Election riot of 1872 — polling station attacked and newspaper offices ransacked

by Bruce Cherney (part 1)

When lawyer Joseph Dubuc stepped outside the courthouse on Main Street near Upper Fort Garry, he didn’t expect to be a victim of violence arising from  animosity that had contributed to a riot during the previous year’s federal electiion. Yet, emboldened by alcohol and waiting outside the courthouse was the man who would eventually become Winnipeg’s first police chief. Seeking vengeance for perceived injustices, John Ingram beat Dubuc so severely that the young lawyer, originally from Québec, was left unconscious in the street, and his face was battered to such an extent that he lost sight in one eye. 

Dubuc’s sin had been the gall to bring before the court a list containing names of the men he believed responsible for the election riot at a St. Boniface polling booth in September 1872.

Le Métis on September 18, 1872, reported in an “extra” the presence of a large mob allegedly organized by the Liberal, the voice of Dr. John Christian Schultz, in support of Andrew E. Wilson, a candidate running in St. Boniface riding against Donald Smith, the chief commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Wilson was a local merchant and a stockholder in the Liberal. 

The Winnipeg mob had crossed the Red River into St. Boniface to insist a number of English-speakers have their name included on the voters’ list. The French-language newspaper said the men, described as the “loyal” supporters of Wilson, demanded the poll book, and when it wasn’t presented started a riot at the polling station at the home of Roger Goulet. Armed with wooden wheel spokes, the rioters attacked the unarmed Métis, ransacked the polling station, found the poll book and then burned it. 

Among the men from Winnipeg was James Farquharson, the father-in-law of Schultz. Farquharson pulled out a pistol and fired off a number of rounds, but fortunately he was quite inaccurate with a gun and no one was killed, although several were wounded.

Le Métis, reporting on the Bataille à St. Boniface,  said the mob was only interested in securing rights for themselves and no one else, hoping to subvert the will of the majority, especially Métis voters in St. Boniface.

Some of the Ontarians were involved in the riot because they resented Manitoba laws adopted for the federal election.  

The Manitoba Free Press on December 7, 1872, said the riot, while not justified, was the natural outcome of the “infamous law which excludes newcomers from the franchise from to two to three years ...” 

The name of a newcomer could not be entered onto the  voter’s list until the settler had been in Manitoba for at least one year. A further delay to including a name was the law which said the voters’ list was only compiled every second year on or before the first day of April. The newspaper said, since immigration started in May, the law effectively prevented a newcomer from voting for a minimum of two years. It proposed an annual compilation of the voters’ list.

Also contributing to the riot was the absence of a secret ballot, which was not introduced until 1874 for federal elections. Until its introduction, violence and using liquor to bribe voters frequently occurred at polling stations as rival factions attempted to influence the outcome. Since voters indicated their preferred candidate by a show of hands, it was relatively easy for anyone present to know who voted for whom.

Not having been satisfied to only disrupt the vote in St. Boniface, the rioters recrossed the river, “crazed with excitement and liquor,” intent upon more violent mischief at the Winnipeg polling station, according to an “extra” edition published by the Manitoban on September 21.

With armed police prepared to quell the disturbance on Main Street,  Francis Cornish, who would be elected the first mayor of Winnipeg, incited the mob to greater fury by verbally attacking Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Adams Archibald, Smith and Manitoba Sheriff Edward Armstrong, and referred to Frasse de Plainval (a.k.a. Louis Nathal), the chief of the Manitoba Constabulary (provincial police), as a “toad-eating Communist.”

Schultz was quite ecstatic about the turn of events, writing to his friend John Gunn in a September 20  letter: “In a twinkling of an eye, the Carbines were wrested from the police and they were rapped over the head with them. The police were then reinforced and proceeded to attack the crowd, but they were at once disarmed of their batons and they themselves thrust in the police station downstairs and locked up. In this scrimmage, Plainval  got badly beaten about the head and ran like a lamplighter. Word was sent then to the (Lieutenant) Governor (Archibald) and ... he ordered the troops down to quell the mob and preserve the peace til the result of the poll was declared.”

When a guard was posted around the polling station, the mob sought other victims of their, turning their attention to newspaper offices opposed to Schultz. They wrecked the offices of Le Métis, the Manitoban and the Gazette, which left the Liberal as the only newspaper in operation. 

Schultz wrote to John Gunn: “The police did not dare to interfere and the Manitoban office was broken into, the Press knocked down and the type scattered (a picture of the Manitoban office following the election riot shows shattered printing presses, as well as newsprint and lead type strewn about) and the Métis office served the same way.”

