Arts & Life
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THE Winnipeg Free Press should be congratulated for publishing the third in a series of articles by Tom Brodbeck on Manitoba’s creation in 1870 ("Standing and delivering," May 16). It is remarkable that this series represents virtually the only attempt so far this year to explain in depth the forces that were at play 150 years ago and how Manitoba became a province.
Yet events leading to the proclamation of the Manitoba Act on July 15, 1870, largely explain what makes Manitoba the unique province it is today, and why July 15 should be celebrated as the date of Manitoba’s true beginning.
To no one’s surprise, Manitoba’s premier, Brian Pallister, has announced the festivities to mark the province’s anniversary are suspended until next year. This pause should offer Manitoba 150, the organization created to lead the celebrations, an unexpected opportunity to encourage Manitobans of all ages and walks of life to understand the meaning of this anniversary. In particular, how and why did Manitoba become Canada’s fifth province in 1870, and why was it set up the way it was?
To date, Manitoba 150 has not recalled many of the noteworthy events that led to Manitoba’s creation: the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Métis National Committee on Oct. 16, 1869; the erection of the roadblock, La Barrière, to prevent the arrival of William McDougall, the designated lieutenant-governor of the colony; the occupation of Upper Fort Garry on Nov. 2 of that year; and the formation of the first provisional government are all moments that have passed without notice, just as the decisive role of the French-speaking Métis in these events.
The preparation of a list of rights and the selection of three envoys to Ottawa to negotiate the creation of the province of Manitoba have also gone unnoticed. And yet, this critical list of rights secured the use of French and English in Manitoba’s courts and legislative assembly.
Is this not an excellent opportunity to explain to the general public why both languages have this status in Manitoba? And that the Supreme Court of Canada reinstated these rights in 1979, after the Manitoba legislature had unconstitutionally abolished them in 1890? The same list of rights promised lands to the Métis people, and only in 2013 did the Supreme Court recognize the federal government’s failure to follow through on this promise.
To this day, the election of 28 members to form the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, under the chairmanship of Louis Riel, remains largely unknown. Yet this democratically elected assembly met from March 9 to June 24, 1870; on the last day, it heard a report from Father Noël Ritchot, one of the assembly’s delegates to Ottawa, on the negotiations in which he had been a leading force.
In a gesture signifying that the Manitoba Act was not just a concoction imposed by Ottawa, the assembly ratified the Manitoba Act, which had received royal assent on May 12 of that year.
It should be noted that the Manitoba Act became law on July 15, 1870, when it was proclaimed by the federal government. Indeed, it could not have been proclaimed much earlier, as the imperial order-in-council transferring Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territories to Canada was only issued on June 23.
Too many commentators and elected officials have misrepresented our history and obscured the role of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia by insisting that Manitoba’s anniversary falls on May 12, which is simply the date on which the act received royal assent, one of several steps in the adoption of any law in Canada.
Similarly, the British North America Act that created Canada received royal assent on March 29, but Canada Day is celebrated on the day of its proclamation, July 1.
Manitoba is the result of long and laborious efforts by the inhabitants of the Red River who, by setting aside all of their religious, linguistic and nationalistic differences, agreed to create a new political entity that would allow Canada to take the shape it has today: an immense territory stretching from coast to coast to coast.
This is the spirit that should be recalled and celebrated in 2021. The premier’s decision to delay celebrations until next year offers Manitoba 150 a second chance to leave a permanent legacy, by ceasing to use royal assent as the date of Manitoba’s birthday and helping all Manitobans to understand why July 15 is the province’s true anniversary date.
By doing so, Manitoba 150 could seize the opportunity to highlight and celebrate Manitoba’s unique history and the values that inspired its creation.
Michel Lagacé is an editorialist for La Liberté, Manitoba’s French-language weekly since 1913.
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