Threats Internal and External

Canadian Government Mobilization

Driver, B Battery Regiment of Canadian Artillery, circa 1885

Caption: Driver, B Battery Regiment of Canadian Artillery, circa 1885

If it was true that Riel had changed, it was also true that the Canadian West had changed; the situation in 1885 was not what he had known in 1870. The American adventurers might again fuel the flames of conflict, but these disruptive elements constituted less of a threat than the Fenians who had played but a minor role in the Red River affair. The real change lay in the means available to the Canadian government for suppressing rebellion. The most important of these was unquestionably the railway, the military effectiveness of which had been amply demonstrated in the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. The transcontinental railway would represent a key element in Ottawa's response; the authorities now knew it was possible to reach the West in a few days without having to travel through American territory.

On 23 March, four days after Riel's provisional government was proclaimed, Prime Minister Macdonald responded by assigning Major-General Frederick Middleton, the General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia, the task of organizing a counterattack. The local militia were the first to receive the order to be prepared to leave. Middleton travelled to Winnipeg and on 27 March, one day after the clash at Duck Lake, left for Qu'Appelle at the head of the Winnipeg Rifles. Within a few weeks more than 8,000 men from Quebec and Ontario would congregate under his command. Some of the western units would be commanded by General Thomas Strange, first commander of B Battery and the artillery school, who had pulled back in proximity to Calgary; others would be commanded by Colonel William Otter.

Middleton's strategy was simple: He would deploy his forces in three columns heading north. The commander personally led the group that left Qu'Appelle for Batoche. Otter led the Swift Current column towards Battleford, while Strange left Calgary for the North Saskatchewan River, where he would follow its course eastwards.

Additional Images

Officer in patrol jacket, Regiment of Canadian Artillery, circa 1880-1885
Private, Canadian Volunteer Militia, 1871-1896