Schultz said “press and type .., went out the window and it will be some time before ‘Jean Baptiste’ can express his grievance in print.”

George Campbell in a November 3 letter to friends in Ontario, wrote that the rioters feared reprisals from the Métis across the river. He claimed there were “300 french half breeds armed and prepared to make a raid on Winnipeg “that evening and kill every canadian that they could see. So all the arms, Aminuition (sic) that the canadians could procure they stored in the Davis hotel and when the evening came every man was armed with revolvers and rifles straped (sic) round their shoulders but no half breed made there (sic) appearance ... (It) is not the half breeds alone we have to deal with by Hudson Bay men and all those men that is in power. They are on the half breed side but wee (sic) have one smart man to stand us Mr. Cornish. I hope the day will soon come when we will have more of them.”

Joseph Royal, the publisher of Le Métis, joined forces with Manitoban publishers William Coldwell and Robert Cunningham to use what scant printing equipment was still available to publish French and English “extras” on September 21, but the newspapers announced that further issues would be suspended for some time. Le Métis didn’t resume publishing until October 12, printing a two-page edition.

Le Métis said its presses were broken up by the Orangemen with the intention of silencing the journal that defended the rights of the French-speaking population of Manitoba.

With the help of  Manitoba Free Press publishers William F. Luxton and John A. Kenny, who allowed the Manitoban to use the newspaper’s printing presses, an issue — albeit just two pages — was on the streets by November 30. The Free Press began publication after the election riot on November 9 under the motto “Freedom in trade — Liberty in religion — Equality in civil rights.” 

That Le Métis was targeted by the mob as it supported an amnesty for Louis Riel, who led the Red River Resistance of 1869-70, and championed Métis rights as outlined by the Manitoba Act of 1870. 

Most Protestant Orangemen from Ontario taking part in the riot had been part of the the 1870 expedition led by Colonel Garnet Wolseley from Eastern Canada, and were intent on avenging the March 4, 1870, execution of fellow Orangeman  Thomas Scott, and capturing the “murderer” and “traitor” Riel.

“The wildest disorder reigned,” reported the Toronto-based Globe in September 1870. “Of the Canadian volunteers 800 were Orangemen, and these men were frantic in their expression of hatred and contempt for the half-breed (Métis) population. Among them were a number of persons who had been expelled from the settlement by Riel (including Canadian Party leader Schultz). These bigoted partisans thirsted for the blood of French half-breeds.”

When Smith defeated Schultz in the December 27, 1870, provincial election in the riding of Winnipeg St. John, the Globe reported the “village of Winnipeg was ... in the hands of this rabble (100 militiamen rioting) for four hours ... During this time Colonel Jarvis of the 1st Battalion, was informed, and a picket went to surround these unhappy soldiers and bring them to the fort. The guard however did not arrive soon enough to prevent those followers of Dr. Schultz from running through the village crying ‘Death to the Pope! Death to Catholics! Death to the Half Breeds! Death to the priests!’ and from burning Donald Smith in effigy.”

Using the nom de plume Veritas, a Manitoba man wrote the St. Paul Press in Minnesota on November 6, 1870, that the English soldiers had come to the settlement on a mission of peace, but engaged in a war.

Immediately upon arriving in the Red River settlement in early September 1870, a group of militiamen were in the Red Saloon in Winnipeg when Elzéar Goulet, a member of the six-man court marshal jury organized in the manner of the annual buffalo hunt that found Scott guilty, was pointed out by Farquharson, who incited militiamen to chase him. Sanders and Madigan of the Ontario Battalion, Robert Mulligan and a man named Campbell, a Red River Expedition voyageur, set out in pursuit of Goulet. Captain MacDonald called the men back, an order that they only temporarily obeyed. They resumed their chase of Scott to the banks of the Red River, forcing him into the water and then pelted the fleeing man swimming to the other side of the river with stones. Goulet was struck by stones and drowned.

Archibald later said the persons against whom charges could be laid included Farquharson, who according to one witness called out “to kill him,” and Saunders, Madigan and Campbell, who pursued the man to the river.

But, no one was brought to trial for the murder. 

When reporting the murder of Goulet, the Toronto-based Daily Telegraph said, “A French Métis; that’s one miscreant less.”

Goulet’s daughter, Lorette, 17, was raped by Red River Expedition soldiers, as were an aboriginal woman and her daughters after her husband was assaulted. Those participating in the rapes were identified to Colonel Jarvis, whose reply was that it was none of his business. The Manitoba police took statements from the victims, but no charges were laid.

