Red River Colony
The Red River Colony (or Selkirk Settlement) was a colonization project set up in 1811 by Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk on 300,000 square kilometres (120,000 sq mi) of land. This land was granted to him by the Hudson's Bay Company, which is referred to as the Selkirk Concession. The establishment of Canada in the late 19th century led to the creation 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. It then formed a line of 52° 30′ N latitude from Lake Winnipegosis to Lake Winnipeg, and by the Winnipeg River, Lake of the Woods and Rainy River. On the west of the Selkirk Concession, it is roughly formed by the current boundary between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These covered portions consist 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.
Growing up in Scotland in the wake of the Jacobite rising of 1745, Lord Selkirk was constantly troubled by the plight of his Scottish kin. Selkirk was influenced by humanitarian luminaries such as William Wilberforce and, following the forced displacement of Scottish farmers that took place during the Highland Clearances, decided that emigration was the only viable option to improve the livelihood of the Scottish people. Upon inheriting his father's title in 1799, Selkirk focused the majority of his time and resources on establishing a Scottish colony in North America. Selkirk became interested in the Red River region after reading Alexander MacKenzie's Voyages in 1801; however, Selkirk was prevented from settling the region in 1802 when the Hudson Bay Company raised concerns that the proposed colony would interfere with the running of the company. During the first decade of the nineteenth century Selkirk established two unsuccessful agricultural colonies in British North America but continued to pursue the settlement of the Red River region. By 1807 Selkirk acknowledged that an alliance with either the Hudson Bay or Northwest Company, the dominant fur trading companies at the time, was essential to the establishment of a colony at Red River. By 1811 the Hudson Bay Company had reconsidered Selkirk's proposal and granted Selkirk 116, 000 square miles, an area five times the size of Scotland, to establish an agricultural settlement in the region of Red River. Supplies of "produce, such as flour, beef, pork and butter..." would be affordable to manufacture in this colony, and would reduce the costly shipments from Britain. The grant was also pending the annual provision of 200 men to the company and Selkirk's assurance that the colony would remain out of the fur trade. Selkirk, who once mocked the fur trade for rarely grossing more than ₤200, 000 and only having 3 ships employed in its service, gladly agreed to the terms. Selkirk referred to this new territory as the District of Assiniboia. At the time of the concession, Red River was the only Hudson Bay Colony that had been established within the company's 1.5 million acre territory.
There is continuing debate as to whether Selkirk forced the concession of Assiniboia through a controlling interest of Hudson Bay stock. The argument against Selkirk claims that he received the concession by controlling the shares in the company. Historians seeking to defend this claim have argued that although Selkirk did buy a considerable number of Hudson Bay shares between 1811 and 1812, Selkirk received his initial grant in 1810.
Settling Red River
The early settlement of the Red River region was marked by a long series of crises and ecological disasters and within the first decade of settling the region it had already suffered renewed warfare, epidemics, prairie fires and a flood. Perhaps the most significant ecological disaster was the rapid depletion of the bison population, a vital food source, bison numbers had been dwindling since the 1760s due to overhunting by the English, Canadian and aboriginal inhabitants of the prairies. Due to the untenability of their traditional livelihood, many Anishnabe welcomed the arrival of the Red River colonists in hopes that they might bring salvation to the prairies.
In July 1811 Miles Macdonell sailed from Yarmouth, England to the Hudson Bay post at York Factory with 36 primarily Irish and Scottish settlers. Due to persuasive efforts of the Northwest Company only 18 settlers actually arrived at Red River in August 1812. As the planting season had ended before the settlers could complete the construction of Fort Douglas, they were forced to hunt bison for food and were completely unprepared for the arrival of 120 additional settlers in October. More settlers were scheduled to arrive in 1813, but due to a fever outbreak on their ship, they did not arrive until June 21, 1814. Dogged by poor harvests and a growing population, Macdonell, now governor of Red River, issued the Pemmican Proclamation in January 1814 to prevent the export of pemmican from the colony. In doing so, Macdonell undermined the security of Red River and plunged the colony into a conflict with the Northwest Company that would not end until 1821.
