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By Katrina Barkwell March 15th 2011
When we think of important figures in the Canadian History, we often hear of Louis Riel as the founder of Manitoba. Through leadership, resistance and an unmovable determination, Riel was able to establish run and maintain both the Métis people and Manitoba. However, the still controversial “murder” of Thomas Scott would lead to his execution. Though most people immediately link the two together, Elzéar Goulet can be more easily related. Elzéar Goulet came from long line of voyageurs and was one of eight born to Alexis Goulet and Josephte Siveright in St. Boniface. Unlike his brother Roger who held many political positions, Elzéar could not stay in one place and liked to travel. So in 1861 when Roger was appointed to customs collector, he asked Elzéar too take over his contract to carry mail between Fort Garry and Pembina Pembina was once a popular place, but had since deteriorated. It was only used now for the semi annual buffalo hunt. Pembina was very close to the international border, but was just barely on the American side. Many moved back and forth more or less ignoring the boundary.1 Despite its obvious drawbacks, Pembina was a good fit for Elzéar since he already had strong family ties to the area. It was on route between St. Boniface and Pembina that Elzéar met his wife, Hélène Jerome and on August 3rd 1859 the two got married in her uncle’s house. Hélène’s uncle was Joseph Rolette, an important and quirky man in Pembina. He was a Métis trader, freighter and politician. One of the more interesting stories about him was his role in preserving St. Paul as the capital of Minnesota. In 1857 the territorial legislature Of Minnesota passed a bill to remove the capital from St. Paul to St. Peter.
Goulet, George R. D., and Terry Goulet. The Metis: memorable events and memorable personalities. Calgary: Fabjob, 2006.
However, the bill to enact this transfer conveniently went missing the same time that Rolette disappeared. He spent a week playing with his poker buddies causing the bill to surface too late to effect the relocation despite the governor signing a copy.2 Rolette, if nothing else was a character. Elzéar and Hélène settled down in Pembina and ended up having six kids. For almost 10 years Goulet continued to do his mail route. This task alone provided invaluable information to travel both in and out of Manitoba. Elzéar’s job took skill. In order to survive one had to be excellent at horseback riding and know how to properly mush dogs. It was dangerous to go alone and in one case his travel savvy saved a mans life. Goiffon was a perish priest from Pembina. He wanted to keep a promise to minister to a dying parishioner. Travelling in a group, he thought he would arrive sooner if he went ahead on his horse but a blizzard hit. It took five days (during which his horse died of exposure) but eventually Elzéar Goulet found the almost dead priest and brought him to Joe Rolette’s place. 3 The most significant event in Goulet’s life was close to happening and it would start with the red river resistance. On October 1869 la Barrière was stopping deliveries; not only that but all mail passing through was checked. Though Rolette and other influential members wanted Pembina to be annexed with the US, Goulet would offer his services to Louis Riel.
Lamirande, Todd “Resistance Activist Elzear Goulet.” In Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion, and Darren R. Prefontaine . Metis legacy.. Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute , 2001: 79-92. 3 Goulet, George R. D., and Terry Goulet. The Metis: memorable events and memorable personalities. Calgary: Fabjob, 2006.
Meanwhile in Oak point, a certain Thomas Scott moved from Ontario to work as a labourer on the Dawson Road. Dawson Road was actually a “make work” project supervised by John A. Snow to provide relief in such hard times. It was while working Scott gained his reputation as a loose cannon. Men were paid in small flour and pork provisions. The difference between actual and intended was pocketed and the payment process was slow. Eventually this sparked a strike spanning over the course of three days led by Thomas Scott and involving 15 men. Scott knew that money was being pocketed and confronted Snow who agreed to pay the men the full wage excluding the three days they had refused to work. This resulted in Scott dragging Snow down to the river threatening to drown him if he was not paid. Fortunately the group present at the time were able to calm him down and release Snow. Shortly after he was arrested, detained and fined £4. Scott was not gracious in defeat and is quoted saying while leaving the court house “it was a pity they had not ducked Snow when they had not gotten their moneys worth.”4 Soon after Scott ditched road building and moved to Winnipeg to become a bartender. Winnipeg was a big attraction for single men at the time which resulted in many saloons opening during the winter. The days were filled with loitering, gambling, and inevitably a good fight. From October to January is when the turmoil really began. Assiniboia learned through public press only that the HBC intended to transfer Rupert’s Land to Canada on December 1st 1869. Neither parties involved in the transfer discussed what would happen to the inhabitants of the area. Once this transfer was completed it would make Riel’s
Lamirande, Todd. Op cit.
