Many of the murals in Legal depict people who lived heroic lives, and today I have chosen two people whose heroism has made them very significant in Canadian history.
One heroic person depicted in the murals in Legal is Roméo Dallaire. He was the Force Commander for the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994. The peacekeepers were attempting to end the genocide of the Tutsi people by the Hutu extremists.
The film Hotel Rwanda was based on the story of his efforts to help the Tutsi people against impossible odds. He pleaded with his UN superiors to send reinforcements and he consolidated his troops in some urban areas in order to protect the people there. Ultimately, though, 800,000 people died and Dallaire suffered from PTSD for many years afterwards.
Dallaire went on to found the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative to help prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. He has received numerous awards and honorary doctorates from multiple Canadian and U.S. universities.
The mural transitions from the brutalities of war on the left to the new hope for the country on the right. The artist is Jacques Martel and in place of his signature are the words: ‘For my father, MCpl Jacques Martel.’
The second famous person shown here today was initially dismissed as a rebel but is now a folk hero. The mural of Louis Riel, painted by Suzanne Baron, has his portrait in the centre with his friend, Gabriel Dumont, on the left, and between them is his mother, Marie-Anne Gaboury.
Riel lead the resistance of the Métis and the homesteaders against the federal government when the government was building a railroad across their land without their permission.. The Métis trace their ancestry to both indigenous North Americans and European settlers. Riel led two popular Métis governments, was central in bringing Manitoba into Confederation, and was executed for high treason for his role in the 1885 resistance to Canadian encroachment on Métis lands. (Canadian Encyclopedia)
His defense counsel had, against his wishes, claimed that he was insane. His address at his sentencing, however, was so eloquent that it dismantled that defense strategy. With the jury foreman in tears, the jury found him guilty but recommended clemency. All appeals failed and he was executed on public gallows in 1885.The passage in French beneath the depiction of Louis Riel is a quotation from his address on sentencing:
Je pardonne de tout mon Coeur à mes ennemis et je demande a Dieu de me pardoner. Je meurs en paix avec Dieu et les hommes et je remercie tous ceux qui m’ont aidé dans mes adversitiés et aussi aux officiers et aux gardes qui m’ont tratte avec respect et compassion.
Translation: I forgive my enemies with all my heart and I ask God to forgive me. I die in peace with God and men and I thank all those who helped me in my adversities and also to the officers and guards who beat me with respect and compassion.
The other quotation on the mural is similarly poignant:
“My people will sleep for 100 years but when they awake it will be the artist who will give them their spirits back.” Louis Riel. July 4th 1885.