It’s Louis Riel Day! The day Canada officially remembers Métis leader and political activist Louis Riel, who was executed for treason on November 16th, 1885. It’s also the day where we all read Chester Brown’s fantastic biographical comic about Louis Riel.
Or at least we should. If you’re looking to broaden your knowledge about Louis Riel beyond the heritage minute and lose yourself in the 19th century Canadian frontier for a few hours today, Brown’s biography would be a good place to start. Because who doesn’t want to lose themselves in the 19th century Canadian frontier?
See, back in the day, that 49th parallel wasn’t the hard boundary that it feels like it is today, and people could wander back and forth, especially out west. And the idea that parts of an existing country could just break off on their own wasn’t so radical (The Utah-Deseret debacle was still recent American history, after all).
But more than that, Louis Riel has come to represent more than himself. His life, as Thomas Flanagan writes in the preface to Riel and the Rebellion: 1885 Reconsidered, is representative of “the tensions of being Canadian: English versus French, native versus white, east versus west, Canadian versus American.” And, I would add, religious versus secular, especially in terms of the legal system.
These tensions are still part of Canadian identity and politics today, and Riel’s legacy has only grown in the decade since Brown’s comic was first published, making it feel both timely and timeless. You can view more excerpts from Brown’s comic here, or download an excerpt from the Drawn & Quarterly website here.