The Battle of Duck Lake
The North-West Resistance/Rebellion began after the Métis in North Saskatchewan established a provisional government under Louis Riel in Batoche. This was in response to the Canadian government disrespecting Métis land rights due to an influx of settlers to the region. The return of Louis Riel from exile in Montana to lead the provisional government attracted the attention of Superintendent Leif Crozier from the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), who requested immediate reinforcement to Fort Carlton.
On March 25th, 1885, in need of additional provisions and supplies, Métis forces under Gabriel Dumont’s command raided Hillyard Mitchell’s general store near the community of Duck Lake because the merchant had opposed the Métis resistance. Crozier, unaware of the Métis presence at Hillyard Mitchell’s, had also sent his troops to the general store to resupply. Dumont and his men intercepted the NWMP on the Old Carlton Trail. A brief skirmish occurred, but the NWMP were outnumbered by Dumont’s men, who had already entrenched themselves at Duck Lake. The NWMP retreated for the day, returning the next day with more men.
The first armed engagement beginning the North-West Resistance occurred on March 26th, 1885, west of the settlement of Duck Lake on the old Carlton Trail, between Métis headquarters at Batoche and the NWMP at Fort Carlton. Crozier’s force of over 100 NWMP confronted Dumont and approximately 300 Métis, both sides in defensive positions. Initiating a parley, or pause in combat for negotiation, Dumont sent his brother, Isidore, and a Cree emissary, Assiwiyin, to speak to the NWMP and a scuffle started as shots were fired and both Isidore and Assiwiyin were killed. Combat ensued, but the Métis outnumbered the NWMP and occupied a more advantageous position near the tree line. The NWMP were forced to retreat, and the Métis forces, although eager to pursue the NWMP, were ordered to stand down by Riel.
Although the battle lasted only half an hour, the toll was high for the NWMP, with twelve men killed and eleven injured. Five Métis were killed during the skirmish, including Dumont’s brother Isidore; Dumont himself was grazed in the head by a bullet. Following the battle, the NWMP recognized the imminence of a Métis attack on Fort Carlton so they evacuated and burned down their own Fort.
To learn more, see the murals of Duck Lake that decorate the town in commemoration of the North-West Resistance, or check out the Duck Lake Regional Interpretive Centre’s online resources.
- Murals of Duck Lake: https://ducklake.ca/visitors/murals.html
- Duck Lake Regional Interpretive Centre: https://www.communitystories.ca/v1/pm_v2.php?id=story_line_index&fl=0&lg=English&ex=00000459&pos=1
Main: An Illustration of the Battle of Duck Lake, March 26th, 1885, Published in the 1885 Issue of The Canadian Pictorial & Illustrated War News. (Credit: Library and Archives Canada).
Beal, Bob & Macleod, Rob. Prairie Fire: The 1885 North-West Rebellion. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1984.
Woodcock, George. Gabriel Dumont. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.
Canadian Geographic. “1885 North-West Resistance.” The Indigenous People’s Atlas of Canada. Accessed May 5th, 2023. https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/1885-northwest-resistance/