Red River Colony

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The Red River Colony (or Selkirk Settlement) was a colonization project set up by Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk in 1811 on 300,000 square kilometres (120,000 sq mi) of land granted to him by the Hudson's Bay Company under what is referred to as the Selkirk Concession. The colony along the Red River of the North was never very successful. Changes during the development of Canada in the 19th century led to the colony's forming the basis of what is today Manitoba, although much of its original territory is now part of the United States.

The Selkirk Concession, also known as Selkirk's Grant, included the portions of Rupert's Land, or the watershed of Hudson Bay, bounded on the north by the line of 52° N latitude roughly from the Assiniboine River east to Lake Winnipegosis, then by the line of 52° 30′ N latitude from Lake Winnipegosis to Lake Winnipeg, and then by the Winnipeg River, Lake of the Woods and Rainy River; on the west roughly by the current boundary between Saskatchewan and Manitoba; and on the south by the (mostly very slight) rise of land marking the extent of the watershed. This covered portions of present-day southern Manitoba, northern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, in addition to small parts of eastern Saskatchewan, northwestern Ontario and northeastern South Dakota.[1][2]



Selkirk had become interested in the concept of settling the area after reading Alexander Mackenzie's 1801 book on his adventures in what is today the west of Canada. At the time, social upheaval in Scotland due to the introduction of sheep farming and the ensuing Highland and Lowland Clearances had left a number of Scots destitute. Selkirk was interested in giving them a chance at a better life in a new colony he called Assiniboia.[citation needed]

He purchased a controlling interest in the Hudson's Bay Company and set up the land grant. His idea was to gain control of the area to take control of the West from the company's rivals, the Montreal-based North West Company. With a colony in place, the Métis trappers' supplying the North West's fur traders, the Nor'Westers, would be displaced, cutting them off from areas further west.[citation needed]

He sent out a small group of Scots to the area in 1811, but they were forced to pause for the winter in York Factory. When they finally arrived in 1812, they built Fort Douglas, but by the time it was done, the growing season was over. The settlers hastily set about hunting buffalo for food.[citation needed]

When farming started the next spring, the results were less than expected. Selkirk had to ban anyone from taking food out of the colony. This may have been to ensure food for the colony, or a business move to cut off the Nor'Westers. Either way, the move touched off the Pemmican War. The Nor'Westers, who relied on pemmican supplied to them by local Métis, were so upset that they destroyed Fort Douglas and burned down all the buildings around it. The fort was later rebuilt and relations settled down for a time.[3]

Selkirk heard of the problems and sent out a new governor, Robert Semple, to take over. When he read a proclamation ordering the fighting to stop, the Battle of Seven Oaks broke out, Fort Douglas was destroyed for a second time, and the settlers were forced off their land. Selkirk then sent in a force of about 100 soldiers from the British Regiment de Meuron to enforce the peace and eventually become settlers themselves, while also capturing the Northwest outpost at Fort William. There, Selkirk arrested numerous significant managers of the North West Company including NWCo. Chief Director, William McGillvray. The actions left Selkirk almost bankrupt. The two companies were forced to merge in 1821, thus ending the problems for good.

The Treaty of 1818 set the boundary between the United States and British North America along the 49th parallel of north latitude from the Lake of the Woods to the "Stony Mountains" (now known as the Rocky Mountains). Thus, the southern portion of Selkirk's grant went to the United States.

The colony was never particularly successful agriculturally, but the lure of free land added new settlers every year.

In 1841 James Sinclair guided 200 settlers from the Red River Colony west in an attempt to retain the Columbia District for Britain. The party crossed the Rockies into the Columbia Valley, near present day Radium Hot Springs, British Columbia; then traveled south. Despite such efforts, Britain eventually ceded all claim to land south of the 49th parallel of latitude west of the Rockies to the United States as resolution to the Oregon boundary dispute.

Red River cart train

By the 1850s, the Hudson's Bay Company lost interest in paying for the settlement. By the 1860s, the Métis outnumbered the Scots. This led to a second period of unrest in 1869 and 1870 called the Red River Rebellion, which led to the creation of Manitoba.[4]

Annexation proposed[edit]

At the end of the American Civil War, Americans were angry at the British support for the Confederacy, which Americans said had prolonged the war. One result was toleration of Fenian efforts to use the U.S. as a base to attack Canada. More serious was the demand for a huge payment to cover the damages caused, on the notion that British involvement had lengthened the war. Senator Charles Sumner, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, originally wanted to ask for $2 billion, or alternatively the ceding of all of Canada to the United States. When American Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the Alaska Purchase in 1867, he intended it as the first step in a comprehensive plan to gain control of the entire northwest Pacific Coast. Seward was a firm believer in Manifest Destiny, primarily for its commercial advantages to the U.S. Seward expected British Columbia to seek annexation to the U.S. and thought Britain might accept this in exchange for the Alabama claims. Soon other elements endorsed annexation; their plan was to annex British Columbia, the Red River Colony (Manitoba), and Nova Scotia, in exchange for the dropping the damage claims. The idea reached a peak in the spring and summer of 1870, with American expansionists, Canadian separatists, and British anti-imperialists seemingly combining forces. The plan was dropped for multiple reasons. London continued to stall, American commercial and financial groups pressed Washington for a quick settlement of the dispute on a cash basis, growing Canadian nationalist sentiment in British Columbia called for staying inside the British Empire, Congress became preoccupied with Reconstruction, and most Americans showed little interest in territorial expansion. The "Alabama Claims" dispute went to international arbitration. In one of the first major cases of arbitration, the tribunal in 1872 supported the American claims and ordered Britain to pay $15.5 million. Britain paid and the episode ended in peaceful relations.[5][6]

Governors of the Red River Colony[edit]

Term Governor
August 1812 – June 1815 Miles MacDonell
June 1815 – June 1816 Robert Semple
August 1816 – June 1822 Alexander MacDonell
June 1822 – June 1823 Andrew Bulger
June 1823 – June 1825 Robert Parker Pelly
June 1825 – June 1833 Donald McKenzie
June 1833 – June 1839 Alexander Christie
June 1839 – June 1844 Duncan Finlayson
June 1844 – June 1846 Alexander Christie
June 1846 – June 1847 John Folliott Crofton
June 1847 – June 1848 J. Griffiths
June 1848 – June 1855 William Bletterman Caldwell
June 1855 – September 1859 Francis Godschall Johnson
September 1859 – July 1870 William Mactavish


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Morris, Alexander (1880) The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories Including the Negotiations on Which They Were Based, and Other Information Relating Thereto, Chapter I
  3. ^ R. Douglas Francis, Richard Jones, and Donald B. Smith. "Origins: Canadian History to Confederation", 4th ed. (Toronto:Harcourt Canada ltd., 2000), at pp. 434–5.
  4. ^ Hargrave, Joseph James (1871). Red River. Montreal: Printed for the author by John Lovell. p. 506. 
  5. ^ Doris W. Dashew, "The Story Of An Illusion: The Plan To Trade 'Alabama' Claims For Canada," Civil War History, Dec 1969, Vol. 15 Issue 4, pp 332-348
  6. ^ David E. Shi, "Seward'S Attempt to Annex British Columbia, 1865-1869," Pacific Historical Review, May 1978, Vol. 47 Issue 2, pp 217-238
  7. ^ Governors of the Red River Settlement, Manitoba Historical Society

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 49°00′00″N 97°14′15″W / 49.00000°N 97.23750°W / 49.00000; -97.23750