On September 16, 1870, Edmund Turner, one of Scott’s guards, was chased and threatened and sought protection in Archibald’s residence.

The Telegraph reported on October 4 that vigilante squads were formed to raid the homes of Métis associated with the provisional government. Riel’s home in St. Vital was raided on December 8, 1871, but he was away and the armed men led by William Buchanan could only threaten the women present that the Métis leader would be killed before the night ended.

On November 30, 1870, Rev. James Tanner was killed when leaving a political meeting at Popular Point, after being thrown from his wagon by unknown assailants. Following the same meeting, James Ross and other Métis had to run a gauntlet of clubs, stones and snowballs in order to escape their attackers.

François Guillemette, another Métis member of the court marshall jury as well as a member of the firing squad  charged with executing Scott, was allegedly shot and killed by militiamen while on a trail near Pembina. It was Guillemette who with a pistol delivered the coup de grace to Scott. The Orangeman was reputed to be still alive after the firing squad finished firing. 

Andre Nault, on whose land the Red River Resistance began when Riel stepped on a surveyor’s chain and said “you go no further,” was beaten nearly to death.

One Winnipeg resident said the community “during the fall and early winter of 1870 ... could always rely upon several exciting fights between the soldiers and the half-breeds any afternoon after three o’clock by which time the soldiers not on duty were at liberty to come down town.”

Le Canadien, a Quebec-based newspaper, reported on April 13,1871, that English-Canadians were still “making a fuss about Scott...” but, “they didn’t get so excited when the Ontario volunteers (militiamen) massacred French Métis under the eyes of their officers.” 

The reality was that the murders and many beatings went unpunished, and as a result the St. Paul Pioneer announced on October 6, 1870, a “Reign of Terror” existed in Manitoba. “Its purpose was to drive out by threats and actual violence all the French Half-Breed population, all American citizens, the Hudson’s Bay Company and (Lieutenant) Governor Archibald.”

The New York Times called the assaults a “Military Reign of Terror in Manitoba.”

The acts of violence started in September 1870 continued for two years and beyond, following a pattern steadily improved upon by Schultz’s followers. For example, the destruction of the newspaper offices in 1872 had been proceeded by an invasion of the offices of the New Nation on September 6, 1870. Three men assaulted editor Thomas Spence, resulting in the newspaper ceasing publication, leaving Schultz’s News-letter with an English-language press monopoly until the advent of the Manitoban.

After the attack on the New Nation, the Montreal Gazette on January 28, 1871, reported Schultz and Charles Mair, a poet and correspondent for Ontario newspapers, as well as one of the more active participants in the Canadian Party, were primarily “responsible for the whole Manitoba troubles, and to find them insolently identifying their own unpopularity with the name and ensign of this country (during the Red River Resistance Schultz hoisted a Union Jack above his store with the word Canada emblazoned upon it) made as fitting a ground for just rebuke as any sensible man could find.”

Archibald reported to Macdonald that the Ontario militiamen were controlled by Schultz, who “made many people believe that they were brought up by him. He had gone down to Canada for them, and they were here to do his bidding.”

Following the election riot, Schultz boasted to Gunn, “No arrests have been made and nothing done today and I don’t think anything will be done.”

It didn’t help matters when Schultz was appointed colonel of the Red River regiment.

The September 1871 issue of the Volunteer Review, which had a correspondent in Red River, wrote that Schultz’s “selfish vanity” blinded him to his public duty, and he was doing “his best to bring disgrace on the military service of this country by tampering and causing his agents to tamper with the sense of military discipline of the men of the first Dominion expedition.”

An earlier March 1871 issue said Schultz encouraged “lawlessness” in the militiamen, that he was a “public enemy” and “a scoundrel of the deepest dye.”

The Manitoban was earmarked for destruction in 1872 by Schultz as its pages were filled with denouncements of his political ambitions.

Days before the election riot, the newspaper on September 14, 1872, criticized Schultz for seeking re-election in the federal riding of Lisgar, claiming he used every opportunity to criticize Lieutenant-Governor Archibald and the Hudson’s Bay Company, which owned an extensive tract of land coveted by Schultz and his followers. The Manitoban said Schultz “deports himself much as if were their (Lisgar constituents’) King.”

“Of a slippery fish will make a Member of Parliament we know where to find a regular conger-eel,” the newspaper continued.

(Next week: part 2)