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MacKenzie, Selkirk, Simpson
Lord Selkirk


LORD SELKIRK knew well that trouble and likely bloodshed were to be expected on Red River. His anxiety for the success of the colony and the happiness of his settlers led to his determination to visit Canada, and, if possible, the colony. Accordingly, late in the year 1815, taking with him his family, consisting of the countess, his son and two daughters, Lord Selkirk hastened to Montreal. On arriving in New York he learned of the first dispersion of the colonists, their flight to Norway House, and the further threatenings of the excited bois-brules. On the founder's arrival in Montreal iii October, he found it too late to proceed on his journey up the lakes to the interior.

In Montreal be spent the winter in the face of his powerful enemies. The Nor'-Wresters watched him with wolf-like ferocity. Full of the highest moral courage he brought the affairs of his beleaguered colony before the government of Lower Canada, but little did he know how bitter was the opposition engendered among the fur traders to himself and his scheme.

In February, 1815, Lord Selkirk represented his fears to Lord Bathurst, the British secretary of state, and suggested the despatch of an armed force to preserve the peace. After the overt acts of violence committed during the summer of 1815 the case demanded immediate attention, and Lord Selkirk brought the urgency of the matter under the notice of Sir Gordon Drummond, governor of Lower Canada, supplying His Excellency with an account of the cruel expulsion of the people from their homes in the Red River.

It was plain that no influence could be brought upon the authorities to interfere in the platter. The greater part of the power in Lover Canada was in the hands of the Nor'-W Testers and their friends, for the fur traders were the leading merchants of Montreal, and many of them were in the legislature and in potions of trust. It is true, as we have seen, that during the winter of 1815-16 there was little turmoil, but it was only the calm. before the storm, and Lord Selkirk strongly suspected this.

Accordingly he began to plan a private expedition. This he would lead in person to the Red River, and restore his colony to peace. He had confidence in the strength of Fort Douglas to resist a considerable attack, and now that his new governor, Robert Semple, was there—an experienced and brave officer —lie believed the case hopeful.

His Lordship was not, however, a man to do things by halves. He had been sworn in as a justice of the peace in Upper Canada and for the Indian territories, and had received the promise of a sergeant and six men of the regular army to accompany and protect him. Not able to obtain the privilege of leading an armed party, that being a prerogative of the Crown, he originated a project of engaging a number of discharged soldiers and making them settlers, placing them upon his land, that, in time of need, he might call upon them for assistance.

The close of the Napoleonic wars had led to a reduction in the size of the British army. Among the brave Swiss regiments likely to be reduced were two which were sent to Canada to assist in the war against the United States. This war being now over the regiment often called, after the colonel of the more celebrated corps, the De Afeurons, was disbanded. With some one hundred of these mercenaries Lord Selkirk concluded a bargain to go to the North-West as military settlers under his pay, and to render assistance as required.

Great outcry was made against Lord Selkirk for employing these soldiers; the De Meurons are declared to have been desperadoes, worthless and despicable. It is well to remember that four of the same regiment were engaged by Mr. A. N. McLeod on his expedition to crush out the colony.

Early in June, 1816, a number of officers and about one hundred men went westward to York (Toronto), their strength being increased by as many sturdy canoemen. It was His Lordship's intention to proceed westward to where the city of Duluth stands to-day, then known as Fond du Lac. Leaving the expedition before its arrival at Sault Ste. Marie, he had a conference with the garrison stationed on Drummond's Isle. Here the colonizer had a long and interesting interview with Kawtawahetay, an Ojibway chief, in which the Indian asserted that inducements had been held out to himself and his warriors to unite in driving the colonists entirely from Red River.

The party had little more than found Sault Ste. Marie when it was met with news of the most serious kind: nothing else than the murder, as it was called, of Governor Semple, the destruction of his band of attendants, and the banishment of the unfortunate settlers to their place of refuge on Jack River. This was a crushing blow.

The plan of voyage was at first to go by way of Fond du I,ae and through what is now Minnesota to Red River, and thus reach Fort Douglas, which was to be their capital and residence. Now it was absolutely necessary to go to Fort William, and meet the enemies of his people, as they sought to return to Canada. Feeling as a magistrate that the bois bules and their leaders had done grievous wrong, he determined to bring the murderers to justice.

The resolve to go to Fort William involved facing many dangers and risking a serious conflict. But Lord Selkirk had the courage of his ancestors. He directed his expedition up the Kaministiquia River from Lake Superior and 'Thunder Bay, and encamped directly opposite Fort William, the citadel of his enemies. The first step was to demand the release of the Red River prisoners who were being carried away by the Nor'-Westers, and were at this point on the way to Canada. On this demand being made the leaders sent the prisoners to His Lordship's camp, and denied that they had ever arrested them.

