - 14 May 2019 Reply

he was a hero

By name - 13 May 2019 Reply

he could have done this in a more mannered and passive way he is a traitor

By John A macdonald - 24 April 2019 Reply

TRAITOR!!!!! LET HIM HANG!!!!!!!!!

ps. send nades

By louis riels dad - 12 May 2019 Reply

you are racist . he is a hero

By LoUiS RiEl - 23 April 2019 Reply

hes a traitor in some minds and a hero in others. its just an opinion…

By Alyshah - 30 April 2019 Reply

but what do the facts say in history? its not about opinions, its about the facts

By Ben - 4 May 2019 Reply

Of course he’s a hero. He fought against a celebrated corrupt government that undermined the rights of Riel’s people. People from around Ontario are misinformed about him, so thy believe that he was a traitor. I’ve been to Battoche where we learned all about the injustices against the Metis and first nations people.

By Julia Vaskinson - 11 April 2019 Reply

louis riel could have been a hero to some but also a traitor to others, there is no fact for which he is, it is an opinion and only an opinion. Never believe that someone else’s opinion

By LoUiS RiEl - 23 April 2019 Reply

yeah exactly

By LOuis SUx - 20 November 2018 Reply

LOuis riel is guilty

By Sack - 23 October 2018 Reply

He was a mad half breed, full of shite, he needed hung so they could create Canada, if the liberal slime dont like it hand it back to the injuns, the half- breeds. PC sloths make-up heros remake history

By Ben - 4 May 2019 Reply

It’s not a liberal thing. Throughout the prairies Riel is a hero, and you can’t get much more conservative than the Prairies.

By James Hanson - 15 September 2018 Reply

If not for brave metis people who Stand up for freedom all of the haters out there who don’t have a clue about American or Canada’s history,much less that of respect of the dead ,enjoy your freedom of speech but look. At yourself in the mirror if not ashamed.I have one way ticket to JALABABAD sempre fidalgas ancestor of a Heroic man.

By Will - 25 February 2019 Reply


By Senator G. - 14 September 2018 Reply

Rebel Scum………………. Long Live The Empire!

By Lenny - 8 May 2018 Reply

You guys need to update the website I am a school kid and I know more! Thank you not, of the website. Grade seven take walk by a school

By Jenny - 8 May 2018 Reply

The textbooks give way more info than this website, muggles.

By sally - 6 April 2018 Reply

very use full love it

By not louis riel - 9 May 2018 Reply

no u

By tHE oNE aND oNly LoUIS RiEl - 4 April 2018 Reply

I AM THE REAL LOUIS RIEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By THe ONe ANd onlY LOuis rIeL - 27 April 2018 Reply

no me

By pablo - 9 March 2018 Reply

me and louis traded goods for a while wei knew him

By Louis Riel - 9 March 2018 Reply

I think that he is a man who died

By Robert The Great - 25 January 2018 Reply

come sit, i have a very long and heart breaking story to tell you.

By Rodert The Great - 25 January 2018 Reply

how dare you! you imposter i will sue you for impersonation

By Ropert The Great - 6 January 2019

every one of you is going to court for defamation and slander, i am the REAL ropert the great!

By Marguerite Monet - 8 June 2017 Reply

Oh definitely

By John a macdonald - 30 May 2017 Reply

I like men, Louis Riel was a sexy loaf. 10/10 would bang

By BOBOOBBBBOOOOOO - 28 November 2017 Reply


By liam - 29 May 2018 Reply


By Thomas Scott - 23 May 2017 Reply

Louis Riel was a murderous traitor of the Canadian government.

By Jon a mcdonal - 23 May 2017 Reply

I agre

By Legit Louis Riel - 22 March 2017 Reply

The other Louis Riel’s commenting are fake, ignore them.

By Louis Riel - 22 March 2017 Reply

This isn’t me delete nowe

By Louis Riel SUxS - 24 March 2017 Reply

you’re an idiot

By BOBOOBBBBOOOOOO - 28 November 2017

You are too:)

By Wayne Tremblay - 19 March 2017 Reply

Riel was no more a traitor than Sitting Bull who opposed the expansionist, gold hungry Americans, the Boer Louis Botha who opposed the gold and diamond hungry British, or the Schleswig Dane Ditlev Gothard Monrad who opposed the militaristic land hungry Prussians. They were all protecting their lands, hearths, and people from arrogant tyrants.

By Wayne Tremblay - 19 March 2017 Reply

It would be nice if people took the time to spell his name correctly
LOUIS RIEL no no not REAL though he was.

By andy - 27 December 2016 Reply

We as Canada lived under British rule at that time and the law for treason would have been against the king! but that law only extended to a few miles off the coast of england! so under british rule he could not have been guilty of treason ! so John A had him hanged he wasnt tryed for murder it was treason he was illeagly tryed for ! no bias just the truth !

By PaftDunk - 11 December 2016 Reply

Biased much?

By Macdaddy - 2 December 2016 Reply

Everyone’s getting so triggered but this is this persons own opinion, we all have our own opinion, keep it to yourself instead of criticising.

By john hrechka - 18 June 2016 Reply

if he was a traitor to canada what would they call justin trudeau

By Plee - 30 April 2016 Reply

On March 5, 1885, Riel met with 10 other Métis and swore an oath to: “Save our country from a wicked government by taking up arms, if necessary.”

Where did you get this quote?

By Wayne Tremblay - 19 March 2017 Reply

They met him in Montana where he was teaching school. That’s why he came back to Canada, where he was betrayed

By benjiman - 27 April 2016 Reply

I am learning about this in social class and I have to write a paragraph about Louis Riel. If he was a traitor, a hero, both or neither? If anyone has any good information could you reply or post

By Hammerson Peters - 7 May 2016 Reply

I think it would be safe to say that he was both. He was a traitor to Canada (rebels are generally considered to be traitors) and a hero to the Metis Nation. Sorry for the late reply; I hope the paragraph turned out.

