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Chronology of Events in the History of the Red River Settlement - 1815 to 1836

compiled by Alice E. Brown

Manitoba Pageant, September 1962, Volume 8, Number 1

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.

Note: This article is a continuation of a chronology of events in the history of the Red Settlement from 1811 to 1815.

5 July 1815 - Colin Robertson, en route from Montreal to launch a northern trading expedition for the Hudson’s Bay Company was camped east of Rainy Lake when he learned that Lord Selkirk’s Colony had been broken up and the Governor, Miles Macdonell, was a prisoner of the North West Company.

14 July 1815 - Robertson arrived in Red River to survey the situation in the ruined settlement.

23 July 1815 - Robertson reached the north end of Lake Winnipeg where the settlers who remained loyal to Lord Selkirk were encamped.

8 August 1815 - Thirty-five settlers set out on the return journey to Red River.

19 August 1815 - Robertson arrived back in Red River with the settlers.

25 August 1815 - They began to harvest the crops which had prospered despite the attempts made to destroy them.

15 October 1815 - Duncan Cameron was made prisoner and Fort Gibraltar captured as a demonstration of strength to counter North West Company hostilities at Qu’Appelle. Cameron was given his liberty and the Fort restored to him the following day.

17 October 1815 - Word reached Fort Douglas that Governor Robert Semple and a large party of colonists were proceeding up Lake Winnipeg en route for the Settlement. The same day Robertson sent off Jean Baptiste Lagimoniere bearing the Montreal Packet with messages for Lork Selkirk. One of the Company’s servants and an Indian guide accompanied Lagimoniere.

3 November 1815 - Governor Semple and an advance party reached Fort Douglas.

4 November 1815 - 120 persons including colonists and servants arrived at Point Douglas.

21 June 1816 - The Colonists left for the North by boat with the Sheriff, Alexander Macdonell.

While the Battle of Seven Oaks was taking place Lord Selkirk was proceeding westward to their assistance by the Great Lakes water route from Montreal. He had arrived in Canada with Lady Selkirk and his children in the autumn of 1815 to organize the forces of the Hudson’s Bay Company and to try to safeguard the Colony. He learned of the re-establishment, Semple’s safe arrival, and the continuing threat of the Nor’Westers through the letters brought by Lagimoniere. He sent this hardy voyageur back with word that he would come out to Red River himself in the spring of 1816 with enough strength to protect the Colony. This message did not reach the Settlement for Lagimoniere was intercepted by Indians in the pay of the Nor’Wester, A. N. McLeod of Fort William. He was cruelly beaten and robbed of the letters and his canoe.

Selkirk asked the Canadian Governor, Sir Gordon Drummond, for a troop of soldiers to be stationed in the Colony. This was refused, but he was permitted to recruit a body of soldiers at his own expense. Eighty de Meurons with four of their officers, twenty of the De Wattville Regiment and a few Glengarry Fencibles entered his service. They were to be paid for their trip to Red River and given land for settlement on their arrival. If they did not wish to remain they were to have free passage back to Europe. Before Selkirk set out, the Governor granted him a personal bodyguard of seven regular soldiers of the 37th Regiment.

In late June of 1816, Miles Macdonell was returning to Red River River with an advance party of Selkirk’s men. He was at the mouth of the Winnipeg River when he learned of the tragedy at Seven Oaks. He hurried back to inform Lord Selkirk of these developments.

24 July 1816 - Miles Macdonell met Lord Selkirk at Sault Ste. Marie.

16 August 1816 - Lord Selkirk captured Fort William and arrested the principal North West Company proprietors.

10 January 1817 - An advance part of Selkirk’s men, led by Miles Macdonell and Captain D’Orsonnens of the de Meurons recaptured Fort Douglas in a surprise winter attack. Their guide, John Tanner led them from the Lake of the Woods to Pembina by the Savanne Portage which was little used by the whitemen. [1]

Early Spring 1817 - Some of the more venturesome settlers were so eager to try again in Red River that they returned over the ice of Lake Winnipeg to be in time for spring planting.

1 May 1817 - Lord Selkirk and his party left Fort William for Red River.

Late May 1817 - Col. W. B. Coltman and Major J. Fletcher arrived in the Settlement from Canada to conduct a Commission of Inquiry.

21 June 1817 - Lord Selkirk arrived at the Forks with his body-guard of seven regular soldiers and thirty-seven men of the de Meurons and Wattville Regiments.

Selkirk remained in the Settlement for two months and three weeks. In that time he supervised the restoration of the colony on a sound foundation.

