Wednesday 11 December 2013

Book Review - "Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont"

I don't remember how but somehow I stumbled upon a series of books put out by Penguin Publishing called Extraordinary Canadians.

There are a couple of books in the series that looked quite interesting so I thought I would start off with Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont by Joseph Boyden, an author who grew up in the same area that I did, Willowdale, which is now part of Toronto.

Louis Riel is regarded by some as a hero and visionary, by others as a madman and misguided religious zealot. The Métis leader who fought for the rights of his people against an encroaching tide of white settlers helped establish the province of Manitoba before escaping to the United States. 

Gabriel Dumont was a successful hunter and Métis chief, a man tested by warfare, a pragmatist who differed from the devout Riel. Giller Prize—winning novelist Joseph Boyden argues that Dumont, part of a delegation that had sought out Riel in exile, may not have foreseen the impact on the Métis cause of bringing Riel home. While making rational demands of Sir John A. Macdonald's government, Riel seemed increasingly overtaken by a messianic mission. His execution in 1885 by the Canadian government still reverberates today. Boyden provides fresh, controversial insight into these two seminal Canadian figures and how they shaped the country.

I know of the North-West Rebellion but have only read one book about it so thought this book would help me understand the conflict better. I was right!

This is an excellent book, told from the viewpoints of both Riel and Dumont. Boyden does a great job of getting into the heads, hearts and souls of the two leaders of the rebellion, allowing the reader to understand who these men were and why they allowed events to unfold as they did.

I had a lot of sympathy for Dumont, who knew a bloody conflict was inevitable and wanted to take the first action, which would bring more Metis and native volunteers to the cause, but just as important, a great supply of arms and ammunition. Riel, though, believed the Metis cause could be fulfilled through a peaceful political resistance which would make Prime Minister John A. MacDonald cave into their demands. Dumont's strategies, even in the midst of a battle, was constantly being vetoed by Riel, always hoping for a more peaceable way.

The North-West Rebellion is an important part of history and Boyden tells the story in a very lively fashion. This is book that I highly recommend!

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