The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia

The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was formed during the turbulent Red River Resistance and functioned from March 9 to June 24, 1870. Research reveals how people in the settlement responded to political change and that while their opinions may have been divided, compromise was notably present. It is clear that people from the Red River predominated in the formation and operation of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia and three-quarters of its members were Métis. Among Métis and non-Métis members of the community, there was sophisticated familiarity with forms of governance. The assembly was made up of 28 elected representatives, including a president, Louis Riel, an executive council (government cabinet), adjutant general (chief of military staff), chief justice and clerk. The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia represents a transition from martial law to legitimate, representative democracy in a period of months with balance between French and English representation carefully maintained.

The assembly worked on a constitution. It debated such matters as instigating public works, revising the judicial districts and setting up a senate. The legislature appointed a judiciary and set up court schedules. In the midst of determining what needed to be done with respect to roads and bridges, the members learned that their delegates had arrived in Ottawa to negotiate the terms of Confederation with Canada. Members received the list of rights that the president and an acting executive had instructed the delegates negotiating Manitoba’s entrance into confederation to secure. The list included the provision that Assiniboia enter confederation as a province, and it reflected the assembly’s practice by safeguarding French and English language rights equally. There was no debate on, or objection to, either point.

On the 24 June, 1870, Rev. N.-J. Ritchot, (one of three negotiators appointed to represent the interests of Red River settlers in negotiations with Canada), gave a full account of the negotiations to the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. After questioning Ritchot on the implications of the various clauses and receiving reassurance that, contrary to newspaper reports, the people of Canada were sympathetic to the provisional government, the assembly was satisfied that the rights they valued had been recognized.

Assembly member and vice-president, Louis Schmidt moved:

"... that the Legislative Assembly of this country do now, in the name of the people, accept the Manitoba Act, and decide on entering the Dominion of Canada, on the terms proposed in the Confederation Act."

While the members of the legislative assembly cheered, Pierre Poitras seconded the motion. The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia ratified the Manitoba Act and the final session was adjourned.

Both Ritchot and Riel, however, felt compelled to make closing statements that underlined the significance of the assembly’s achievement. For his part, Ritchot observed:

"... while in Canada, let me say, in closing, not only had we all the sympathy and attention we could have expected, but admiration was expressed for the stand taken by the people, who had, it was held, shown themselves to be reflective, prudent people — wise to plan — resolute to act — so that, although jeopardised through dangers of the greatest magnitude, they passed almost unscathed through the crisis."

Riel concluded:

"I congratulate the people of the North-West on the happy issue of their undertakings (cheers). I congratulate them on their moderation and firmness of purpose; and I congratulate them on having trust enough in the Crown of England to believe that ultimately they would obtain their rights (cheers). I must, too, congratulate the country on passing from under this Provisional rule to one of a more permanent and satisfactory character."

While it was this legislature that formally ratified The Manitoba Act on behalf of the Red River settlers in 1870, there was no explanation of its significance in the historical record. Working with the Archives of Manitoba, historians from the University of Manitoba, University of Alberta, St. Boniface Museum, Manitoba government and Manitoba Metis Federation, Manitoba Indigenous and Municipal Relations hired a professional historian to identify its members and prepare both a transcript of its debates and an essay outlining its significance. The Government of Canada offset half the costs of the project.

We invite you to explore the history of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia by clicking on the links below:

  • A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia is an essay that describes the context for, structure and proceedings of the assembly. (English) (French)
  • The “Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Portrait” is a visual representation of the members which currently hangs in the Manitoba Legislature.
  • The “Compilation of Biographies: Members of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia” is a guide to who the members were or may have been (where the historical record was not clear).
  • The “Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Debates” is an edited transcription of the debates that took place in the assembly, reconstituted from several sources. (English) (French)
  • The “Convention of Forty Debates” is also an edited transcription of the debates that took place in the second provisional government in the settlement before the Legislative Assembly Assiniboia. (English) (French)

The “Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia” can be found in the Archives of Manitoba. Footnoted versions of both the “Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia Debates” and “Convention of Forty Debates” can be found in the Manitoba Legislative Library.