Manitoba Act

Doi (identifier) Manitoba John A. Macdonald

The Manitoba Act, 1870 (French: Loi de 1870 sur le Manitoba)[1] is an act of the Parliament of Canada and part of the Constitution of Canada,[2] receiving royal assent on May 12, 1870.[3] It created the province of Manitoba and continued to enforce An Act for the Temporary Government of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territories when united with Canada[4] upon the absorption of the British territories of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory into Canada on July 15, 1870. The Manitoba Act, 1870 was created by the Parliament of Canada in response to the Métis' concerns about the provisional government. The Manitoba Act, 1870 was created with hopes to decrease tension between the Canadian Parliament and the Red River Métis. Many negotiations and uprisings came with this Act, some of which are still not settled today.


Territory transferred to Canada (July 15, 1870)

The Province of Manitoba was previously the area settled by the people of the Red River colony. In 1884 Manitoba was organized in many different municipalities. The county of Selkirk, Manitoba happened to be one of the regions that had to be split up for the purpose of creating townships.[5]This area was originally a part of Rupert's Land, which was where the fur traders would do the majority of their hunting and trapping. Rupert's Land was controlled by the Hudson Bay Company, the largest fur trading company of its time. In the late 1860s, the Hudson's Bay Company surrendered the land to the British Crown. This is known as the Rupert's Land Act 1868. This caused severe controversy specifically in the area of the Red River Colony, now known as Manitoba. In the eyes of the British Crown and the Canadian government, the land was seen to be owned by the Hudson Bay Company, even though Indigenous people and Métis people lived there. The Canadian government paid £300,000 for Rupert's land. This is the largest land purchase to date for the Canadian government.[6]

Once the Canadian government claimed the land from the Hudson Bay Company they began to set up Members of Parliament. William McDougall was appointed to be the Lieutenant Governor of Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory in 1869.[7] In September 1869 Lieutenant Governor William McDougall set out to Red River accompanied by many administrative officers.[7] The Métis were not consulted upon these government actions causing a great amount of uproar and distress. Once the Métis became aware of this new government attempting to control their territory, they created a provisional government of their own. Louis Riel became the leader for the Métis people.[8] Riel had good qualities for this role because he had educational experience from his time spent at school training to be a priest and lawyer, even though he never finished his schooling.[8] Riel's ability to speak both French and English was a huge advantage for him and the Métis people because the Red River Colony was a bilingual area.[8] Many of the Métis people did not have the ability to understand all the legal action due to the lack of education and experience.

Rise of the Métis

Louis Riel and his supporters created a provisional government of their own. This time period is known as the Red River Resistance or Rebellion.[6] Riel and the Métis prepared for the arrival of William McDougall and his accompanied administrative officers. Once McDougall and his people arrived at the border of the Red River Colony at the 49th Parallel, they encountered the armed party of the Métis, who denied them entry into the colony by creating a barrier. McDougall did not give up his efforts at that point, he stayed in Pembina for approximately a month's time attempting to control the area.[6] The Métis actions separated the Canadian party due to their barriers, some were captured and held in jail at Fort Garry.[9] On December 16, McDougall gave up his efforts for the time being. The Canadian government created a new expedition in attempts to establish sovereignty and establish a political solution.[9]

The Red River Resistance started out as a non-violent protest and uprising toward the Canadian government. Riel and his people had occupied Fort Garry. A group of Ontario settlers who were opposed to the Riel uprising set out to the fort. This caused 45 men to be incarcerated in the fort by Riel and his people. While these men were incarcerated a major historical event occurred. A man by the name of Thomas Scott was executed while being held captive at the fort on March 4, 1870. This event has been analysed by many historians because it is hotly disputed why Thomas Scott was executed. The execution of Thomas Scott had a great impact on how the Canadian government and its supporters viewed the Métis. People were so outraged that when Riel was to make appearances at Parliament he did not attend in fear of getting himself killed.[10] Despite the execution, the Canadian government was still working towards sovereignty.

