The Canadian Prairie Province – The Hudson Bay Company

THE chronicles of the fur trade in the Northwest are divided into four periods :— First, From the Treaty of Utrecht in 1714 to 1763, in the hands of the French ; Second, From 1563 to 1821, when the Canadian and the English companies held joint and rival sway ; Third, From 1821, when the companies united, until 1870, when the North-west became part of the Dominion ; Fourth, The present period, in which the company’s trade in land and goods will equal or exceed its fur trade, the last having ceased to be a monopoly.

The history of this trade is full of romance and adventure. It was carried on by men who feared exposure, hardship and danger as little as did those who, seeking a short way to El Dorado, braved the open Polar sea. It was begun by French adventurers before the American Revolution. Sir Alexander Mackenzie, in his history of this trade, published in 1801, remarks that it requires less time for a civilized people to deviate into the manners and customs of savage life, than for savages to rise into a state of civilization.

Such was the event with those who accompanied the natives on their hunting or trading excursions, they became attached to the Indian mode of life, and lost all relish for their former habits and native homes. In the earliest history of New France we find them hunting and fishing on the Saguenay, Tadousac being their chief trading post. The Ottawa country next was penetrated, and thence they passed to the west and north of the great lakes. Some became a kind of pedlers, coureurs des bois, and were middle men between the Montreal merchants and the Indians. Setting off from Lachine in birch bark canoes, the frailest yet most fit vessels for so great a journey, when propelled by these skilful voyageurs, laden with goods to the water’s edge, they were absent for from a year to eighteen months, during which time they merrily toiled with paddle over the rivers and along the margins of lakes, carried great burdens across portages, finding their food on the land or in the water, with gun and spear, or subsisting on pemmican, the flesh of the buffalo, boiled fine and mixed with its tallow, and occasionally flavoured with wild berries. Sometimes Indian corn similarly pre-pared took the place of the buffalo meat.

They were careless of danger and never knew fatigue. Trading posts and stations were established at important centres, some of which were in time surrounded with palisades and armed.

Owing to the great length of the journey it was also divided ; those who hunted or dealt direct with Indians. meeting those who dealt with the capitalists of the trade at certain trading posts. In time the Grand Portage on the north shore of Lake Superior was made a chief depot and place of exchange. This was the case before, and when the Nor’-West Company was established. Here the ” Northmen” or ” Winterers” as were called those from the Indian country, with their furs, met the canoe men;

Pork-eaters,” also ” Goers and Comers,” they were named, who performed the journey between the Grand Portage and Montreal. The Northmen were regaled with luxuries from the larder of the Pork-eaters and the Company, settled their accounts, and after a fortnight of pleasure were off again for another long trip to the fur regions. Thus meeting only occasionally, and then in this wild place, with civilized men, it was not strange that the Northmen forgot the manners of their eastern fathers, lived when away as did the Indians, took their daughters as wives, and became the fathers of the Metis, the hardy mixed race found in Manitoba and the territories, and which now numbers many thousands.

Mackenzie gives an instance of the strength of the canoe men, stating that he had known some of them set oft, carrying two packages of ninety pounds each, and return with two others of the same weight in the course of six hours, being a distance of eighteen miles over hills and mountains.

The traders from the far off Athabasca country did not come to the Grand Portage, but were met by the Pork-eaters at Rainy Lake, where they got supplies and exchanged ladings.

A half military discipline was observed, and much respect paid by these people to the men in command, whether en rout e, or at the forts and posts.

Twelve hundred men, says Mackenzie, were sometimes assembled at the Grand Portage, indulging in the free use of liquor and often quarrelling with each other, yet always shewed the greatest respect to their employers, who were comparatively few in number.

The south end of this great carrying place is now in the State of Minnesota, where its north-east corner juts into Lake Superior, due west of Isle Royale, and at the distance of thirty miles from Fort William.

It ended at Pigeon River, where the voyageurs again took canoes and passed on by the series of lakelets and streams that lead to Rainy Lake, and thence to the Lake of the Woods.

