The Other Side of Rebellion: The Remarkable Story of Charles Bremner and His Furs
Bill Waiser is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan,
and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History of Prince
Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western
Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946. His
The Other Side of Rebellion examines one of the many events within the larger story of the 1885 North-West Rebellion. It tells the story of Charles Bremner, a mixed-blood Scot who lived at Bresaylor, a small community outside Battleford. During the Rebellion, Bremner and many of his neighbours were held captive on the Poundmaker Reserve and witnessed the battle of Cut Knife Hill in which Canadian forces were badly mauled. At the conclusion of hostilities, Bremner was branded a rebel — on the basis of his presence in the Poundmaker camp — and sent to trial in Regina for treason. Although the charge was dropped, Bremner returned home to find that his $5,000 cache of furs had been confiscated by General Fred Middleton, the commander of the Canadian forces during the Rebellion.
The second half of the book deals with Bremner’s attempt to secure compensation for his lost furs. At first he made little headway: to many he was a rebel who deserved his fate. But thanks to the support of friends, witnesses, and local political figures, it was eventually proven that Bremner was a victim — not a rebel — and that Middleton had indeed purloined the furs. In fact, in 1890 the House of Commons recommended that Bremner’s case be set right, while Middleton returned to England in disgrace. Another ten years passed, however, before Bremner received his money.
The Other Side of Rebellion is an engaging story — well written and spiced with humour and irony. It is unfortunate, though, that the author helps perpetrate the outdated belief that the Indians and Métis were acting in concert during the Rebellion; it is simply not true. Moreover, the author suggests that the Bremner incident is wrapped up in the noble Canadian tradition of justice and loyalty; if that is the case, why then did it take the government 15 years to act? Perhaps there is a simpler explanation: General Middleton had too broad a definition of the spoils of war.