Making use of his magistrate's commission, Lord Selkirk obtained depositions from men actually engaged in the fur trade to the effect that the partners and officers of the North-Wrest Company were guilty of inciting opposition to the colony, and of approving the attacks made on his people. He then issued warrants against McGillivray, McKenzie, Simon Fraser, and others but allowed them to remain in Fort William. At first much liberty was given these prisoners, but on suspicion of a conspiracy arising among; them, they were confined in one building.

A fuller examination having been made the guilt of the prisoners seemed clear, and three canoe loads of them were despatched eastward under guards. One of the canoes was unfortunately capsized in a storm, and one of the best known Nor'-Westers (McKenzie) was drowned.

Lord Selkirk was severely criticized inn this matter. The best that can be said is that it seemed to be the fashion for each side to take advantage of its temporary strength or opportunity to gain an advantage. Miles Macdonell was first arrested and taken to Canada by the Nor'-Westers; then, in reprisal, Duncan Cameron was carried off to Hudson Bay; and now the McGillivrays and Fraser—high officers—were taken captive and deported down the lake. It seems to an impartial observer like the old Scottish border feuds reduced to a science, and conducted according to the forms of law, or like the practical carrying out of Robin Hood's maxim

"The good old way, the simple plan
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can."

Certainly Lord Selkirk had much provocation, and we can hardly wonder at his using his force of the De Meurons to vindicate himself and his interests.

Lord Selkirk remained at Fort William, and for the time was free of all danger from his foes. It was August, and he began to think of preparing for winter, as he could hardly expect to follow the long canoe route to Red River, and be certain of reaching his destination before winter set in, as he must take the risk of armed opposition into account. He moved his camp up the Kaministiquia River, some nine miles above Fort William, and the wintering place on the cliff overlooking the river is still known as Point De Meuron.

The usual uneventful winter on the shore of Lake Superior----where the outside world becomes a blank—was passed by His Lordship and his followers.

In March, 1817, the De Neurons started on their journey to Red River. After leaving Lake of the Woods, they followed a route across country, in order that they might take the Nor'-Westers in Fort Douglas by surprise. This expedition was successful, and the trained soldiers without much opposition took the stronghold of the bois-brules who knew little of the real art of war.

In May Lord Selkirk started on his inland journey, and in the last week of June reached Red River and looked upon the land that had been his dream for fifteen years, ever since he had read Sir Alexander Mackenzie's book of voyages. His arrival gave instant hope for the settlement of the troubles in the North-West. The government of Canada had issued a proclamation to the effect that all property taken during the troubles should be returned to the original owners. To a certain extent the restitution took place. The settlers were brought back again from their place of refuge on Lake Winnipeg to their deserted homesteads.

On the return of the colonists they were gathered together in a sort of general council to meet their noble friend and protector. The gathering was at the spot where the burying-ground and church of St. John's are now to be seen in the northern part of the city of Winnipeg. Church and burying-ground and school were then provided for, and on the people requesting a minister of religion to be sent them His Lordship acknowledged the obligation saying, "Se!kirk never forfeited his word."

The twenty-four lots which had been occupied by the woe-begone and discouraged colonists were promised to them free of all dues. At the request of the colonists the founder gave a name to their settlement, calling their parish Kildonan from their old home in the valley of the Helmsdale in Sutherlandshire, Scotland. His Lordship ordered also a complete survey of the land to be made, and steps to be taken to lay out roads, to build bridges, and to erect mills. Report goes that old Peter Fidler, the surveyor of the company, laid out the boundaries which remain in many instances to this day.

Lord Selkirk, whom the Indians called "Silver Chief," as we have said, met them with their chiefs, and gained their complete confidence. His affability and fairness impressed the trustful red-men. The object of the treaty made with the different bands was to extinguish the Indian title. The meeting with the Indians was a memorable one. Peguis, the Saulteaux chief, made a sensible speech; the Assiniboine chief claimed his Lordship as a true friend; Robe Noire, the Ojibwvay, said, "We have reason to be happy to-day." From that day to this the Indian of the Red River has looked upon the white man as a brother.

Such was Lord Selkirk's noble work of pacification on the Red River. A writer of the time, speaking of His Lordship, says, "Having thus restored order, infused confidence in the people, and given a certain aid to their activity, Lord Selkirk took his final leave of the colony."

Passing down the Mississippi River to St. Louis he journeyed eastward to Washington, came northward to Albany, and hastened to Upper Canada, without diverging to Montreal to visit his family, though he had not seen his wife and children for more than a year. The threatening cloud of disaster seemed dark in that direction, but he did not flinch, and pushed forward to meet it.

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