War Between the Companies
The Pemmican War that was initiated by Macdonell's proclamation was only the tail end of a much larger conflict between the Hudson Bay Company and its fur trade rivals, both English and French, in Montreal. The conflict dates back to King Charles II's generous grant of Rupert's Land to members of the English nobility in 1760. Cause for conflict arose from the inability of either the Montreal traders or the Hudson Bay Company to gain a monopoly over the North American fur trade. Between 1800 and 1821 the conflict between Hudson Bay and Montreal, at that point represented by the predominantly Scottish Northwest Company, intensified. The conflict reached its peak in 1801 and witnessed both companies expending more resources on out competing each other than were expended on the exploration of new fur grounds. Between 1803-1804 Hudson Bay morale had plummeted in the face of fierce Northwest competition and forced the two companies into negotiations but neither side could come to terms. Negotiations broke down again in 1805 and despite employing more aggressive agents and the provision of incentive programs, the Hudson Bay Company was ready to abandon the fur trade in 1809. The Nor'Westers ability to make region wide plans based on first hand knowledge in addition to their ability to react quickly to changing circumstances, provided the Northwest Company with a decisive advantage prior to 1810. After 1810 the combination of new management within the Hudson Bay Company and the approval of a company-sponsored colony at Red River put the Northwest Company on the defensive. The establishment of a Hudson Bay colony in the Red River region denied the Nor'Westers access to vital supplies and restricted the company's ability to expand westwards. Additionally, the establishment of an agricultural colony made the Hudson Bay company nondependent on a profitable fur trade, a factor that the Nor'Westers simply could not compete with. Moreover, by establishing an agricultural colony, the Hudson Bay Company gained a decisive advantage over the Northwest Company by virtue of a viable fallback economy as well as a readily available food source during economic slumps. Much of this new-found confidence hinged on the Selkirk's success at Red River and resulted in the colony becoming the central focus of seven years of inter-company warfare.
Red River first came under attack from the Northwest Company in the summer of 1815. Convinced that Macdonell's proclamation was a deliberate attempt to block Northwest trade, the company destroyed Fort Douglas and burned down all of the surrounding buildings. The fort was later rebuilt but the engagement resulted in the capture of approximately 150 settlers including Macdonell. He was replaced by Robert Semple who took over as governor the following winter and reinforced the colony's 45 survivors with 84 additional settlers. In 1815 the Northwest Company once again entered into negotiations with the Hudson Bay Company under the threat of invasion of Northwest territory. Negotiations were headed by Selkirk himself and he promptly threw out all of the Nor'Wester proposals. The following year Semple and twenty other settlers were killed in the Battle of Seven Oaks and the settlement was abandoned once again. The imminent arrival of Selkirk in 1817, who had been en route to the colony prior to the incident at Seven Oaks, prompted the settlers to return to the colony shortly after. Travelling with a force of approximately 100 soldiers from the recently disbanded Swiss and German Regiment de Meuron, Selkirk captured Fort William, the Northwest Company headquarters, and captured several key agents including William McGillivray, Kenneth McKenzie and John McLoughlin. Although the arrival and subsequent settlement of Selkirk's private army finally broke the back of the Northwest Company, Selkirk spent much of his remaining years, and the majority of his fortune, defending his actions at Fort William. When Selkirk arrived at Red River in 1817, the stability of the colony dramatically improved, especially after the removal of all Indigenous claims to the land. Selkirk achieved this by signing a treaty between the Red River colonists and the local Cree, Assiniboine and Ojibwa. Between 1817 and 1820, Selkirk committed all of his available resources to the betterment of his colonial venture and ironically it was Selkirk's death in the spring of 1820 that ultimately ended Northwest aggression against his beloved colony.
The Hudson's Bay Company and their rivals, the North West Company were forced to merge in 1821 by the British government. With the end of fur trade inspired conflicts on the plains, the Red River settlement was able to grow. The agricultural products, primarily wheat, began to rise in yearly yields. Flour production rose from over 20,000 pounds annually from 1823 to 1829 to over 30,000 pounds in the early 1830s. The supply of flour reached over 50,000 pounds by the mid-1830s, rapidly deflating the price the HBC paid the farmers for the product. Numbering over 1,000 by 1827, the farmers began to complain about the deflating rates they received and lack of markets for their goods.