18 July 1817 - Selkirk made a treaty with Chief Peguis and three other Indian chiefs which extinguished the Indian title to the land adjacent to the Red River from Lake Winnipeg south to the Great Forks of the Red Lake River, and adjacent to the Assiniboine as far west at Rat Creek beyond Portage la Prairie. This strip along the rivers was to be approximately two miles in width, except at Fort Douglas, Fort Daer and the Grand Forks where it was to be six miles.

Summer 1817 - The lots of Peter Fidler’s original survey were re-assigned to the remaining settlers.

The de Meurons were settled along the Seine River opposite Fort Douglas.

Crops were late sown and were damaged by frost.

A plot of land was selected for a Church and School.

Alexander Ross reflected the judgment of the settlers when he wrote, “The experienced eye of his Lordship saw things at a glance, and so correct and unerring was his judgment that nothing he planned at this early date could in after years be altered to advantage. Public roads, by-roads, bridges, mill sites, and other points were settled.”

4 September 1817 - Lord Selkirk left for Canada by way of the United States.

Alexander Macdonell, as Lord Selkirk’s agent assumed the somewhat limited authority of the position of Colonial Governor at that time.

1817 - The number of agricultural settlers established in the Colony by the Fall of 1817 were: 151 Scotch in 31 houses, 45 de Meurons in 31 houses and 26 French Canadians in 6 houses - a total of 222 persons in 57 houses within the Settlement proper. [2]

1818 - A number of French Canadian families arrived from Lower Canada to settle at Red River.

Rev. J. N. Provencher and Rev. S. Dumoulin came from Quebec to establish the first permanent Roman Catholic Mission in what is now Western Canada.

2 August 1818 - Huge swarms of grasshoppers descended on the little strip farms of Red River. As a result of this plague they produced virtually nothing in this year of 1818, and in the following growing season of 1819.

1819 - Eighteen settlers reached the Colony from overseas in the fall of 1819. The total population in that year was 382.

There had been few horses in the Colony since its destruction in 1817, but in this year fifty-two were brought in from the Saskatchewan country.

18 June 1819 - Governor William Williams of the Hudson’s Bay Company, supported by Captain Frederick Matthey and the de Meurons, with an armed boat on Lake Winnipeg, seized the North West Company’s brigades at the portage of the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan. This was a decisive victory for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the long contest between the two fur companies.

1820 - Rev. John West reached the Colony. He was sent out by the Missionary Society of the Church of England at the request of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

8 April 1820 - Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of Selkirk, died in the South of France. “The goal which he set before him was a peaceful colony, the handmaid of the Company ... within a twelve month after the end, the goal had been reached.” [3]

1820 - In the winter months of this year a small party of men from the Red River Settlement journeyed to Prairie du Chien, where the Wisconsin River flows into the Mississippi, to buy seed wheat for the Colony. Because of the locust plagues of the two preceding years there was no grain in the settlement—not even for seed. They arrived home in Red River in early June with 250 bushels. [4]

26 March 1821 - The Deed Poll, setting out the terms of their union, was signed by the representatives of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company.

A Brief Summary of the Circumstances
Leading to the Union of the Fur Companies

Since its organization in the 1780s, the North West Company had been an association between two distinct groups of men - the Wintering Partners and the Montreal Agents. The Winterers were the men actively engaged as traders in the interior, and the Montreal Agents were the business men who handled financial matters and disposed of the furs. These two groups operated under a mutual agreement or contract which had to be renewed periodically.

By 1820 their old agreement was running out, and the time when all the Nor’westers would have to sign a new contract was approaching. Many of the Winterers were not satisfied with their circumstances and the state of trade, and at this time they felt free to seek other agents if they so desired.

The Montreal Agents realized their precarious position, and in December, 1819 they sent Edward Ellice to interview Lord Selkirk. Ellice claimed that he had no personal interest in the North West Company, but he intimated that all legal proceedings against Lord Selkirk would be dropped if he would consent to sell his Hudson’s Bay Company shares. The Montreal Agents were desperately seeking advantages which they could offer the discontented Wintering Partners. If they had these Hudson’s Bay Company shares they would be able to promise their traders the advantages of the shorter and less costly Hudson Bay route. Lord Selkirk, though in rapidly failing health, refused to do anything that would place his settlement at the mercy of the men who had twice destroyed it.

