Under Miles MACDONELL, Selkirk's choice as governor, an advance party was sent from Scotland to Hudson Bay in July 1811 and finally arrived on the Red River on 29 August 1812. A second group joined them in October. Macdonell established his base near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers (now downtown WINNIPEG) with a subsidiary centre 130 km south at Pembina (North Dakota).
The settlers had difficulty becoming self-sufficient, and only the assistance of resident NORTH WEST COMPANY traders and local freemen enabled them to survive. Naturally bellicose and fearing that new settlers would strip the area of food supplies, Macdonell attempted to monopolize the region's provision trade through the PEMMICAN PROCLAMATION of 8 January 1814, by which he prohibited the export of provisions from the region. This threat to the NWC's transcontinental transportation system, which took provisions, especially PEMMICAN, from the area to supply its canoe brigades, led the NOR'WESTERS and their MÉTIS allies to retaliate.
In early 1815 the Nor'Westers seduced many colonists back to Canada by promising better land. Macdonell was arrested, the remaining inhabitants withdrew, and the settlement was burned. Later that year the colony was reoccupied under Colin Robertson, and Robert SEMPLE replaced Macdonell as governor. Continual complaint with the NWC led in 1816 to the SEVEN OAKS INCIDENT, after which the Nor'Westers again evacuated the colony. Meanwhile, Selkirk had recruited new settlers among the DE MEURONS, discharged mercenary soldiers, and was leading this group to Red River when he learned of Seven Oaks.
On August 13 he seized the NWC's FORT WILLIAM, which lay on his route, and on 10 January 1817 sent a force to retake Fort Douglas. When Selkirk finally arrived that July, he distributed land and restored the settlers' confidence, promising them schools and clergymen. Roman Catholic priests arrived in 1818, but not until 1820 did a Protestant missionary come, and John West was Anglican rather than Gaelic-speaking Presbyterian, a source of grievance to the Scots settlers for years.
Devastation and Growth
After 1817 the environment became the major threat to the infant colony. Locusts devastated the crops in 1818 and 1819, and the greatest known flood of the Red River virtually destroyed the settlement in 1826. After Selkirk's death in 1820 his executors administered the colony, and sought to reduce expenses by ending settlers' subsidies and refusing to recruit new European immigrants. Population growth came largely through the retirement of fur traders and their native families to the colony, encouraged after 1821 by the newly amalgamated Hudson's Bay Co's draconian reduction of the number of its employees. On 4 May 1836 Assiniboia was transferred to the HBC by Selkirk's family and administrative confusion ended.
Population grew slowly but steadily, composed largely of Métis (French-speaking Roman Catholics) and "mixed-bloods" or "country-born" (English-speaking Protestants), the former slightly more numerous than the latter. Despite continual conflicts over language, religion and class, a promising multiracial society was developing. The roots of its problems were economic, because of the colony's isolation. The HBC attempted to control commerce, although its limitations were made clear by the HBC's prosecution in 1849 of Pierre-Guillaume Sayer for illicit fur trading (see SAYER TRIAL) : the outcome was, in effect, free trade for the Métis.
Perhaps equally critical was the inability of the colony to provide suitable employment for an increasingly literate population, leading the younger generation to become extremely restive. When in the wake of CONFEDERATION (and without consultation with the colony's inhabitants or guarantees of their rights) arrangements were made to transfer the colony and RUPERT'S LAND to Canada, the stage was set for the RED RIVER REBELLION. The colony was reluctantly admitted to Canada as the province of Manitoba, its boundaries limited to the existing areas of settlement north of 49° lat.
Author J.M. BUMSTED
Links to Other Sites
Watch the Heritage Minute about legendary Métis leader Louis Riel from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
Charles-René-Léonidas d'Irumberry de Salaberry
This biography of Charles-René-Léonidas d'Irumberry de Salaberry is part of the “Canadian Confederation” website. Includes photographs and other archival resources. From Library and Archives Canada.
A brief overview of the sometimes turbulent history of the Métis community in Western Canada. Part of “The Kids’ Site of Canadian Settlement” from Library and Archives Canada.
The Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture
This site features a wealth of primary sources about Métis history and culture. Includes oral history interviews, photographs, and various archival documents. Also offers informative learning activities that will immerse students and teachers in Métis traditional life and customs.
Glossary: Treaty 6
A glossary of terms related to the history of Treaty 6. From the Alberta Online Encyclopedia.
Glossary: Hudson’s Bay Company
A bilingual glossary of key terms found the Hudson’s Bay Company records. From the website for the Hudson's Bay Company Archives. A PDF file.
“Kootenai” Brown in the Red River Valley
A biography of frontiersman John George ‘Kootenai’ Brown, who became the first Park Superintendent of Waterton Lakes National Park. From the website for the Manitoba Historical Society.
A description of the Red River and its role in the settlement of the Canadian West. Click on the links at the bottom of the page for more information. From the Canadian Council for Geographic Education.
Red River Cartes de Visite
View a collection of vintage photos of Louis Riel and the Red River settlement. From the University of Manitoba Libraries website.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...