North Bay woman claims family connection to Louis Riel

A North Bay woman claims family lineage to a well-known Canadian political figure but an expert in Manitoba has doubts.

Pauline Sinicrope says Quebec genealogist finds lineage through Riel's first wife

Riel was 41 when he was hanged in Regina in 1885 for high treason. (National Archives of Canada/Canadian Press)

A North Bay woman claims she's recently learned she is a direct descendent of Métis leader Louis Riel. 

Pauline Sinicrope said her brother discovered her family's alleged connection to Riel through a genealogist in Quebec.

Riel is well known for defending the Métis people and leading them in two armed rebellions against the Canadian government in 1869 and 1885, before being hanged for high treason in Regina.

While in the past seen as a traitor, in more recent years Riel has been hailed as a freedom fighter and a Father of Confederation for the founding of Manitoba.

According to genealogist Ginette Racette, Sinicrope's paternal grandmother Gertrude was the granddaughter of Helene Riel, Louis Riel's daughter from his first marriage.

Sinicrope said her brother has received official documents proving the genealogy, but she is still waiting for hers.

"It's overwhelming, it's motivating, it's inspiring and it's changed the direction of, at least my life and my brother's as well," Sinicrope said.

Before the discovery, Sinicrope said she only knew Louis Riel as a rebel, a Métis leader, and founder of Manitoba.

She's been doing a lot of research since she found out the connection.

"I want to know more," Sinicrope said. "You can never know enough."

Sinicrope plans on travelling to Winnipeg next February to represent the family at the anniversary of the founding of Manitoba.

Claims doubted

As exciting as the alleged discovery sounds, it may not be so simple, according to an expert on Louis Riel in Manitoba.

When Janet La France heard about Sinicrope's claim, the head genealogist at the St. Boniface Historical Society said she did an exhaustive records search, as she said the information provided didn't add up.

While Riel had been briefly engaged in Quebec in 1866 to Marie–Julie Guernon prior to his subsequent marriage to Marguerite Monet, La France said it's well-known in Manitoba that any descendants from his family came from Riel's brothers and sisters.

"Louis Riel himself never actually had any children that lived long enough to produce children of their own," she said.

Still, considering that his brief engagement may have produced a child, La France said she continued digging through baptism records from his fiancee's parish around that time and said she couldn't find any trace of a Helene — with either Riel's last name or the last name of his fiancee — that linked back to a Louis Riel from the same period.

A search of women from that parish and time period named Helene with no last name listed also turned up no link to a Louis Riel, she said.

Additionally, she said conversations she had with experts in Quebec couldn't corroborate the claim either.

'Some people get stuck on the name'

If it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity, La France said it certainly wouldn't be a first.

"Just in my database alone, I have 19 different Louis Riels that are born in Quebec and are not the right Louis Riel," she said.

"So, yeah, you might be descended from a Louis Riel but some people get stuck on the name and they don't understand that just because you know of one Louis Riel, doesn't mean he's the only one that ever existed."

La France said she's run into similar situations three or four other times in the 11 years she's been at the historical society.

If an undisputed primary document, such as a birth or baptism record surfaces that, in fact, does prove Sinicrope's claim, La France said the historical society would welcome it.