The country was all under French sway, and so continued till the Treaty of Versailles, in 1763. Among their many forts were Fort Charles, at the Lake of the Woods ; Fort Dauphine, at the head of Lake Manitoba, and Fort de la Reine on the Assiniboine ; Fort Bourbon, at the head of Lake Winnipeg, and Fort Rouge on the site of the present town of Winnipeg, a few rods north of the present Fort Garry. Thence they extended westerly to the Saskatchewan and the north, and this was long before the Hudson Bay Company had wandered from their more northern regions, or dreamt of the claim to so great and valuable a part of the continent, which has been the creation of later years.

The Sieur Varennes de la Verandrye, a Frenchman of distinction, was the first white person who explored and described the Lake Winnipeg region. The family of this traveller is yet represented in Lower Canada by that of Sir Etienne Paschal Taché, late Premier of Canada, and by Archbishop Taché, of St. Boniface. This was in 1731, He penetrated west to the Swan River and Saskatchewan regions, and was soon followed by others.

Says Mackenzie, page XI, ” The Hudson’s Bay Company in the year 1774, and not till then, thought proper to move from home to the east bank of Sturgeon Lake, in latitude 53 deg. 56 min. north, and long. 102 deg. 15 min. west . . . From this period to the present time. they have been following the Canadians to their different establishments.” At page LXXIII, he says: ” The French had two settlements upon the Saskatchewan, long before, and at the conquest of Canada, the first at the Pasquia, near Carotte River, and the other at Nepawi, where they had agricultural implements and wheeled carriages.” Much ill-will towards the English had been instilled into the Indians by the French, and for some years after the cession of Canada to England, fear of the aborigines deterred the English from going far into the country and the fur trade languished.

Good prices were a strong inducement, and in twenty years an army of traders and of their employees were so again engaged. The young men of Canada looked to employment in this trade as their surest means to advancement and competency.

In the year 1793 the merchants engaged in the trade formed, says Mackenzie, a junction of interests, under the name of the North West Company. The management was entrusted to Messrs. Benjamin and Joseph Frobisher and Mr. Simon McTavish. Mr. Peter Pond was afterwards added to their number. The trade was so consolidated and directed by able men, and the company thus formed was for thirty-eight years, and till its consolidation with the Hudson Bay Company, one of the most powerful combinations in Canada. Their trade was carried in schooners on the great lakes. The old French posts and forts were in their hands. Fort William, on the Kaministiquia, became one of the most important of their forts. In its ancient store-rooms, which have wooden or stone walls as thick as those of the old houses in Quebec, may still be seen arms of ancient make, gilt knee and shoe buckles, and other dress articles such as the partners, commanders and other officers of the Company in the time of the Georges wore. A high palisade, of posts set on end, surrounded the enclosure, and was. only removed, and replaced by a neat picket fence, within a few years by the present officer in charge. The servants of this Company were estimated at 5,000 men, with sixty trading posts, in 1815. They passed along the North shore, through the Village of Penetanguishene, and County of Simcoe, down Yonge Street, the main entry to Toronto (then Little York) from the north, and which roadway they helped to construct, as by it their goods often found their way to Lake Ontario.

Our chart of the region between Lake Superior and Manitoba, shews the course of the old voyageurs westward from the Grand Portage ; following the Rainy Lake and river stretches. The international boundary now pursues this route, running, in an arbitrary course, across the Lake of the Woods to the North-West Angle, then falling southerly till it strikes parallel No. 49. Part of the lake, and of the land on its western shore, is thus put under the American flag. We have no arrangement with that nation to hinder their erecting a fort or custom-house on this important projection into our territory, nor any provision to facilitate improvements, or management of the water courses.

As the country settles and this route increases in importance, a new difficulty, such as that of the Haro straits, may arise. We humbly hope that the next noble and learned commissioners who undertake to negotiate treaties, in which Canada is concerned, will have more accurate knowledge of the geography and history of the regions in question than did those who, acting on imperial instructions, and, so far as their limited knowledge guided them, in imperial interests, have heretofore settled our international boundaries, by giving away whatever was in dispute, or specially coveted. But, to return to the story.