provisional government illegal causing the English half of the settlement to join the Canadians against Riel as upholders of the law. On December 1st, McDougall (the Canadian minister of the interior) went across the border to claim the northwest as part of Canada with him appointed as Lieutenantgovernor. The same day McDougall commissioned the surveyor, Colonel John Stoughton Dennis, to raise a body of men to overthrow Riel et al. who had taken over Fort Garry. 47 men guarded the Schultz’s house to “protect the consignment of government pork” but in reality were hoping for Dennis and his armed force to come and overthrow Riel. 5 This plan backfired horribly resulting in riel and several hundred Métis surrounding the house and forcing Schultz’s and his gang to surrender. They were imprisoned in the bastions of Fort Garry. It wasn’t until after all of this that Goulet was involved in the chaotic scene occurring only 70 miles north of Pembina. He offered his services to Riel to help in the preservation of his Métis rights. Riel’s military strength was huge, consisting of hundreds of men. The status of his name meant that Elzéar was made one of the captains who served under Ambroise Lepine (Riel’s adjutant general) but Goulet soon became Lépine’s right hand man. Secretary of the provisional government Louis Schmidt described Elzéar as such: “He had all his [Lépine’s] qualities and all his defects. He was superior to him in his pleasant manner and was the idol of the soldiers.”6 On January 9th 1870 several Portage men would jail break their friends out of Fort Garry. 12 men escaped captivity including Thomas Scott, Henry Woodington and George
Lamirande, Todd .Op. cit. Lamirande, Todd. Op. cit.
Parker who all headed towards Headingly. When they arrived at Sturgeon Creek they tried to steal some horses. Scott mounted a horse, attempted to ride off but failed miserably when it ran off the road, into a deep snowdrift, stumbled, and sent Scott headfirst into the snow. According to Woodington’s diary for a few seconds only Scott’s legs could be seen above the snow.7 The three men continued on foot to Headingly with Scott eventually making it to Portage La Prairie, a town which was strongly on the Canadians side. He was welcomed with open arms and there recited his story of the terrors of being held prisoner by Riel. This riled up the residents of Portage and inspired them to send an armed force to liberate the men from their confinement. Little did they, or Scott know that all the prisoners would be released, often by Goulet himself. The prisoners had to take an oath of allegiance to the provisional government to be released but many out of spite refused. By Feb.15th all had taken the oath and were freed.
The determined men from Portage led by Major Charles Boulton traveled through 60 miles of snow through temperatures reaching 40 below to “save” their fellow Canadians that Scott assured them were suffering. Despite the cold temperatures the men were warmed by the thought of releasing their friends. This warmth was somewhat dampened when they were informed that the men had been released and the provisional government was now reportedly supported by Assiniboia Governor William Mactavish.8
Lamirande, Todd. Op. cit. Lamirande, Todd. Op. cit..
When they arrived Riel promised the Portage party safety if the stuck to the main road, but instead blatantly defied Riel’s orders. They veered off course westward, right in plain sight of Fort Garry. A group of Métis men (including Lepine and Goulet) rode off to meet the disobedient rebels. When the two groups met, Lepine and Goulet were ordered to disarm them. When Elzéar took away McLeod’s rifle, he punched Lepine right in the face. Despite this the Portage boys were persuaded into thinking Riel just wanted to talk to them and were led to Fort Garry. They were swiftly disarmed there and now occupied the cells that had so recently been emptied. It was here that Scott would spend his last days. Scott believed that the Métis were disrupting the natural order of things by being in charge. His Irish/ British blood automatically entitled him to treat half breeds however he pleased. He bragged that as soon as he escaped he would return to create more problems. Shoot someone; shoot Riel even to establish that the true authority of the Red River was Britain. Scott’s incessant speeches and antagonistic behaviour even caused animosity between him and his fellow prisoners. George Sanderson remembered “This Scott was so obnoxious and made so much trouble that some of our men asked the guard to have him removed.”9 Unfortunately to most his lack of respect and composure provoked other prisoners into acting the same way. He truly believed that his blood alone justified all his actions. As time past Scott became increasingly violent towards the guards. “On the last day of February, Thomas Scott became so increasingly violent that some of the Métis, in
Lamirande, Todd. Op cit.
a fit of exasperation, seized him, dragged him out and prepared to sacrifice him when French councillors came by snatched him away and put him back in his cell.” said Riel.10 Riel’s provisional government depended heavily on his military wing, so to prevent an outburst he agreed to a court martial to take place on March 3rd. Elzéar Goulet, Janvier Ritchot, Ambroise Lepine, André Nault, Joseph Delorme, Baptiste Lepine, and Elzéar Lagimodiere were the seven assigned to decide the outcome of the trial. Riel (being fluent in both French and English) was present to translate to Scott. Ritchot moved that Scott suffer a death sentence, this was seconded by Nault, Goulet and Delorme. Baptiste and Lepine voted against death and Lagimodiere believed exile was sufficient. Scott was sentenced to be shot the next day. Goulet and Nault led Scott to his execution and tied his hands together while the other blindfolded him. Scott, thinking the whole thing was an elaborate bluff up until this point screamed “This is horrible! This is a cold blooded murder!”11 Reverend Young said a prayer for Scott, and he then said goodbye to his fellow prisoners and was led out of the Bastion. Just outside Fort Garry Scott was instructed to kneel in the Snow. Young asked for them to exercise mercy but Goulet simply replied “his time to die has come.”12 With that, the firing squad shot their weapons and Scott fell to the ground, still twitching. With one final shot from Francois Guillmette, Scott was dead. After the coffin was nailed shut no one knew what to do with Scott body, not to mention no one really wanted to carry it inside the Fort. Goulet asked “shall we not find a
10 11 12
Lamirande, Todd. Op. cit. Ibid. Ibid.
