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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XIX Progress and Reverses


For some time previous to the death of the Earl of Selkirk his agents had been at work in Switzerland, seeking colonists for his settlement in Red River; and in 1821 quite a large party of Swiss people, led by Count d'Eusser, left their native land for that distant colony. They went over to Great Britain, and then they were taken to York Factory in the ships of the Hudson's Bay Company. They reached that port about the end of August, and it was late in the fall before they arrived at Fort Douglas. They did not receive a very warm welcome from the earlier settlers, for most of them were mechanics, watchmakers, cooks, or musicians—men of the towns who had no practical knowledge of farming and were not prepared for pioneer life. A few of their countrymen were among the de Meuron soldiers who had settled along the Seine River, and these people gave the Swiss immigrants a more kindly reception. The most cordial welcome was given to Swiss families in which there were marriageable daughters, for many of the ex-soldiers were unmarried and anxious to secure helpmates in their homes. It may have been the advent of these ill-provided and rather helpless people which led many of the French and Scotch to migrate to the Pembina River once more when winter came; for, although the harvest had been plentiful that season and the grasshoppers had spared it, there was not enough surplus food in the settlement to provide for so many new-comers. It proved a trying winter for all the people, and the Swiss suffered P severely. The settlers went back to their farms in the spring, but food was scarce until the new crops matured. Many of the Swiss were so discouraged by the experiences of the winter and spring that they went south into Minnesota, Some of those who remained moved away from the Seine River and settled along the Red.

Up to this time the colonists had very little live stock besides the ponies obtained from the Metis and the Indians; but during the summer of 1822 some drovers brought about three hundred head of horned cattle from the United States and found a ready sale for them. Good oxen brought £18 each and good cows as much as £30 each. A few years later another drove of cattle was brought into the settlement from the United States; but in the meantime the stock of the settlers had increased so fast that the imported cattle were sold at half the prices of the first drove.

As the returns from farming had proved rather uncertain for the years during which the colony had been in existence, it was thought wise to promote other industries, and the "Buffalo "Wool Company^' was organized in 1822. This company was to collect the wool of the wild buffalo in great quantities and

manufacture it into cloth for the use of the settlers and for export, and it was to tan the buffalo bides and manufacture all kinds of leather goods from them. The stock of the company was fixed at £2,000, and when it had been taken up, the money received was placed with the Hudson's Bay Company. The expense of collecting buffalo hides and wool and the cost of making them into leather and cloth proved so much greater than was anticipated that the money received for the new company's stock was soon exhausted. Then the Hudson's Bay Company advanced it about £4,500 to enable it to continue operations. By the time this sum had been spent it was found that a yard of cloth made from buffalo wool by the methods of the new company would cost £2 10s, while the cloth actually "sold brought only about 4 1/2 shillings per yard. So the company ceased operations about a year after it was organized. The stock holders lost all the money which they had put into the venture, and they owed the Hudson's Bay Company the sum which it had advanced. As they could not pay this debt, the Hudson's Bay Company cancelled it after a few years.

One detail of Lord Selkirk's scheme was the establishment of a model farm to promote good methods of farming among his colonists. His plan was carried out after his death, and a large farm was laid out not far from Fort Douglas. It was galled Hay-Field Farm, and Mr. Laidlaw, a farmer with practical experience in Scotland, was brought out to manage it. A residence for the manager was erected at a cost of £600; houses for the employees, barns, and other outbuildings were put up j implements were brought from Britain; and a large staff of farm hands and dairy maids was engaged. But the enterprise was not managed wisely, and in a few years it was abandoned. The experiment cost the Selkirk estate £2,000.

For some years after Lord Selkirk's colony was first founded his agents purchased supplies of food, clothing, tools, etc. for the use of the settlers and sent these goods to the colony store at Fort Douglas. The management of this store was one of the duties of the governor of the colony. It was the practice for the settler to make out a list of the articles he wished to procure from the | store an<l submit it to the governor for approval. When approved, it was taken to the storekeeper, who handed it to an assistant to have it entered on the books. In this way there was often a long delay before the settler could get the provisions which he needed, and sometimes there were serious discrepancies between the order and the account for the goods, as well as discrepancies between the account and the list of goods received. Of course there was little or no ready money in the settlement, and all supplies were bought on credit; and it is almost inevitable in such circumstances that, when the bills have to be paid many people will believe that they have been charged with goods which they never received and overcharged for some which they did receive'. So there was much dissatisfaction among the settlers over the methods followed at the colony store.