In 1788, says Mackenzie, the gross amount of the adventure for the year did not exceed £40,000, but, by the exertion, enterprise and industry of the proprietors, it was brought, in eleven years, to triple that amount and upwards, yielding proportionate profits, and surpassing, in short, anything known in America. In 1798, the shares were increased to forty-six, and new partners were admitted. Most of the furs were sold in England. Some were sent to China and the East through the United States, or in ships of the East India Company, and traded for tea and other commodities ; but a loss of £40,000 was experienced in the latter venture in the four years preceding 1796.

The employees of the North West Company had no insignificant part in the war of 1812. A military post, for the protection of the fur trade, was established by order of the Company and General Brock, on the Island of St. Joseph, in Lake Huron, under command of Captain Roberts.

On the fifteenth of July, Roberts set out with his little army of forty-two regulars, three artillerymen and one hundred and sixty voyageurs, half of whom only were armed with guns, and two hundred and fifty Indians. On the seventeenth, they landed near Mackinac, which was garrisoned by sixty soldiers under command of Lieutenant Hancks. The garrison was summoned to surrender, which they did with little delay. Apart from the value of the acquisition in itself, says the historian McMillan, the occurrence had an excellent effect in retaining the North West Indians in the British interests.

In an interesting debate as to the north westerly boundary of Ontario, in the Legislative Assembly at Toronto, on the 4th of February, 1876, Mr. S. J. Dawson, member for Algoma, thus refers to this great partnership :

” At the time of the formation of this Company, there were in Canada a number of men remarkable for their energy and enterprise ; many of them were the descend-ants of those whose fortunes had been lost at Culloden, and even some of the Scottish chiefs who had been pre-sent at that memorable conflict, were then in the country-They were men accustomed to adventure, and had been trained in the stern school of adversity. They joined the North West Company, and soon gave a different complexion to the affairs of the North West. Under their management order succeeded to the anarchy which had prevailed under the French regime. Warring tribes and rival traders were reconciled. Trading posts sprung up on the Saskatchewan and Unjiga ; every post became a centre of civilization, and explorations were extended to the shores of the Arctic Sea and the coasts of the Pacific Ocean. It has been the custom to ascribe to the Hudson’s Bay Company the admirable system of management which brought peace and good government to the then distracted regions of the NorthWest, but it was due to these adventurous Scotchmen. Sir Alexander Mackenzie traced out the great river which now bears his name,. and was the first to cross the Rocky Mountains and reach the Pacific Ocean. Fraser followed the river now called after him, and, a little later, Thompson crossed further to the south and reached Oregon by the Columbia.”

It will be seen in another chapter that on the day in which this discussion took place in Toronto, an important constitutional change was made at Winnipeg the abolition of its Upper House or Legislative Council.

Disagreements arose, in time, among the partners and some of them, among whom were Sir Edward Ellice and Sir Alexander Mackenzie, formed another, styled the X. Y. Company. This only increased the causes of trouble among the adherents, and had a bad effect on the trade and evil example to the Indians.


The famous charter incorporating Prince Rupert, Christopher, Duke of Albemarle, son of General Monk, to whom the race of Stuarts owed so much, William Earl of Craven, Henry, Lord Arlington of ” Cabal ” fame, or infamy Anthony, Lord Ashley, unworthy ancestor of good Lord Shaftesbury, Sir John Robinson, and twelve others, knights, baronets, esquires and citizens, as ” The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay for the discovery of a new passage into the South Sea, and for the finding some trade for furs minerals, and other considerable commodities,” was dated the second day of May, 1670, in the twenty-second year of King Charles the Second. Judicial and executive authority was so conferred on the Company, together with the sole trade in all seas, straits, lands, &c., that lie within the entrance of Hudson’s Straits, or the rivers that enter them, not already occupied by any other English subject, or other Christian Prince or State, yielding therefor two elks and two black beavers, whensoever the king or his heirs should visit the said territory.

