Métis Nation river lot plans

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By William Benoit

An oil painting depicting a person on a Red River cart being pulled by an ox on a dirt road. In the background, there is a small white house and two other small buildings.
“Manitobah” settler’s house and Red River cart (c013965k)

Library and Archives Canada holds plans of Métis river lots that the Canadian government produced, as required by the Manitoba Act and the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory. These river lot plans are important pieces in understanding the Métis Nation. The plans are invaluable to the entire Métis Nation because they show where Métis ancestors lived before Canada’s acquisition of the region. While these river lot plans do not include any Michif, they clearly show where this language originated in Red River, and they also delineate the families that spoke this unique Métis heritage language.

A large map showing narrow rectangle river lots and the names of the owners of the lots, written in red ink. At the top of the map is a compass, indicating north.
Plan of river lots in the Parish of Lorette, Province of Manitoba; surveyed by (signed) G. McPhillips, Deputy Surveyor; examined and certified by (signed) A.H. Whitcher, Inspector of Surveys; Dominion Lands Survey Office, Winnipeg, February 16, 1878 (e011213852)

The Métis created settlements across the Métis Nation Homeland. The cradle of this homeland was the Red River Settlement. By 1869, there were 12,000 inhabitants there, of which 10,000 were Métis, and 7,000 of those Métis were children.

King Charles II granted the territory known as Rupert’s Land to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670. This territory comprised all of the land watered by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. These areas included what is now the whole of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, and northern parts of Ontario and Quebec. In the United States, Rupert’s Land included parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

On November 19, 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory under its letters patent to the British Crown. By Order-in-Council dated June 23, 1870, the British government admitted the territory to Canada, under section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now the Constitution Act, 1867), effective July 15, 1870. This was subject to the making of treaties with the sovereign Indigenous nations. They had to provide their consent to the Imperial Crown’s exercising its sovereignty in accordance with the limitations and conditions of the Rupert’s Land documents and the treaties.

The Métis in Red River did not agree with the transfer and were concerned that it would threaten their way of life. They were uneasy about their land rights and their democratic rights under the proposed new regime. The federal government sent out survey parties prior to the transfer of Rupert’s Land. Their surveys were to be carried out in accordance with the Ontario style of survey, in squares, instead of the system of long, narrow lots with river frontage used by the Métis. The new system cut across properties already in existence. On October 11, 1869, proclaiming that the federal government had no right to act without permission, 16 Métis stopped a crew of surveyors on a Métis river lot. This challenge to the way that the Government of Canada conducted these activities served notice that the residents would need to be consulted and have their rights guaranteed.

In November 1869, the Métis seized Upper Fort Garry and established a provisional government. The Métis government drafted a list of demands that Canada had to satisfy before they would accept incorporation into Canada. The result was the Manitoba Act. The Manitoba Act “arrangement” is one of the foundational deals (or compacts) that led to Canada’s expansion westward.

Under the Manitoba Act, the intention was to respect the concern of the Métis for their traditional lands. This took two forms: a provision to protect the existing land holdings of the 3,000 Métis adult landholders (section 32), and a provision to give 7,000 Métis children a “head start” in the province with a land grant of 1.4 million acres (section 31).

In post Confederation Manitoba, the position of the Métis deteriorated. New settlers from Ontario were hostile. Métis elders, over generations, described that period as a “Reign of Terror” against the Métis people. The processing of land under sections 31 and 32 was slow and fraught with corruption. As a result, many Métis sold their promised interests in the land and moved outside of the province that they had helped to create. The 1874 plan of river lots in the parishes of St. Norbert and St. Vital is included below as an example that depicts the early stages of the Métis diaspora. It also documents land speculation by individuals such as Donald Smith of national railway fame, and the Roman Catholic clergy’s attempt to create and maintain a French-speaking enclave in advance of the oncoming wave of immigration.

The Métis river lot maps are very important documents today because they are used to identify and register citizens of the Métis Nation.

A large map showing narrow rectangle river lots and the names of the owners of the lots, written in red ink. A railroad and a river are shown on the map.
Plan of river lots in the parishes of St. Norbert and St. Vital, Province of Manitoba (e011205909)

Visit the Flickr album for images of Métis Nation river lot plans.


William Benoit is the Advisor for Internal Indigenous Engagement in the Office of the Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Canada at Library and Archives Canada.

