Métis of the Northwest
The origins of the Red River settlement (located new
present day Winnipeg) began in 1811. This was
when the Hudson's Bay Company awarded a huge land grant to the Fifth
Earl of Selkirk, Thomas Douglas. Selkirk intended to bring disgruntled
Scottish and Irish men and women, who had just recently been removed
from their homes due to the Sutherland land reforms, to Red River to
establish the first civilized colony in the area. Selkirk’s partner,
Andrew Colvile, argued that the settlement would help provision the
western fur trade, thereby reducing the costs of shipping supplies from
Britain. It should also be noted that the Métis were never consulted by
the HBC of Selkirk when Red River was established.
the NWC employees nor Métis were pleased with the settlement. The Métis
felt threatened by it as they also had several large settlements in the
area. The NWC had also occupied the area before the settlers arrived. These traders relied on the Red River area
as a source for the pemmican that fed the fur-trade brigades. They
feared that the new colonists would provide a threat to the brigades of
NWC traders. The new colony was located right on the NWC route to
Montreal. The local Metis, who relied on the pemmican trade for their
livelihood, were also unfriendly.
the moment the settlers reached Red River they were plagued with
problems. The settlement began with only 35 people and even these
numbers were reduced by disease in the first winter. It was not until
the late 1820s that the settlers were even able to produce viable crops
for sustenance. Before that they survived with the help of local Ojibwa.
The settlers had to rely on the local bison,
which they were unable to hunt themselves, they had to obtain them from
the NWC and the Metis. Thus traders and colonists ended up in conflict
from the beginning. The colonists tried to keep the pemmican for their
own use. The Metis and Nor'Westers tried to drive the new arrivals out
of the country.
In 1816 the
conflict became violent. HBC men seized an NWC fort just as pemmican
supplies were being moved. A chance meeting at Seven Oaks resulted in
the death of 20 colonists including the governor, Robert Semple. The
Metis, who were far more skilled at this kind of warfare, lost one man.
The other colonists fled. Selkirk himself arrived in 1817. He brought
soldiers and reinforcements and distributed land.
The population of the
settlement grew slowly and eventually consisted largely of Métis, they
quickly outnumbered the original Scottish settlers. There was also a
group of retired fur traders who came to live in Red River rather than
go back to Europe.
Selkirk died in 1820, the HBC took over the running of the settlement.
In 1836, the colony was returned to the HBC, who spent a good deal of
money trying to make the settlement economically useful. The HBC tried
to control all trading in the region, but independent merchants could
not be stopped. The issue was settled in 1849 when a Métis trader named
Guillaume Sayer was brought to trial, charged with illegal fur trading.
He was convicted but was released without punishment, from then on the
fur trade was open to anyone.
As ties with the
United States increased, people in traders in Canada began to fear that
Red River would be lost to them. Once a unified Canada was created in
1867, steps were taken to absorb the Red River Colony. The inhabitants
of the colony felt left out of these arrangements and they resisted the
new regime. The Red River Rebellion broke out in 1869. Once these issues
were resolved, the HBC turned over the colony, and all of Rupert's Land,
to Canada in 1870. Red River became part of the new province of