For the political history of the Hudson’s Bay Company we have here no space. History tells us how the Canadian, traders spread over the Southern part of the territory and even followed up the English to the hunting grounds between the lakes and Hudson’s Bay. A deadly rivalry arose. Hunters and voyageurs strove together for the mastery of important posts and hunting grounds, and blood was frequently shed. In the midst of this sad state of dl-Mrs, Lord Selkirk became Governor of the Company, and formed a scheme for settling the Red River Valley with his hardy countrymen. The first colony came in the autumn of 1812, and settled between Fort Garry and Kildonan, the parish which we have described elsewhere, and which is five miles north of the present city of Winnipeg. These hardy Highlanders suffered for many years from the storm that raged between the two companies. The Earl had come out at the invitation of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and obtained an immense tract of land from them. He built a fort and store at the river bank, the name of which is still preserved in that of Point Douglas, now a most important part of Winnipeg, which he till his death supplied by shipments from England of arms, ammunition, clothing and food. The foundation of the old fort may yet be traced on the Logan Estate, near the river’s bank. The half-breeds and retainers of the North-West Company, with their strong French Canadian feeling, were jealous of outside interference. The new comers were twice driven to take shelter at Pembina, where was Fort Darr, a Hudson’s Bay post. In their absence, their homes were destroyed.

In 1815, a large body of emigrants arrived and found their friends in poverty and wretchedness. The settlement was for a time forsaken, some going to Hudson’s Bay forts, but others toiled, with women and children, a weary journey over what is now the ” Dawson route ” to Fort William, thence made their way by Penetanguishene to Canada West, where their descendants may yet be found. The next year evil feelings had culminated. On the 19th of June, an encounter took place on Frog plains, between Fort Douglas and Kildonan, on the west bank of the river, in which Mr. Robert Semple, then governor of the Selkirk settlement and fort, and twenty-one others five officers and sixteen men of his party, were killed.

At the time of this attack, Lord Selkirk was on his way to Rupert’s Land, and heard of the affair when in New York. Peace had come for a time in Europe and he had induced some disbanded soldiers to follow him. His company consisted of eighty men and four officers of the De Meuron regiment, a score of the men of the Watteville regiment, and a few Glengarry men. They passed up by Penetanguishene and the North shore, and encamped on the left bank of the Kaministiquia River, opposite

Fort William. Here his Lordship soon found stragglers from Red River, who had known of, and some who had suffered from, the acts of the Nor’-West Company’s people, and who laid informations before him as a Justice of the Peace, charging a number of those in the Fort as guilty of larceny, riot and murder. There were in and about the neighbourhood of Fort William, engaged in the fur and goods trade, about two hundred French Canadians and half as many Indians. Lord Selkirk soon commenced hostilities, but under cover of his office as a Justice of the Peace. He had been enjoined by the Canadian authorities not to use the old soldiers with him in any aggressive operations. His veterans, nevertheless, with constables’ warrants in their hands, arrested such of the incriminated adherents of the Company as they could seize, and when the rest took shelter within the high wooden palisades of the fort, they broke open the gate, their companions flocked across the river and soon took possession of the post, which they held till May, 1817. The prisoners were brought to York, now Toronto, and tried before the full Court of King’s Bench, in the month of October, 1818. Before proceeding to give any details of these interesting trials, we may refer shortly to the high and patriotic, if somewhat arbitrary, character of Lord Selkirk. Desirous of securing a happy home for his countrymen and for those who had served in the wars of his king, or were turned out of ancestral homes by ” improving ” landlords, who thought sheep-farming more profitable than tenant culture, he could find no place in Europe, as he thought, safe from the destroyer war. He also seems to have feared to settle near the American border, and hoped in the rich prairies of the Winnipeg basin, to find a secure home. He was lavish of both time and treasure, and yet was witness of much trouble and suffering among his faithful followers. He died in France in 1820. The territory which was granted to him by the company’s deed, dated 12th June, 1811, is described thus :

