Battle of Seven Oaks
|Battle of Seven Oaks|
|Part of The Pemmican War|
The Fight at Seven Oaks, 19 June 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 in what was known as the Pemmican War 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 Grenouillère).
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, 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 Indigenous employees working for the North West Company, led by Cuthbert Grant, seized a supply of pemmican from the Hudson's Bay Company, which previously had been stolen from the Métis. They were travelling 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. 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 it was one of Semple's men who 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, Joseph Letendre dit Battosh the 16 year-old son of Jean Baptiste Letendre. Pierre Falcon, a Métis poet, later celebrated the victory of the Métis in his song "La Chanson de la Grenouillère".
On the day after the battle, the settlers, demoralized from the losses, quickly gathered their belongings and prepared to leave the colony. On the next day, they set sail northward, leaving the Métis in command of the settlement.
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.
In 1891, the Manitoba Historical Society erected an obelisk monument commemorating the battle at the intersection of Main Street and Rupertsland Boulevard in the Winnipeg district of West Kildonan, the approximate centre of the battle site. The site was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1920. The surrounding neighbourhood was named "Seven Oaks" after the battle.
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- Also known as the Seven Oaks Massacre and the Seven Oaks Incident.
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