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The Story of Manitoba
Chapter XXIV The Company and the People


The dissatisfaction of the people of the Red River Settlement with the form of government under which they lived, their sense of the injustice of some of the laws of the Hudson's Bay Company, and their lack of respect for the courts which it had established had been shown again and again, notably in the Sayer trial. While the demonstration against the company on that occasion was con lined to the French and Metis, these had the sympathy of nearly all the in habitants of the colony in their efforts to break the company's monopoly.

The results of that trial were soon apparent. There was an immediate in crease in the number of independent traders doing business in all parts of the settlement. Furs were soon included in the articles bought and sold by these traders, and expeditions were fitted out by them and sent to distant parts of the country to trade with the Indians. In 1861 Mr. Andrew McDermott sent two boats laden with goods into the distant interior, and three other private merchants sent out one boat-load each. The Hudson's Bay Company no longer invoked the aid of the law against these competitors, but it tried to compel them to quit the field by employing all the advantages which a great corporation has over rivals possessing small means. 'Nevertheless the independent traders prospered and multiplied.

Perhaps the trade which showed the most remarkable growth was that between the Red River Settlement and the towns of Minnesota. It had been inaugurated by the half-breeds, who found in these towns a market for the surplus products of the buffalo hunt after the small demand at Fort Garry had been supplied. A large part of this business remained in their hands for many years; and even when the goods exchanged were bought and sold by whites, the work of freighting them north and south was done almost entirely by half-breeds. For years the transportation over this route was done by carts drawn by oxen or ponies, and after a time the same method of transportation was adopted in sending goods to distant points west of Fort Garry. Thus freighting became an important industry in the colony. At one time no less than 1,500 carts were employed between Fort Garry and St. Paul, and on this route and the western routes nearly 700 men were employed.

As facilities for transporting merchandise from the Atlantic seaboard to Minnesota improved, a larger percentage of the goods used by the people of Red River was brought into the colony by the Minnesota route; and in time the Hudson's Bay Company itself imported a good deal of its merchandise by this route rather than by the way of York Factory. Soon the volume of trade had increased to such an extent that better means of transportation than the Red river cart became necessary, and steamers of light draft were built and launched upon the Red River. The Hudson's Bay Company seems to have been the leading promoter of this new enterprise. The first of these steamers, the Anson Xorihrup, was launched upon the Red River in 1859, and started on her initial trip to Fort Garry on June 3rd. A larger steamer, the International, was built in 1861. She was one hundred and fifty feet long, drew only forty-two inches of water, and her registered tonnage was one hundred and thirty-three tons. She made her first trip from Georgetown to Fort Garry in seven days and arrived at the latter place on May 26, 1862. Among her passengers were the family and servants of Governor Dallas, Mr. John Black who was to act as recorder of the colony, the bishop of St. Boniface and a number of his clergy, and about one hundred and sixty people from Canada, most of whom intended to take the overland route to the Cariboo gold-fields. But the length of the International made her less useful than her builders hoped she would be, and in dry seasons the water in the river often became too low for any steamer to make the trip up or down; so the building of river steamers did not entirely deprive the half-breed freighters of their occupation.

The energy of the people of the Red River Settlement was bringing the colony into closer touch with the rest of the world, and at the same time explorers were traversing the country and carrying to other lands information in regard to its wonderful resources. Lieut, Franklin, afterwards Sir John Franklin, with Dr. Richardson and a party of assistants, explored the northern part of what is now Manitoba during the summer of 1819 and spent the following winter on the Saskatchewan. Then he went down the Coppermine and spent nearly two years exploring the Arctic coast, He passed through Red River again in 1825. The expedition sent by the United States government in 1823 under Major Stephen Long and Mr. "Win. II. Keating, a geologist, to determine the exact position of the international boundary from the Lake of the "Woods westward, furnished much exact information about the district which it traversed, and the two volumes from Mr. Keating's pen which embody it are full of interest. An expedition sent out by the British government in 1831 under Capt. George Back passed through Red River on its way north to search for Capt. John Ross and his party.

In 1836 the Hudson's Bay Company fitted out an exploring expedition, putting Mr. Thomas Simpson and Mr. Peter W. Dease in charge of it, and sent it north and west from Fort Garry-. In 1842 Lieut. Henry Lefroy was sent out from England to make a scientific survey of Rupert's Land. He landed at Montreal, travelled to Fort Garry by 1he old canoe route of the fur traders, and after a careful examination of the Red River valley and the shore of Lake Winnipeg, went down to York Factory. Having explored a part of the coast of the bay, he returned to Norway House and passed up the Saskatchewan. He wintered at Fort Chippewayan and afterward went on to the west and north. The British government sent several expeditions north by way of Red River in the long search for the lost Franklin party, which sailed from England in 1845 and never returned. The expedition, which was sent out under Capt. John Palliser in 1857 for the exploration of Rupert's Land, spent some time in Red River Settlement on its way west. In the same year the Canadian government sent a party under Mr. George Gladman. with Prof. Henry Hind and Mr. S. J. Dawson as assistants, to make a careful survey of the country around the Red River Settlement. Its work occupied nearly two years. In the year 1859 Mr. Robert Kennicott of the Smithsonian Institute went to the Yukon in search of scientific, information and returned by the way of Red River in 1862. In the same year Viscount Milton and Dr. Cheadle passed through the settlement on their adventurous journey through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific.

