Saulis, Robert

The Winnipeg Rifles were organized in 1883. It is wondrous that the very same regiment which played a decisive part in the crushing of the Louis Riel Rebellion of 1885 should attract a descendant of the rebel leader to its ranks 30 years later. Indeed Patrick (Paddy) Riel was among the first Metis to enlist at the outbreak of World War I. When he enlisted in the 90th Winnipeg Rifles, he was told by one of his officers that his regiment had done battle against his uncle at Fish Creek and Batoche, but Riel showed only mild interest in this trick of time.

According to his own statement on his attestation paper signed in Valcartier, Quebec, on August 27, 1914, Riel was born in Chelsea, Québec, on March 17, 1876. His Regimental no. was 1295. As widower, his next of kin was Miss Catherine Riel (most probably his daughter) who lived in Maniwaki, Québec. Little is known of his background. He is sometimes referred to as Louis-Philippe Riel, but it is unclear why. Patrick Riel’s mark appears at the bottom of his attestation as he was unable to sign his name. Before the war, he lived in Port Arthur (Thunder Bay District) and worked as a foreman of lumber-jacks on the Kaministiquia River.

Riel served with the 8th Battalion of the 90th Winnipeg Rifles, an infantry battalion of the CEF. Authorized on 10 August 1914, the battalion, sometimes nicknamed the “Little Black Devils”, recruited troops in Brandon and Winnipeg, Manitoba, and in Kenora and Port Arthur, Ontario, then mobilized in Valcartier. It embarked for Great Britain on 1 October 1914 and training commenced immediately upon arrival. It then embarked for France in February 1915, where it fought as part of the 2nd infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division, in France and Flanders until his death.

During his service, Private Riel was given a Ross Rifle remodeled to suit his particular needs (much of the wood of the casting beneath the barrel had been cut away) and mounted with a telescopic sight. He did his work by day as telescopic shooting is not good for shooting in poor light.

Private Riel was regarded as one of Canada’s eight or so best snipers during the Great War. Indian snipers recorded their prowess by adding a notch on their rifles for every observed hit. Three famous Indian snipers of the 8th Battalion, Ballantyne, a western Indian, McDonald, an Iroquois, and Riel had 58, 40 and 30 (some sources mention 38) notches respectively on their guns.

In letters sent to friends in England by his trench buddy, it is said that Riel disregarded “potting” German soldiers in the trenches. His chief concern was to locate German snipers and bring them down. One story of his keen sight and ability to shoot straight is told when in late April 1915, he brought down two German snipers within five minutes at a distance of about seven hundred yards. The incident was noticed by the officers and duly reported in dispatches. That night, they looked for Riel but he could not be found for he had joined a raiding party of the Munster Fusiliers. The following morning, he reported and proudly pointed to five additional marks on his rifle.

Further Reading

  • Library and Archives Canada. Soldiers of the First World War: 1914-1918. Riel’s attestation papers. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2016
Biographical Record
Full Name Saulis, Robert
Heritage Maliseet
Band Name Saint Mary's First Nation
Band Location NB
Conflict WWII
Identifier 7710