Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XV The New Governor


Lord Selkirk's fourth party of settlers left Scotland early in 1815 and reached Red River without being obliged to pass a winter on the shores of Hudson Bay. There were eighty-four people in the party, and all but live or six were Scotch. The McKay families included eighteen persons, the Sutherland families twelve, the Mathesons twelve, the Bannermans eleven, the MeBeths ten, and the Poisons five. James Sutherland, the elder authorized by the church of Scotland to baptize and marry, came with this party. The earl had promised the colonists a minister of their own faith, and they had chosen Mr. Sage, a son of Rev. Alexander Sage, then minister of the parish of Kildonan, Sutherlandshire. The earl offered him a yearly salary of £50 and some special privileges, and he had agreed to go to Red River; but as he wished to perfect himself in the Gaelic language, he stipulated that he should remain in Scotland another year for that purpose. Elder Sutherland was to act as his substitute in the interval.

During the voyage a school was started for the boys and girls on board the ship, and it proved a source of entertainment for the adults as well as a benefit to the children. The lessons were given on deck in fine weather, but below decks when it was stormy; and the school hours were from 11 A. M. to 2 P. M. English bibles were the only textbooks used. George McBeth was the first teacher; hut as he did not give satisfaction, he was superseded by John Matheson.

Mr. Robert Sernple, the new governor of Assiniboia, came out on one of the ships which brought Lord Selkirk's fourth party of colonists. He reached Fort Douglas on November 3,1815, and took up his residence in the '' good, substantial house" which John McLeod had built during the summer. Semple was born in New England of loyalist parents. He had seen some military service, had engaged in business for a time, and had traveled extensively. He was a man of culture and high ideals, but he seems to have lacked the knowledge of frontier life and frontier people which would have helped him to cope with the difficulties of his new position. This position was not identical with that which Miles Macdonell had filled; for Macdonell was simply the agent of the Earl of Selkirk and does not appear to have held any appointment from the Hudson's Bay Company, while Semple was appointed governor of Assiniboia in accordance with a resolution of the company's directors adopted on May 19, 1815.

Governor Semple was accompanied by Dr. Wilkinson, who was to act as his secretary, by Lieutenant Holte, who had formerly been an officer in the Swedish navy and who came to Red River to command the armed schooner which was to be placed on Lake Winnipeg, and by Captain Rogers, a mineralogist. Dr. White, the surgeon of the colony, came up from Norway House with the party.

Farms were allotted to the new settlers on the usual terms, and a few new houses were built; then, as there was not food enough in the settlement for its increased population, many of them went to Fort Daer to subsist as well as they might on the proceeds of the buffalo hunt. Some of them went far out on the plains in pursuit of the herds, and it seems to have been a hard winter for all of them. Governor Semple himself went to Fort Daer to spend some time in hunting, leaving Robertson in charge at Fort Douglas.

When the Earl of Selkirk landed in New York in the autumn of 1815 and learned that most of his colonists in the Bed River Settlement had been coaxed away to Upper Canada and that the others had been forcibly expelled by the French half-breeds, he asked the British government to send a military force to Rupert's Land sufficient to keep the peace between the hostile fur companies and to protect the settlers who wished only to work their farms in security. He was informed that it was the duty of the government of Canada to maintain peace in Rupert's Land and that the home government could not interfere. More and more anxious about his colony, the earl set out for Canada, but reached Montreal too late to proceed to Red River that season. He strongly urged the governor of Canada to send a force into the west to keep order there; but most of the government officials of Canada seem to have been friends of the North-West Company, and so the earl's suggestions were received coldly and nothing was done.