” Beginning on the western shore of Lake Winnipeg at a point 32 degrees 30 minutes North latitude; thence running due west to Lake Winnipegoshish ; thence in a southerly direction through said lake, so as to strike its westerly shore in latitude 52 degrees ; then due west to the place where the parallel of 52 north latitude intersects the west branch of Red River, otherwise called the Assiniboine River, then due south from that point to the height of land which separates the waters running into Hudson’s Bay from those of the Mississipi and Missouri Rivers; then in an easterly direction along the height of land to the source of the River Winnipeg; thence along the main stream of those waters and the middle of the several lakes through which they pass to the mouth of the Winnipeg River, and thence in a northerly direction through the middle of Lake Winnipeg to the place of beginning on the western shore of that lake.”

It will be noticed that a large and valuable part of this territory is now included in the limits of the State of Minnesota and Dakota Territory. That arose, as we know, as a result of treaty-making by English diplomatists with our acute American cousins.

In 1536, the Company repurchased from Lord Selkirk’s heirs, for £84,000, the part of the land to which they laid title, being that above described, with the exception of portions meantime deeded to settlers.

Lord Selkirk, during his stay, obtained a valuable cession from the Indians by treaty, made on the eighteenth of June, 1817, with the five chiefs of the Crees and Chippewas. Two miles on either side of Red River, from its mouth to Red Lake River, now in Minnesota ; and the like extent on either side of the Assiniboine, from its junction at Fort Garry to Muskrat River, were given up to the settlers. This land is now marked on the map and known as the ” Old Settlers’ Belt.” In Indian par-lance, this belt was described as the distance, on either side the rivers, that might be seen under a horse’s belly.

The Indians always asserted, when any question arose as to the terms of this transaction, that they, or their fathers, only agreed to give Lord Selkirk a lease for twenty-two years. The treaties made with them, since the creation of Manitoba, have put an end to such discussions.

Detailed accounts of the proceedings in these then exciting and celebrated, but now almost forgotten, but yet important trials, are given in two rare books published in Montreal, in 1819.

The indictments were under authority of an Act passed in the forty-third year of George the Third, whereby cognizance of offences committed within the Indian territories, or parts of America not within the limits of Upper or Lower Canada, or of any civil government of the United States of America, was given to Lower Canada ; but the Governor of that Province was authorised, when convenience and justice so required, to transmit any persons charged with such offence to Upper Canada, for trial there. The Court was presided over by Chief Justice Powell, and Judges Campbell and Boulton. The Crown counsel were Attorney-General (afterwards Chief Justice), Sir John Beverley Robinson, and Solicitor-General H. J. Boulton.

Messrs. Samuel Sherwood, L. P. Sherwood, and W. W. Baldwin, father of the Hon. Robert Baldwin, were counsel for the prisoners. As related in the evidence of the case against Paul Brown and Francois F. Boucher, the story is a sad and cruel one. Governor Semple, learning of the approach of the half-breeds, and that they had arrested three of his men, hastily left Fort Douglas with about thirty in his party, to go towards the settlement at Kildonan. They were soon met on Frog Plains by the half-breeds on horseback, instigated by the North West Company. Angry words passed between Semple and Francois F. Boucher. Semple ordered his followers to arrest Boucher, who slid off his horse and ran away. The men on either side were variously armed with guns, tomahawks, bows, arrows and spears.

Two shots were fired, by which Mr. Semple and Mr. Holte, his lieutenant, who was by him, fell. The first shots might have been accidental, but their report and the sight of blood raised a savage desire for ruthless extirpation. Immediately a volley was poured in, by which nearly all the Selkirk party were killed or wounded, as they had gathered round the Governor and Mr. Holte. Michael Heden one of the company, and the most important witness for the Crown, in his evidence says ; ” I was very much frightened when I saw Mr. Holte and Governor Semple fall. A short time after, I saw the wounded men crying for mercy, but the half-breeds rode up to them and killed them. Their bodies were, by friendly Indians, brought into Fort Douglas next day fearfully mutilated. The attacking party was under Cuthbert Grant, a Scotch half-breed, and a chief clerk of the NorthWest Company.”