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 Rebellion
US expansionists became heavily interested in the economic potential Red River land possessed. The ideal soil, climate and socio-economic potential of the area convinced Americans that they needed to make this land American territory. The result ended up being an annexation proposal of Red River in 1870, in order to convert it into land that Americans could use for economic purposes. Due to Louis Riel's Red River rebellion, the American annexationists hoped to take advantage of the disruption caused by these political conflicts and present themselves in the forefront as the ideal leaders of the Red River land. The annexation was led by Minnesota senator Alexander Ramsay, and was backed by Zachariah Chandler and Jacob M. Howard- who were both senators of Michigan and represented Detroit merchants. They all shared the same economic vision for the annexation: Ramsay believed Red River served as an important commercial adjunct for his state while Chandler and Howard believed that annexing Red River would benefit their Great Lakes Trade. Americans hoped to completely colonize the land as their own, and tried to assert their dominance by removing other Colonizer influence from Red River. A notable example would be James W. Taylor: he was an American special agent and Winnipeg consul who used his political power to shape the destiny of the valley, as well as attempting to remove the British influence on the valley. The Canadian government, however, did not allow these expansionists to succeed.
The proposal was met with a lot of resistance from the Red River people as they were given the chance to address their grievances about the potential loss of land and becoming part of an American expansion and colonization through a proclamation by the Governor General of the dominion. American annexationists tried to depict themselves as favorable figures in the eyes of the Canadians by associating themselves with the political schemes of Louis Riel. Riel was the leader of the Red River rebellion, which was a conflict started by the Métis because Canada was attempting to claim possession of Rupert's Land without any concern for the Métis demands. However, the American annexationists' main intentions of supporting Riel and this rebellion was to misguide him in favor of the annexation. Their greatest propaganda tool was the New Nation newspaper which elicited rhetoric that advocated for the annexation because it embodied the popular Manifest Destiny ideology. They also wrote anonymous letters that supported Louis Riel, but at the same time, denounced Canadians. This was meant to help the annexation cause because their support of Louis Riel's rebellion would encourage resistance the power of the political government, and be in favor of independence- then ultimately America would assert themselves as the new leaders and Red River would become American land. They ultimately wanted to create an allegiance between the Canadians and the United States because they hoped that this alliance would ease the transformation of Red River into American territory.
However, this aggressive propaganda ultimately backfired upon the annexation proposal. It created even more hostility towards the annexation party, and the United States. This great emphasis of materialism never seemed appealing to the Red River people. The Americans became too acquisitive because they were eager to create a political union. This ultimately caused the annexation of the North West to fail, despite it being almost being within reach. All this ultimately benefited the Red River rebellion. Many Métis began to affirm a sense of nationhood, and under Louis Riel's leadership, they were able to successfully defy Canadian expansion into Rupert's Land.
This political chaos, in a sense, became pivotal for Red River because it allowed for the success of the Métis in their rebellion. The Canadian government were forced to develop the negotiations that allowed for the Métis demands were legally entrenched in the Manitoba Act that eventually led to the creation of province of Manitoba. The political disputes put the Métis on a platform to voice their disapproval of Americans ignoring their concerns over these land disputes. They had legitimate claims to the land and they stated that they were the "descendants of the lords of the soil.". Also, under Louis Riel's leadership, the Metis rebels were able to capture Fort Garry- a fortified post of the Hudson's Bay Company. This would lead Riel into becoming the leader of the provisional government, and he composed and sent a list of rights to Ottawa. The demands mainly consisted of the Métis wanting Red River to be entered into the Canadian confederation as a province, security for their land claims, making English and French the official languages of the colony, as well as financial support for the Red River population. Riel hoped to accomplish a sense of equality for the Métis; he wanted to present them as a civilized people that were deserving of the same rights of any British subject. The rebellion became a pivotal moment in acquiring land rights and a political voice for the Métis- who were constantly disregarded for their aboriginal status.
