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The Early Selkirk Settlement

by Margaret E. McBeth

Manitoba Pageant, September 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.

Uncle John who was a President of the Manitoba Historical Society in the early 1890s, loved to tell about the early days at Red River. In those days people had more time to visit and to exchange stories, and practice gave them a rare gift in that art.

Starting with the sad story of the evictions from Scotland to make way for the raising of sheep, there would follow stories of the journey in sailboats from Stromness to Hudson's Bay, the wrong landing, the hard winter and the journey from York Factory to Red River.

Even then the hopes of the settlers were high until they realized that they were unwelcome guests and were to become a centre in the struggle between two fur companies.

Then came the tragedy of Seven Oaks "which caused governments in Britain and in Canada to think, " and brought Lord Selkirk in1817 to spend four months at Red River. In that time he became "Silver Chief" to the Indians, and a loved friend to the Scottish settlers.

The little colony was described by an American writer as an "Island Colony which travellers do not visit and from which civilization seems to be shut out", but within that colony was peace and progress more than the outside world knew.

The land along the Red river was divided into farms with ten chains frontage, extending two miles back and two miles more as "Hay Privilege". This had all the advantages of water supply, food, defence, church, schools, and sociability. Strangers called it "Farming in Lanes."

Many stories could be told about life in the Colony; the simple homes, candle light, bannock and pemmican, the spinning wheel and weaving, the trips to St. Paul in Red river carts, wedding festivities, Christmas and New Year's celebrations.

Amusements were created, not bought, and the debating society, the old Scottish Dances and Red River Jig were popular. Many a young man would take two pair of moccasins to a party. The fiddle could be passed from one to the other until nearly all the men helped with the music.

But the strongest influence in Kildonan at that time was the memory of the old Church of Scotland. Early chaplains of the Hudson's Bay Company worked faithfully among them and modified the Anglican services but the words of the Rev. David Jones were true:

"These people brought their religion with them and nothing will make them forsake the church of their forefathers."

Little stones in Kildonan Cemetery mark the graves of Alexander Ross, famous historian, William Ross who kept the first Post Office, and many great ministers who were pioneers on the prairies.

Red River Settlement Cottage in 1872.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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