John Pritchard, one of Semple’s followers, tells how he saw Lieutenant Holte fall ; also, Sinclair, Bruce, and Mc-Lean. Captain Rogers ran towards the attacking party, calling out that he surrendered and praying them to spare his life. Thomas McKay, a half-breed, shot him through the head, and another Bois-brulé, ripped him open with a knife. The half-breeds were painted in a hideous manner. and as they attacked gave the war whoop, like Indians. Pritchard was insulted and threatened, but his life was spared at his earnest entreaty. Cuthbert Grant told him that his party had intended to surround Fort Douglas and shoot all who ventured out. A peremptory surrender was insisted on, and Pritchard carried this message as Grant’s ultimatum to the fort. Mr. McDonnell was, after Semple fell, in command, and seeing resistance futile, this was agreed to. An inventory was taken of the property, which was signed by Grant, to whom the fort was abandoned, on the twenty-second ; the Hudson Bay people proceeding down the river to a Hudson Bay fort on Lake Winnipeg.

Cuthbert Grant was one of the four chiefs of the half-breeds, the others being Bostonnais Pangman, Wm. Shaw and Bonhomme Montour.

In 1816, there was no house but Fort Douglas at Red River ; the others were burned down by the NorWest Company’s half-breeds, and the settlers, employed in the day time on their lands, used to come up to the fort by the river’s bank to sleep.

The evidence of the witness Heden, who was a black-smith, was impeached, especially as to his statement that the Bois-brulés fired first, and it was alleged that he had said : ” We cannot blame the half-breeds, for our side fired first, and if we had gained the day we should have done the same, or as bad, to them.” Chief Justice Powell charged the jury, who, after some deliberation, gave a verdict of not guilty.

Similar verdicts were given in the other cases, among which we may only mention that against John Cooper and Hugh Bannerman, charged with stealing cannon from the dwelling house of Earl Selkirk, on the third of April, 1815.

Much latitude seems to have been given in the admission of evidence at the trials. It showed clearly an exasperated state of feeling that the people went about armed, and that hostile rivalry between the two companies existed. Earl Selkirk did not appear at the trials at York. He seems to have felt, and probably with reason, that public feeling in Canada in favour of the Nor’-West Company, would be too strong for him and his cause

An interesting discussion as to the boundary of Upper Canada, now Ontario, is reported. These proceedings, and those in the trial at Quebec, soon to be referred to afforded ground for the argument advanced by some, that the whole of the present Province of Manitoba, and much more to the west, and between it and Hudson’s Bay, might of right have been claimed as part of the great Province of Ontario. This and other interesting matters will soon be submitted to the arbitration agreed on between that Province and the Dominion.


Two other trials, arising out of the same troubles, took place before Chief Justice Sewell and Judges Perrault and Bowen, at Quebec, in May and June, 1818. Charles de Reinhard, formerly a sergeant in the De Meuron regiment, who had entered the service of the North West Company, having, with Mainville, a half-breed, arrested Owen Keveny, an intelligent retainer of the other Company, murdered him in a dastardly manner in the dalles of the Winnipeg river, near Rat Portage. Enquiry was made for Keveny, when the murderer answered that he would not return again, that he was well hid—” il ne reviendra plus, il est bien caché.” De Reinhard was found guilty, and sentenced to death in the old fashioned manner, including the direction that his body be anatomised a thoughtful provision for the medical profession.

Exception was taken to the ruling of the Court on the trial, that the dalles of the Winnipeg were not in Indian territory, but within the limits of Upper Canada, and so not under the cognizance of the Court.

The judges delayed the execution of the sentence until the opinion of the Imperial authorities could be obtained. They seem to have disagreed with the Quebec Court. The result was that De Reinhard was released from custody. The facts and the stigma still remain.

