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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XVII Selkirk's Visit


"When the Earl of Selkirk left Toronto in June, 1816, with his voyageurs and his military settlers, he intended to take a southerly route across Lake Superior, so as to avoid any clash with the North-West Company in the vicinity of Fort William, cross Minnesota to the Red River, and follow it down to his settlement. It was late in July when he completed the transfer of his supplies across the portage at Sault Ste. Marie; and almost as soon as his canoes were launched on Lake Superior, he met Miles Macdonell, hurrying hack with news of the disaster which had befallen his colony. It was so evident that the loss of life at Seven Oaks and the expulsion of the settlers were results of the plotting of the North-West partners and clerks that Lord Selkirk felt justified in trying to bring some of the culprits to justice. He waited long enough to lay information against the North-West partners at Fort William before Mr. Askin and Mr. Ermatinger, two justices of the peace stationed near Sault Ste. Marie, and to ask that they be placed under arrest. But the two magistrates, believing the matter to be a quarrel between the fur companies, refused to take any action, and Selkirk felt compelled to act himself. So he changed his plans and went to Fort William, arriving on August 12. There he arrested several of the partners and clerks of the North-West [Company and sent them to Toronto for trial. lie also seized some of the company's books and papers containing damaging evidence against it, and he released a few prisoners, who had been captured and held by the North-Westers because they had given active support to the Hudson's Bay Company in the conflicts at Red River. J. B. Lajimoniere was among those set free, but he was too useful to be allowed to return home at once.

The proceedings against the North-West agents at Fort William delayed Lord Selkirk until the latter part of August. Then it was necessary to secure additional supplies, and when that was done, the season was so far advanced that the expedition could not be taken through the woods to Fort Douglas before winter set in. So the party went into camp for the winter at a place a few miles west of Fort William, since known as Point de Meuron. The autumn was not passed in complete inaction, however. A party of Selkirk's soldiers took possession of a North-West post at Michipicoten; another took the post at Fond du Lac and brought in the North-West agent as a prisoner; and a third pushed through the forest to the foot of Rainy Lake, seized Fort St. Pierre on October 9, and captured the murderer Reinhart who was lurking there.

In the early part of the winter Lajimoniere was sent to his home in the Red River Settlement and reached it a few days before Christmas. While a prisoner at Fort William, he had been told that his wife and children had been killed, and so he was overjoyed to find them alive, although housed in a rude hut .m the banks of the river. Neither to them nor to his old companions did the faithful scout give any hint of the earl's plans, and so the North-Westers took no steps to make their position in Fort Douglas more secure.

In the first days of January, 1817, Captain d'Orsonnens, Miles Macdonell, and a detachment of the de Memon soldiers were sent forward to Red River. They went by way of Fond du Lac and Red Lake to the Red River, and followed the stream until they were a few miles above the Forks; then they struck across the country until they reached the Assiniboine near St. James. There they remained a day or two to make scaling ladders; but no whisper of their presence seems to have got abroad. The night of the 10th came, and a heavy snowstorm intensified the darkness. Leaving their place of concealment, the soldiers marched silently down the river to Fort Douglas, placed their scaling ladders against its palisades, climbed over, and had possession of the place before the North-Westers suspected that they were near. Alexander McDonell retired from te settlement, his clerks scattered to other posts of the North-West Company, and the de Meuron soldiers took up their quarters in the fort to await the coming of Lord Selkirk.

As soon as possible Captain d'Orsonnens sent some of his men to the refugees at Jack River to tell them that the earl would arrive in the spring to reorganize his unfortunate colony, that he would reimburse them for their losses, and that they would have adequate protection, if they returned to their farms. Finally they were induced to go back and reached the ruined settlement in the early part of June. Captain d'Orsonnens reinstated them on their farms, gave them some grain and potatoes for seed, and supplied them with provisions to tide them over the summer.