The aftermath of the rebellion caused the Métis to no longer be considered as Canadian aboriginals- they became regarded as their own social group, and were distinct from other aboriginal groups. In order to pacify the Métis resistance further, the Canadian government gave them generous land grants in 1869-70 that was carefully structured to be given in severalty, rather than in common. Red River was now developing its own provincial government that had a political voice and political implications upon Canadian federal government. This rebellion also led to the Métis emerging as a unique, acknowledged group within Canada, and ultimately, the disappearance of the aboriginal rights paradigm in the public view of Red River. The rebellion was successful in a sense that it allowed the Métis to have a political voice, but it impacted the perception of how other aboriginals would be viewed in Red River.
Once the rebellion ended, Riel and several of his comrades fled to the United States in 1870 because English soldiers wanted to exact revenge, particularly for the execution of Thomas Scott. Riel, however later returned to Canada in 1885 to help lead the North West Rebellion. This caused him to face court trial, and eventually get executed by the Canadian government in Regina, and his death served as a political statement that outlined the relationship between French-English majorities and non-white minorities and what would happen if the latter chose to defy the Canadian sovereignty. The Canadian government was starting to punish the rebels for their defiance- but the rebellion is still considered a success in the sense that the Metis were still able to acquire the land rights they hoped to achieve, as well as no longer being ignored when it came to federal matters.
Development of Manitoba
The Red River rebellion needed to be finally be put to rest. In order to accomplish this, the Canadian government- which was predominantly led by English conservatives- initiated the Manitoba Act in 1870. They believed that this act would accomplish two purposes: this would be able to crush the rebellion, while at the same time, appeasing the French demands of increasing French influence in Canada because the act would create a Western province that was constitutionally supportive of French Canadian language and culture. This was the first steps towards the creation of the present-day province of Manitoba. The act was given royal assent in May 12, 1870, and the commencement of Manitoba with a provincial status came to fruition in July 15, 1870. After the passage of the Manitoba act the Métis Provisional government was disbanded. There was an assimilation of the Métis people and the English settlers- and the aboriginal influence was further distanced from Red River.
Through the Act, this Red River colony was now christened as Manitoba: a new Canadian province that were self-governed, and had their own rights and responsibilities. They were no longer being viewed as a territory, and were now officially part of the Canadian confederation. Acquiring provincial status was able to come to fruition because of the successful seizure of the power in Red River by Louis Riel's rebellion- he was able to secure Red River for the Canadians because he sparked the resistance against the Americans' colonization projects and sentiments of their Manifest Destiny ideologies. The early Manitoba provincial government initially struggled to be effective- everything around it felt rushed because the Manitoba Act was mostly created to prevent the rise of another rising similar to the Red River Rebellion. Many of the government officials were very inexperienced- especially those that were the three delegates who went to Ottawa to negotiate union terms. None of them had any sort of experience with diplomacy or the creation of new governments. Due to the hurried nature of the creation of this province- the officials of this new government presented themselves as overwhelmed and unprepared, and this shows that Manitoba was essentially created to re-stabilize political unrest within Canada.
However, as the years progressed, Manitoba experienced conflicting interests between French and English Canadians; a quarter century after the implementation of the Manitoba Act, the province was considered to be the land of promise and key to Canada's future. Thousands of Ontarians were migrating to the prairies, but the French Canadians did not agree with the optimism behind the fertility of Manitoba's land, and they thought that the province was dangerous on their national identity. Through such conflicts, Red River- now known as Manitoba- was experiencing a wave of settlers from all across Ontario, who would change and mold the identity of the colony. Manitoba government also tried to ensure that the new province would continuously evolve into something prosperous because they would only immigrants with special qualities since they wanted to immediately establish stable agricultural communities.
Governors of the Red River Colony
|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|
- Former colonies and territories in Canada
- Territorial evolution of Canada after 1867
- Joseph James Hargrave
- Louis Riel
- Pembina, North Dakota
- Red River Academy
- Red River Trails
- Territorial era of Minnesota
- Métis buffalo hunt
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