Manitoba history and the penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, 1871–1877

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

By David Horky

The records documenting the Manitoba Penitentiary’s beginnings at the “Stone Fort” (Lower Fort Garry), from 1871 to 1877, are almost as old as the province of Manitoba itself and are a testament to the turbulent origins of the new province. Many of the records from this early period of the penitentiary, such as the Inmate Admittance Books, Warden’s Order Books and Surgeon’s Daily Letters, held at the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), are also available online at Canadiana Héritage. There are also various other documents pertaining to the Manitoba Penitentiary held by LAC or other sources, many of which are accessible online. Together, these records supply details about the penitentiary and some of the inmates themselves, providing a fascinating perspective on Manitoba’s early history immediately following its creation in 1870.

The Stone Fort

A black-and-white photograph of a white building with a dark roof behind a fence.

Fur store, interior of Lower or Stone Fort, 1858 (e011156706); this building housed the original Manitoba Penitentiary and Asylum from 1871 to 1877

The Manitoba Penitentiary was established at Lower Fort Garry in 1871, shortly after Manitoba entered Confederation as the Dominion of Canada’s fifth province in 1870. The fort was originally built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1830 on the western bank of the Red River, 32 kilometres north of the original Fort Garry (in present-day Winnipeg), and it served as a trading centre and supply depot for the Red River settlement.

The Stone Fort had previously been the headquarters for the British and Canadian troops under the command of Colonel Garnet J. Wolseley. This military force was sent by the Canadian government in 1870 to establish peace and maintain order following the Métis-led Red River Resistance that ushered in the creation of the province of Manitoba. Ironically, the Canadian troops, particularly those from Ontario, were widely accused of conducting a “Reign of Terror” (English only) of violence and intimidation with impunity against the Métis of the Red River settlement.

When Wolseley and the British troops vacated the fort in 1871, the Canadian troops were relocated to Upper Fort Garry and the Fort Osborne barracks. One of their number, Samuel L. Bedson, a quartermaster sergeant in the 2nd (Quebec) Battalion of Rifles, remained behind to serve as the first warden of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry.

Within the fort, the stone warehouse was converted into a prison for criminals and an asylum for people living with mental illness. Bars were added to all windows and dormers, the western doorway was blocked up, the eastern door was adapted for prison security, a signal mast and ball were added, and palisades were erected.

No ordinary prisoners: Indigenous inmates and Manitoba’s history, 1871–1877

A two-page ledger with handwritten entries.

Inmate Admittance Book, 1871–1885 (T-11089, Image 810; R942-29-1-E, RG73-C-7)

The number of inmates listed on the admittance register for the first couple of years of the Manitoba Penitentiary’s operations was quite small, only seven. In 1871 and 1872, the crimes listed involved horse theft, petty larceny, theft, and breaking and entering. Even at this early date, the inmates had surprisingly diverse origins: a Swede, a few Americans, an Englishman, some Canadians from Ontario, and a few from the Red River settlement itself. Included in this early listing is a person identified in 1874 as a “lunatic”—a harsh term then used to describe someone living with a mental illness. The penitentiary, both here and at its later location at Stony Mountain, served as an asylum for these people until the opening of the provincial asylum in 1886 in Selkirk, Manitoba, which was the first of its kind in Western Canada.

The admittance register recorded the names, convictions and sentences of this initially small number of inmates. However, other sources provide information about the circumstances leading to their imprisonment. In the case of Indigenous prisoners from First Nations and Métis communities incarcerated at the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, the context of contemporaneous events within the Red River settlement, and more broadly the Northwest Territories, is especially important.

In fact, the very first inmate listed on the admittance register in May 1871 was John Longbones from the Dakota First Nation, sentenced to two years for “assault with intention to maim.” A few years later in 1873, two other men from his community, Pee-ma-ta-kow and Mc-ha-ha, would be sentenced to prison at Lower Fort Garry for larceny and breaking-and-entering respectively.

The small number of First Nations inmates at Lower Fort Garry at this time reflected the fact that they were being punished for breaking the law—and being caught—within an established settler community. Indeed, at the time, the broader applicability of the law of the Dominion of Canada to the outlying regions of the northwest was not recognized by First Nations peoples, nor was there then a means to enforce it.

