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Witty and Informative
on August 6, 2008
Both revered and despised, Louis Riel brings back all the emotions of ethnic nationalism in Canada. For one of the most complex and intriguing historical figures in Canadian history, Chester Brown does an admirable job in not only recounting the story of Louis Riel but also the major events of that period.
To be clear, Brown's version of events is biased by his own admission and certainly some elements were invented to fit the comic-strip. An example of this is the conversation between Lord Granville and Sir John A. MacDonald about sending troops to apprehend Riel. Brown admits that such a conversation never actually took place but certainly MacDonald did have to obtain permission from mother Britain.
Another interesting event to me was the meeting between Riel and then US President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 to discuss plans to invade Manitoba. There were certainly some sympathies from some Americans such as in Minnesota who were pro-annexation but as Brown correctly points out Grant was in no position at the time to risk war, especially since the country was still amidst the reconstruction following the costly civil war.
Perhaps most controversial is Brown's characterization of MacDonald. The father of confederation, Brown portrays MacDonald as a ruthless conniving egomaniac hell-bent on expanding the railway (with kickbacks), ethnic cleansing of the Metis, and making an example out of Riel. Based on the sources that we have now, I would have to agree with Brown. MacDonald was a brilliant politician, he out-witted all his opponents including the British, the Americans and the natives. MacDonald was a master manipulator of which there has been no match since.
I've read a few comic-strip novels and I think that in certain situations they work extremely well. In this case, I would have to agree, the illustrations along with Brown's wit and choice of dialogue make this both an accurate historical representation and enjoyable reading.