Métis mark Manitoba’s 150th with heritage trek from Kenora to Winnipeg

A group of Métis travellers is setting out from Kenora, Ont., on a three-month journey to celebrate Manitoba’s 150th birthday.

They’ll start out Tuesday on dogsled, travelling about 25 kilometres a day. Once the snow melts, the expedition will continue in traditional Red River carts.

“It’s going to be a journey, a real good journey. There’ll be a lot of people [switching] in and out and they’ll be celebrating in different villages as they go through them,” said David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

It will culminate on May 12 with a celebration at Upper Fort Garry Provincial Heritage Park, near the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, in Winnipeg.

The fort was seized in late 1869 and early 1870 by Louis Riel and his Métis followers during the Red River Resistance. Riel then established a provisional government and created terms for Manitoba to enter Confederation.

The dogsled that will be part of the Métis journey from Kenora to Upper Fort Garry in Winnipeg was on display Monday at the Kenora Sportsplex. (Marouane Refak/Radio-Canada)

Although the fort’s walls and buildings were demolished in the 1880s, part of its footprint was resurrected and unveiled as a park in 2015.

Chartrand said the Kenora–Winnipeg trek will follow the historic Dawson Trail, which was used by the government of Canada to confront the Métis and quash the resistance in 1870.

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, says the trek will follow the historic Dawson Trail, which was used by the government of Canada to confront the Métis and quash the resistance in 1870. (CBC)

“We’re actually clearing some of the Dawson Trial because it’s covered up with trees. It’s not been used for a long, long time, and we’re actually recreating the actual trail itself,” he said.

“It’s good to know that part of history and not just erase it. This is part of history and that was used as the gateway to attack the west.

“Our elders still talk about this from their parents and grandparents, all the way down, about the invasion of eastern Canada attacking the Métis and our families.”

A crowd from communities in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba met at the Kenora Sportsplex before the expedition. (CBC)

The idea for the 2020 Red River Expedition started several years back, conceived by Armand Jerome, who builds Red River carts and has been doing heritage journeys with them for two decades.

“I had known from the start that there would be all kinds of parties and celebrations going on across the province, and I wanted to make sure that the Métis were mentioned — that everybody knows that Louis Riel and the Métis were instrumental in creating this province to become a part of Canada,” Jerome said.

Chartrand said the group will sleep overnight in tents or in homes they are invited into, as per Métis custom.

On Monday, a crowd from communities in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba met at the Kenora Sportsplex before the expedition kickoff, with speeches, dancing and a chance to view the sled and carts that will be part of the journey.

“It was a remarkable day, on Louis Riel Day, to be speaking about this happening,” Chartrand said. Manitoba’s Feb. 17 holiday is named after the Métis leader.

“One hundred and fifty years is not long in our world, when we think about history, and how much has changed from [Louis Riel] being the enemy, the villain, to now being somebody being honoured as leader and founder of Manitoba.”