The only excuse he could allege was, that he acted under orders from his superiors, and that was, in those rude times, too often considered sufficient to justify any acts by the faithful servants of the Company, however unlawful or cruel.

The other case was that of Archibald McLellan, a partner in the NorthWest Company, who was charged as an accessory to the murder of Keveny. He was acquitted by the jury. Cuthbert Grant and Joseph Cadotte seem not to have been brought to trial. Owing to the destruction of the Canadian Parliamentary documents by fire in Montreal, and to the like loss of the Quebec Court records, it has been a matter of difficulty to trace the post verdict proceedings accurately. Through the kind offices of Colonel Gugy, of Quebec, a search in the records kept in the gaol of that city has been made, and the following entries found there, viz. :—” Charles de Reinhard, Archibald McLellan, Cuthbert Grant, Joseph Cadotte, committed on the 19th March, 1818. By virtue of a writ of habeas corpus, removed from the common gaol of the City and District of Montreal therein detained under a charge by a bill of indictment found against them for having unlawfully and maliciously, and of their malice aforethought, killed and murdered Owen Keveny, in the Indian territory.” All but De Reinhard were bailed on the 4th of April, 1818, by order of the Court of King’s Bench. As this record shows, which continues thus : De Reinhard was, ” by the Court of Oyer and Terminer, sentenced to be hanged on Monday, the first of June. Respited till 26 June ; second respite 2nd October ; third respite ,first Friday in March next. On the 10th October, 1821, pardoned by His Royal Highness.” This was n the second year of the reign of George the Fourth.

These trials were long and ably conducted. Attorney-General Uniacke and Solicitor-General Marshall appeared for the Crown in both cases. Messrs. George Vanfelson, Andrew Stuart, and Vallière de St. Real were counsel for the prisoners. The most remarkable feature brought out in the evidence is, that the so-called savages were less bloody than the Metis, or as they are more generally called the Bois-brulés, and white employes of the con-tending companies. A band of Ojibways, in 1815, aided and guarded the poor Selkirk settlers to the fort on Lake Winnipeg and hindered their utter destruction at Red River, when that seemed inevitably decreed by the barbarous half-breeds in the interest of the North West Company. Keveny was found by his intending murderers living and trading happily among the Indians. He was made prisoner and carried away beyond their observation, and then murdered with Mainville’s gun and De Reinhard’s sword. ” Make the prisoner believe that he is going to Lac la Pluie ; we cannot kill him here among the Indians,” said one conspirator to the other. When they had got to where the river makes an elbow, an excuse was made for the party to go on land. Then De Reinhard said to Mainville, ” We are far enough from the Indians ; you may fire when he comes near enough to embark.” The murder was then committed and the body hidden in the woods. After the onslaught, in which Governor Semple fell, the colony was dispersed ; but, on the arrival of the old soldiers some of whom preceded and some went in with his lordship it gathered again. The Earl died in France in 1820. A union of the two companies was brought about the next year through the agency of Sir Edward Ellice and Lord Bathurst. The disturbing element being removed, peace was restored.

We are indebted to Professor Bryce, of Manitoba College, for the following translation or paraphrase of a curious fragment of Bois-brulé literature celebrating the Battle of Frog Plains. It was the extempore production of Pierre Falcon, an almost entirely illiterate half-breed, composed, it is said, and sung as he rode away after the battle. This old bard was living in the Province till within a recent period, had a small official position under the Hudson’s Bay Company, and is said to have been respected by his people. Our readers may find the original French words and an interesting article on the settlement in the Canadian Monthly Magazine for 1874, p. 279.

The North West Company was not incorporated, nor had they any charter save the agreement of the partners. They claimed no territorial rights, but those of landlords of the sites actually occupied. They had no courts, nor did their officers claim judicial powers beyond those of justices of the peace, which some of them held by appointment of the Canadian Executive. The Hudson’s Bay Company cannot be considered to have acquired, when this North West Company joined it, any further extension of territorial authority than the latter Company enjoyed, which was subservient to Canada.

