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  • Writer's pictureCraig Baird

A Mail Robbery And Louis Riel

Louis Riel is one of the most famous Canadians in our history. The leader of the Metis people, he fought to preserve the land and rights of the Metis people in the latter half of the 20th century.

His Red River Resistance led to the formation of Manitoba in 1870 and earned Riel the name of Founder of Manitoba. For the next few years, he was in the United States but kept being elected to Parliament by people in his riding. He was never able to sit in Parliament because the government expelled him each time.

His North West Resistance of 1885 caused Riel to be charged and convicted of treason. He paid for it with his life in Regina by hanging.

Vermilion isn’t too often associated with Riel or the Red River Resistance. That being said, William Bleasdale Cameron was at the Frog Lake Massacre on April 2, 1885, and testified in defense of Chief Big Bear at his trial. He later lived in Vermilion and served on the council.

So what is all this talk of Riel and Vermilion then?

It comes down to a story that emerged in March 1919.

A man named Riel Bonneau was living outside of Vermilion when he came into the community and robbed a mailman. He was able to get away with $140 from the robbery. He also robbed at gunpoint various other farmers in the area and attempted to escape with his ill-gotten gains.

Described as a Metis man, he was promptly arrested and taken out of Vermilion to be shipped to Edmonton for trial.

With Judge Crawford presiding over the case, Bonneau promptly stated he was guilty and was sentenced to 12 months in the Fort Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

So, where does Riel fit in?

Having the first name of Riel wasn’t the only connection for Bonneau. He also claimed to be the descendant of the Metis leader.

Whether this is true or not is not known. But it does make for an interesting story.

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