NEWS
05/08/2014 07:28 EDT | Updated 07/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Possible Louis Riel trial minutes going up for sale

Victor-Lévy Beaulieu says the only way to save his publishing house, and his home, is to sell off some of the books and documents he's been collecting since he was a teenager.

That collection, says Beaulieu, includes the original minutes for the trial of Métis leader Louis Riel, who was convicted of treason in 1885 and executed.

“I think my collection of Louis Riel in Western Canada is unique,” said Beaulieu, in French.

And given the buzz that those documents are generating in Manitoba, he’s not alone in thinking that this collection might stand out.

Riel was hanged in Regina and buried in Winnipeg. Over 100 years after his death, he was named a founder of Manitoba.

“We're very interested,” said GillesLesage of the St. Boniface Historical Society, home to the second-largest collection of Riel writings after the Library and Archives Canada.

"Riel is an important figure in Saskatchewan, he's important in Manitoba, he's important for Ottawa so there's interest all over Canada for him and for acquiring documents that pertain to him.”

Just blocks away at the Manitoba Métis Federation there's a lot of excitement about this sale.

“It's about our nation, our people,” said president David Chartrand. “This is the founder of Manitoba.”

But Chartrand also has some questions.

“Is this original documents … Does anyone else have these? … What is the value? We are looking at that very quickly to try to analyze everything."

Chartrand worries overseas collectors may be interested in the documents —  if they're legitimate. He says they need to stay in Canada.

“Anything dealing with Riel, we are interested. If it's authentic and has something to do [with the] reflection of our great leader, we'll quickly delve into it with both feet.”

Historian Philippe Mailhot — director of the The St. Boniface Museum in Winnipeg, which boasts the single largest collection of Louis Riel items, including his coffin — is also interested, with many of the same questions. But his goal is to keep the collection public.

“When it's sitting in someone's collection cupboard it's not necessarily doing a lot of good for researchers and telling the story,” said Maihot, “but if it's available to the public in terms where researchers and historians can look at it and build knowledge with it, or even the general public can actually look at it and say — wow this is an interesting piece of history, that's important”

Beaulieu says he wants the documents sold as a package — ideally to a Canadian.

"Museums have budgets to buy artwork. It's the same for libraries when it comes to buying books. They need to step up. It would be an extreme loss if an American university, for instance, were to buy them," he said. 

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