Battle of Seven Oaks

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Battle of Seven Oaks
Part of North West Company-Hudson's Bay Company Rivalry
The Fight at Seven Oaks.jpg
The Fight at Seven Oaks, June 19, 1816
Date June 19, 1816
Location Seven Oaks (present day Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Result Decisive Métis / North West Co. victory
Belligerents
Metis Blue.svg Métis of the North West Company Hudsons Bay Company Flag.svg Hudson's Bay Company
Commanders and leaders
Metis Blue.svg Cuthbert Grant Hudsons Bay Company Flag.svg Robert Semple 
Strength
65[1] 28[1]
Casualties and losses
1[1] 21[1]
Official name: Battle of Seven Oaks National Historic Site of Canada
Designated: 1920

The Battle of Seven Oaks[2] was a violent confrontation between the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) and the North West Company (NWC), rivals in the fur trade, that took place on 19 June 1816. It was the climax of a long dispute in western Canada.[3] The Métis people, who fought for the North West Company, called it "the Victory of Frog Plain" (la Victoire de la Grenouillière).

Background[edit]

In 1814, Miles MacDonell, Governor of the Red River Colony (the area around present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba), issued the Pemmican Proclamation,[4] which prohibited the export of pemmican from the colony for the next year. It was meant to guarantee adequate supplies for the Hudson's Bay Colony, but it was viewed by the North West Company as a ploy by employees of the Earl of Selkirk (majority shareholder of the Hudson's Bay Company) to monopolize the foodstuff, the export of which was important to the North West Company.[citation needed]

The local Métis did not acknowledge the authority of the Red River Settlement, and this stand was probably consistent with the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The Pemmican Proclamation was a blow to both the Métis and North West Company. The North West Company accused the HBC of unfairly monopolizing the fur trade by this edict. As the North West Company floundered under these and other restrictions, the HBC attempted to take it over, but was not successful.[citation needed]

Later in 1815, after several conflicts and suffering from "severe emotional instability",[5] MacDonnell resigned as governor of the Red River Colony. He was replaced by Robert Semple, an American businessman with no previous experience in the fur trade.[6]

Battle[edit]

In 1816 a band of mostly Métis (which included some French-Canadians, English, and Native American employees), led by Cuthbert Grant and working for the North West Company, seized a supply of pemmican from the Hudson's Bay Company. (It had been stolen from the Métis.)[7] They travelled to meet traders of the North West Company, to whom they intended to sell it.

They encountered Semple and a group of HBC men and settlers north of Fort Douglas along the Red River at a location known to the English as Seven Oaks, and called la Grenouillière (Frog Plain) by the Métis. The North West Company sent a French-Canadian, François-Firmin Boucher, to speak to Semple's men. He and Semple argued, and a gunfight ensued when the English tried to arrest Boucher and seize his horse.[8] Although early reports said that the Métis fired the first shot and began the fray, the Royal Commissioner W.B. Coltman determined with "next to certainty" that one of Semple's men fired first.[9] The Métis were skilled sharpshooters and outnumbered Semple's forces by nearly 3 to 1. They repulsed the attack, killing 21 men, including Governor Semple, while suffering only one fatality.[1] Pierre Falcon, a Métis poet, later celebrated the victory of the Métis in his song La Chanson de la Grenouillère.[1][10]

Aftermath[edit]

Seven Oaks monument (top part)

The Métis were exonerated by W.B. Coltman, a Royal Commissioner appointed to investigate the incident. But, Lord Selkirk attempted to prosecute several members of the North West Company for murder, and kept Boucher in prison for nearly two years without specific charges. All trials ended in acquittals, and the remaining charges were dropped. Members of the North West Company counter-sued Selkirk, whose health and influence subsequently declined. Following Selkirk's death in 1820, the two companies merged in 1821. In 1828 Cuthbert Grant was given an annual salary and the position of "warden of the plains of Red River" by the Hudson's Bay Company.[11]

A plaque commemorating the battle was erected at the intersection of Main Street and Rupertsland Boulevard in the Winnipeg district of West Kildonan, the approximate centre of the battle site. The surrounding neighbourhood was named Seven Oaks after the battle.[citation needed]

The site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1920.[12] An obelisk was erected in 1891 to commemorate the conflict.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Joseph James Hargrave (1871). Red River. author. p. 487. 
  2. ^ Also known as the Seven Oaks Massacre and the Seven Oaks Incident.
  3. ^ "Seven Oaks Incident", Canadian Encyclopedia
  4. ^ "Pemmican Proclamation", Canadian Encyclopedia
  5. ^ "Miles MacDonnell", Canadian Encyclopedia
  6. ^ "Robert Semple", Canadian Encyclopedia
  7. ^ Report of the proceedings connected with the disputes between the Earl of Selkirk and the North West Company: at the assizes, held at York, in Upper Canada, October 1818., printed by James Lane and Nahum Mower, 1819, Montreal
  8. ^ François Firmin Boucher, à Ses Concitoyens ("François-Firmin Boucher to His Countrymen"), by François-Firmin Boucher, self-published ca. 1819
  9. ^ The Metis: Memorable Events and Memorable Personalities, by George and Terry Goulet, published 2006, ISBN 978-1-894638-98-2
  10. ^ "La chanson des Bois-Brûlés". S.H.S.B. (Centre du patrimoine, 340, boulevard Provencher, Saint-Boniface, (Manitoba)). Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  11. ^ "GRANT, CUTHBERT". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 
  12. ^ Battle of Seven Oaks. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 5 May 2012.

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 49°55′55.20″N 97°07′15.60″W / 49.9320000°N 97.1210000°W / 49.9320000; -97.1210000