The False Traitor: Louis Riel in Canadian Culture


245 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8314-5
DDC C810.9'351





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton, a former columnist for the Queen’s Journal, is a
Toronto-based freelance editor and writer.


The False Traitor is a scholarly examination of the disparate
representations of Louis Riel in a century or so of Canadian media, from
cartoons, poems, novels, and plays to films and statues. As Braz writes:
“Since his hanging for treason in 1885, the self-declared David of the
New World has been depicted variously as a traitor to Confederation; a
French-Canadian and Catholic martyr; a bloodthirsty rebel; a
pan-American liberator; a pawn of shadowy white forces; a Prairie
political maverick; a First Nations hero; an alienated intellectual; a
victim of Western industrial progress; and even a father of
Confederation.” The book’s central thesis is that the many
“Riels” we are given reveal more about specific, changing social
realities than about the man himself. Six chapters explore Riel’s
biographical and social context and his roles as an enemy of
Confederation, an ethnic and religious victim, a cultural mediator, a
sociopolitical victim, and a pararational individual. Braz concludes
with a discussion of Riel’s ironic status in contemporary Canadian
culture as the ultimate patriot.

Impeccably researched, clearly written, and persuasively argued, this
comprehensive study is a pleasure to read and will be an extremely
valuable resource for scholars. To great effect, Braz examines Riel’s
own writings in detail and juxtaposes them with the man’s mediated
personas, offering informed and nuanced analyses of the political forces
that continue to shape the contours of this now legendary figure. The
sheer volume of sources handled here, in both French and English, is
very impressive. Even the most obscure Riel material receives
acknowledgement and cogent consideration. Particularly good is the
discussion of the complex implications of Riel’s transformation into a
Canadian hero during the last half-century. Convincingly, Braz argues
that Riel’s elevation to iconic status has “deprived him of his
Otherness, his national specificity as a Métis.”


Braz, Albert., “The False Traitor: Louis Riel in Canadian Culture,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024,