When Lord Selkirk visited his colony in 1817 he appointed Mr. Alexander McDonell as governor. This man seems to have been poorly qualified for the position. He showed little consideration for. the settlers, keeping the store open only on certain days of the week and putting them to inconvenience in many ways. The prices charged for goods were often extortionate and the accounts very incorrect. The settlers made frequent complaints of the way in which they

ALEXANDER ROSS Sheriff of the Red River Settlement and historian
ADAM THOM First Recorder of the Red River Settlement
RT. REV. DAVID ANDERSON, n. D. First Bishop of Rupert's Land

MGR. JOSEPH-NORBERT PROVENCHER First Bishop of St. Boniface, 1787-1853
SIR .TOHN SOHULTZ, M. D. Prominent in the early history of Manitoba, afterward Lieutenant-Governor of the Province.
SIR GEORGE SIMPSON Governor, Hudson's Bay Company, 1821

were treated by the-'"grasshopper governor," as they nicknamed him; and when Mr. Ualkett, Lord Selkirk's brother-in-law and executor; came out to the colony in 1822, he found it necessary to make a thorough investigation into the methods of doing business at the store. 'Convinced that there had been grave irregularities, he recommended that the interest charged on the settlers' overdue accounts be dropped, that the accounts themselves be reduced by twenty per cent., that the store be closed, and that arrangements be made whereby the settlers would purchase their supplies at the store of the Hudson's Bay Company. This was done, and Governor McDonell was removed in June; 1822. His successor was Captain Bulger.

Major Long, an officer of the United States government, made an accurate survey of the international boundary about this time, and it showed that the little settlement at Pembina was in the territory of the United States. Mr. Halkett had advised the people living there to move north, and Bishop Provencher gave them the same advice. So in 1823 most of them moved away, some settling at St. Boniface and others at White Horse Plains about twenty miles up the Assiniboine. After the troubles between the rival fur companies came to an end, Cuthbert Grant took up land at White Horse Plains, and for many years he was the recognized leader of the French and Metis living in the district.

The total population of Assiniboia at this time was about 1,500. Of the French and Metis people about 350 had lived near St. Boniface up to 1823 and about 450 in the neighborhood of Pembina; but after the migration from the latter place in 1823, the population of the district around St. Boniface was nearly doubled. The half-breed population seems to have been divided into two classes. In one were the people who had settled homes and regular occupations, either as farmers, hunters, or employees of the Hudson's Bay Company; in the other were those who had no fixed place of abode and no settled occupation. On some of the latter class the removal from Pembina had a good effect, inasmuch as they became fairly permanent residents of one of the districts of Assiniboia occupied by people of French and mixed blood; but on others the effect was bad, because it made them more unsettled than before. During the hunting season these people liked to follow the buffalo hunters to the plains for although they were seldom able to procure a hunting outfit for themselves and could rarely bring home any supply of meat for future use, they could generally secure employment in some capacity from the regular hunters, and so they and their families lived in comparative plenty as long as the hunting season lasted. When the season was over, they returned to the outskirts of some settlement, finding shelter in tents or temporary dwellings and picking up a precarious living by occasional jobs or by begging from their more thrifty neighbors. These people, found it more and more difficult to make a living as the settlement grew, and they naturally felt more and more resentment toward the farming section of the community which they held responsible for the changed order of things. They became less and less tolerant of such regulations as must be made from time to time in any growing community, and their increasing discontent became a source of real danger to the colony, until the menace was removed some years later by the withdrawal of the most restless of the half-breeds to the United States.

During the first decade of its history the government of the Red River settlement was practically in the hands of the governor. Miles Macdonell had received his appointment to the potion from Lord Selkirk, Robert Semple seems to have been appointed by the Hudson's Bay Company and Alexander McDonell was appointed by the earl and removed at the suggestion of his executor- but whether the governor owed his appointment to the earl or to the company his powers and duties were much the same. He was to direct the affairs of the colony, make and enforce such regulations as the welfare of the small community required, and perform the duties of a magistrate. When Mr. George Simpson, afterward Sir George, was made governor-in-chief of Rupert s Land by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821, the governor of Assiniboia became his deputy. Governor Simpson held a meeting of his chief factors at Norway House during June, 1823. and, among other matters discussed, introduced a plan whereby the Hudson's Bay Company would take back the lands sold to the Earl of Selkirk in 1811. The plan seems to have been approved by the directors of the company and by Mr. Halkett, who acted for the earl's heirs. Prom that time forward these heirs exercised no control over the colony, although it was twelve years before the earl's great land grant was formally restored to the company.