The Manitoba Act, 1870 made the Red River Colony a part of Canada and created the province of Manitoba. Even with the Manitoba Act, 1870 in place, much work was to be done with the settling of land rights. Before land rights were settled Sir John A. MacDonald convinced the British to send a military expedition to Manitoba, led by Colonel Garnet Wolseley. This Red River Expedition became known as the Wolseley expedition. The government portrayed this expedition as non-punitive; however, the militiamen wanted to avenge the death of Thomas Scott. The ensuing chaos and retribution against the Métis population was labelled "The Reign of Terror" by newspapers in eastern Canada and the U.S.A.[11][12] Many Métis fled to Saskatchewan, while Louis Riel fled to the United States at this time.[10]

The Government

A district called Assiniboia (provincial electoral district) became a part of the Canadian Federation for the purpose of receiving 1.4 million acres of land that was specifically for the betterment of the Métis nation. [13]

John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier were both leading figures in the establishment of the Province of Manitoba during 1870. These two men shared personal alliances which made their conjunction a strong one when it came to political movements.[14]

Métis List of rights

Métis have traditionally been known to come from the Red River Colony.[15] Métis are people who come from European and Indigenous backgrounds. In areas such of the Red River Colony, many European trappers would marry and have children with the Indigenous women.[15] Métis people have struggled with recognition as a distinct Aboriginal people. Métis people are known to be "self-identified". They are not settlers and they are not fully Indigenous. They are often to be labelled "Mixed Blood" or "half-breeds". Métis are not identified under the Indian Act of Canada causing a great amount of controversy. Throughout the years the definition of Métis have gone through many changes.[15]`In the 1990s there was a separate definition for "Red River Métis". This term was created for individuals whose families' Métis ancestry came from Red River.[15] The Red River Métis were very influential in the creation of the Manitoba Act, 1870. They had many rights and requests that they pushed to be fulfilled by the Government of Canada. The following is a list of some of the Red River Métis' demands for the Act.[16]

Fourth list of rights

May 9, 1870

  1. That this province be governed:
    1. By a Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Governor-General of Canada;
    2. By a Senate;
    3. By a Legislature chosen by the people with a responsible ministry.
  2. That, until such time as the increase of the population in this country entitle us to a greater number, we have two representatives in the Senate and four in the Commons of Canada.
  3. That in entering the Confederation the Province of the Northwest be completely free from the public debt of Canada; and if called upon to assume a part of the said debt of Canada, that it be only after having received from Canada the same amount for which the said Province of the Northwest should be held responsible.
  4. That the annual sum of $80,000 be allotted by the Dominion of Canada to the Legislature of the Province of the Northwest.
  5. That all properties, rights and privileges enjoyed by us up to this day be respected, and that the recognition and settlement of customs, usages and privileges be left exclusively to the decision of the Local Legislature.
  6. That this country be submitted to no direct taxation except such as may be imposed by the local legislature for municipal or other local purposes.
  7. That the schools be separate, and that the public money for schools be distributed among the different religious denominations in proportion to their respective populations according to the system of the Province of Quebec.
  8. That the determination of the qualifications of members for the parliament of the province or for the parliament of Canada be left to the local legislature.
  9. That in this province, with the exception of the Indians, who are neither civilized nor settled, every man having attained the age of 21 years, and every foreigner being a British subject, after having resided three years in this country, and being Possessed of a house, be entitled to vote at the elections for the members of the local legislature and of the Canadian Parliament, and that every foreigner other than a British subject, having resided here during the same period, and being proprietor of a house, be likewise entitled to vote on condition of taking the oath of allegiance. It is understood that this article is subject to amendment, by the local legislature exclusively.
  10. That the bargain of the Hudson Bay Company with respect to the transfer of government of this country to the Dominion of Canada, never have in any case an effect prejudicial to the rights of Northwest.
  11. That the Local Legislature of this Province have full control over all the lands of the Northwest.
  12. That a commission of engineers appointed by Canada explore the various districts of the Northwest, and lay before the Local Legislature within the space of five years a report of the mineral wealth of the country.
  13. That treaties be concluded between Canada and the different Indian tribes of the Northwest, at the request and with the co-operation of the Local Legislature.
  14. That an uninterrupted steam communication from Lake Superior to Fort Garry be guaranteed to be completed within the space of five years, as well as the construction of a railroad connecting the American railway as soon as the latter reaches the international boundary.
  15. That all public buildings and constructions be at the cost of the Canadian Exchequer.
  16. That both the English and French languages be common in the Legislature and in the Courts; and that all public documents as well as the acts of the Legislature be published in both languages.
  17. That the Lieutenant-Governor to be appointed for the province of the Northwest be familiar with both the English and French languages.
  18. That the Judge of the Supreme Court speak the English and French languages.
  19. That all debts contracted by the Provisional government of the territory of the Northwest, now called Assiniboia, in consequence of the illegal and inconsiderate measures adopted by Canadian officials to bring about a civil war in our midst, be paid out of the Dominion treasury, and that none of the Provisional government, or any of those acting under them, be in any way held liable or responsible with regard to the movement or any of the actions which led to the present negotiations.