During the winter of 1815-16 friendly Indians warned Colin Robertson now and then that danger threatened the colony, and Robertson himself knew the Metis and the North-Westers too well to believe that they would remain quiet while all their successes of the previous spring were reversed. He urged the governor to take measures which would make another attack on the settlement impossible, but Semple did riot appreciate the situation nor think the danger imminent. During the governor's absence at Fort Daer Robertson decided that he must let Lord Selkirk know the true state of affairs in the colony; yet it was almost impossible to send a message to Montreal, for all routes to Canada were carefully watched by half-breeds or Indians in the pay of the North-West Company. But Robertson had tired too long in the west not to know of a man whose cunning was a match for that of any North-West spy, if such a man existed.

About nine years earlier J. B. Lajimoniere, a Canadian voyageur, had gone from the prairies to spend the winter in his native village, Maskinonge. There he met Marie Anne Gaboury, a young woman of good family and some education. The voyageur's strange life and adventures in the far west appealed to some romantic element in her temperament and made him a hero in her eyes. Hero-worship grew into love; and when Lajimoniere returned to the prairies in the spring, Marie Anne Gaboury went with him as his wife. It is generally claimed that she was the first white woman to reach the Canadian prairies, although Alexander Henry (the younger) tells us a story of a young Scotch lass who came out disguised as a boy a few years earlier to search for a roving lover. Surely no white woman ever led a stranger life than Madame Lajimoniere did for the next ten years. Her husband, who was trapper, hunter, trader, and guide by turns, roamed the plains from the Missouri to the North Saskatchewan and from the Red River to the foothills of the Rockies; and his wife accompanied him on most of his wanderings in spite of fatigue, hunger, cold, and dangers from wild animals and wild Indians. Four children had been born to them in the changeful years, and in the fall of 1815 the family was living in a cabin on the eastern bank of the Red River nearly opposite to Fort Douglas. One day in the latter part of November Lajimoniere came home and told his wife that he was going on a long journey alone and that while he was absent the governor would furnish her and the children with food and lodging in the. fort. Her life had been too full of strange vicissitudes for one more change to surprise her much, and so she acquiesced in the arrangement.

Robertson had asked Lajimoniere to carry dispatches to Lord Selkirk in Montreal, and he had agreed to start at once. Of course the trip of 1,500 miles could only be made on foot at that time of the year, and a part of the route was beset by lurking enemies; but these facts did not deter the hardy Frenchman from attempting it. Leaving the fort so stealthily that no friends of the North-West Company suspected his departure, lie made his way to Pembina, where he persuaded two or three old-time friends to accompany him. Together they set out on the long journey through the woods to the head of Lake Superior. There the merest chance saved them from capture at the hands of the North-Westers. Snow impeded them, breaking ice nearly cost them their lives, and starvation dogged them much of the way; but they pushed forward with relentless haste, and on January 6, 1816, a haggard, wild-looking man thrust Robertson's dispatches into Selkirk's own hands in Montreal. In thirty-eight days Lajimoniere had accomplished his mission.

In those days life on the prairies developed men of iron constitutions who hardly seemed to know fatigue, and Lajimoniere wished to return at once; but the earl detained him until replies to Robertson could be written, and these required much consideration, for the situation was serious indeed. At last the fearless voyageur started on the return trip. He reached the neighborhood of Fond du Lac at the head of Lake Superior without mishap, but there his good fortune forsook him. Norman McLeod had written to agents of the North-West Company in Minnesota, ''Lajimoniere is again to pass through your Department, on his way to Red River. He must absolutely be prevented. He and the men along with him, and an Indian guide he has, must all be sent to Fort William. It is a matter of astonishment how he could have made his way last fall through your Department.' So the Indians, anxious to earn the promised reward of £20, two kegs of rum, and some tobacco, watched the trails more closely than ever. They captured Lajimoniere, beat him into insensibility, and carried him to Fort William, where he was kept a close prisoner. It was a year before he saw wife and children again.