On the question of extending the laws of the Dominion of Canada to First Nations communities, the Manitoba Penitentiary was to play a significant, if largely symbolic, role. The Canadian government sought to prepare the way for the orderly settlement of the new province of Manitoba and the recently acquired Northwest Territories. With an increasing number of newcomers arriving from Eastern Canada (particularly Ontario) and abroad, the Canadian government attached great importance to negotiating treaties with First Nations as a key element in establishing “peace, order and good government” in the Canadian West.

A typed page from a government report.

Adams G. Archibald, July 29, 1871, Report of the Indian Branch of the Department of the Secretary of State for the Provinces, 1871 (e18710014)

As fate would have it, the first of these treaties took place under the shadow of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry on July 25, 1871, as the topics of law and punishment became central issues in the negotiations. In a report by the Indian Branch dated July 29, 1871, Adams George Archibald, the first Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, describes his meeting with the Chiefs of the Chippewa and Swampy Cree to negotiate the signing of Treaty No. 1. To his astonishment, the Chiefs were unwilling to proceed until first a “cloud was dispersed.” Archibald learned that the Chiefs were troubled by the imprisonment of a number of their brethren at the Manitoba Penitentiary for breach of contract and desertion of service with the Hudson’s Bay Company. In reply to the Chiefs’ demands for their freedom, Archibald insisted, “every offender against the law must be punished.” Nonetheless, given the importance of the treaty to the Canadian government, he assented to their release, not as a matter of law but as a “favour” extended on behalf of the Crown. Negotiations then resumed, and Treaty No. 1 was signed a few days later on August 3, 1871.

At the same time that the Canadian government was initiating treaties with First Nations, there was also growing concern with continued Métis unrest in the Red River settlement. Angered and frustrated with the Reign of Terror perpetrated by the Canadian militia and with the broken promises over the protection of their rights and land, a small number of Métis allied themselves with a group of Fenians operating across the American border at Pembina (in present-day North Dakota). The Fenians were Irish nationalists living in the United States who sought to capture Canadian territory to exchange for Irish independence from British rule.

In October 1871, a few Métis participated in the Fenian-led raid (English only) on a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost at Emerson, near the American border. Intended as a prelude to a potentially wider incursion on the entire Red River settlement, the raid was foiled by the intervention of the American cavalry from Pembina. Some captured Métis participants were later taken by Canadian officials to Winnipeg for trial for “feloniously and unlawfully levying war against Her Majesty.”

Only one of these Métis, Oiseau Letendre, is among the small number of inmates recorded on the Manitoba Penitentiary admittance register for 1871. Listed as being from Red River, Letendre actually resided across the American border at Pembina. No reason is given for his incarceration, although it clearly shows that he was given a hefty 20-year sentence. A small note subsequently added indicates that he was later released in 1873 by order of the Governor General.

A lined page with handwritten entries. The words “capital case” and the number 1673 are written at the top.

Oiseau Letendre was tried before Mr. Justice Johnson in a capital case at Fort Garry, Manitoba, for levying war on Her Majesty; the sentence was commuted to [imprisonment] for 20 years, 1871–1872 (e002230571)

Records from his capital case file indicate that Letendre was a buffalo hunter and cart driver on the trails that transported goods between Fort Garry and St. Paul. Letendre had numerous family ties to the Red River settlement and the community of Batoche along the South Saskatchewan River. Consequently, Dominion officials were fearful that Letendre’s opposition to the Manitoba government was not an isolated case, so he was made an example and sentenced to hang. In an act of clemency, Letendre’s sentence was commuted to 20 years by Prime Minister John A. MacDonald. However, as Letendre claimed American citizenship, substantial diplomatic pressure was exerted by the United States government for his release. Consequently, Letendre was granted a pardon by the Governor General in January 1873 on the condition of his exile from Canada until the expiry of the 20-year sentence.

Shortly after Letendre’s release, there was another and even more high-profile case involving the arrest and trial of a prominent Métis individual who was also incarcerated at the Stone Fort, though briefly. Ambroise Lépine, Louis Riel’s adjutant in the provisional government, was arrested in September 1873 and tried for his involvement in the execution of Thomas Scott during the Red River Resistance in 1870. Ironically, both he and Riel opposed Métis involvement in Fenian plans to invade the Red River settlement. In fact, while both were still fugitives, they returned surreptitiously in October 1871 to lead volunteer troops from St. Boniface to defend the settlement against the Fenian threat.

