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Upper Canada | Lower Canada | Northwest Rebellion

The Rebellion

The causes of the rebellion related to the settlement of the west and the closing off of the frontier which directly threatened not only the metis way of life but that of the plains Indians.  What is more important to note is the rudimentary nature of the military organization Canada had available to deal with the crisis, which arose, in the North-West in 1885.  The Active Militia, as the volunteer force was now termed, was deficient in both training and equipment.  No unit was allowed more than 12 days' annual training, and rural units trained only every second year.  Little equipment had been bought since the Fenian troubles.  Fortunately, however, the Dominion's tiny regular force, which from 1871 until 1883 had consisted of artillery only, had now been expanded by the addition of small units of cavalry and infantry.  Nevertheless, an adequate staff did not yet exist, nor did the administrative services essential to maintaining an army in the field.

In the North-West Territories, when the rising began, there were few military resources.  No regular troops were stationed there, and the only effective militia units in the whole of the still largely unpopulated prairie country were one infantry battalion, one troop of cavalry and one battery of artillery, all at the small city of Winnipeg.  The North-West Mounted Police were only 550 strong and not in particularly good shape for campaigning.  To make matters worse, communications with the East were still imperfect.  The Canadian Pacific Railway was under construction but was incomplete.  In these circumstances, organizing a force for action in the North-West, and concentrating it in the theatre of operations, were very considerable tasks.

The prospective enemy was not without formidable aspects.  The Saskatchewan metis, who acknowledged the leadership of Louis Riel were good shots and good horsemen, and would be fighting on ground with which they were thoroughly familiar.  There were over 25,000 Indians on the plains, and if they all joined the movement it would be very serious.  Fortunately, as it turned out, not more than perhaps 1000 metis and Indians actually rose in arms.  Under these conditions, the worst problems the military commanders had to encounter were the result of logistical difficulties and of the inexperience of their troops.

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