At another meeting held at Norway House on September 5 of the same year. Governor Simpson and his factors decided to adopt a less primitive form of government for the colony than it had previously known. A Council of Assiniboia was appointed to manage public affairs, make regulations, and administer justice. This council consisted of Captain Robert Pelly, who had been appointed governor of Assiniboia a few months earlier, Rev. John West, Rev. T. D. Jones, and Mr. Robert Logan. The first three members were salaried officials of the Hudson's Lay Company; but Mr. Logan was one of the settlers, and his appointment seemed a tacit acknowledgment of their right to have a voice in the management of the affairs of the community. Of course Governor Simpson was the head of this council, but in his absence Governor Pelly acted as its presiding officer. The minutes recording the appointment of the council add the facts: "Jacob Corrigal, chief trader, appointed sheriff, vice Andrew Stewart, deceased. Rev. Mr. Jones appointed chaplain at a salary of £100 during absence of Mr. West. He will officiate at Red River.'1

As the quiet years went by, the people prospered and life in the isolated colony became more comfortable. The population seems to have increased steadily, for in 1825 no less than forty-two new houses were built, and these were far more commodious and more warmly constructed than the dwellings erected by the first settlers. The people soon recognized the wonderful productiveness of the soil. They found that wheat sown on land which had been previously cropped would return from twenty to thirty fold, and even when sown on newly broken land would yield seven fold, and that barley, when sown on well tilled land, yielded even more abundantly than wheat. This encouraged them to sow larger areas each successive spring. The lack of plows had greatly retarded cultivation in the early years of the colony's history, but several good crops encouraged the colonists to make plows for themselves during 1823 and 1824. The iron used had to be brought down from York Factory and cost over a shilling a pound by the time it reached Fort Douglas, and the blacksmith charged £4 for ironing a plow; nevertheless a number of new plows were ready for use in the spring of 1825, and nearly twice as much laud was seeded that season as in any previous spring. The crop grew luxuriantly, matured well, and was safely harvested, although a plague of mice threatened it in the fall.

The increase in the amount of grain raised in the colony made flour mills a necessity. Most of those in use were windmills. Lord Selkirk had sent out a movable windmill in 1815' to serve as a model for the construction of others; but no one in the settlement was able to set it up properly, and so it was shipped back to Britain. Sent out once more, it was finally set up and put in working order in 1825; but by that time it had cost the Selkirk estate £1,500. Shortly afterward Mr. Eobert Logan bought it for one fifth of that sum and set it up on his farm near Fort Douglas, where it ground the settlers' grain for many years. About the same time Mr. Cuthbert Grant erected a water-mill at the mouth of Sturgeon Creek; but a freshet swept away his dam and wrecked the mill, causing him a loss of £800. He was more successful in a later and less ambitious scheme, however.

It was well that the farmers had good crops of grain in the year 1825 and that little of it was destroyed by the hordes of mice, for in the early history of the Red River Settlement disaster was apt to follow prosperity very closely. September and the early part of October were unusually cold any rainy.. Snow began to fall on the 20tli of the latter month, and heavy falls were frequent throughout the winter, until it was three feet deep on the prairies and even deeper in the woods. The winter was excessively cold, and ice formed on the rivers and lakes to a thickness unknown before.

The buffalo hunters and their families set out for their winter hunting grounds at the usual time, but early in January reports came to the settlement that they were perishing from cold and hunger. In was not an uncommon thing for such rumors to reach the settlers during the time of the winter hunt, and so little serious attention was paid to them for some time. But about the middle of February official business took Mr. Alexander Ross, afterward sheriff of the colony, to Pembina, and he learned there that the reports of the distress of the hunters were only too true. Mr. Donald McKenzie, who had become governor of the colony in June of the preceding year, immediately organized an expedition for the relief of the sufferers, and in this he was generously assisted by the Hudson's Bay Company, Mr. Andrew McDermott, the leading merchant of the. settlement, and other private citizens. Mr. Ross was put in charge of it, and finally succeeded in carrying relief to the snow-beleaguered hunters. The task was a hard one, for the hunters were nearly 200 miles beyond Pembina., and the snow was so deep that horses could not be used. The only practicable method of conveyance was by dog-sleds, and by using them help reached the sufferers before it was too late. Sheriff Ross has told us the story of their distress in these words:

''The disaster began in December. About the 20tli of the month there was a fearful snow-storm, such as had not been witnessed for years. This storm, which lasted several days, drove the buffalo beyond the hunters' reach, and killed most of their horses; but what greatly increased the evil, was the suddenness of the visitation. As the animals disappeared almost instantaneously, no one was prepared for the inevitable famine which followed; the hunters, at the. same time, were so scattered that they could render each other no assistance, nor could they so much as discover each other's whereabouts ^me were never found Families here and families there, despairing ol life, huddled themselves together for warmth, and, in too many eases, their shelter proved their grave Vt first the heat of their bodies melted the snow; they became wet, and being without food or fuel, the cold soon penetrated, and in several instances froze the whole into a body of solid ice. Some, again, were found in a state of wild delirium, frantic, mad; while others were picked up, one here, and one there, frozen to death in their fruitless attempts to reach Pembina—some half way, some more, some less; one woman was found with an infant on her back, within a quarter of a mile of Pembina. This poor creature must have travelled, at the least, 125 miles in three days and nights, till she sank at last in the too unequal struggle for life.