What the Act guaranteed


In the Métis' favour, the Manitoba Act, 1870 guaranteed that the Métis would receive the title for the land that they already farmed and in addition they would receive 5700 km2 (1400000 acres) of farmland for the use of their children.[10] This land was to be divided up through an application process. The Act also set aside land for the Métis, with each family receiving scrip, a certificate, saying they owned 96 hectares of land, amount to a total of about 5600 km2. The number of applications that the government was going to receive was greatly underestimated. The 1.4 million acres of land was not enough for the number of applications. The Canadian government began giving money for land, the equivalent value of $1 per acre, which was the current land value at that time.

Section 31 reads in part:[17]

And whereas, it is expedient, towards the extinguishment of the Indian Title to the lands in the Province, to appropriate a portion of such ungranted lands, to the extent of one million four hundred thousand acres thereof, for the benefit of the families of the half-breed residents, it is hereby enacted, that, under regulations to be from time to time made by the Governor General in Council, the Lieutenant-Governor shall select such lots or tracts in such parts of the Province as he may deem expedient, to the extent aforesaid, and divide the same among the children of the half-breed heads of families residing in the Province at the time of the said transfer to Canada, and the same shall be granted to the said children respectively, in such mode and on such conditions as to settlement and otherwise. as the Governor General in Council may from time to time determine.

Religious and language rights

The Act covered an array of topics. It contained religious and language rights.[10] It allowed the Métis to have rights to have denominational schools. The Act stated that laws had to be written and enforced in both French and English, either English or French can be used in the Legislature of Manitoba and any courts established by either Canada or the Province must use both languages. These have led to political controversy such as the Manitoba Schools Question in the nineteenth century, as denominational school rights were curtailed.

Parliament of Canada

The Act also provided for Manitoba to send four members to the House of Commons of Canada and two members to the Senate of Canada.


Since the Manitoba Act, 1870 was put into action it has been adjusted and under review multiple times. Historian D. N. Sprague notes that the land assigned to the Métis in the Manitoba Act, 1870 was later revised by government laws, which took land away from the Métis.[9] In order to receive scrip for children living or deceased, proof of birth in Manitoba prior to 1871 was required. Proof could be in the form of a baptismal or death certificate from the church, or a letter from an employer such as the Hudson's Bay Company.[9] The legislature also enacted English-only laws, which were later found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case Reference re Manitoba Language Rights (1985). The Manitoba Act, 1870, and Section 31 in particular, was also used in the 2013 Supreme Court case Manitoba Métis Federation v. Canada and Manitoba.[18]

The Manitoba School Crisis

Most clauses in the Manitoba Act, 1870 were agreed upon apart from one. Topics such as language and religion were safeguarded by the government and recognized by the Canadian court system. The clause on the right to English and French in educational systems was not safeguarded and was instead disputed amongst political figures. Notable people such as: Honourable Mr. Chauveau and Liberal leader Mr. Mackenzie had opposing views on the clause that would affect the right to education in French or English.[14]

