st. vital history - the origins of st. vital

The community of St. Vital dates back to the 1820's when permanent homes were first set up just 10 years after the original party of Selkirk Settlers landed in Red River in 1812. Coming from down river from the Pembina region, these buffalo hunters and their families were the pioneer settlers of this locality.

When the Selkirk Settlers arrived in Red River in 1812, they discovered that the two fur companies maintained posts along the Red River (Fort Pembina) and along the Assiniboine River (Portage La Prairie, Brandon House, Montaigne La Basse near Birtle and Alexandria near Fort Pelly). These posts were established on the margins of Plains country and their trade was largely in provisions such as dried meat and pemmican.

They also found that a number of French-speaking people, who had been formerly employed by the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, had settled in the vicinity of Pembina and Devil's Lake and were making a living as independent hunters selling their products to these fur trade establishments. The Selkirk colonists soon erected a post of their own, Fort Daer, to be near to the buffalo hunters where they spent the winters.

The Pembina region, however, was on the northern border of Sioux territory and in 1822 the hunters moved their headquarters north, a portion settling at White Horse Plains (what is now St. Francois Xavier, MB) and the balance formed the nucleus of St. Vital.

Three generations of one St. Vital family, Marie-Anne Lagimodière (née Gaboury), Louis Riel Sr. the "Miller of the Seine", and Louis Riel Jr. all helped make the history of Manitoba. Marie-Anne Lagimodière was the maternal grandmother of Louis Riel and was the very first woman of European descent on record to set up her home in the Canadian West, settling in 1807.

When Louis Riel Jr., her grandson, led his band of Métis into Fort Garry to take possession of the Hudson's Bay Company's Post and run the affairs of the Red River Colony, he more or less was following a precedent set by his father, Louis Riel Sr., the "Miller of the Seine". For it was this same miller and son-in-law of Marie-Anne Lagimodière who, a generation later with 500 Métis under arms, took steps which were to complete the breaking up of the Hudson's Bay Company monopoly of the fur trade in the Canadian West. This miller is described by some historians as a "brave and restless man with a dominating influence" and "a fierce and noisy revolutionist ready for any extremity".

In the late 1830's, more and more clashes were occurring with the Hudson's Bay Company and the free traders. The Company held a charter of monopoly on the fur trade; men were not permitted to deal elsewhere than at the Company's posts without incurring penalties, sometimes even jail. Louis Riel Sr. was an active participant in the Red River Métis community. There is no evidence that the miller was a free trader or wished to trade outside the Company's posts but in 1849, four Métis traders had been arrested and thrown in jail, including his friend, Guillaume (William) Sayer. The trial of the four was the signal for action. It was set for Ascension Day which gave the Métis a chance to gather for service without attracting attention, and attend service in St. Boniface Cathedral they did, parking 500 firing pieces outside the building.
George Bryce's book "Romantic Settlement of Lord Selkirk's Colonists" gives the following account:

"At the close of the service, Riel, "the Miller of the Seine," made a fiery oration, advocating the rescue of their compatriot Sayer, who was to be held for trial at the Court House. under Riel's direction, by a concerted action, movement of the whole body was made to cross the Red River and march to the Court House, which stood beside the wall of Fort Garry. To allow the five hundred men to cross easily, Point Douglas was selected, and here by ferry boats, said to have been provided by James Sinclair, the party crossed, and worked up to the highest pitch of excitement, stalked up the mile or two to the Court House. Sayer's case was called first, but he was held by the Metis outside of the Court room. Sayer was then brought in, guarded by twenty of his compatriots, fully armed, while fifty Metis guards stood at the gates of the Court House enclosure. An attempt was then made to select a jury, but it was fruitless. Sayer next confessed that he had traded for furs with an Indian. The Court then gave a verdict of guilty, whereupon Sayer proved that a Hudson's Bay officer named Harriott, had given him authority to trade. The other three cases against the Metis were not proceeded with, and Governor, Recorder, officials and spectators all left the Court room, the mob being of the impression that the prisoners had been acquitted, and that trading for furs was no longer illegal. Though this was not the decision yet the crowd so took it up, and made the welkin ring with shouts (Le Commerce est libre, vive la liberté) "Commerce is free, long live liberty"."
From that time on, trade slipped more and more into the hands of the independent traders working out from the centre, then known as Fort Garry and now as Winnipeg. Riel continued to fight for the rights of the Métis and was instrumental in them gaining representation on the Council of Assiniboia and for French to be used in the Assiniboia courts as well as English. His son Louis was likely influenced greatly by his father's actions. Louis Jr. continued in his father's steps to become the most famous Métis leader and the "Father of Manitoba".

The "Miller of the Seine", Louis Riel Sr., father of the rebel chief Louis Riel Jr., operated his mill beside a ravine running into the Seine River. His house, and later Louis Jr.'s home, was also located on the Seine, about 150 feet north of what is now John Bruce Road.