Métis leader Louis Riel is one of Manitoba’s most notorious historical figures, and many of the defining moments in his life—and in the history of Manitoba—happened right here in Winnipeg. Learn more about his life and influence with our self-guided walking tour that criss-crosses fast flowing rivers, from the Manitoba Legislative Building to old St. Boniface via the Esplanade Riel.
STOP #1: MANITOBA LEGISLATIVE BUILDING
Where: Assiniboine Ave., between Kennedy St. and Osborne St. N.
What: Statue of Louis Riel
We start our tour at Winnipeg’s most impressive edifice. Just south of the building and overlooking the Assiniboine River is a stately statue of Louis Riel by sculptor Miguel Joyal. Louis David Riel was born in 1844 near the French and Métis settlement of St. Boniface. As a child, Riel was educated within the church and sent to study at the seminary in Montreal at age 14. He spent the next ten years learning English and clerking in a law office. It is this educated, formal side of Riel that is represented here.
» WALK ON: Head 12 blocks east along the tree-lined Assiniboine Avenue. At Main Street, turn left (north) and continue for one more block, to Broadway.
STOP #2: UPPER FORT GARRY GATE
Where: 130 Main St.
What: A stone archway dating from 1835
This entrance is all that remains of a 19th-century Hudson’s Bay Company fur trade fort. In 1869, the company was in the process of transferring ownership of the Red River territory (including the land you’re now standing on) over to the Government of Canada. Louis Riel was recruited to negotiate with the government for Métis language and land rights. Eager to have Red River be part of the expanding country, the Canadian government met Riel’s demands and in May of 1870 Manitoba entered confederation. Proclaimed a hero by his people, Riel would have remained a leader in the new province except for one controversial move. In March of 1870, he had allowed the execution of political prisoner Thomas Scott inside the gates of this fort, just steps from where you’re now standing. For this leadership faux pas, the political icon was soon exiled.
» WALK ON: Head down Forks Market Rd., directly opposite the gate, passing under the train tracks. At Waterfront Dr., turn left. Just before the Museum of Human Rights, turn right down the paved path and walk to the banks of the Red River.
STOP #3: ESPLANADE RIEL
Where: Spanning the Red River
What: A pedestrian bridge
Completed in spring 2004, this walking bridge got its moniker from a city-wide name contest that drew over 2,000 suggestions. This level of public recognition of Riel would not have been possible even 50 years ago, when he was still thought by many as a traitor. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the government of Canada publicly recognized Riel as a founding father of Manitoba.
» WALK ON: Cross the bridge. Turn right down avenue Taché, then left onto avenue de la Cathédrale. To your right, you will see a cemetery.
STOP #4: ST. BONIFACE CEMETERY
Where: On the north side of the graveyard’s main path
What: A grave circled by large stones.
This is Riel’s final resting place. After years of living in exile in the United States, Riel returned to Canada in 1884 at the urging of Métis in Saskatchewan. He petitioned the government once again to protect Métis language and land rights, which led to an unsuccessful Métis uprising. After his surrender, Riel was tried for high treason and hanged in 1885. (Learn more about Riel and other historical figures by taking Theatre in the Cemetery’s theatrical cemetery tour. The box office is located on the north side of the cemetery.)
» WALK ON: Continue east down avenue de la Cathédrale and then turn right onto rue Aulneau. Continue down about a quarter-block. On your right, you will see with Riel’s name on the side.
STOP #5: UNIVERSITÉ ST-BONIFACE
Where: On your right, on the university’s lawn
What: Two curved walls containing a semi-abstract bronze statue
This controversial memorialization of Riel by artist Marcien LeMay shows a very different side of Riel—one of conflict and anguish. It stood at the Manitoba Legislative Building for 20 years, semi-enclosed by inscribed walls. In 1992, despite much public debate, the statue was moved here.
» WALK ON: Continue south down rue Aulneau, and turn right on rue Despins. After five blocks, turn right on avenue Taché and continue for half a block.
STOP #6: ST. BONIFACE MUSEUM
Where: On your right (464 avenue Taché)
What: A large white building—a former convent
This museum explores life in the early St. Boniface settlement, and includes a large exhibit dedicated to the Métis and Louis Riel. Among other personal artefacts are Riel’s coffin, execution cap and moccasins, as well as a detailed history of the man. Learn more here.
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