Life at Red River
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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
Neither 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
From 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.
Life at Red River