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Noël-Joseph Ritchot

(December 25, 1825 - March 16, 1905)

Noël-Joseph Ritchot was a Catholic priest and a missionary ordained in 1855. In 1862 he volunteered to work in the West under Monsignor Taché, Bishop of St. Boniface. In Manitoba, he was assigned to the predominantly Métis St. Norbert parish. He became a spokesperson for the Métis people during the Red River rebellion that led, in part, to the entry of Manitoba into Confederation.

Father Ritchot became involved in the Métis resistance from its beginning in 1869, receiving its leaders at his home, advising them and serving as their chaplain. Having support from a member of the Catholic clergy gave some legitimacy to the resistance movement.

After having distanced himself somewhat from the movement, Father Ritchot, along with Judge John Black and Alfred H. Scott, was named as a delegate to the Canadian government. If Judge Black was seen as the spokesman for the Anglophone population and Alfred H. Scott for that of the American element, Father Ritchot must be viewed as spokesman for the Métis population. On February 11, 1870, the delegation was charged with transmitting the fourth "list of rights" to John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier. Upon their arrival in Ottawa, Father Ritchot and Alfred H. Scott were imprisoned due to an accusation made by Thomas Scott's brother. They were released shortly thereafter.

Father Ritchot was, undoubtedly, the most able negotiator of the three delegates. Alfred H. Scott was practically ignored and Judge Black, although respected, aligned himself almost immediately on the side of the government. Father Ritchot tried to obtain from the Canadian government an amnesty for the insurgents. The governor general, Sir John Young, gave him only verbal assurance, while George-Étienne Cartier handed him only ambiguous notes. Ritchot would never receive a written confirmation. He nevertheless returned to the Red River colony on June 24, 1870, almost a month and a half after the Manitoba Act received Royal Assent, to convince the colonists of the validity of the agreement. This marked the end of his mission.

Father Ritchot felt betrayed by John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier when he understood that federal public servants would take several years to negotiate the land transfer and, especially, that the Métis rebels would never receive the amnesty that seemed to have been promised.

Reverend Father Ritchot dedicated the rest of his life to his fellow citizens and parishioners. In 1897, he was named as apostolic prothonotary, which was added to his responsibilities as vicar general. On his death, in 1905, he was dean of secular clergy in the St. Boniface diocese.

Sources

Manitoba : the birth of a province. -- Ed. W. L. Morton. -- [Winnipeg] : Manitoba Record Society, 1984. -- P. xix.

Mailhot, Philippe R. -- "Noël-Joseph Ritchot". -- Dictionnaire biographique du Canada. -- Vol. XIII. -- [Québec] : Presses de l'Université Laval, 1982. -- P. 952-953.