All You Need to Know About Riel House National Historic Site in Winnipeg

All You Need to Know About Riel House National Historic Site in Winnipeg

There are lots of big names and figures that fascinate me. As a Manitoban who dabbles in history from time to time, one such person who piqued my curiosity is Louis Riel.

He’s a revered Métis leader whose legacy is deeply intertwined with our city’s (and Manitoba’s) history.

Riel is celebrated for his tireless advocacy for Métis rights and his pivotal role in both the Red River and North-West Rebellions, both were crucial events in shaping the landscape of Canada.

One of the most significant landmarks honoring his memory is the Riel House National Historic Site in the neighborhood of St. Vital. This site offers a unique glimpse into Riel’s life, as it was his family home during key moments of his leadership.

If you like to get to know more about the province’s history, Riel’s old house is a good place to start. Here’s all you need to know about the Riel House National Historic Site.

Best Time to Visit Riel House National Historic Site in Winnipeg

Summer is often the only season when the Riel House National Historic Site is open to the public. It’s usually open from July to September, but there are times when it’s open until the last week of August only.

I strongly suggest that you first check out the website to see which dates and hours the museum is operating.

How to Get to Riel House National Historic Site

1. By Car

The house is located on the east side of the Red River, just south of Bishop Grandin Boulevard in St. Vital. You can turn on Bishop Grandin Boulevard on River Road to get to the site.

2. By Bus (Winnipeg Transit)

Take a Route 16 bus heading southbound from Portage Avenue or Main Street, depending on where you’re coming from the downtown area.

A Route 16 bus will take you to the St. Vital Centre terminal where you can transfer to a Route 14 bus heading eastbound on St. Mary’s Road.

This bus will stop near the intersection of St. Mary’s Road and Riel Avenue, which is just a short walk from the historic site.

Things to Know About Riel House National Historic Site

Location330 River Road (Saint-Vital), Winnipeg, MB R2M 3Z8, Canada
Contact Number+1 204-983-6757
Opening HoursSummer only (Check the website for up-to-date information.)
Admission Fee

Adults - $4.50

Seniors - $4.00

Youth - Free of charge

Commercial groups (per person) - $3.83

Note: These prices are the admission rates of the last opening season. Check the website for any changes to the rates this summer.

Quick Facts about Louis Riel

Born in 1844 in what we now know as Manitoba, Louis Riel played a crucial role in defending Métis lands and culture during a time of rapid change and settlement in Western Canada.

He led the Red River Resistance from 1869 to 1870, negotiating the terms of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation and securing land rights for the Métis people.

Riel’s efforts to protect Métis rights continued in the North-West Rebellion of 1885, where he fought against injustices faced by Indigenous peoples in the region. He was charged with treason for his actions during the rebellion.

Despite concerns over his mental state and requests for clemency, Riel was found guilty and hanged on November 16, 1885, in Regina, Saskatchewan.

His execution sparked controversy and remains a contentious issue in Canadian history, with debates surrounding his motivations, mental state, and the fairness of his trial.

Riel’s contributions helped shape the foundation of Canada’s multicultural identity and laid the groundwork for recognizing Indigenous rights and self-determination.

Today, Riel’s memory and legacy are celebrated through various monuments, cultural events, and the preservation of sites like the Riel House National Historic Site in Winnipeg.

Construction and History of the Riel House

In 1864, the lot was purchased by Julie Lagimodiere Riel, Louis Riel’s mother. In 1880, Louis’ brother Joseph built a log home on the premises.

The house features the unique Red River Frame style of architecture where logs are intricately and firmly laced together to provide structural strength, eliminating the need for nails.

Riel lived in the house from 1868, at the time of the Red River Resistance, until he was exiled in 1870. In 1885, his body was displayed at the Riel House for two days after he was hanged. He was later transferred and buried in St. Boniface.

The Riel House remained with the family’s descendants for several decades after Riel’s execution. In 1968, it was purchased by the Winnipeg Historical Society.

The organization restored the house and transformed it into a museum.  It became a National Historic Site in 1976 and was listed as a Federal Heritage Building in 2000.

Things to See at the Riel House

The museum was restored to faithfully resemble its state in 1886 when it was still occupied by the Riels. Inside, you’ll see a close recreation of their furniture and equipment to get an understanding of how the family lived in the 19th century.

1. Black Cross on the Edge of the Roof

Black crosses are indicative of a grieving household, usually because of the passing of a family member. The cross at the Riel house symbolizes the mourning of his family when he was executed in 1885.

After Louis Riel’s death, his family soon mourned the passing of another loved one, Riel’s widow Marguerite. She died of tuberculosis in May 1886, not too long after her husband’s execution.

2. Images of Louis Riel

Several portraits of Riel are displayed throughout the house. Some of them are covered in black cloth, which is symbolic of grieving a loved one.

3. Catholic Items

The Riels were known to be devout Catholics. This recreation of their home has several Catholic items on display, including crosses, rosaries, and images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

4. Julie Lagimodiere’s Craft Supplies

It was Riel’s mother who primarily resided in the home. Inside the house, you’ll see a replica of her personal effects and crafting supplies, including a bag of her threads and yarns.

5. Kitchen Replica

One of the most interesting things inside the Riel House is the recreation of the kitchen. It’s a vivid representation of how the family lived in the 19th century.

You’ll see an old stove, a china cabinet, a spice cupboard with period-appropriate items, and a whole lot more.

6. A Reproduced Broken Statuette of St. Joseph

St. Joseph, known for his carpentry, was recognized as the primary patron saint of the Métis and Canada.

This small white statuette of St. Joseph is a reproduction of one owned by the St. Boniface Museum. Legend has it that while Louis Riel prayed in his cell after being arrested, the original statue fell and broke, which he interpreted as a bad omen.

The original, made of Parian porcelain in the 19th century, allowed for mass production at affordable prices, resembling carved marble.

Parks Canada’s reproduction, made from Maraglass Epoxy and painted white, was cast in 1980 and is displayed in the living room of the Riel House.

7. A Lithograph of Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs (Our Lady of Seven Sorrows)

In 1871, Louis’ sister Sara, a nun, gifted a hand-colored lithograph named Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs (Our Lady of Seven Sorrows) to their mother.

Sara hoped it would bring comfort to her mother in her absence as she was a religious sister in the order of the Grey Nuns and was stationed at Ile à La Crosse. She had left a French inscription on the print.

The lithograph depicts the Virgin Mary in blue and has a French inscription from Sara.

Over the decades, the lithograph suffered light and water damage. When it was acquired in the 1980s, it was cleaned, deacidified, and bleached.

It is currently on display in the living room of the house.

8. Homesteading Equipment and Items

Apart from being a residence to the Riels, the house was also a homestead in its heyday. The family lived humbly and were insistent on self-sufficiency.

Their livelihood is primarily farming and gardening on the lot, with crops like wheat, barley, oats, and various vegetables.

There was also evidence that the family engaged in butter-making, bread-baking, berry-picking, and even tapping maple trees for sugar production.

A butter churner and a wheelbarrow are just some of the homesteading items you can see displayed on the premises.

Through this lifestyle of the Riels, visitors to the museum will also learn about small-scale agricultural product trading in early Southern Manitoba.