4 March

The Scott Tragedy

Thomas Scott Executed

It cannot be said that Riel was hanged on account of his opinions. It is equally true that he was not executed for anything connected with the late rebellion. He was hanged for Scott's murder; that is the simple truth of it.

                                    -Wilfrid Laurier, 1885

An event on March 4, 1870, in Fort Garry, now Winnipeg, is still causing political repercussions in Canada. Louis Riel had Ontario Orangeman, Thomas Scott, executed in the prison yard at Fort Garry. The outcry in Ontario was so great that Riel was hanged in Regina in 1885, after leading a rebellion on the prairies. In Quebec, Riel was regarded as a martyr, and the Conservatives were blamed for his death.

Scott's trial had been held on March 3, 1870, and was called "a council of war." It was presided over by Ambroise Lapine, who was one of Riel's chief aides. Riel was the prosecutor and one of the three witnesses who were called. Scott was not allowed to call any witnesses in his own defense.

The charge against Scott was that he had taken up arms against Riel's provisional government. It was "phoney" because dozens of others had done the same thing and had been released. Later, Riel told federal mediator Donald A. Smith (Lord Strathcona) the real reason. It was that Scott had been rough and abusive to the guards and insulting to Riel himself.

When the time came for the execution on March 4, Scott stood before a wall of the prison and was allowed to pray with Methodist minister Young. He then knelt in the snow, a coffin beside him. There were six Métis in the firing party, and they had all been drinking. Three of their rifles contained blank charges so it would not be known who actually fired the bullets that killed Scott. After the guns blasted the kneeling Scott, another Métis had to dash up with a revolver and put a bullet through his head because he was only wounded.

The body was buried secretly and its resting place has never been found. It is believed that the coffin was dropped into the river through a hole in the ice.


4 March

-1791    The Constitutional Act divided Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. It was introduced to the British House of Commons by William Pitt, the younger.

-1814    British and American troops fought the Battle of Longwoods between London and Thamesville, Ontario.

-1865    Confederation was defeated in the New Brunswick Legislature.

-1871    Sandford Fleming was appointed to survey the C.P.R. route from Fort William, Ontario to the Pacific coast.

-1925    Quebec rejected Newfoundland's offer to sell Labrador for $30 million.

-1971    Prime Minister 'Trudeau, 51, married Margaret Sinclair, 22, of Vancouver, thus becoming the first Prime Minister since the confederation to wed during his term of office.