Monday, 20 February 2012

Happy Louis Riel Day!

Louis Riel's Ceremonial Sash
Today is a holiday in western Canada. It's Louis Riel Day, La Journee Louis Riel, in French. A celebration of a Metis political leader and poet who is also happen to be a controversial historical figure.

Here in Manitoba (a western province in Canada), Riel is considered by many to be a hero, the father of Manitoba. A figure celebrated in our local popular culture. But it is not so in the rest of Canada. Louis Riel Day is not a national holiday.

I recall a trip to Casa Loma in Toronto were I first encounter an opposing view. Louis Riel was portrayed as a prisoner with his prison artifacts on display in the upper level of the castle. And my Ontario relatives revealed their eastern learning that Riel was a traitor. Nothing more. Not even a recognition that he was a talented poet. It was an extremely sad afternoon to hear and see Riel's final days celebrated as a prisoner who was hanged for treason.

Decades later working, in a hotel conflicting view of Riel's role in Canadian History came to head. The new hotel manager (who originated from Eastern Canada) scolded staff for not educating her that Riel might not be an appropriate name for a banquet hall when her idea was shot down by corporate office in Toronto. Just like Canadian literature and fashion, viewpoints are regional.

Truth be told, February 20th does not have any significance to any event in Riel's life. (Other provinces in western Canada celebrate Family Day instead.) Rather this provincial holiday was named by Manitoba school children in a competition to name the holiday back in 2007. Other parts of Canada, particularly Toronto, observe Louis Riel Day as November 16th, the day in 1885 when Riel was executed for treason.  

Whether or not you celebrate the passion of Louis Riel and his life's work, I don't know how one can deny the cultural contribution of the Metis people to our regional fashion landscape.

ceinture fléchée worn as a stole
Typically it is 3 metres in length and worn around the waist.  
Sew let's put aside political divides and take a look at the beautiful artistry created by the Metis people.

The Metis people are associated with the Metis Sash or ceinture fléchée.

The sashes were made out of brightly coloured wool and used by early fur traders as back support while canoeing. They became a commodity traded between fur traders. The sash provided the Metis people with many decorative and practical uses.

On the practical end it was used as rope, towels, washcloths, tourniquet for injuries, saddle blankets, and markers. Decoratively the Metis sash was also used as a coat tie and the colours and patterns identified Metis families.

Many people assume that the long fringes are a decorative feature of the Metis sash but do you know it has a practical purpose?

The long fringe worked as an emergency sewing kit. They were used as extra sewing thread if an emergency mending job occurred while a voyageur was out travelling.

The sash is very much part of Manitoba's landscape, just head over to the Festival du Voyageur and you'll see what I mean. But if you can't make it out there you'll just have to take my word for it.


Canada's First People.  "The Metis."  Goldi Productions Ltd., 2007.  Retrieved on 19 February 2012 <>

CBC News.  "Louis Riel's Sash Returns to Manitoba".  Retrieved on 19 February 2012 <>

Festival du Voyageur. Retrieved on 19 February 2012 <>  "Louis Riel Day in Canada." Retrieved on 19 February 2012 <>


  1. It was really nice to study your post. I collect some good points here. I would like to be appreciative you with the hard work you have made in skill this is great article.

  2. Oh, what a lovely post! I was thinking of doing something similar, but if you don't mind, I think I'll link to yours instead, because I don't think I could top it. Love the photos you dug up (especially that last one)!

    1. Aww, thanks. No, I don't mind at all. Happy Louis Riel Day!

  3. We learned about Riel as a hero in school, too (Saskatchewan) and of course I grew up visiting Batoche and learning about the Riel Rebellion and the government's brutal response as well. I'm pretty sure that when my parents were in school, though, it was the other side of the story that was told, even in the west. My husband is Metis so his ancestors were involved deeply in many of these events, which makes them feel especially close to home. Thanks for the post! :)

    1. Your welcome, I'm glad there are peeps like the local history post. Happy Louis Riel Day!

  4. I have a Sash and 30 Buttons dating back to 1983>>>>if interested I will sell all size Large.


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