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MacKenzie, Selkirk, Simpson
Lord Selkirk


AN anxious season was now passed through by the colonizer. The planning and execution of a scheme of emigration as comparatively simple as carrying his eight hundred settlers to the shore of Prince Edward Island had been serious and difficult, how much more so was the crossing of the flow of Arctic ice from Hudson Strait, the landing on the inhospitable shore of Hudson .Bay, and the penetration of the interior by a wild and dangerous route of seven hundred miles to the banks of the Red River. In all probability the founder had no conception himself of the gigantic obstacles which were to be met and overcome.

The project once entered on could not be abandoned; and the colonizer issued the advertisement and prospectus of the colony, and called for emigrants to join the enterprise. The advantages presented were clearly set forth, and the principles on which the colony was to be organized were satisfactory. His Lordship undertook to provide transport, to give the means of livelihood for a time, and to bestow parcels of land from his broad acres on Red River. The declaration that the greatest freedom of religious opinion was to be allowed, was, for the beginning of the nineteenth century, a rather unique and unexpected proviso. Here was a contrast both to the conditions of settlement in Puritan New England, and to the early settlement of Lord Baltimore in Maryland where belief in the doctrine of the Trinity was a sine qud non.

As it was not a part of Lord SeIkirk's plan to accompany the expedition himself, it was necessary for him to obtain the assistance of a competent director or leader for the band of colonists. Some years before this time, the earl had been in correspondence with a young United Empire Loyalist named Miles Macdonell, who with his family, well-known in Canadian affairs, had left New York state and come to Glengarry, in Upper Canada. Young Macdonell had been an officer of the King's Royal Regiment in the war of the American Revolution, and held the rank of captain in the Canadian militia. To the colonizer's mind he possessed the necessary experience and firmness for the difficult task of leading a mixed band of emigrants during their trying journey. By the end of June, Captain Miles Macdonell had reached Britain and had been placed in charge of the enterprise.

Three ships, the Prince of Wales, the Eddystone and an old craft the Edward and Anne with worn rigging and an incompetent crew, had proceeded to Yarmouth, on the east coast of England. The two first-named were to carry the regular cargo of the company to Hudson Bay; the third, unsuitable though it was, was to be the receptacle of the precious human freight going forth to found a new community. By the middle of July the little fleet had reached the Pentland Firth and was compelled to put into Stronmess, in the Orkneys. Here the Prince of Wales took on board a number of Orkneymen who were to go out as servants of the company. Proceeding on their way the fleet made rendezvous at Stornoway, the chief town of Lewis, one of the Hebrides. Here had arrived a number of colonists or employes, some from Sligo, others from Glasgow, and others from the Highlands.

Many influences were now brought to bear against the colonizing expedition. It had the strenuous opposition of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and pressure was successfully brought to bear upon some of those who had actually accepted Lord Selkirk's offer, in order to induce them to desert the expedition. A so-called "Captain" Mackenzie, denominated a "mean fellow," came alongside the Edward and Anne, which had some seventy-six men aboard—Glasgow men, Irish, and a few from Orkney—and claimed some of them as "deserters from His Majesty's service." The demand was, however, resisted. It is no wonder that in his letter to Lord Selkirk, Captain Macdonell writes: "All the men that we shall have are now embarked, but it has been a herculean task."

A prominent member of the expedition, Mr. Moncrieff Blair, though posing as a gentleman, deserted on July 25th, the day before the sailing of the vessels. A number of the deserters at Stornoway had left their effects on board, and these were disposed of by sale among the passengers. Among the officers was a Mr. Edwards, who acted as the medical man of the expedition. He had his hands completely full during the voyage, and returned to England with the ships.

Another notable person on board was a Roman Catholic priest, known as Father Bourke. Captain Macdonell was himself a Roman Catholic, but he seems from the first to have had no confidence in the priest, who, he stated, had come away without the leave of his bishop, who was at the time in Dublin. Father Bourke, though carried safely to the shores of Hudson Bay, never reached the interior, but returned to Britain in the following year.

After the usual incidents, and an "uncommon share of boisterous, stormy, and cold weather " on the ocean, the ships entered Hudson Bay. Experiencing in the bay a course of fine mild weather and moderate fair winds, on September 24th the fleet reached the harbour of York Factory, after a voyage of sixty-one days out from Stornoway. The Eddystone, which was intended to go to Churchill, not having been able to reach that place, sailed with the other vessels to York Factory.

