Louis Riel Day 2019 and 2020
Louis Riel Day is observed on the third Monday of February to celebrate the heritage of the Metis Indians and the history of Manitoba in general.
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Louis Riel Day falls on the same day as Family Day in many other Canadian provinces and is celebrated in much the same manner, including participation in outdoor winter sports, visiting museums, eating hot pancakes with maple syrup, focusing on the “old pioneer days,” and just spending time at home with family.
However, the historical background to Louis Riel Day is unique, and there are certain activities related to that history that are popular among tourists and local Manitobans alike.
History of Louis Riel
Louis Riel is remembered as “the Father of Manitoba”, even though he was hanged for treason in 1885. The reason for this paradox is that Louis Riel, a Metis Indian himself, led the Metis and other locals in the Red River Resistance against incursions into their lands by the Canadian government. The land was owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company at the time but was lived on and worked by the Metis and some early pioneers.
Canada planned an annexation that may well have destroyed the livelihood of the inhabitants of the region. In response, Riel organised a militia and declared a new province of Manitoba. The conflict continued during the winter of 1869 to 1870.
In 1870, the Manitoba Act recognised the new province, but Riel was expelled and eventually executed in 1885 for his execution of an unruly subordinate back in 1870. Before he could be brought to the gallows, however, he had already aided another Metis rebellion, the Northwest Rebellion, in 1884 in the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.
Things to Do in Manitoba on Louis Riel Day
Traveling Manitoba’s vast wilderness, fishing in remote lakes accessed by float planes, hiking and viewing the local wildlife, and watching for the Northern Lights in north Manitoba are all possible activities on or around Louis Riel Day, but below, we list three major stops that many tourists will find particularly appropriate on Louis Riel Day:
- Peruse the St. Boniface Museum free and witness the Louis Riel Day celebration of the Manitoba Metis Federation. This is an all-day event that showcases artifacts related to Louis Riel and to the Metis people. You will hear ancient tales of the Metis people, learn the facts about Louis Riel’s life, eat a traditional Metis meal, and be entertained by singers and dancers.
- Go on the Prairie Pathfinders Riel Hike. This is a two to three miles (three to five kilometer) tour of historical landmarks associated with Louis Riel’s life. You will see Winnipeg’s historic French district known as St. Boniface, where Riel lived, visit his grave in the same town, and spend time in the Riel House National Historic Park, where you will visit Riel’s home and be immersed in 19th-Century Metis culture.
- Attend the largest winter festival in all of western Canada, the 10-day “Festival du Voyageur.” The festival takes place each February in Winnipeg, specifically in St. Boniface and includes a Louis Riel Day ceremony in Voyageur Park. There are also such diverse activities as weaving workshops, bison roasts, and snow sculpting.
Anyone visiting Manitoba should consider planning their trip to include Louis Riel Day if at all possible. It is to Manitoba what the Fourth of July is to the U.S. or Bastille Day is to the French. It is a time of many community events and much fanfare, all piled on top of all the usual Manitoban tourist attractions.