Un Canadien errant

Reconsidering the legacy of Louis Riel

Truth is the first casualty of nation building, and Canada is hardly unique in preferring flights of fancy to bitter lumps of fact. It is sweet to believe that this country was created through peaceful negotiation, without resort to force of arms, through the goodwill of a few dozen bewhiskered, frock-coated gentlemen sequestered in conference rooms. And to think we have been living that dream of compromise and inclusion for the last 150 years. No wonder, then, that Canada tuned up the brass band and baked its sesquicentennial cake: a state built on the sincere reconciliation of differences would be something to celebrate.

But, as this summer’s protests have served to remind us, there are worms in this beguiling version of the country’s origins. When the British North America Act came into effect on July 1, 1867, it brought together four former British colonies—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and...