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A: John Coulter Pf: 1950, Toronto Pb: 1962 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: Northwest Territories, 1869–85 C: 36m, 3f, extrasLouis Riel inherits his father's role as leader of the Métis, a group of mixed race of Native American and French. In their name he resists the incorporation of the Northwest Territories into the British Dominion of Canada and the encroachment of English-speaking settlers in what is today Manitoba. Riel does not strive to set up an independent state but insists on acknowledgement of the rights of the Métis to their land. When Riel's provincial government orders the execution of the Ontario Orangeman Thomas Scott, the British use this as a pretext to occupy the territory. In 1869 there is a Métis uprising, the Red River Rebellion, which the British violently suppress. Riel escapes to Montana in the USA, where he settles down, marries, and raises a family. In 1885 the Métis beg him to return to lead another uprising against the British. Once again, he is unsuccessful, and this time the British are determined not to let him get away. Riel is tricked into meeting with the British leader with the offer of a peaceful settlement. He is seized, tried, and hanged in Regina, Saskatchewan.

A: John Coulter Pf: 1950, Toronto Pb: 1962 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: Northwest Territories, 1869–85 C: 36m, 3f, extras

Coulter, originally from Ireland, became the first major playwright of Canadian theatre, and Riel has been called ‘the first Canadian play of genuine stature’. Streamlining historical events (the period when Riel sat in the House of Commons in Ottawa is passed over), and showing Riel to be a complex and not wholly positive character, Coulter created a fine historical drama, which was not granted a major production until 1975. To aid amateur groups keen to perform the piece, he rewrote it in a shortened version as The Crime of Louis Riel (Pf 1966; Pb 1976), and also wrote a documentary The Trial of Louis Riel (Pf 1967; Pb 1968), which is performed annually in Regina.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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