The reports of these explorers and other visitors from the outside world, who carried information about the Red River country to their homes, helped to bring new settlers to the colony, and by 1866 its population must have been nearly ten thousand. The growing population, the increased trade, the greater ease of communication with the outside world by a route to the south, all tended to render the colony less dependent on the Hudson's Bay Company and to make the people more eager for self-government. And yet events happened occasionally which showed that the colony must still rely on the company for help in times of stress.

The fair treatment which the Indians all over the country had received at the hands of the company and their dependence upon it must have helped to secure for the settlers immunity from the depredations of the savages; and the frequent visits of parties of Sioux from Minnesota might have had calamitous results for the colony, if these restless and excitable red men had been treated less kindly and less wisely by the company's officials at Fort Garry. It spent many hundreds of pounds in feeding these unwelcome visitors from the south and prevented complications which might have made serious trouble for both Great Britain and the United States; and yet, in several eases, neither government reimbursed it for the outlay.

"When misfortune overtook the settlement, the Hudson's Bay Company stood ready to aid the suffering people; and such occasions were not infrequent. There was a bad food in the spring of 1852. On May 7th the water in the Red River rose eight feet above the high water mark of ordinary years. The first rise took place in the night, ami the houses of the settlement were surrounded by water before the occupants were aware of the danger which threatened them. Soon the country for three miles on either side of the river was inundated. At first the people took refuge in the upper rooms of their houses and on stages hastily constructed; but as the water continued to rise, they were forced to abandon these places of refuge for the few points in the neighborhood whose elevation kept them above the flood. By the 12th of the month half the settlement along the river was under water, and for twenty-two miles along the stream every house was submerged, and all fences and loose material had been swept away. By the 22nd the flood was at its highest, being only one and a half feet lower than the bad inundation of 1826. About 3,500 people had to leave their homes and flee to the open country, where they had few tents, a small quantity of fuel, and an insufficient supply of food. Fortunately only one person was drowned. But many horses, cattle, and pigs were drowned before they could be conveyed to places of safety, and some dwellings, barns, and outbuildings were swept away, as well as most of the farmers' carts and lighter implements. The total loss was estimated at 25,000. It was June 12th before the people could return to their homes, and then it was too late to sow wheat, although some barley was sown and some potatoes were planted. Mr. Colville, the governor, did everything in his power to alleviate the sufferings of the people, and in this he was cordially assisted by the clergymen of the settlement.

The colony recovered from this disaster more quickly than might have been expected. Bishop Anderson, writing of this flood and comparing it with that of 1826, says:

"Though there is greater suffering and loss, there ;s greater elasticity and power to bear, as also larger means to meet it. In 1826, the settlement was then in its infancy, there were but few cattle; a single boat is said to have transported all in the middle district m one forenoon; now each settler of the better stamp has a large stock. The one whose record of the first flood we had read at home, who had then but one cow, has now, after all his losses, fifty or sixty head. Then, too, there was but little grain, and the pressure of want was felt even when the waters were rising. Their dependence throughout was on the scanty supply of fish or what might be procured by the gun. Now there is a large amount of gram in private hands, and, even with the deduction of the laud which is this year rendered useless, a far larger number of acres under cultivation. In this light it is comparatively less severe; the whole of the cultivated land was then under water, and nearly all of the houses carried off by it. It was, as many have called it, a cleaner sweep. But there were then few houses or farms below the middle church or on the Assiniboine above the upper fort; the rapids and the Indian settlement were still in the wildness of nature. In 1826, a larger number of those who were unattached to the soil and without ties in the country left the settlement. Since that a large population has sprung up who are bound by birth to the land and look to it as their home, whose family ties and branches are spread over and root themselves in its very soil, making a happy and contented population proud of the land of their birth. Compared with the flood of 1826, the flood of 1852 will occupy a larger space in the public mind. Instead of a few solitary settlers, unknown and almost forgotten by their fellowmen, they are now parts of a mighty system linked by sympathy and interest to other lands."

