Manitoba Historical Society
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My Love Affair with Louis Riel: 80 years ago, city crowd celebrated Riel’s defeat

by Lillian Gibbons

Winnipeg Tribune, 16 July 1965

The Little Black Devils returned to Winnipeg victorious from the North West Rebellion exactly 80 years ago today.

One of the last survivors of the 1885 rebellion of Louis Riel died here Sunday.

William Henry Waldon, who served in the North West Mounted Police in the 1870s and 1880s, died at the age of 108.

Simon Prout, who claimed to be the last of the original Little Black Devils—the nickname for the 90th Winnipeg Rifles regiment—died at 97 in 1961.

The regiment was given its nickname by the Indians in a battle at Fish Creek, according to Capt. R. H. Graham.

“Those red coats we know, but who are those little black devils?” he quoted the Indians as saying.

The Rifles were clad in bottle green tunics and black leggings—unlike the typical British red coat.

A crowd of 15,000 people jammed the CPR station here and yelled themselves hoarse when the soldiers returned on July 16, 1885. They had been brought by boat from Grand Rapids across Lake Winnipeg and up the Red River to Selkirk, and by train the rest of the way.

As the Daily Times put it: “Lieut.-Col. McKean, mounted on Riel’s thoroughbred, dashed through the densely crowded assemblage. From every point of vantage, citizens waved handkerchiefs frantically. When the Toronto Queen’s Own and Ottawa Sharpshooters were cheered, General Fred Middleton invited three cheers for Winnipeg.”

Main St. was decorated with three triumphal arches and evergreen boughs. Painters were still working on one arch when the troops passed underneath.

The troops were washed, barbered and scrubbed in time for a welcoming ceremony in front of the city hall.

The province of Manitoba had celebrated its 15th birthday the day before the homecoming.

Special homage was paid to the nine members of the regiment who had fallen in the rebellion. Their names with 31 others from other Canadian regiments, were painted on the side of Cheapside, a Main St. store.

The celebration was dampened by a violent rain storm which tore down the flags and decorations and soaked the troops.

With some $50,000 in pay being distributed, the men had a wild time in the hotel parlors, the Hudson’s Bay Company and local restaurants.

In spite of the rain, the day wound up with a splendid torchlight procession.

Page revised: 10 June 2021

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