Lord Selkirk, with the remainder of his men, left Point de Meuron on May 1, 1817, and followed his advance party to Fort Douglas where he arrived about the end of June. Early in the following month the settlers were called together to meet him. The meeting was held out of doors on the ground now occupied by St. John's cathedral. Winnipeg. It wan a dramatic moment in the history of Manitoba, and some day an artist will reproduce the scene in a worthy painting. In front of the gathering the river flowed, undisturbed by the struggles and sufferings of the people on its banks; beyond it on the east side the thick woods seemed to shut the settlement from the rest of the world; behind the quiet people the open prairie, stretching westward for nearly a thousand miles, seemed to invite them to occupy it; the few buildings of Fort Douglas on their right and the scattered dwellings of the settlement on their left stood as monuments of their long struggle with adverse circumstances; over them was the sunlit July sky of the west.

Nearly every resident of the district must have been present that day. The French and Metis would come out of neighborly feeling; the time-expired servants of the fur companies, who had decided to remain m the country, would be present; a few Indians would come out of curiosity; a hundred of the de Meurons would attend; and the two hundred settlersómen of the Highlands, the Orkneys and Hebrides, natives of England and Irelandówould be in the foreground. It was no gaily dressed party, rejoicing in a summer holiday, but a group of battered men. weary women, and ragged children, disheartened by the harsh reception accorded them by the land of their adoption but not quite ready to abandon it because they still had confidence in its future. Some had endured its hardships for two years, others for six; but they were united in the bond of sympathy formed by sharing common hopes and common dangers. They had endured the weariness of the long voyage to Hudson Bay, the winter cold in the rude huts at Churchill and York, the toil of the boat trip to the prairies, and the misery of Fort Daer; they had been driven from their poor homes to suffer unrecorded privations at Jack River; some of their friends had died, others had been killed, and many had moved away; and yet the survivors, destitute of everything except courage, hope, and a capacity for patient endurance, were still determined to make homes for themselves on the western prairies. The future of Manitoba was in their keeping

Before the people, whom fate had treated so harshly, stood the man who had seen the vision and whose enthusiasm had led them to the lonely land. Tall and spare, with kindly face and affable manner, his personal magnetism and genuine interest in their welfare still had power to renew their hope and courage. The Earl of Selkirk had many of the qualities of a leader of menó high ideals, sympathy, determination He may have lacked foresight, perhaps he insisted too strongly on what he considered his rights, and he may have been too impetuous in dealing with opponents; but he was kind to the poor people who had entrusted their future to his guidance. He spent his resources freely to aid them, and his estate must have been greatly impaired by his efforts at colonization.

"What were the thoughts of this man as he stood on the banks of the muddy river and looked over the fair land which had been in his mind so much of the. time for fifteen years? If he felt disappointment as he remembered the circumstances which had baffled his best plans up to that time, or if he felt anxiety as he looked forward to the future of his colony, he did not show either to the waiting people. To them he spoke only of hope and of ultimate success. They were to reoccupy their land along the river, and twenty-four of the men, having improved their farms previous to their expulsion by the Metis, would receive titles absolutely free. The farms were to be laid out on the west bank of the river in accordance with the original plan of Captain Miles Macdonell; and Peter Elder, the surveyor of the Hudson's Bay Company, would make the surveys. Each owner of a farm was to have the privilege of cutting wood on ten acres of land on the east bank of the river, and until these wood-lots were surveyed, he might cut wood on any portion of his lordship's land which was most convenient. When the land ori the east bank of the river was surveyed into farms, the settlers on the other bank were to have the first chance to purchase them. For a time the settlers were to receive provisions on his lordship's credit.

The earl's plans for the welfare of his colony did not stop here. He wished to provide for their intellectual improvement and their spiritual needs. "Here," said he, pointing to the lot on which they stood (No. 4), "you shall build your church; that lot (No. 3) is for your school. When some of the settlers, assured by his kindness, ventured to remind him that Rev. Mr, Sage, the Presbyterian clergyman for whom they had waited several years, had not arrived and that Elder James Sutherland had gone away, the earl renewed his promise to send them a minister, "Lord Selkirk never forfeits his word", he added. Finally his lordship gave the new settlement the name of Kildonan, the name of the parish in far-away Scotland which had been the home of many of the people before him.

It appears that a number of French people, who had been drawn to the country by the fur trade, had built homes on the east bank of the Red River almost opposite to the site of Fort Douglas, and that many of the Metis made their homes in the same locality, when not absent on buffalo hunts. The total French and half-breed population of the district may have been two hundred. Naturally many of the de Meuron and de Wattville soldiers wished to settle among these people, and so farms were allotted to them along the Seine River. As some of them were Germans, the stream took the name of German Creek. It was out of compliment to these German settlers that the name of their patron saint, St. Boniface, was given to the little village which grew up there. Lord Selkirk was as anxious to provide a priest for the Roman Catholics in his colony as to obtain a minister for the Presbyterians. Father Bourke was a member of the very first party sent out from Stornoway but Miles Macdonell did not find him adapted for the work to be done in the new settlement, and so he was allowed to return to Ireland from York Factory.

Almost as soon as Captain Macdonell arrived with his first party of settlers, Lord Selkirk began to urge him to quiet the Indian title to the lands which they would occupy; but, although he frequently referred to the matter in subsequent letters, Macdonell did nothing except to ask detailed instructions as to the method of procedure. Perhaps he was really at a loss to know what steps to take; perhaps he thought the matter of little importance, especially as the Indians in the neighborhood of the settlement had seemed so well disposed towards the colonists. But the earl was convinced that it was very important to secure from the Indians a formal surrender of their title to the lands which his settlers would take up^-and he thought such a step doubly necessary in view of the notions which the North-Westers had tried to instill into the minds of the Indians and half-breeds. So on July 18 he called the chiefs and warriors of the Ojibway and Cree tribes together and concluded a formal treaty with them. It was embodied in the following document:

"This Indenture, made on the 18tli day of July, in the fifty-seventh year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King George the Third, and in the year of our Lord 1817, between the undersigned Chiefs and Warriors of the Chippeway or Saulteaux Nation, and of the Killistino or Cree Nation, on the one part, and the Right Honourable Thomas Earl of Selkirk on the other part. Witnesseth, that for and in consideration of the annual present or quit-rent hereinafter mentioned, the said Chiefs have given, granted, and confirmed, and do by>these presents give, grant, and confirm, unto our Sovereign Lord the King, all that tract of land, adjacent to Red River and Assiniboine River, beginning at the mouth of the Red River, and extending along the same as far as the Great Forks at the mouth of Red Lake River, and along Assiniboine River as far as Musk-Iiat River, otherwise called Riviere des Champignons, and extending to the distance of six miles from Fort Douglas (the first polony fort) on every side, and likewise from Fort Daer (at Pembina), and also from the Great Forks, and in other parts extending in breadth to the distance of two English statute miles back from the banks of the said rivers, on each side, together with all the appurtenances whatsoever of the said tract of land, to have and to hold forever the said tract of land, and appurtenances, to the use of the said Earl of Selkirk, and of the settlers being established thereon, with the consent and permission of our Sovereign Lord the King, or of the said Earl of Selkirk. Provided always, and these presents are under the express condition, that the said Earl, his heirs and successors, or their agents, shall annually pay to the Chiefs and Warriors of the Chippeway or Saulteaux Nation the present, or quit-rent, consisting of one hun dred pounds weight of good merchantable tobacco, to be delivered on or before the tenth day of October at the Forks of Assiniboine River; and to the Chiefs and Warriors of the Kinistineaux or Cree Nation a like present, or quit-rent, of one hundred pounds of tobacco, to be delivered to them on or before the said tenth day of October, at Portage de la Prairie, on the banks of Assiniboine River. Provided always that the traders hitherto established upon any part of the above-mentioned land, shall not be molested in the possession of the lands which they have already cultivated and improved, till His Majesty's pleasure shall be known.

"In witness whereof, the Chiefs aforesaid have set their marks at the Forks of Red River, on the day aforesaid.

"(Signed)

"Selkirk,

"Mociie AY Keocab (Le Sonent), "Ouckidoat (Premier, alias Grande Oreilles), "Mechttdewikonaie (La Robe Noire), "Kayijif.kebinoa (L'Homme Noir), "Pegowis.

h .'"Signed in the presence of Thomas Thomas, James Bird, F. Matthey, Captain, I'. d'Orsennens, Captain, Miles Macdonell, J. Bte. Chr. de I-iOrimier, Louis Nolin, interpreter.'

Each of the chiefs made his mark in the form of an outline of some animal, his totem. The Chippeway or Saulteaux Indians were mentioned first in this treaty, and the fact gave offence to the Crees, for the Chippewas had not reached the Red River country much before the white men arrived there and were consequently regarded as interlopers by the Crees, who had been in the country for centuries. The anger of the Crees showed itself in threats to drive the Saulteaux back to their own district about Lake Superior and to reclaim the lands on which the whites had settled, urrless the mention of the Saulteaux was deleted from the treaty.

The disorder and lawlessness which had prevailed in the west for years and which had culminated in the arrests, robberies, and bloodshed of 1815 and 1816, finally roused the home government to interfere, and a somewhat peremptory request was sent to the government of Canada to put an end to the disgraceful state of affairs. In the dispatch sent to the governor-general the following paragraph occurs:

"You will also require, under similar penalties, the restitution of all forts, buildings, or trading stations, with the property which they contain, which may have been seized or taken possession of by either party, to the party who originally established or constructed the same, and who were in possession of them previous to the recent disputes between the two companies. You will also require the removal of any blockade or impediment, by which any party may have attempted to prevent the free passage of traders, or others of His Majesty's subjects, or the natives of the country, with their merchandise, furs, provisions and other effects throughout the lakes, rivers, roads and every other usual route or communication heretofore used for the purpose of the fur trade in the interior of North America, and the full and free permission of all persons to pursue their usual and accustomed trade without hindrance or molestation.''

The governor-general appointed Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. Coltman and Major Fletcher as a commission to inquire into the troubles and existing conditions in the Red River Settlement. These gentlemen left Montreal in May, 1817, en route for the field of their inquiry. At Fort William they learned that the sheriff of Upper Canada, by virtue of a writ of restitution, had taken possession of the fort and its contents and restored them to the North-West Company. Proceeding westward, the commissioners compelled the restoration of all seized property as far as was possible. They reached Red River about the first of July and found Fort Douglas already in the hands of the original owners. Fort Gibraltar, having been completely destroyed, could not be restored, but the Norlh-West Company was allowed to construct new buildings for its trade. The members of the commission met Lord Selkirk during their stay in the colony and seem to have been impressed with his fairmindedness and sincerity. Major Fletcher appears to have taken little active interest in the work of the commission; but Colonel Coltman, notwithstanding his former connection with the Hudson's Bay Company, seems to have done his work in an impartial and thorough manner, and his report did much to bring peace to the troubled colony. The mandate of the government against further acts of violence on the part of the two fur companies was obeyed in Assiniboia; but in the far west and the north depredations and counter-depredations continued for three years longer. Colin Robertson was to be kept a prisoner by the North-Westers for months at lie a la Crosse, half a dozen North-Westers were to be captured by the Hudson's Bay Company's men at Grand Rapids on the Saskatchewan, Benjamin Frobisher was to perish from cold and hunger in his desperate attempt to escape from his captors, many another stout-hearted partizan was to suffer or die, and much property of both companies was to be destroyed before the long struggle between the companies was terminated by their amalgamation.

Having done all that lay in his power to promote the welfare of his colonists, Lord Selkirk left Red River and went back to New York, intending to return to Scotland; but he was compelled to go north to Canada to answer to criminal charges in the courts of Montreal and Toronto. Wearisome and expensive trials, Selkirk being defendant in some and plaintiff in others, kept him in Canada for nearly a year. He returned to England in 1818, broken in health and spirits. Shortly afterwards he went to southern France, hoping for restoration to health. But his hopes were not realized. He died at Pau on April 8, 1820. and his body was buried in the Protestant cemetery at Orthes. Lord Selkirk's great opponent, Sir Alexander Mackenzie, had passed away only twenty-seven days earlier.


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