The first provisional government was officially declared 10 December 1869, after the close of the Convention of Twenty-four (16 November to 1 December 1869), and presumably after the ‘royal’ proclamation issued by Canada’s Lieutenant-governor designate, William McDougall, on 1 December 1869, was found to be bogus. (Although official confirmation that the proclamation was a forgery was not received until about 24 December, it is possible that word of Canada’s declining to accept the transfer of territory on 26 November had reached the settlement by way of telegraph and an express rider in as few as eight to ten days — as early as about 4 or 6 December). According to the New Nation, the provisional government considered itself as holding de facto status as of 8 December 1869; the newspaper also reported, however, that during the 13th Day of the Convention of Forty debates, William B. O’Donoghue asserted “The Provisional Government was established on the 24th of November and proclaimed on the 8th of December.”[i]
McDougall’s illegal and ill-timed proclamation had effectively terminated HBC rule (Governor William Mactavish having initially accepted the proclamation as legitimate, as had all Red River settlers). Mcdougall had not instituted a substitute system of governance, however, as he was not at the time in Red River Settlement, but was instead residing at Pembina in the United States. Governor Mactavish was in no condition to carry on HBC governance as he was seriously ill and confined to his bed. The Comité National des Métis, stationed at Upper Fort Garry was unwilling to allow McDougall to enter Assiniboia until he agreed to discuss, and assent to, the List of Rights passed by the Convention of Twenty-four. McDougall refused to meet with anyone whom he considered to belong to a party of “rebels”, “insurgents,” and “banditti.”[ii] (While it is possible that he might have agreed to meet ‘English’ parish representatives, they had declined to travel south to meet with him at the close of the Convention of Twenty-four — seemingly content to ‘wait and see’ what happened).
In the apparent absence of government, members of the Canadian Party decided to take the law into their own hands. On 6 December 1869, the Canadian surveyor, John Stoughton Dennis, proclaimed himself Lieutenant Colonel of the Canadian Volunteer Militia (made up principally of residents at the settlement originally from Canada) and Conservator of the Peace, empowered to “attack, arrest, assault, fire upon, pull down or break into any Fort, house &c.”[iii] The Comité National des Métis responded to this indication of a state of “anarchy and confusion” prevailing in the settlement (a situation that had “no parallel in the history of the British Empire”), by declaring a provisional government to restore “public peace and safety” and avoid “bloody civil war,” and to “protect the rights of the people from invasion.”[iv] Approximately forty-five to sixty members of the Canadian volunteer militia were arrested and jailed on 7 December 1869.[v]
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The arrest of the Canadian Volunteers roughly corresponds to the implementation of martial law at the settlement.