A Guided Tour of Riel's North Dakota Hideout

Article excerpt

His rich friend's trading post became place of refuge from Wolseley's troops

WALHALLA, N.D. -- With his provisional government in disarray and Gen. Garnet Wolseley's army in hot pursuit, Louis Riel fled Fort Garry, which became Winnipeg, to a fur-trading post in North Dakota run by his friend, Antoine Blanc Gingras.

Gingras (1821-77) was a dominant figure in the Red River and Pembina valleys. A fat, jovial man -- a Red River missionary remarked that Gingras once drove him crazy on a trail ride singing ad nauseam about the Metis victory in the Battle of Seven Oaks -- Gingras was an astute businessman and the richest man in the area. He owned trading posts in Pembina, N.D., and along the Souris River in North Dakota, as well as in Fort Garry.

Gingras was also a fierce Metis supporter and a supporter of his friend, Riel. His trading post became Riel's hideout. There is even a trap door in the ceiling of Gingras's home where Riel is believed to have hid, accessed by a rope ladder he pulled up after him in case authorities arrived.

Two things to note: One, there is more history we share with North Dakota than many Manitobans realize. After all, North Dakota's first two settlements, Pembina and Walhalla, were essentially first settled by Canadians, mostly French and Metis fur traders.

The second thing to note about the Gingras trading post is it's a tourist site and has tour guides. Yet the Canadian government has cut funding for tour guides, starting next year, for the family home in Winnipeg of the man dubbed the Father of Manitoba. There's no problem providing tour guides for Riel's hideout in the United States. It's like 1870 all over again.

North Dakota provides very able tour guides. They alternate on a rotating basis, but Melanie Thornberg and her granddaughter, Addy, 11, who is staying with her grandma for the summer, are taking the bulk of the shifts this summer.

Addy, smart as a whip, gives tours all by herself when her grandma is occupied. …