In the Words of Father Ritchot

The original diary was thought to have been destroyed by fire, and thankfully it wasn’t. Without it, Father Ritchot’s central role in the negotiations of Métis rights to land and language would have been lost forever.

Text by Philippe Mailhot & Tanja Hütter

Posted September 16, 2019

Although his role was almost equal to that of Riel, Abbé (Father) Noël-Joseph Ritchot, despite being Riel’s éminence grise, rarely merits more than a brief historical footnote.

Baptized as Joseph-Noël, he also signed as Noël or N.J. He was deeply involved with the Red River Settlement’s activist Métis before Riel became their leader and the voice of the resistance to Canadian rule.

From the summer of 1869, when he first helped to legitimize and to support Riel’s emergence as a leader, and continuing until the latter’s departure for Montana, Ritchot acted as Riel’s trusted confidant, mentor, chief diplomat, advocate, and lobbyist.

In 1965, the Manitoba Record Society published Volume I of their publications, entitled Manitoba: The Birth of a Province, edited by W.L. Morton. It included an excerpt of the translated transcription of Ritchot’s journal detailing the period of March 24 to May 28, 1870 when Ritchot was one of three delegates from Red River sent to Ottawa for negotiations with the Canadian government.

Morton describes Ritchot as “bearded, burly, bland with a touch of cunning, (he) was in fact the outstanding delegate of the three... On Ritchot, then, fell the burden of the negotiations.”

Read the excerpt

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The article “The Priest Who Shaped a Province,” written by Philippe Mailhot, is featured in our October-November issue of Canada’s History. It demonstrates how Ritchot gave legitimacy to the cause of Louis Riel and the militant Red River Métis, and his central role in Manitoba joining Confederation. 

Read the original transcription of the journal in French.

Revised October 16, 2019: When first posted, the subhead of this article stated that the original diary “was destroyed by fire, but luckily it had been photographed prior to its destruction.” In fact, Stanley and Morton had believed it to be destroyed and worked off of a transcribed copy. Philippe Mailhot rediscovered the original document during a visit at the St. Norbert Parish Rectory while conducting research for his dissertation. The original is now housed in the Archives of La Société de Saint-Boniface (Centre du Patrimoine).

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