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Historic Manitoba photos repatriated

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Ahistoric photo of Louis Riel was returned to Manitoba on Friday, as was the spirit of the Métis leader.

A photograph of the Métis leader and his councillors, dated around 1869, is among a collection of eight historic photographs known as cartes de visite, which were taken by several photographers in the 1860s and 1870s in the Red River Settlement.

The photos came from an auction of civil war memorabilia in South Yarra, Australia, and were sold to a collector in Vancouver, who sold them to the University of Manitoba.

Together, the eight photos are worth about $6,500. "It's significant that Louis Riel would have shown up just when a historic decision was made by the Supreme Court of Canada. It's uncanny that when he's needed, he showed up again," said Shelley Sweeney, head of the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, which will house the exhibit in the U of M's Elizabeth Dafoe Library.

"The cartes de visite will give people a good sense of their Manitoba heritage and to celebrate Manitoba heritage. We have the aboriginal people, Métis, other settlers (in the photos) and it's a community that was getting along. Through the council of Assiniboia, they had everybody represented and they were able to pull together and organize themselves in such a way that they could negotiate with the Government of Canada. I think it's really the story of Canada in a nutshell. People from different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities being able to come together and work together in a constructive way."

Sweeney said the cartes de visite were originally thin paper photographs mounted on a thicker paper card, which friends and visitors traded at the time.

Riel, who died by hanging on Nov. 16, 1885, was buried in the cemetery of Winnipeg's Saint Boniface Cathedral.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Cartes de visite

  • Eight rare historic photographs;
  • Depict scenes from what is now Winnipeg and Manitoba;
  • Dated in the 1860s and 1870s;
  • One includes Louis Riel surrounded by his councillors, who were part of the Métis Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, estimated date of 1869 and possibly taken by photographer Ryder Larsen;
  • To view the photographs on line go to: http://www.umanitoba.ca/libraries/archives/digital/red_river_cartes_visite/;
  • To view the photographs in person: University of Manitoba, Fort Garry campus, third floor of the Elizabeth Dafoe Library, archives and special collections section from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 A5

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