After his capture, Lépine was initially conveyed to the Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry for “safe keeping.” It is not clear how long he was incarcerated there, as his imprisonment was not recorded on the inmate admittance register. At some point toward the end of 1873 or the beginning of 1874, Lépine was transferred to the new provincial prison that was being built next to the courthouse in Winnipeg. This is where Lépine’s subsequent trial took place and where he later served his sentence.

Lépine’s trial was followed with intense interest not only in Manitoba, but also throughout the country. As would be the case a dozen years later with Riel’s trial in Regina, Lépine’s trial in Winnipeg also polarized the nation, provoking his condemnation in Ontario while evoking sympathy for his cause in Quebec. And like Letendre, Lépine was initially sentenced to hang. However, the Governor General eventually commuted his sentence to two years but nonetheless revoked his civic rights indefinitely. Later, Lépine was even offered a full amnesty subject to exile for five years, but he refused and served his full sentence, finally obtaining his release in October 1876.

Hand-drawn portraits of four men on a page.

Frontispiece to the book Preliminary Investigation and Trial of Ambroise D. Lépine for the Murder of Thomas Scott, 1874 (a digitized version is available at Internet Archive); Lépine is at the bottom, Riel at the top, and Lépine’s lawyers J.A. Chapleau and Joseph Royal are to the left and right respectively

End of an era

Many of the issues encountered during the early history of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry, reflecting the turbulent origins of the province and its uneasy relations with First Nations and Métis communities, would have wider repercussions as the Canadian government promoted settlement further westward.

By 1877, the Canadian government had negotiated most of the numbered treaties 1 through 7 with First Nations, covering vast portions of the Northwest Territories in present-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. This paved the way for the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the advancement of colonial settlement across the Prairies. Conversely, as settlement progressed, the situation of many First Nations became more desperate as their traditional means of securing food supplies were increasingly compromised or—in the case of the bison hunt—had suffered irreversible collapse.

The Métis communities of the Red River settlement were also reeling under the pressure of more settlers pouring into Manitoba from Eastern Canada and abroad. Despite the assurances made in the Manitoba Act, the Métis had suffered from the Reign of Terror conducted by the Canadian Militia and from land swindles perpetrated in the law courts. Consequently, thousands of Red River Métis left Manitoba in the 1870s in a westward diaspora, either joining pre-existing or establishing new Métis communities in present-day Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Perhaps in anticipation of encountering increased trouble in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories from the desperate and dispossessed, the Canadian government took steps to extend the long arm of Canadian law in the northwest. Territorial courts were established for prosecution, and the North West Mounted Police was created for enforcement. Moreover, preparations were being made as early as 1872 to replace the Stone Fort at Lower Fort Garry with a new and larger federal penitentiary to serve as the site of punishment for the entire region.

Thus, the era of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry ended with the completion of the new Manitoba Penitentiary at Stony Mountain in 1878. By this time, Manitoba was also entering a new era in the nation’s history, assuming its role as the “keystone province,” the administrative and logistical centre for all of Western Canada.

The Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada also has many of the records of the Manitoba Penitentiary at Stony Mountain (or Stony Mountain Penitentiary, as it was later called), available online at Canadiana Héritage, but they are deserving of many more, equally fascinating, stories.


David Horky is a senior archivist in the Winnipeg office of Library and Archives Canada.

Join us in celebrating our 1,000th blog post!

The Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Discover Blog has hit an important milestone! We have published 1,000 blog posts! For the past eight years, the blog has showcased our amazing documentary heritage collection, let researchers know what we are working on, and answered frequently asked questions.

To celebrate this momentous occasion, we are looking back at some of our most popular blog posts.

1940 National Registration File

A typed, two-column questionnaire titled “Dominion of Canada—National Registration Card for Women” with “For Information Only” written diagonally across the middle.

Sample of a questionnaire for women, courtesy of Statistics Canada.

Year after year, this early blog post has consistently been at the top of our list of views and comments. It is not surprising that a genealogy themed post took the top place; what is surprising is that the 1940 National Registration File is not held at LAC, but can be found at Statistics Canada. Either way, it is a great resource and very useful to genealogists across the country.

Want to read more blog posts about genealogy at LAC? Try the post, Top three genealogy questions.

Do you have Indigenous ancestry? The census might tell you

A woman and a man sit in the grass with their two young children in front of a canvas tent.

Indigenous man and woman [Alfred and Therese Billette] seated on the grass with two children [Rose and Gordon] outside their tent (e010999168).

