LOUIS RIEL - His Family - His youth
Louis, the first child of Louis Riel père and Julie Lagimodière, was born October 22,
1844 in St. Boniface. His mother was the seventh child of Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière and
Marie-Anne Gaboury, who came from Québec to settle in North-West in 1806. Louis père
had been born at Ile-à-la-Crosse in 1817, the son of Jean-Baptiste Riel dit l’Irlande and
Marguerite Boucher, a Franco-Déné Métis whom he married in 1798, ‘à la façon du pays.’
In 1843 after spending his childhood in Quèbec where his parents had returned to live
and following an attempt at being a seminarian, Louis Riel père returned to settle in the
West, the country where he was born. Here in Red River he met Julie Lagimodière and
their marriage was solemnized by Bishop Provencher on January 21, 1844 at St. Boniface
Cathedral. Both were devout Catholics, as Julie had also considered a religious life before
marrying Louis Riel. Their piety was to be an important factor in the family’s daily life.
Louis spent his childhood on the east bank of the Red River, not far from St. Boniface
and the property of his Lagimodière grandparents. He grew up among the Metis extremely
conscious of his identity, inherited through his father’s line. At the age of ten, he began his
education, eventually studying at the school run by the Christian Brothers established in the
Settlement in 1854. With the aim of training priests for the young colony, Bishop Taché
sent him to Montreal in 1858, along with two older boys, Daniel McDougall and Louis
Schmidt, to continue his studies.
Setting out on June 1, 1858 in the company of the Riverend Sister Valade, they travelled
for five weeks before eventually arriving in Montreal on July 5. In Montreal, Louis was
admitted to the Collège de Montreal run by the gentlemen of St. Sulpice, where he embarked
upon an eight year classical course of studies, which included Latin, Greek, French, English,
Philosophy, and the Sciences. Louis proved himself to be an excellent student and, once he
had caught up, placed himself at the top of his class. He was overwhelmed with grief by the
death of his beloved father in January 1864, whom he had not seen since leaving Red River.
Although he continued his studies, his instructors found that his attitude had changed. They
began to question whether Louis really had a religious vocation. In March 1865, finding its
regulations too restrictive, he left the Collège de Montreal. He requested and was granted
permission to continue his schooling as a day student while living with the Grey Nuns.
After breaking the rules several times and repeatedly missing class, he was asked to leave the
Collège and convent.
The world which confronted him as he left the Collège was fraught with intense political
activity. Nationalism was at the fore, ultramontanism and federalism were clashing and the
issue of Confederation was being hotly debated. During this period, he lived with his aunt,
Lucie Riel, the wife of John Lee, and managed to find employment in the law office of
Rodolphe Laflamme, an anti-confederate and an anticleric. He fell in love with Marie Julie
Guernon and even signed a marriage contract. However, this romance was quickly broken
off as Marie’s parents were opposed to their daughter marrying a Mètis. Disappointed, Riel
made his way to Chicago and St. Paul. It would appear that he lived for a while with the
poet Louis Fréchette and a group of exiled French Canadian nationalists. It would also
appear that he worked briefly for Endouard Langevin or Gilbert Lachance before returning
to Manitoba. He arrived in St. Boniface on July 26, 1868 after an absence of ten years, an
educated but unemployed young man. He was far from suspecting that within a short while
he would become the defender of the Métis rights and the future father of Manitoba.