Section 31

Section 31 required the government to provide a tract of land to each Métis child upon reaching the age of 21 years, from a notional pool of 1.4 million acres of land appropriated for this purpose. Métis families were promised a large amount of land through the Manitoba Act, 1870. The government, however, did not grant the land until the land had been surveyed.[19] The Act, therefore, would ensure this process. However, the Canadian government later realized that the amount of land that was promised fell short compared to the number of Métis children entitled. This issue is what changed the process of receiving land by lottery draw through the Land Titles Office to money scrips. The government decided to allot money scrips in place of land, which could only be provided for the purchase of lands in government-owned parts of the Northwest Territories.[20] In subsequent legal case regarding Section 31, the Court claimed that “there was no request for, expectation of or consideration by Canada to create a Métis homeland or land base.”[21]

Validity of the Manitoba Act, 1870

Following the enactment of the Manitoba Act, 1870, questions arose whether the federal Parliament had the constitutional authority to create new provinces by ordinary federal statute. To eliminate any uncertainty on this point, the Imperial Parliament enacted the Constitution Act, 1871, which confirmed that the federal Parliament had the power to establish new provinces and provide for their constitutions.[22]

See also


  1. ^ Originally entitled (until renamed in 1982) An Act to amend and continue the Act 32 and 33 Victoria, chapter 3; and to establish and provide for the Government of the Province of Manitoba.
  2. ^ Constitution Act, 1871, 34–35 Vict., c. 28 (U.K.), ss. 5–6. See also Sections 52–53 of and Item 2 of the Schedule to The Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11.
  3. ^ S.C. 1870, c. 3.
  4. ^ An Act for the Temporary Government of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territories when united with Canada, S.C. 1869, c. 3
  5. ^ The Manitoba Municipal Act, 1884 and an act to amend "the Judicial Districts Act, 1883" : being 47 Vic., cap. 11 and cap. 12, assented to 29th April, 1884. CIHM/ICMH microfiche series ; no. 62086. Winnepeg: Winnipeg : G. Bourdeau, 1884. 1884. pp. 18–30.
  6. ^ a b c Galbraith, John S. (1949). "The Hudson's Bay Land Controversy, 1863-1869". The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. 36 (3): 457–478. doi:10.2307/1893017. JSTOR 1893017.
  7. ^ a b Daugherty, Wayne (1983). "Treaty Research Report Treaty One and Treaty Two (1871)". Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
  8. ^ a b c "Louis Riel". Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d St-onge, Nicole J.M (1985). "The Dissolution of a Metis Community". Studies in Political Economy. 18: 149–172. doi:10.1080/19187033.1985.11675607.
  10. ^ a b c d Richtik, James M. (1975). "The Policy Framework for Settling the Canadian West 1870-1880". Agricultural History. 49 (4): 613–628. JSTOR 3741487.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "6. The Resistance of the Red River Métis, 1869-1871", Manitoba, University of Toronto Press, December 31, 1967, pp. 121–150, doi:10.3138/9781487578039-009, ISBN 978-1-4875-7803-9
  14. ^ a b Cappon (1904). The Manitoba Act. Kingston, Ontario: Queens Quarterly. pp. 1–4.
  15. ^ a b c d Sawchuk, Joe (2001). "Negotiating an Identity: Métis Political Organizations, the Canadian Government, and Competing Concepts of Aboriginality". The American Indian Quarterly. 25 (1): 73–92. doi:10.1353/aiq.2001.0012. ISSN 1534-1828.
  16. ^ Lawrence Barkwell, “Metis Lists of Rights: The Evolution of the List from the First to Fourth Iteration” (Louis Riel Institute).
  17. ^ "Manitoba Commissions: Claims Under Section 31". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved November 25, 2018.
  18. ^ Constitution Act, 1982, s. 52 and Schedule, Item 2.
  19. ^ McCullough, A.B (1884). The confrontations at Riviere aux Ilets-de-Bois. Manitoba History. Winnipeg : G. Bourdeau. p. 67.
  20. ^ O’Toole, D. (2014). "Section 31 of the Manitoba Act, 1870: A Land Claim Agreement". Manitoba Law Journal. 38 (1): 73–117.
  21. ^ Manitoba Métis Federation v. Canada (Attorney General) et al., 2010 MBCA 71 at 238.
  22. ^ Constitution Act, 1871, 34–35 Vict., c. 28 (U.K.), s. 2.