Another popular post is the 2016 blog explaining how Canadian censuses could help you examine your past and research your unknown ancestral lineage to Indigenous heritage. Canadians might search for their Indigenous heritage to resolve questions of self-identity, or to know if they may participate with Indigenous organizations, or get Indigenous benefits.

Want to read more blog posts on how to research your Indigenous heritage? Try one of these posts, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development records: Estate files or The Inuit: Disc numbers and Project Surname.

The Grey Fox: Legendary train robber and prison escapee Bill Miner

Poster showing a photograph of Bill Miner, announcing a $500 reward for his recapture, listing details as to his escape, and describing his physical characteristics.

Reward notice for the recapture of Bill Miner that was sent to police departments, publications and private detective agencies (e011201060-210-v8).

This exciting post tells the story of Bill Miner, who was nicknamed “The Grey Fox” and “The Gentleman Bandit.” Bill Miner was a legendary criminal on both sides of the Canada–U.S. border. Although he committed dozens of robberies and escaped from multiple prisons, many saw him as a generous folk hero who targeted exploitative corporations only. LAC holds many documents, publications, sound and video recordings, and other materials relating to Miner, and hundreds of these documents are now available on our website as a Co-Lab crowdsourcing challenge.

Want to learn more about records from the B.C. Penitentiary system? Try the post, British Columbia Penitentiary’s Goose Island: Help is 20 km away, or 9 to 17 hours as the pigeon flies.

Samuel de Champlain’s General Maps of New France

: A black-and-white hand-drawn map depicting Quebec, the Maritime provinces and the eastern part of Ontario in 1613.

Carte geographique de la Nouelle Franse en son vray meridiein Faictte par le Sr. Champlain, Cappine. por le Roy en la marine—1613 (in french only) (e010764734).

This popular 2013 post combines two aspects of Canadian interest: cartography and explorers! This article gives an overview of Champlain’s maps of New France held in the LAC collection. Also included in the post is a “suggested reading list” so researchers can learn more about Champlain’s cartography and travels.

Want to read more about the history of New France? Try the post, Jean Talon, Intendant of New France, 1665-1672.

Journey to Red River 1821—Peter Rindisbacher

Painting depicting travellers walking single file while portaging their boats overland to avoid a waterfall.

Extremely wearisome journeys at the portages [1821] (e008299434).

This popular blog post describes the work of Peter Rindisbacher. Rindisbacher was 15 years old when he immigrated to Selkirk’s Red River settlement in 1821. Already an accomplished artist when he arrived in North America, he produced a series of watercolours documenting the voyage to Rupert’s Land and life in the settlement. His watercolours from the Red River area are among the earliest images of western Canada. Rindisbacher is considered the first pioneer artist of the Canadian and the American West.

Want to learn more about Peter Rindisbacher? Try the podcast, Peter Rindisbacher: Beauty by commission.

The Persons Case

Five women in gowns wearing corsages and one man in a tuxedo standing in front of a plaque.

Unveiling of a plaque commemorating the five Alberta women whose efforts resulted in the Persons Case, which established the rights of women to hold public office in Canada (c054523).

This blog post illuminates the history of women’s fight for political equality in Canada. The Persons Case, a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate, began in 1916 when Emily F. Murphy was appointed as the first female police magistrate in the British Empire. Undermining her authority, lawyers challenged her position as illegal on the grounds that a woman was not considered to be a person under the British North America Act, and therefore she was unable to act as magistrate. Murphy enlisted the help of Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Irene Marryat Parlby—now known as the “Famous Five”—who were engaged politically and championed equal rights for women.

Want to learn more about women’s rights throughout Canada’s history? Try the post, A greater sisterhood: the women’s rights struggle in Canada.

The Canadian Expeditionary Force Digitization Project is Complete!

A page from the service file of “Scotty” Davidson describing how he was killed in action in the field by a shell falling in the trench, and how he is buried in a grave with three other 2nd Battalion men.

A page from Allan “Scotty” Davidson’s digitized service file describes how he was killed in action (CEF 280738).

The last post on our list is an impressive one! The blog announcing the completion of LAC’s 5-year project to digitize all 622,290 files of soldiers who enlisted in the First World War was well-received by many researchers.

Want to learn more about how the Canadian Expeditionary Force digitization project started? Try the post, Current status of the digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel service files.

We hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane. You may also be interested in blogs about Canada’s zombie army, the Polysar plant, LAC’s music collection, historical French measurement standards, or the iconic posters from the Empire Marketing Board.