Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show – a diversity of voices that recount a saga in Canadian history

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Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show takes the NAC stage in October before going on tour to Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon © Illustration by Julie Charland

The conversation over the phone had barely begun when Yvette Nolan couldn’t suppress her enthusiasm for Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show, an ambitious collective work about Métis history, identity and exile that will have its world premiere at the National Arts Centre’s French Theatre on October 18, 2017.

To write about the Métis people’s struggle for their rights in western Canada beginning in 1885, 10 authors banded together, the core group consisting of Jean Marc Dalpé, Alexis Martin and Yvette Nolan. For the past two years, they worked together unearthing the history of Louis Riel’s right-hand man, Gabriel Dumont, who later joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in the United States.  

“History is often written by the victors,” pointed out Yvette, who was born in Saskatchewan to an Algonquin mother and an Irish immigrant father. “Some episodes are often hidden, forgotten and buried in the past. However, all of us did an enormous amount of research, especially by combing Louis Riel’s personal diaries. Are we going to rewrite history? Well, we’re certainly going to take a fresh and illuminating look at it.”

Directed by Mani Soleymanlou, the show features Francophone, Anglophone and Indigenous artists each of whom when on stage powerfully expresses the particular languages and perspectives of these three groups. In the creative process, everyone learned a lot about colonization, the Canadian Pacific Railway, their own origins, and, last but not least, about Gabriel Dumont, an iconic figure of the Métis Nation.

“This show is visionary in the sense that it faithfully reflects Canada’s cultural diversity,” explained Yvette. “The NAC should be commended for being so inclusive and encouraging a diversity of voices, including those who prick our conscience. Isn’t the freedom to express one’s cultural, artistic or other identity a goal that we should all be striving for?”

Following its run at the NAC from October 18 – 21, 2017, Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show will go on tour to Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon.

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