By Wayne Tremblay - 19 March 2017 Reply

If someone forcibly broke into you home and you fought against him, would you be a traitor or hero

By darrion - 29 April 2019

I think it would matter if you killed him/her or not, If you did your a traitor if not your a hero you just need to make sure you do not do severe damage. I mean you are just trying to defend yourself, I mean I would call the cops or tell/threatin him to leave and whatever I mean I’m only in grade 7 but whatever.

By Zac D - 12 June 2019

I agree brudah

By Doug - 27 February 2016 Reply

If you would like a little more insight to Louis Riel then it might help to get hold of the Grey Nun journals in certain towns. After having one of those journals (written in French) translated to me I was interested to learn why Ile a la Crosse Sk. got it’s name. Apparently the people there were hiding from Louis Riel because he was on this way to wipe out the town as he blamed them for his sister’s death. She was a Grey Nun and her headstone is easy to find in the Ile a la Crosse cemetery. The people hid out on an island marked with a cross. Fortunately Louis Riel was captured before he could get there. This might not be accurate but that is what the Grey Nuns of the time believed. It is interesting that the ancestors of those people still celebrate Louis Riel day.

By Gary D - 21 December 2015 Reply

While I appreciate that there is very little space to the full story, and applaud you for encouraging individuals too do their own research, I agree this treatment is both vague and inaccurate with an underlying bias. Your simple description of Thomas Scott as a violent bigot is overly simplified and somewhat defamatory as well. Not that he wasn’t a difficult man, but if his short comings and opposition to Riel’s provisional government was just cause for execution, the Riels’ own execution was equally simply karma. You also say far too little about Batoche and Riel’s part in that. Historical evidence and the words of the Metis people there who experienced it are not nearly as kind to his memory.

By Anonymous - 9 January 2016 Reply

This article is so biased and untrue. One thing I want to point out is that the article says “Thomas Scott, a violent and racist man and one of the persons attempting the overthrow, was caught and charged with treason. After a lengthy trial (which seems to have been more democratic than Riel’s own trial!) Scott was found guilty and executed by a firing squad.”
This is FALSE! Louis Riel elected the jury and judge to be his closest friends. So, the whole trial was set up guaranteed for Thomas Scott to die. This was not an execution, it was a murder.
This article is so biased and unfair it makes me want to perform my own lobotomy.

By Molly - 18 May 2016 Reply

I’m doing a project on Louis Riel in school, and I was wondering if you know how the Métis felt about him at that time? Can you also give me a source to find some quotes from Métis people during that time, if you happen to know one? Thanks

By JAN - 9 October 2015 Reply

In my Grade 8 year, about 3 years ago, I participated in a ‘Mock Trial’ of Louis Riel. I was the defence team leader, and everything I said to protect the man I believed in. While the real verdict was guilty, I managed to convince the Jury to give him a Not Guilty Verdict.

By greg firestone - 5 September 2015 Reply

i live in Ohio in the states and can trace my father to Canada i love history story’s like this we don’t them hear like this

By Kalel - 1 April 2015 Reply

I feel like this was very biased.

By Face - 29 April 2015 Reply

“We can only urge you to investigate and come to your own conclusion.”

By Anonymous - 25 April 2016

“Louis Riel was branded a traitor to Canada – but he was no traitor.”

By LOUIS NON TARITOR - 26 March 2015 Reply

Very good Helped with social project

By Wayne Tremblay - 19 March 2017 Reply

Great. Once you get a handle on the intricacies of spelling you’ll be on your way.

By LUIS REAL - 12 March 2015 Reply


By C - 10 April 2015 Reply

Lmao just because he tried to save his land and the rights of his people?

By LUIS REAL - 1 January 2016

Although I have to agree that it was right for Riel to defend the rights of his people, he did it in a horribly wrong way. He abused his authority in order to achieve his own desires and goals. He had the complete authority to stop the execution of Thomas Scott, but instead thought he was a “threat to his goals” and executed him. Because he was a Canadian citizen at the time, this was treason.

I know everyone has their opinions. This website was very, very, biased.

By Anonymous - 10 March 2015 Reply

Wow very helpful indeed love the site xD john A mcdonald

By owen - 10 February 2015 Reply

just great.

By John A' Mcdoanld - 3 February 2015 Reply

I have went back in time and have sent this comment. LOUIS RIEL IS NOT A TRAITOR.

By nicole shskawan - 4 February 2015 Reply

lol i agree but thats so dumb

By nicole shskawan - 4 February 2015

no harm intended though

By Klaus - 14 November 2015

Your pinwheel quilt is gogreous! I also love the winter photos. The shadows on the snow, the sunsets, the perspective of (your DH?) walking through that vast snowscape – it really captures Winnipeg in the winter. Love it!Kate

By savannah orange - 1 December 2017

he is a total traitor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

By slayer - 4 June 2015 Reply

back in time?

By tim - 1 June 2017 Reply

nice to meet you mr mcdonald im tim

By kirk - 26 January 2015 Reply

some of the things in this are true but most of it is just opinion no source very inaccurate

By Riley Boudreau - 9 December 2014 Reply


By bob - 26 November 2014 Reply

it was very helpful

By SpicyMemeLord71 - 25 May 2017 Reply

knock knock. Who’s there? Lois. Lois Who? Lois is Riel

By BOBOOBBBBOOOOOO - 28 November 2017


By dirty paul - 6 April 2018