"Those that were found alive had devoured their horses, their dogs, raw hides, leather, and their very shoes. So great were their sufferings, that some died on their road to the colony, after being relieved at Pembina; the writer passed two who were scarcely yet cold, and saw forty-two others, in seven or eight parties, crawling along with great difficulty, to the most reduced of whom he was, by good fortune, able to give a mouthful of bread. At last, with much labour and anxiety, the survivors were conveyed to the settlement, to be there supplied with the comforts they so much needed, and which, but a few weeks before, they affected to despise. But the sufferings of some, who can tell? One man. with his wife and three children, was dug out of the snow, where they had been buried for five days and five nights—without food, fire or the light of the sun. The woman and two of the children recovered. In this disastrous affair, and under circumstances peculiarly distressing, the distance, the depth of the snows, and severity of the weather, the saving of so many was almost a miracle. Thirty-three lives were lost."

Misfortune followed misfortune that year. The spring was late in coming, and snow remained 011 the ground until May. When it began to melt, the immense quantity of water running into the Red River from the prairies on either side of it was augmented by a quantity even greater from its upper tributaries. The ice on its lower course was so thick that it did not break up before the flood came down; and when it did break, it formed in great jams which forced the enormous body of water over the banks and the surrounding prairie. On the 2d of May, the day before the ice started, the water rose nine feet in twenty-four hours. On the 4th it overflowed the banks of the river, and almost before the people were aware of it, their dwellings were surrounded. The next day most of them abandoned their homes and took refuge on higher ground.

"At this crisis,'' says Sheriff Ross, "every description of property became of secondary consideration, and was involved in one common wreck or abandoned 'n despair. The people had to fly from their homes for the dear life, some of them saving only the clothes they had on their backs. The shrieks of children,.-the lowing of cattle, and the howling of dogs added terror to the scene. The Company's servants exerted themselves to the utmost, and did good service with their boats. The generous and humane governor of the colony, Mr. D. McKenzie, sent his own boat to the assistance of the settlers, though himself and family

depended on it for their safety, as they were in an upper story, with ten feet of water rushing through the house. By exertions of this kind and much self-sacrifice, the families were all conveyed to places of safety, after which the first consideration was to secure the cattle by driving them many miles off to the pine hills and rocky heights. The grain, furniture, and utensils came next in order of importance; but by this time the country presented the appearance of a vast lake, and the people in the boats had no resource but to break through the. roofs of their dwellings, and thus save what they could. The ice now drifted m a straight course from point to point, carrying destruction before it; and the trees were bent like willows by the force of the current.

While the frightened inhabitants were collected in groups on any dry spot that remained visible above the waste of waters, their houses, barns, carriages, furniture, fencing, and every description of property might be seen floating along over the wide extended plain to be engulfed in Lake "Winnipeg. Hardly a house or building of any kind was left standing in the colony. Many of the buildings drifted along whole and entire; and in some were seen dogs, howling dismally, and cats that jumped from side to side of their precarious abodes The most singular spectacle was a house in flames, drifting along in the night, its one half immersed in water, and the remainder furiously burning. The accident was caused by the hasty retreat of the occupiers. The water continued rising till the 21st and extended far over the plains; where cattle used to graze, boats were now plying under full sail.

The unfortunate inhabitants feared that they could not remain in the colony and began to discuss the best locality to which they could migrate; but on May 22nd the waters ceased to rise, and in a few days they commenced to recede. Only one life had been lost, but there was a very serious loss of stock, grain, buildings, implements, and furniture. Provisions of all kinds were very scarce and very high; but the Hudson's Bay Company, the missions, and the more fortunate settlers did all in their power to help those who had suffered most and so tided them over the hard summer. It was so late before the land became dry enough to be worked that only a small crop could be put in. A little barley was sown and some potatoes were planted, and fortunately these ripened well; otherwise there would have been much suffering for want of food during the winter which followed.

The severe experiences of the winter and spring completely discouraged the Swiss who had not gone south with their fellow-countrymen in 1822; so they, many of the de Meurons, and a few others —243 in all—forsook the settlement on June 24th and moved south to a district beside the Mississippi River. But the best element of the population remained, convinced that ultimately they would achieve success in the country where they had met so many reverses. In the early winter about 150 people came south from Hudson Bay to settle at Red River. Some of them were retired servants of the Hudson's Bay Company, others were immigrants who had just come from Britain; and their arrival seemed to compensate the colony for the loss of the Swiss and the de Meurons.


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