The late arrival of the expedition on the shores of Hudson Bay made it impossible to ascend the Nelson River and reach the interior during the season of 1811. Accordingly Captain Macdonell made preparations for wintering on the coast. York Factory would not probably have afforded sufficient accommodation for the colonists. Captain Macdonell states in a letter to Lord Selkirk that "the Factory is very ill constructed and not at all adapted for a cold country." In consequence of these considerations, Captain Macdonell at once undertook, during the fair weather of the season yet remaining, to build winter quarters on the north side of the river, at a distance of some miles from the Factory. No doubt matters of discipline entered into the plans of the leader of the colonists. In a short time very comfortable dwellings were erected, built of round logs a foot thick, the front side high with a shade roof sloping to the rear. The group of huts was known as the "Nelson encampment."

During the early winter the chief work which the captain laid on his two score men was providing themselves with fuel, of which there was plenty, and obtaining food from the Factory, for which sledges drawn over the snow were utilized by the detachments sent on this service. The most serious difficulty, however, arose at a meeting in which a dozen or more of the men became completely insubordinate, and refused to yield obedience either to Captain Macdonell or to M. W. H. Cook, the governor of the Factory. Every effort was made to maintain discipline, but the men steadily held to their own way, lived apart from Macdonell, and drew their own provisions from the fort to their huts. These troubles tended to make the winter somewhat long and disagreeable.

Captain Macdonell, being a Canadian, knew well the danger of the dread scurvy attacking his inexperienced colonists. The men at the fort prophesied evil things in this respect for the "encampment." The captain took early steps to prevent the disease, and his letters to Governor Cook always contain demands for "essence of malt," "crystallized salts of lemon," and other anti-seorbutics. Though some of his men were attacked by scurvy, yet the sovereign remedy so often employed in the lumber camps of America, the juice of the white spruce, was used with almost magical effect. As the winter went on, plenty of venison was obtained, and the health of his party was in the spring much better than could have been anticipated.

After the New Year had come, all thoughts were directed to preparations for the journey of seven hundred miles or thereabouts to the interior. A number of boats were required for the transportation of the colonists and their effects. Captain Macdonell insisted on his boats being made after a different style from the boats commonly used at that time by the company. His model was the flat boat, which he had seen used on the Mohawk River in the state of New York. The workmanship displayed in the making of these boats was very disappointing to Captain Macdonell, and he constantly complained of the indolence of the workmen. In consequence of this inefficiency the cost of the boats to Lord Selkirk was very great, and drew forth the objections of the leader of the colony.

Captain Macdonell had the active assistance of Mr. Cook, the officer in charge of York Factory, and of Mr. Auld, the commander of Churchill, the latter having come down to York to make arrangements for the inland journey of the colonists.

By June 1st, 1812, the ice had moved from the river, and the expedition started soon after on its journey to Red River. The new settlers found the route a hard and trying one with its rapids and portages. The boats, too, were heavy, and the colonists inexperienced in managing them. It was well on towards autumn when the company, numbering about seventy, reached the Red River. No special preparation had been made for the colonists, and the winter would soon be upon them. Some of the parties were given shelter in the fort and buildings of the company, others in the huts of the freed men, who were married to the Indian women and settled in the neighbourhood of the Forks, while others still found refuge in the tents of the Indian encampment in the vicinity.

The arrival of this party, small, discontented, wearied and well-nigh despairing, marks an era in the history of the Red River, and of the present province of Manitoba. Though it was no very distinguished party, though it had no story of sentiment such as the Pilgrim Fathers had when they arrived at Plymouth Rock, though it was free of the glory of Penn as he came to lay down the principle of peace to the dusky savages, and though it lacked the political grandeur of the companies of the United Empire Loyalists who came to Upper Canada, yet it was the beginning of settlement upon the prairies, and is, therefore, of genuine interest and importance.

Lord Selkirk's indomitable perseverance had been rewarded by proving that a company of British settlers could weather a severe winter, and ascend the rapids and falls of the rivers running from the interior to Hudson Bay. His hopes to be the founder of a large community were not to be realized in his day; yet the last quarter of the nineteenth century has shown, in the settlement of Manitoba, the prescience and wisdom of Lord Selkirk.

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