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Drawing: Red River Colonists - National Archives of Canada / C-001937
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Selkirk Settlement / Creation of Manitoba (1811 - 1870)

In the early 1800s, British aristocrat Thomas Selkirk tried to create a new colony in what is now southern Manitoba. He purchased land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1811 to begin settlement. However, a number of factors - like fighting among rival fur traders and famine - led to this colony's demise. The Métis and various Aboriginal nations also felt this colony would lead to the loss of their hunting and fishing grounds, if not their way of life, and often took part in fighting. In 1821, the land would be mostly vacant once again and would be later sold to the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC).

By the 1850s, this land was looked upon as choice land for new settlement as wild land in Canada West became less and less available. In 1869, the land was to be sold back to the federal government for re-settlement. However, the Métis would rebel against surveyors and settlers trying to ready the region for mass inhabitation, which was one of the major causes behind the Red River Rebellion. This rebellion delayed the sale of HBC land until 1870.

Topics in this section:

The Selkirk Indenture, 1811
The Seven Oaks Incident, 1816
The Selkirk Treaty, 1817
The Red River Rebellion, 1869 – 1870
Other Important or Interesting Documents

The Selkirk Indenture, 1811

Painting: First Council of Assiniboia, Fort Garry, June 1813 - National Archives of Canada / C-013939
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In 1811, British aristocrat Thomas Selkirk wished to create a new colony in a region owned by the Hudson's Bay Company. Selkirk purchased some 300,000 square kilometers of land mostly located in what is now lower Manitoba and upper Minnesota from the fur trading company.

Selkirk called this region Assiniboia. This led to the creation of the Red River Settlement or Selkirk Settlement in 1812. It was mainly home to Scottish and Irish settlers, as well as three Swedes. It would also eventually become home to Swiss mercenaries who fought in the War of 1812.

The colony only lasted for three years, however. The Métis and Scottish fur traders who had originally called the area home were angered that they were not consulted about this community. They felt these new settlers - who practiced agriculture - would get in the way of their hunting lifestyle and food supplies.

The fur traders and Métis wound up being right. The settlers had great difficulty trying to survive as farmers, and often had to turn to the fur traders for help. Miles Macdonell, the governor of Assiniboia, issued the Pemmican Proclamation in January 1814, which prohibited the export of food provisions from the region in order to help the settlers and their families.

This proclamation angered fur traders employed by the Montréal-based North West Company, who feared it would interrupt their trading network.

In early 1815, these fur traders burned the colony, arrested Macdonell and forced the remaining settlers - those who still hadn't left after being offered better land elsewhere by the North West Company, at least - to flee back to Upper Canada.

Did you know?

The Red River Colony was host to a couple of Canada's greatest explorers and surveyors. For instance, Peter Fidler would survey lots for settlement in 1811. Simon Fraser also even tried to retire to the colony in 1815 to take up life as a fur trader. Fraser, however, got caught up in the aftermath of the Seven Oaks Incident in 1816, and was charged for not helping Selkirk in his fight against the North West Company. Fraser was acquitted of these charges in 1818.

 

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Excerpt of the Pemmican Proclamation, 1814

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Indenture of sale from the Hudson's Bay Company to the Earl of Selkirk, 1811

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The Seven Oaks Incident, 1816

After the Red River Colony was destroyed in 1815, there were attempts to resettle the land under a new administrator, Robert Semple. However, such attempts would be doomed to failure.

On June 19, 1816, a group of Métis led by Cuthbert Grant killed Semple and 20 of his men when both parties intercepted each other accidentally during the Seven Oaks Incident. This was a massacre that was the result of an intense rivalry between the British-owned Hudson's Bay Company and Montréal-based North West Company.

Some of the circumstances leading to this event included:

  • the Hudson's Bay Company's capturing of Fort Gibraltar from the North West Company in early 1816;

  • the North West Company's capturing of Brandon House on June 1, 1816.

Two months after the Seven Oaks Incident, Thomas Selkirk and a mercenary force attacked and captured Fort William, the Métis primary base of operations. Selkirk's forces also took Fort Douglas.

The massacre is notable in that it forced the two rival fur-trading companies to reconsider their hostility and competition with each other.

In 1821, after Selkirk's death, both companies finally decided to merge. The Hudson's Bay Company absorbed the North West Company, putting an end to bloodshed in the region.

The Selkirk Treaty, 1817

Painting: Summer View of Fort Douglas on the Red River - National Archives of Canada / C-001938
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In 1817, Selkirk decided to sign a treaty with the Cree and Chippewa nations, among others, to extinguish their claims to a tract of land on his domain stretching along the Red River. He distributed this land to new settlers.

When Selkirk died in 1820, the executors of his estate sought to control spiraling costs by ending new European settlement on the land. Only those who had settled during the late 1810s, plus some retired Métis fur traders, remained on the land.

In 1836, land covered by this treaty reverted back to the Hudson's Bay Company.

Did you know?

In September 1855, the last remaining piece of wild land that the government didn't own was sold to a settler in Canada West (formerly Upper Canada). This led some political leaders like George Brown to push for western expansion. This also led to "scientific expeditions" to the West under the likes of Hind and Palliser by 1857 to see how well-suited the Prairies really were to mass settlement.

 

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The Selkirk Treaty, 1817

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The Red River Rebellion, 1869 - 1870

The land owned by the Hudson's Bay Company was set to change hands once again in 1869 and became the property of the new Dominion of Canada. This angered many Métis and Aboriginals, who felt that new European settlers coming into the region were violating their land rights and disrupting their way of life. This was a leading cause of the Red River Rebellion in 1869-70.

Map of Manitoba
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In the middle of the year 1870, the land was finally handed back to the federal government. However, a new province, Manitoba, was created in part to appease the French-speaking Métis living in the region.

Did you know?

In the 1870s, there was a sizable Icelandic community living in the Lake Winnipeg area that even had its own form of self-government. (There were roughly 10,000 people of this heritage in what would become part of Manitoba by some estimates.) However, when the borders of Manitoba were expanded in the 1880s, this community chose to become absorbed into the province.

 

For more information about the Red River Rebellion, please visit The Riel Rebellions in the Special Events & Topics section.


For more information about the Red River Colony, please visit the Canadian Encyclopedia online.

Other Important or Interesting Documents

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