Some of the Wintering Partners were also working for a change. In September of 1819, they approached Lady Selkirk, in strictest secrecy, to ask if the Hudson’s Bay Company would act as their agents, handling their furs and supplying them with goods from York Factory, should they refuse to renew their agreement with McTavish, McGillivray & Co. Lady Selkirk’s brother, Andrew Colvile, one of the most active and influential members of the London Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company replied for her. He pointed out that the proposal they presented would not eliminate competition; but he intimated that “peculiarly liberal and advantageous terms” could be offered to them if the more notorious and violent of their traders were excluded, and a scheme devised whereby all competition could be eliminated and a system of joint control of trade worked out with his company.

When the two North West Company groups met to consider their new contract the Agents begged for the support of their traders, saying that they were making arrangements for the use of the Bay route. The Wintering partners were not fooled by this, and they were aware of the terms Colvile was prepared to offer them. Dr. John McLoughlin challenged McGillivray on the issue, and very few traders stood by the old agents. McLoughlin was given power-of-attorney to act for the majority and proceeded to London, accompanied by another Winter, Angus Bethune, to negotiate with the Hudson’s Bay Company. By the time they reached England, the Agents, represented by Edward Ellice and Simon McGillivray, were also suing for terms in an attempt to salvage something for themselves; though they claimed that they were still able to continue the struggle in the field.

With both branches of the opposition trying to negotiate with him, Colvile, acting for the Governor and Committee, was in a position to dictate his own terms. It was decided not to exclude the Agents as the Wintering Partners had planned, as such exclusion might result in continued competition and a struggle for trade if the Agents could recruit new traders. What amounted to a complete amalgamation was effected and the fur trade business of a vast domain was henceforth to be the legal monopoly of the reorganized Hudson’s Bay Company.

1821 - George Simpson was appointed Governor of the Northern Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

August 1821 - Nicholas Garry arrived in Red River to oversee the establishment of the new monopoly. Garry reports the population of the Red River Settlement in 1821 to be made up of: 221 Scottish settlers, 65 de Meurons, 133 Canadians for a total of 419 persons settled near the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. There were in addition about 500 metis in the Pembina area. [5]

By this year the great organized buffalo hunts, which were to continue as organized seasonal expeditions for the next fifty years, had begun.

1822 - In the summer of 1822, John Halkett, Lord Selkirk’s brother-in-law, visited the settlement in a dual capacity. He was acting for the Selkirk Estate, but he was also empowered to preside over the Northern Council and inaugurate the new fur trade regime. He dealt wisely with a number of settlers’ grievances and strongly recommended that the metis at Pembina be persuaded to move into British territory and be relocated close to the main settlement at the Forks.

The Hudson’s Bay Company established their post on the site of the old North West Company’s Fort Gibraltar. This new fort was named Fort Garry.

The Union of the companies had ended for the time being any questioning of the validity of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s charter and the legality of Lord Selkirk’s grant of land. The Colony was now badly in need of a regularly constituted government, and the Imperial government in London set up a system for the administration of the Colony and provided for primitive courts of law. The plan adopted was similar to that which Selkirk had presented to them in 1815.

Andrew Bulger, a British officer who had distinguished himself at Michilimackinac and at Prairie du Chien during the War of 1812-1814 was appointed Governor of Assiniboia. He displaced Alexander Macdonell, who had been the quasi-governor since 1817. Governor Bulger arrived in the Colony in time to confer with John Halkett before the latter returned to England.

In September drovers from the United States arrived with a sizeable herd of cattle for sale to the Red River settlers.

24 December 1822 - The first formal meeting of the first properly constituted Council of Assiniboia was held. The members of the Council who attended were Thomas Thomas, Alexander Macdonell, William Hennings Cook, and John Pritchard. Governor Bulger presided.

Winter 1822-23 - At this time the matter of the colonists’ right to trade directly with the Indians and Freemen, and of the Company’s exclusive right to supply merchandise to the settlers, first came into question. Governor Bulger was sympathetic to the settlers point of view and clashed with the Company’s Chief Factor Clarke who was in charge at Fort Garry. These issues were aggravated by the ambiguous and somewhat ill-defined division of authority as between the Governor and high ranking officers of the Company. “Was the Hudson’s Bay Company in the person of the local Chief Factor in control, or was this a colony with a Governor and Government - the source of all laws and regulations controlling the people?” [6]

1823 - Governor Bulger resigned his commission, and left Red River in the late summer of 1823, leaving the Colony Surveyor William Kemp in charge until the arrival of the new Governor, Robert Parker Pelly, a short time later. It was now determined that George Simpson, as Governor of the Northern Department would outrank Governor Pelly, and would have power to preside at meetings of the Council of Assiniboia when he was in the Colony.

