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Lord Selkirk

by Elisabeth Henderson

Manitoba Pageant, April 1956

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

Although Lord Selkirk must have seen much that is now Winnipeg there is only one spot where we can say definitely, "Here he stood." It was on an August day in 1817, on the farm of Alexander MacBeth, where he had asked all the settlers to meet him so that he might tell them again his plans for the Colony. In the gathering there were men and women who had twice seen their homes destroyed; others who had wintered in rough huts at Churchill after crossing to Hudson's Bay in a ship where fever had caused many deaths; a few had walked overland from Churchill to York Factory in the snow; others had gone in the winter to Pembina to be near the buffalo because there was not sufficient food for everyone at Fort Douglas; all had lost friends or relatives in the massacre at Seven Oaks. As Lord Selkirk talked to them they could nevertheless look hopefully into the future. He did not need to remind them that now they had veteran soldiers to protect them; already they had made friends with the De Meurons, some of whom were probably in the crowd. He repeated the promises made to them before they left their homes in Scotland: roads and bridges would be built; an experimental farm established; and land set aside for church and school.

Here he turned to Mr. MacBeth and asked if he would be willing to give up his lot for the church, because on a part of it a few settlers and some of the men killed at Seven Oaks had been buried. Mr. MacBeth agreed at once and took in exchange a lot farther north on the river, where his great grandchildren still live. And the first little burying ground is now St. John's Cemetery.

It is also likely that in the crowd that day were some Indians. A short time before Lord Selkirk had held a meeting with the chiefs, including that good friend of the settlers, Peguis, whose monument stands in Kildonan Park. Al-though he had secured title to the Colony grant from the Hudson's Bay Company he was wise and fair enough to know that the Indians felt the whole country to be theirs by right, and so he made an agreement with them that they would give the settlers peaceful occupation of the land for an annual payment of "one hundred pounds of good and merchantable tobacco", to be paid to the Saulteaux at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers and to the Crees on the Assiniboine at Portage la Prairie. It seems a small price for so much land, but the Indians kept their bargain, and long remembered Lord Selkirk as "the Silver Chief".

There were still many hardships and disappointments in store for the settlers, but they too always honored the memory of the man who at great cost to himself had helped them to make homes for themselves and their children in this new land. In his own day he was often called a dreamer, but we have seen his dreams come true.

Page revised: 13 June 2009

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