In 1861 there was another flood, although it w-as not so destructive as that which devastated the settlement nine years earlier. It led to a great scarcity of grain in the following year. Mr. Joseph J. Ilargrave says,'"The spring of 1862 was a period of starvation in Red River Settlement. Daily dozens of starving people besieged the office of the gentleman in charge at Fort Garry, asking for food, and later in the season for seed wheat, By a grant of eight hundred bushels of wheat, allowed by the Governor and Council of Assiniboia, the bulk of the poorer classes wTere supplied with seed and grain to feed them until, with the spring, the means of gaining a livelihood became available/'

In 1862 there was a fairly good crop, although some damage was done by a hail-storm in August. In the following year the crops were greatly injured by a severe drought, and the prices of produce were very high in consequence. Wheat sold for 12 shillings per bushel and flour for 30 shillings per hundred-weight. The summer of 1861 was also very dry and very hot. The International could make but one trip during the season owing to low- water. Ilargrave says, "The drought prevailed until the middle of July, when rain for the first time visited the parched ground. With it, unfortunately, arrived


MAIN STREET, HARTNEY

swarms of locusts (grasshoppers) which with terrible voracity cleared away the rising crops.

The stock, property, and rights of the Hudson's Bay Company had been sold to a new, Corporation in 1863; but the new company retained the name, traditions, and, to a great extent, the methods of the old company. Its relations to the settlers were much the same as those of the older organization had been. Two of its ships were wrecked in Hudson Bay during 1864, the cargo of one being an entire loss while that of the other was a partial loss. For this reason the company had to bring more than the usual amount of freight over the Minnesota route. As Hargrave says:

"The mischief done by the grasshoppers spoiled the harvest, but the fisheries and the plain hunts continued to supply the people with food, and the low water in the river, which had prevented the steamboat running, necessitated the employment of a vast number of Red River carts by the Company's freight contractors, thus supplying the numerous settlers possessed of moderate means, who owned the vehicles, with profitable employment during summer for themselves and their cattle. Indeed, the mishaps which hitherto prevented the working of this steamer proved great windfalls to the people. In former times the freight, which now comes by St. Paul, passed to its destination by the York route, and the cash disbursed in purchasing its transport between the bay and the settlement, being paid to the Red River tripmen who worked the boats, circulated m the colony, while the sums disbursed to the St. Paul contractors of late years have been paid in bills of exchange on the Board of the Company in London, which, being negotiated in the United States, cut off a large outlet of the local cash currency formerly flowing from the Company's strong box. The St. Paul contractors, being unable to run the steamer, were compelled to engage freighters at Red River to travel to Georgetown, there to meet the goods brought thither from St. Paul by their own people, over that portion of their freight route intended, at' the time of arranging the terms of their contract, to be traversed by land carriage. Large importations of grain were brought from Minnesota, and the local duty thereon was repealed by the Council of Assiniboia. In consequence of these circumstances anything approaching a famine was averted.''

An unusual misfortune befell the colony in 1865. Typhus fever had been brought to York Factory some time before by passengers who came out on the Prince of Wales, and from that port the deadly disease spread south to the Red River Settlement and carried off a large number of the people during the summer. During the spring swarms of grasshoppers again swept over the settlement, doing great' damage to the young crops; but the season was a favorable one, the harvest was much greater than had been anticipated. In 1866 the crops were unusually good, although the grasshoppers did some damage in restricted areas.

In the autumn of 1867 the whole country was overrun by swarms of grasshoppers, which deposited their eggs everywhere. When these eggs were hatched in the spring, the young insects devoured everything green and completely ruined the crops. Starvation threatened the colonists, for not only w-ere the crops destroyed, but the buffalo hunt failed, few fish could be caught, and small game disappeared. The outlook had not been darker for many years; but appeals for aid made by the local newspaper and the press of Canada and letters on the situation from the Earl of Kimberley and others which appeared in the London Times met with a generous response, and aid was sent from all sides. The Council of Assiniboia immediately came to the assistance of the colonists, voting 600 for the purchase of seed wheat, 500 for flour, and 500 for the purchase of ammunition, twine, and hooks to be given to the settlers who wished to use them in procuring game and fish. The Hudson's Bay Company sent 2,000 from London, and private benefactors in England sent 1,000 more. The government of Ontario voted $5,000 for the relief of the sufferers, and the private contributions from various parts of Canada were most liberal, while people in the United States gave $5,000 to help their neighbors north of the boundary line through a year of scarcity. A committee, composed of the governor, the bishops, and a number of the other prominent residents, was organized to distribute the supplies. As the flour and other food supplies for the distressed settlers had to be brought from St. Paul, many of them were given employment in hauling these provisions across the prairie, the freight being paid in supplies for their families. This work kept them busy until the early part of the new year.


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