It was decided to close the Colony’s own store, making the recently opened store of the Hudson’s Bay Company the only source of merchandise in the settlement. This move was strongly opposed by the settlers, particularly the de Meurons.

John Clarke was succeeded as Chief Factor at Red River by Donald McKenzie.

The Colony’s Fort Douglas was removed from the site which it had occupied since the beginning of settlement, and was relocated alongside Fort Garry. Robert Logan bought the land where the original Fort Douglas stood.

Rev. David Jones succeeded Rev. John West as the Protestant clergyman in the settlement.

Winter of 1823-24 - Governor George Simpson spent his first winter as a resident of Red River.

1824 - Cuthbert Grant was given a grant of land fronting on the Assiniboine, eighteen miles west of the Forks in the area known as White Horse Plain. A large number of metis from Pembina and else-where settled there with him. This settlement was first known as Grantown, but later took the name of the parish - St. Francois Xavier.

1825 - Rev. William Cochrane [*] came out in this year as an assistant to Rev. David Jones.

Chief Factor Donald McKenzie assumed a dual responsibility in taking over the post of Governor when Governor R. P. Pelly returned to England.

By the mid-1820s a number of retired fur traders had come to settle in the Colony. Some of these men retired after long service in the companies, but others were forced into retirement by the sharp reduction in the number of employees which came as a result of the union of the companies. Among the men who became settlers during this period were Donald Gunn, author of the book History of Manitoba, Thomas Thomas, James Bird, and Alexander Ross, author of several books, the best known of which is his Red River Settlement.

The Colony’s first attempt at industry was the Buffalo Wool Company. It was started under the auspices of the Selkirk Estate and the Company with John Pritchard as manager, and continued in operation for a short time. The Factory stood on the east bank of the Red River opposite Frog Plain in what is now East Kildonan.

1826 - In the spring of this year, after a wet autumn season, a winter of deep snowfall and a somewhat late spring break-up, the crests of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers reached the Forks together. On May 2, the river rose nine feet perpendicular, and by May 4 the Settlement was submerged.

As a result of this devastation the Swiss and de Meurons who still remained decided to leave and establish themselves elsewhere, as a good number of their fellows had done in previous years. Two hundred and forty of these people went to the United States. and sixty to Canada.

Shortly after this natural disaster Governor Simpson decided to build a new Fort Garry on the high ground at the head of navigation on the Red, and as a result of this decision Lower Fort Garry was ready for occupancy in 1833.

For some years old Fort Garry at the Forks was left unrepaired but still occupied, though it was almost in ruins as a result of the flood. The Governor tried to transfer the Company’s headquarters in Red River to the Lower Fort; but time proved that Upper Fort Garry, as it came to be called, was the real and natural centre for the trade in Red River and its reconstruction was started in 1835.

1832 - Report of the census taken in Red River - Lower Settlement 2,457, Grantown 294 - Total = 2,751. This represented an increase of 334 over the previous year. This population when grouped according to their church were numbered as 1,508 Roman Catholic and 1,243 Protestant. There were 445 dwellings in the entire settlement.

4 May 1834 - The Executors of the Selkirk Estate reconveyed to the Hudson’s Bay Company all the rights granted to Lord Selkirk, and the Red River Settlement became a colonial possession of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

One has only to examine a map which illustrates the settled areas in the British Province of Upper Canada in these years between 1812 and 1834 to see that these areas were then only small clusters hugging the shores of the Great Lakes, and following along some of the rivers of that densely forested province. If you take a wider view - and examine a map which illustrates the westward thrust of settlement in the United States you cannot fail to be impressed when you see how very far beyond the frontier these settlers at Red River had ventured. Theirs was a tiny entity of settlement, consisting of a number of diverse elements, and existing in almost unimaginable isolation for half a century before the continental tide of settlement came close enough that they could feel themselves a part of it. The history of “Red River” is unique in our continent. Manitobans should think of this - and be proud that its history is the foundation of our history as a province.

Notes

1. See Manitoba Pageant, January, 1962, for an account of this expedition.

2. Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71, Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., p. 645.

3. Ibid: p. 617.

4. See On Snowshoes for Wheat by E. S. Russenholt. Manitoba Pageant for April, 1957.

5. William L. Morton, Manitoba, a History. University of Toronto Press, 1957, p. 61.

6. Arthur S. Morton, op. cit. p. 653.

* Editor’s Note: Two spellings of this churchman’s name have been used by historians - Cochrane and Cockran. It is known that he preferred the latter swelling, but because the other spelling is commonly used we trust that no violence is done to his memory by our use of it.

Page revised: 23 May 2011

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