man to take in that coffin?”13 He then ordered two men to bring the crate inside. Goulet and Lagimodiere were then put in charge of the disposal of Scott’s body. At this time of year the ground and river were frozen. A fire would have drawn attention and wouldn’t dispose of everything. The two Elzéar’s, with few other options chained weights to the coffin dumped the body into the warm sewer at the intersection of the Seine and Red Rivers.14 It was not the most honourable burial, but quite fitting for Thomas Scott. Soon after a rumour started that Scott was not in fact dead when he was originally put into the coffin. As the rumour spread it became more and more exaggerated into a parody of the original statement. Each new rendition of the myth strengthened the received idea that Riel and the Métis were cruel and inhumane. Eventually the excitement settled down and by summer Riel’s provisional government was free from threat. In late April, Goulet was discharged from service. Goulet went back to delivering the mail but was concerned with traveling to Winnipeg.15 Mr. Cunningham (a correspondent of Daily Telegraph) talked to Goulet on September 13th 1870, the day of his death. Goulet asked him if there was any amnesty on the other side of the river and Cunningham (having no idea who Goulet was at the time) assured him no one would trouble him. Cunningham told Goulet he wished to interview any of Riel’s acquaintances to which Goulet offered to take him to meet Riel. However he had a previous engagement that day and could not go with Goulet. Goulet replied “Well, I shall wait for you. I shall go over to the town under your presentation of safety
13 14 15
Ibid. Anderson, Grant. Email interview. 14 Mar. 2011. Lamirande, Todd. Op cit.
and by God the man who insults me, I shall shoot him through the head.” But of course Cunningham would never see Goulet again. Goulet was sitting in the saloon killing time while he waited to take Cunningham over to Pembina. He was then spotted by Shultz’s father-in-law James Farquharson who identified him as the man who killed Thomas Scott. With the an angry mob including the Red River Expeditionary Force in pursuit, Goulet ran out of the bar and headed North out of town. Although he had a pistol, Goulet did not use it and instead tried to unsuccessfully hide in the bushes. Goulet finally jumped in the river attempting to overcome the current and get to the safe shores of St. Boniface but was stoned unconscious causing him to drown.16 Goulet’s body was eventually found and brought back to his place. Hélène had their kids (ranging from 10 years of age to newborn) pray for their father’s soul.17 Goulet’s six children were then adopted by Lagimodiere. 18 Lieutenant – Governor Adams G. Archibald ordered an investigation into his murder but there was not sufficient evidence to bring the responsible party to justice. This lack of action was a display of Canadian bias. Being so involved in Scott’s death the general take on Goulet’s murder was “an eye for an eye.” Goulet’s death was a vestige of the apathy and hostility felt towards the Métis people. The increasing population of Manitoba was slowly making the Métis an unheard minority. The French could do little to help Goulet with the Métis leaders in exile and the settlements filled more with hateful soldiers than sympathizers. And with that Goulet’s name drifted quietly into obscurity.
Barkwell, Lawrence. Personal interview. 6 Feb. 2011. Goulet, George R. D., and Terry Goulet. The Metis: memorable events and memorable personalities. Calgary: Fabjob, 2006. 18 Anderson, Grant. Email interview. 14 Mar. 2011.
Elzéar Goulet was a Martyr of the Métis people. His death was an example of the strong Canadian bias and prejudice against the Métis and all involved in the execution of Thomas Scott. Louis Riel was quoted saying “I have been reproached with the death of Thomas Scott, but at this day I think it was only a political mistake, but before God and my conscious I did not commit a crime.”19 The most heart breaking part of Elzéar’s death and ultimately his life was that no one would hear his story. At the time Scott’s death was plastered everywhere but Goulet’s death was virtually unheard of. The fact that Goulet got nothing while such an undeserving racist got a trial and recognition is enraging. A memorial park was opened in St. Boniface September 13th 2008. The two hectare park was a former industrial site that was turned into a beautiful memorial. It contains plaques and interpretive art. Most notably the Métis infinity symbol is etched into the ground with concrete. Goulet is an important figure in history. He was a captain in Riel’s military force and was a key in the decision of Scott’s fate, which had huge ramifications on the creation of Manitoba and was the basis for the execution of Louis Riel. He represents the strong figures in Riel’s military and the discrimination still felt towards the Métis after all they had accomplished. The tragedy of Goulet’s death is that he remains an unsung hero of the Métis people but the victory is his mark on history.
Barkwell, Lawrence. Personal interview. 6 Feb. 2011.
Lamirande, Todd, Op. cit.
Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion, and Darren R. Prefontaine . Metis legacy. Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute , 2001.. Anderson, Grant. Email interview. 14 March 2011. Goulet, George and Terry. Phone interview. 14 March 2011. Goulet, George R. D., and Terry Goulet. The Metis: memorable events and memorable personalities. Calgary: Fabjob, 2006.
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