Two Journalists, a Burlesque Star, and the Expedition to Oust Louis Riel

Reviewed by Nancy Payne

Posted May 17, 2021

There’s a whiff of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Ted Glenn’s lively story of two Toronto journalists and an actress who travel with Colonel Garnet Wolseley’s 1870 military expedition to quash the resistance and establish Canadian authority at Red River, in the newly formed province of Manitoba.

The journalists are Robert Cunningham of the Toronto Daily Telegraph and the Toronto Globe’s Frederick Edward Molyneux St. John. The latter’s wife, stage star Katherine Ranoe, ends up co-writing many of his stories after St. John injures his arm.

Glenn, an Ontario public-policy professor, vividly conveys the gruelling journey and the somewhat anticlimactic arrival at a Fort Garry from which Métis leader Louis Riel had fled. He draws on the trio’s accounts and other contemporary sources, such as Wolseley himself and Saulteaux chief Miskoo-ke-new (Henry Prince).

Elzéar Goulet, Bishop Taché, John Schultz, and many other significant figures pop up as the threesome wanders in and out of historical events. Cunningham eventually became a Manitoba Member of Parliament who counted Riel among his friends; St. John’s signature appears on the landmark Treaty One; and Ranoe toured the dramatic lecture “The Great North-West” around southern Ontario in 1871.

Black-and-white illustrations and photographs bring the key personalities and various scenarios to life, while a fascinating appendix that profiles some of the artists who travelled with the expedition is worthy of its own book.

Buy this book at Chapters-Indigo

This article originally appeared in the June-July 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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