Battle of Seven Oaks
|Battle of Seven Oaks|
|Part of North West Company-Hudson's Bay Company Rivalry|
The Fight at Seven Oaks, June 19, 1816
|Métis of the North West Company||Hudson's Bay Company|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Cuthbert Grant||Robert Semple †|
|Casualties and losses|
|Official name: Battle of Seven Oaks National Historic Site of Canada|
The Battle of Seven Oaks 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. The Métis people, who fought for the North West Company, called it "the Victory of Frog Plain" (la Victoire de la Grenouillière).
In 1814, Miles MacDonell, Governor of the Red River Colony (the area around present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba), issued the Pemmican Proclamation, 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.
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.
Later in 1815, after several conflicts and suffering from "severe emotional instability", 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.
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.) 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 south 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. 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. 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. Pierre Falcon, a Métis poet, later celebrated the victory of the Métis in his song La Chanson de la Grenouillère.
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. Cuthbert Grant became an important figure in the new Hudson's Bay Company.
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.
- Also known as the Seven Oaks Massacre and the Seven Oaks Incident.
- "Seven Oaks Incident", Canadian Encyclopedia
- "Pemmican Proclamation", Canadian Encyclopedia
- "Miles MacDonnell", Canadian Encyclopedia
- "Robert Semple", Canadian Encyclopedia
- 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
- François Firmin Boucher, à Ses Concitoyens ("François-Firmin Boucher to His Countrymen"), by François-Firmin Boucher, self-published ca. 1819
- The Metis: Memorable Events and Memorable Personalities, by George and Terry Goulet, published 2006, ISBN13 978-1-894638-98-2
- Battle of Seven Oaks. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
- Barkwell, Lawrence J. The Battle of Seven Oaks : a Métis perspective. Winnipeg : Louis Riel Institute, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9809912-9-1
- Metis Resource Centre article on Battle of Seven Oaks