Lord Selkirk's letters, which were taken from Lajimoniere and handed to the North West partners at Fort William, did not lessen their animosity against the writer. He informed his agents at Fort Douglas that he would visit the rolony in the spring to reduce its affairs to a more settled condition and to protect the settlers from further molestation by the half-breeds. He indicated that he intended to continue his efforts to evict the North-Westers. ""There can be no doubt,'/-he wrote, "that the North-West Company must be compelled . . . . to quit my lands . . . especially at the Forks . . . , but as it will be necessary to use force, I am anxious that this should be done under legal warrant '

Soon after he had received Robertson's dispatches, he renewed the application for troops to keep the peace in Red River, which he had made in person and by letter during the previous November; but Lord Drummond, the governor-general, replied that he had not changed his opinion and did not think it wise or necessary to send soldiers to the colony. Selkirk wrote again about the matter on March 11. and once more in a letter dated Montreal, April 23,1816. In the latter he urges that the governor-general has been given full authority to deal with the matter by Lord Bathurst, the colonial secretary, that only the presence of troops m the Red River country can protect the colonists from their enemies, that the Indians are friends of the settlers and will not resent the presence of soldiers, that there is danger of the half-breeds' attack on the settlement being renewed, and that the return of the expelled settlers and the arrival of a considerable body of new settlers warrant His Excellency in reconsidering the whole matter. He also offers to produce ample testimony to prove the statements he makes and undertakes to pay the whole cost of transporting and provisioning the troops, if, on investigation, the home government does not deem the expedition necessary, All his arguments were of no avail, however; and when he subsequently asked the government of Canada to investigate the evidence he had obtained against the North-West Company, he was told that there was nothing to fear as all necessary steps had been taken to restore tranquility. Lord Selkirk had been given a commission as a justice of the peace m Upper Canada and the Indian Lands, and in that capacity he was given permission to take a guard of one sergeant and six soldiers when he wvent west to Red River The guard was to accompany hiin from Drummond Island in Lake Huron, the most western point in Canada having an English garrison at that time.

The Earl of Selkirk did not share Lord Drummond's confidence that permanent peace had been secured for the colony, for he had information from Robertson that the North-Westers and their allies were making preparations for the complete destruction of the settlement before the summer Was over. His only hope was to get a strong force into the country before they could deliver their blow. He found that there was nothing to hope from the government of Canada, dominated as it was by the influence of the North-West Company, and that he must depend on his own resources. Fortune seemed to favor him in one respect, for he found the instrument, which he needed, ready to his hand.

During the wars with Napoleon the British war office had engaged two regiments of mercenaries for service on the Continent. They were commanded by Colonel de Meuron and Colonel de Wattville and were composed of soldiers of many nationalities—French, German, Swiss, and others. They afterward came 1o Canada to aid her in the war with the United States; but after it was concluded by the peace of Ghent in the last days of 1814, the regiments were disbanded. Many of the soldiers remained in Canada, and lands were given to those who wished them; but their military life had not fitted them to be successful farmers, and some of them were willing to go to Red River with Lord Selkirk as military settlers. They were to receive grants of land there in the same way as other settlers, but in consideration of a little pay, they were to bear arms in defence of the colony, should circumstances make it necessary. They entered into a written agreement with the earl, and one of its conditions was that he would send them back to Europe, if they were not satisfied with the country. Of course he was to supply them with arms and ammunition. About a hundred of these soldiers were engaged, and they were placed under the command of two of their former officers, Captain d'Orsonnens and Captain Matthey.

These preparations had delayed Lord Selkirk somewhat, and it was about the middle of June before he left York (Toronto) with his soldiers and a hundred canoemen and commenced the trip up the lakes. The large canoes were heavily laden with a plentiful supply of provisions for his men, muskets for the soldiers, and two small cannon; so they could not proceed very rapidly. Captain Miles Macdonell, who had been discharged by the courts of Canada for lack of any evidence against him, was ready to return to Red River with the earl, and he was sent in advance with a few men in light canoes to make preparations for the main body of the expedition. The protection, which the Red River colony needed so sorely, seemed to be on the way to it at last.


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus