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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XVIII Uncertain Years


The seed sown by the settlers on their return to Red River in the spring of 1817 yielded abundantly, but so little could be sown that the crop was wholly unequal to the needs of the people for the following winter. So there was no recourse for them but to go to Fort Daer once more and join in the winter hunt for buffaloes. Many of them set out on the journey in the latter part of October, some securing passage in the boats of the Hudson's Bay Company as they took the winter's supply of goods to the posts on the upper river. They repaired the shanties built there in former winters and hoped to find shelter in them until spring; but that season the buffalo herds were far off on the Missouri side of the plains and the trip thither was a hard one for the settlers, as they hail few horses. Buffaloes were plentiful there, however, and so the colonists were able to supply themselves with food.

The winter was mild, and signs of spring appeared in February . The hunters turned eastward to the upper part of the Red River, constructed canoes and dugouts for themselves, and floated down to the settlement, finding plenty of wild fowl on the way. To supplement the small supply of seed obtained from the crops of the previous year the settlers applied to the North-West Company. In the neighborhood of its fort at Bas de la Riviere this company has a small area of cultivated land on which wheat, barley, and vegetables were grown, and from this source as much seed as possible was supplied to the settlers. The assurance that they would not be driven from their humble homes again and their determination not to endure the hardship of another winter at Fort Daer or on the plains lay behind the anxiety of the settlers to sow and plant more extensively than ever before.

A few settlers, who had been induced by Lord Selkirk to leave Canada for his colony on the prairie, reached Fort Douglas on August 12 ; but when they saw the colonists' farms, they went on south to Pembina. The fields, which the farmers had planted so hopefully in the spring and which bad promised such good crops in the early summer, were bare and brown m August. The grasshoppers, more relentless than Cuthbert Grant's half-breeds, had appeared on July 18, and in a few days they had destroyed nearly all the crops. So the new arrivals from Canada could do nothing but go on to Pembina. The Metis of St. Boniface followed them a little later, and when winter approached the people of Kildonan had to take the trail to Fort Daer once more. They had harvested a little grain from patches which had not been completely destroyed by the grasshoppers, but all of it was needed as seed for the coming spring. The experience of the colonists at Fort Daer and on the plains during that winter of 1818-19 were very like those of the preceding' winter, except that the buffalo herds were not far' from Pembina. The colony could scarcely have escaped starvation in those early years of its history, had it not been for the buffalo; and the presence of the animal on Manitoba's coat of arms has a deeper significance than appears at the first glance.

"When spring came, the settlers returned to their farms and, hopeful still, sowed their fields again; but the newly arrived Canadians decided to settle at Pembina. Midsummer brought the grasshoppers a second time, more numerous than before, and this year they left nothing to be reaped; so the winter drove the Scotch and the French to the banks of the Pembina River once more. The settlers, having spent parts of several winters on the plains, were gradually acquiring some skill as hunters and found it more and more easy to kill enough buffaloes to supply themselves and their families with food. This fact and the uncertainty which had attended all their attempts at farming tended to draw them away from the life of the farmer to that of the hunter and was a source of danger to the success of the colony.

As there was no seed left in the colony, Mr. Laidlaw took a number of men ami went to Prairie du Chien, a town on the Mississippi River, to purchase wheat They started in February, 1820, and made the trip on snowshoes. "When spring arrived they purchased 250 bushels at 10 shillings per bushel, loaded the grain into boats, and brought it up the Mississippi to a point not far from the Red River; then boats and cargo were transported to the latter and rowed down to Fort Douglas. It was June when the settlers received their wheat, and although they sowed some of it, only a small quantity had time to ripen. The grasshoppers did not destroy it, so there was plenty of seed for the following year; and although their crops were sometimes injured by grasshoppers and frosts, it was many years before the settlers were obliged to import grain for seed. Indeed they could hardly afford to import it, for that brought from Prairie du Chien cost the Selkirk estate £1,040, or about £4 per bushel.

During the early years of its history the progress, perhaps the very existence, of Lord Selkirk's colony depended in a great measure upon the Hudson's Bay Company. The settlers came to the shores of the bay in its ships, they were eared for at its posts, they came south in company with its brigades, it brought them such supplies as were imported from the Old Country, it bought the products of their labor when they had any for sale, and it often gave them employment when they had no crops and food wan hard to get. Thus their success was closely connected with its prosperity, and whatever threatened it was a menace to them. The opposition and hostility of the North-"West Company continued to harass the Hudson's Bay Company; and in spite of the proclamation of the governor-general of Canada, there were occasional outbreaks of violence between the two companies.

In the autumn of 1819 Colin Robertson and John Clark took one hundred ind thirty voyageurs to Lake Athabasca. At lie a la Crosse and elsewhere in the far west the North-Westers were in the ascendant, and the Indians had been kept in ignorance of the reverses of the company in the Red River district. The advent of this strong party at Fort Chippewayan opened their eyes to the changed conditions, and they soon began to bring their trade to the Hudson's Bay Company's post. Clark was sent to the Peace River with thirty men, and Robertson remained with the others. Occasional encounters took place between them and the men of the neighboring North West post, and finally Robertson himself was captured. For eight months the North-Westers kept him a close prisoner, although he managed to keep up communication with his own men by means of a cipher code,, the messages being conveyed in whiskey kegs. But the North-Westers discovered the trick in May, and decided to ship Robertson out of the country, threatening him with death if he ever returned. But it was too late, for even then some of his own men were close to Red River, carrying to the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company information regarding the movements of the North-Westers and directions for checkmating these moves.

Williams had come out from England in 1818 as superintendent for the Hudson's Bay Company in the Northern Department of Rupert's Land. He remained some days at York Factory and then went on to Cumberland House, where he spent the winter. In the spring he proceeded to Red River, arriving in May. As soon as Lake Winnipeg was free of ice, he manned the armed vessel, which had been placed on the lake, and a number of river boats, and with a guard of the de Meuron soldiers, went north to the, Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan to wait for the coming of the North-West brigade from Athabasca. There were forty men in the brigade, five of them being partners in the company. Robertson was brought down as a prisoner by the brigade as far as Cumberland House, but there he escaped to the post of nis own company. His captors were forced to go 011 without him, but he followed close behind them, eager to see them made captives in turn. As Robertson tramped along the sandy trail through the pine woods, which marks the portage at Grand Rapids, he came upon a sight which must have given him keen satisfaction. Governor Williams' men had done their work thoroughly, and the whole North--West brigade had been captured. The entire output of furs from the North-West Company's posts had been taken; the vovageurs, with no spirit for fighting or even boasting left, were gathered in a disconsolate group; and in a poor cabin guarded by the armed de Meurons, were the five captured partners of the North-West Company—Shaw, Mcintosh, McTavish, Campbell, and Frobisher.

Williams allowed the clerks and vovageurs to reload their furs and proceed to Montreal, but he took the captive partners down to York Factory. About the end of August Sir John Franklin came to the fort with letters of introduction to the principal agents of both the fur companies. He advised that the North-West prisoners should be sent to England by the ship in which he had come out. This was done in the case of McTavish and Shaw, but Campbell was allowed to go down to James Bay and find his way overland to Canada. Frobisher was ill and partially insane, and it was not thought wise to release him. Perhaps he would not have been set free, had he been perfectly well and sane, for no North Wester had been more relentless in his hatred of the Hudson's Bay Company or more cruel in his treatment of its employees. He was confined in an old building, and two of his men, Turcotte and Lepine, were allowed to care for him. After a time his health seemed to improve and he planned to escape. By saving a small quantity of food from their rations for some days and some extra food, which a servant of the Hudson's Bay Company smuggled into their prison, they acquired a little stock of provision for the journey which Frobisher contemplated. His men urged that such a trip meant death, but he resolved to attempt it. On the night of September 30th the three men broke out of their prison, induced a Hudson's Bay employee to give them a few pairs of socks and mittens, picked up a piece of deerskin and a net, climbed the palisades, and swam across the icy Hayes River. Securing an old canoe, they made their way stealthily up the river, finding shelter in old cabins and catching a few fish for food. In twenty days they reached Oxford House. Thereafter there were no cabins, and the old canoe and the piece of deerskin furnished little protection from the bitter cold at night. The few provisions with which they had started were almost exhausted, and fish were hard to get, In another week the ground was covered with snow and the streams and lakes were frozen. The canoe had to be abandoned, but the journey was continued on foot. When the three despairing men reached Lake Winnipeg, they found it open and were forced to tramp along its north shore, hoping to fall in With some of the North-West Company's men. By the middle of November Frobisher was too weak to walk, but the two half-breeds would not desert him. They carried him by turns, and 011 the 20th of the month they reached a point only two days' travel from a North-West post. Frobisher ordered them to leave him and go to the post for help. They were so weak that it was four days before they arrived, and it took rescuers three days more to reach the spot where Frobisher had been left. They were too late, for they found only his dead body by the ashes of his camp-fire.

Acts of violence continued during the year at various points in the vast country over which the fur companies plied their trade, and in the spring of 1820 the North-Westers captured Robertson at Grand Rapids by a plan very similar to that which he had devised for their capture a year earlier. He was given the option of going to Montreal as a prisoner or taking an oath never to enter the Athabasca district again. He elected to go to Montreal, but escaped on the way and reached that city a free man only to learn that negotiations for Ihe union of the two fur companies had been opened.

The story of their reverses in the far west brought consternation to the North-West partners. Some of them hastened from Fort William to Montreal, and the heads of the company there appealed to the government of Canada to enforce the proclamation of 1817, which required the two companies to keep the peace. An agent of the government was sent to the west to warn the men in charge of posts that acts of violence must cease. The representatives of the North-West Company in London brought the conditions existing in Rupert's Land to the attention of the home government, urging that steps be taken to preserve the peace in that remote region. It is said that Lord Bathurst, the colonial secretary, intimated to the representatives of the two companies in an inofficial way that, if they could find a basis of union, the government would pass the necessary legislation.

The North-West Company seems to have made the first advances towards amalgamation. Strictly speaking, the North-West Company was not a company at all and never had been; it was merely a partnership for a term of twenty-one years, and that term would expire in 1821. For some time its reverses had been so severe that the partners had received no profits on the capital which they had invested. When the annual meeting was held at Fort

William in July, 1820, and the question of union with their adversary was broached, the partners present were far from being unanimous about it. The majority seems to have favored a union, however, and delegates were sent to London to assist in bringing it about. Strangely enough, some of them sailed on the very ship which carried Colin Robertson to England, when he hurried thither to advise the Hudson's Bay Company against making any terms with its rival, inasmuch as that rival was hopelessly beaten and ready to quit the field in which it had waged such a persistent warfare for nearly forty years.

But in London events had moved faster than Robertson and the North-West delegates had anticipated. The Right Honorable Edward Ellice, a prominent partner in the North-West Company and a man who had had considerable experience in the management of its affairs in Rupert's Land, seems to have taken the lead in arranging a basis of union between the two companies. The terms were embodied in a document called the "Deed Poll," which was signed on March 26, 3821, by the proper officers of the Hudson's Bay Company and by Messrs. Edward Ellice, William McGillivray, and Simon McGillivray, as representatives of the North-West Company. So the delegates found that they bad nothing to do except to return to Canada and assist in the reorganization of the staff and methods of the new company.

Perhaps because of the charter granted to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 by Charles II, the new company retained the old name. It seems that the total stock of the new company was fixed at £250,000, of which £150,000 was to be allotted to former shareholders in the Hudson's Bay Company in proportion to their previous holdings and £100,000 to the partners of the North-West Company. All expenses of the business either at London or in America were to be paid out of the profits of the business, but no funds of the new company were to be expended for colonization. After all expenses had been paid, sixty per cent, of the net profits was to be divided among the shareholders, while the remaining forty per cent, was to be divided among the chief factors and chief traders in lieu of salaries. There were to be twenty-five chief factors and twenty-eight chief traders; and the portion of the company's net profits set apart for the payment of their salaries was to be divided into eighty-five parts, each chief factor drawing two of these parts and each chief trader one, while the remaining seven parts were to be devoted to allowances to retired servants. Factors and traders who wintered in the interior were to have certain necessaries free of charge; and after spending three years in the interior, a factor or a trader could obtain leave of absence for a year. Regulations were also made in regard to their retirement from the service. The agreement between the two companies was to last for twenty-one years, and it seems to have received immediate sanction from the British government. A royal license was issued to it on December 5, 1821, giving it permission to trade with Indians in various parts of North America not covered by the original charter granted by Charles II. This virtually extended the company's monopoly over British Columbia for a period of twenty-one years. The license was renewed for twenty-one years on May 30, 1838; but Messrs. Ellice, W. McGillivray, and McGillivray were not included in this renewal.

The business of the Hudson's Bay Company was no longer managed directly by a committee in London through governors of districts in Rupert's Land, but through a governor-in-chief who had sole charge of the business and government of the company's vast domain in America. He had an advisory council composed of the chief factors and some of the chief traders,/which met at Norway House once a year. For the regulation of trade, the company's territory was divided into four departments—the Northern, including the country between Hudson Bay and the Rocky Mountains; the Southern, extending from James Bay to Canada; the Montreal, including Canada; and the Western, extending from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean.

George Simpson, who had seen service as a clerk of the Hudson's Bay Company, was appointed to the important position of governor-in-chief. Nicholas Garry, one of the directors of the company, came out with him to assist in the necessary reorganization, and they were accompanied by one or two of the former partners of the North-West Company. There was much work to be done which required good judgment and tact. Employment could not be given to all the old employees of both companies and some men had to be dismissed. There were chief factors and chief traders to be appointed, and the old factors of the Hudson's Bay Company declared that the best positions were given to erstwhile North-Westers. Many posts of one or other of the companies had to be abandoned, being no longer needed. Finally the Indians had to be apprised of the new order of things, and treaties made where necessary.

But one trading post was necessary at the junction of the Red River and the Assiniboine; and as the site of the North-Westers' post, Fort Gibraltar, was considered more convenient for trade than Fort Douglas, a new fort was constructed thereon. It was commenced in 1821, and when completed was named Fort Garry. The governor of the settlement continued to reside at Fort Douglas, however, for some years. Shortly after Governor Semple's death, the Earl of Selkirk had appointed Alexander McDonell as his successor, and this man held the position until 1822.

By the amalgamation of the two companies the relentless conflict between them, which had kept the whole western country in a turmoil for a generation, was terminated, and thus the greatest menace to the prosperity of Lord Selkirk's little colony beside the Red River was removed. Thenceforward it was to have a chance to develop as the character of the country and the character of its people would determine.


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