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August 02, 2013


Henk Smidstra

Good discussion. I am sure lots of ink has been spilled on this subject. I do not sense that Gwyn demonizes or deifies either Macdonald or Riel; he perhaps tries to discus a large issue in a shortened fashion. Gwyn suggests that though Riel did flirt with the Americans, he was not an annexationist; Gwyn suggests that Riel realized that his "dream" (distinct society) would not "wash" in the republic. Riel was extreme and had a distorted sense of reality, but he did have much support, even from the Catholic Church at first (1870). Gwyn suggests that Riel's worst move was the execution of Thomas Scott. For that he fled to Montana, but according to Gwyn Macdonald supported Riel financially to remain in exile for the required term. Macdonald did face much opposition about this from the English Protestant Liberals. After the 1885 rebellion Macdonald sought execution(treason) even thought it had brought continued French/English division in the East. Gwyn suggests that Macdonald could have sought other political options; he notes for example, George Etiene Cartier had participated in the 1837 rebellion and had not been executed but became Macdonald's ally as a father of Confederation. Gwyn does contend that Macdonald in dealing with Riel and Western expansion was not at his best and had procrastinated too much and did not always get the best advice on Metis issues.

Clarion Journal

Multiple thanks Henck for the book review of "Nation Builder: Sir. John A. Macdonald." I have a minor quibble with what is seen as one of Macdonald's major political disasters: the execution of Louis Riel. There tends to be two approaches to Riel and Macdonald: idealize Riel and demonize Macdonald or idealize Macdonald and demonize Riel--the trendy liberal position doffs to the former interpretation, the reactionary right tends to genuflect to the latter position. The complexity of the actual historical situation of Riel's execution is much more complex. Riel did flirt with the Americans and Macdonald saw all so clearly where this could lead--similar to William Lyon MacKenzie in 1837. There is a much larger picture back of the Macdonald-Riel clash--Canadian nationalism or annexation of Canada by an emerging and aggressive American empire. It would have been helpful if "Nation Builder" had investigated this further and deeper--see Ray Huel (a former professor of mine and the leading authority of Riel in Canada) for the fuller and more complicated tale about Louis Riel and followers.

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