The Red River Rebellion: A Review

The Canadian government is responsible!  That is the main argument presented by J.M. Bumsted in his book, The Red River Rebellion.  Bumsted’s takes a chronological look at what leads to rebellion, the events of the rebellion, and resulting aftermath of the event.  While explaining these events, however, the author focuses his attention repeatedly on his theory that politicians did not have a very accurate grasp of the situation in the west”.[1] This perspective is especially evident when we investigate: how the author develops his argument and utilizes his sources.
The author utilizes several sub-arguments in order to support his main argument that Canada’s politicians had very little knowledge of what was occurring within Hudson Bay Company’s lands.   J.M. Bumsted has seven sub-arguments, one for each chapter, which he utilizes to prove his main thesis.  However, I will examine only three of them here. 

The first sub-argument, from Chapter one, is that “none of the negotiating parties felt any need to consult the formally in any way with either the government or residents of Red River”.[2]  This argument supports the main thesis because Bumsted uses several examples of the government failing to think of the existing settlements in the Red River area.  These examples include the fact that only one representative on the federal government’s Red River Settlement Committee was from the Red River area[3] and that Governor MacTavish was not notified “of the transfer or its conditions, or to the date at which they were to take practical effect upon the Government of the country”.[4]  These examples support Bumsted’s sub-argument that right from the start the federal government had failed to consult the residents of Assiniboia.   Therefore, Bumsted has started his book from the beginning with a believable argument that the government of Sir John A. Macdonald was at fault for the Red River Rebellion.

The second argument can be found in Chapter three, where Macdonald writes to William McDougall that “…it is quite open by the law of nations for the inhabitants to form a government…for the protection of life and property, and such a government has certain sovereign rights ius gentium, which might be very convenient for the United States, but exceedingly, inconvenient to you”.[5] This argument is especially important to the main argument because even Macdonald realized that Canadian government had made an error, but in order to prevent the situation from getting worse, that the federal government needed to allow the residents of Red River to form a government.  The sub-argument that the Red River settlement should be left alone to form a provisional government is supported by the proclamation produced by the provisional government.[6]  These list of demands are especially important to Bumsted’s argument because they provide a basis for negotiations between the residents of the Red River settlement and the federal government.   The argument that the provisional government of the Red River area should be allowed to form also furthers Bumsted’s sub-argument from the first chapter of the book.   Therefore, Bumsted’s reasoning is that if he can adequately convince you of his argument from chapter one, then the reader should be further convinced by the argument found in chapter three, and ultimately the reader will believe Bumsted’s main argument.

Bumsted furthers his main argument by using his sub-argument found within chapter five.  Bumsted’s sub-argument found in chapter five is that “the [federal] government did not appear at all concerned about any inconsistency between its professed willingness to negotiate with the Red River and the simultaneous preparation of a major military expedition to the settlement for the spring”.[7] The argument that federal government’s inconsistency of negotiations and mobilizing the military displays to the reader the view of the delegates from Red River settlement of the federal government’s position.   The federal government’s position is especially reflected in the explicit request for “British military support [that] was officially transmitted to London.[8]  The evidence further supports Bumsted’s sub-argument of the federal government’s inconsistencies by explaining that even after the negotiating delegates from Red River had returned to the Red River area that Ottawa was furthering its wish for the movement of military troops into the Red River area.   Therefore, Bumsted supports his main argument by arguing that the Metis as not being was viewing the federal government interested in the negotiations at all and were going to move into the Red River area anyway. 

The research put into J.M. Bumsted’s book is evident in the number and origins of the sources used.   This is especially evident when the reader views the quite extensive bibliography consisting of twelve pages.  Within these twelve pages a critic would be hard pressed to find problems with Bumsted’s sources since he researched manuscripts[9], government documents[10], private documents[11], books[12], articles[13], and theses[14] from many different sources.  These sources assist Bumsted in many ways.  First, J.M. Bumsted can draw his own conclusions from the primary documents found in the archives.  Second, he can insert another author’s argument found in a secondary source as evidence to support his own argument and sub-arguments.  Third, the fact that Bumsted utilizes several sources displays that he attempted, right from the research phase, to show the reader that many sources do support his main argument.   Finally, the lengthy list of sources found within J.M. Bumsted’s bibliography allows another historian to further explore the concepts, people, and events of the Red River Rebellion.

Overall, J.M. Bumsted’s book, The Red River Rebellion, was an excellent book for an historian to investigate.   A true historian will appreciate the chronology of the events, the analysis and insight provided by Bumsted, and the bibliography that could be used in the writing of future historical projects.  For the average reader the book is an easy to read book that provides a storyline of this true Canadian story similar to that of a work of fiction.  However, Bumsted doesn’t just merely retell the story of the Red River Rebellion, but he also includes photographs and brief descriptions of the personalities of the people involved. These brief descriptions allows the reader to gain a further understanding of what the people looked like and explain their feelings towards various aspects of the Red River Rebellion.   The book The Red River Rebellion by J.M. Bumsted is a well written, researched, and argued.

Bumsted, J.M. The Red River Rebellion. Sainte-Marie: Watson & Dwyer Publishing Limited, 1996.


[1] Bumsted, J.M., The Red River Rebellion. (Sainte-Marie: Watson & Dwyer Publishing Limited, 1996) 13.


[2]Ibid., 40.

[3] Bumsted, 45.


[4]Ibid., 70.


[5]Ibid.,  92.


[6]Ibid., 94.

[7]Bumsted, 146.


[8]Ibid., 151.

[9]From the Public Archives of Canada, the Public Archives of Manitoba, the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg, the Public Archives of Saskatchewan, and the University of British Columbia.


[10]From the federal governments of Canada and Great Britain.


[11] Such as by Alexander Begg, George T. Denison, Thomas Flanagan, William McDougall, Alexander Ross, and Sir Charles Tupper.


[12]Such as by Donald Creighton, W.L. Morton, Doug Owram, E.B. Osler, Thomas Flanagan, and William J. Healy.


[13]Such as by Doug Owram, Leon Pouliot, Nicole St.-Onge, George F.G. Stanley, and John Taylor.


[14]Such as by Nicole St.-Onge, Ruth Swan, and Leonard Lawrence Remis.