The Hudson’s Bay Company’s operations were long con-fined to the regions north of the Manitoba lakes. They did not enter the Saskatchewan valley till shortly before 1780, nor the Red River valley before 1805, and yet, when Canada came to treat for the occupation and settlement of the great Fertile Belt, she was asked to consider that the claims of the Company thereto were valid, as if it had been all occupied by them since 1670, and the price demanded was in the like proportion, and finally agreed to, is we shall now briefly explain. We refer to this as a matter of historical interest. The contract has been made, some details only have yet to be completed. Among these is the laying off reserves round many important posts ; a matter which the public should regard with interested vigilance.

This union of contending parties was a fortunate thing for all concerned. The united Company was so enabled to put more restraint on their own employees, and, by example and police, preserve better order among the Indians and half-breeds. Causes of dispute still sometimes arose.

In 1846, Colonel J. F. Crofton was sent from England to Red River, with eighteen officers and three hundred and twenty-nine men, under secret instructions, and remained more than a year. They were intended to ward against threatened Indian troubles and to deter filibustering expeditions from Canada and the States. This little army went by Fort York, and thence by boats up Lake Winnipeg and Red River.

The evidence of Colonel Crofton, as given before a Committee of the Imperial House of Commons, on 19th May, 1857, is valuable, being that of’ a disinterested witness. Still living in mature old age but totally blind, and now of the rank of Lieut-Gen. in the British army. We refer to it shortly. He says : ” Since the junction of the two Companies, the issue of spirits in barter for fur gradually ceased, and I think about ten years before I arrived in the colony, it had altogether ceased ; and from that time the Indian race were increasing, as shown by the census : before that they had been decreasing. I am sure that justice was practically administered there was no crime. I attribute this to the absence of spirits.

” I think,” he adds, ” the Hudson’s Bay Company’s officers have an experience of natives half-breeds and Indians that no other body can have, and I think they managed them exceedingly well.” The Company’s government of Red River he characterized as patriarchal in every sense.

A question (No. 3334) asked this witness was : ” What do you suppose would be the result of having any loose form of government among the Indians ? ”

He answered : ” I think they would kill one another. The Americans would soon use them up if they were there.”

Rear Admiral Sir George Back, who accompanied Sir John Franklin and Sir John Ross in some of their expeditions, and spent much time at Hudson’s Bay Company’s posts, says before the same committee : ” The Indians seemed always to feel that they could fall back upon the clemency and the benevolence of the white man, at any extremity. The feeling of the Indians towards the officers of the Company was very good. I never knew an instance to the contrary.”

Colonel Crofton also expressed a high opinion as to the fertility of the country. The climate he thought not more severe than that of Upper Canada. ” The season opens about the first week in April and closes about the middle of November.”…” The finest weather is what is called the Fall, which extends from August to the middle of November.”

To question 3201, ” Had you an opportunity of seeing any agriculture while you were there ? ” he answered :—”A great deal. They grew oats, barley, and wheat chiefly, but all sorts of vegetables. The wheat ripened in ninety days from sowing. It ripened very perfectly. It was the finest I ever saw.”

He goes on to speak of the extent of the fertile region as being the prairie land from Red River to the base of the Rocky Mountains. ” It is,” he says, ” fit for agriculture. It might maintain millions.”

It is unnecessary to cite the evidence of the author of ” The Great Lone Land” and other travellers further to prove the friendly feeling that has ever existed in the natives towards the officers of the Company, and which will doubtless remain. As long as the region is under the sway of Canada just and liberal treatment will surely be enforced and have its reward.

The control of the Company’s affairs was vested by the charter in a Governor, Deputy-Governor and five Directors, annually elected in London by the stockholders. Their powers in Rupert’s Land were exercised by a Governor, the same person often holding office for many years. Sir George Simpson was the first appointed after the union in 1821, and held office till his death, in 1860. Mr. Alexander Grant Dallas succeeded him, and was followed by Mr. Wm. McTavish, in 1864. Mr. Donald A. Smith, M.P. for Selkirk, is now Governor of the Company.

Till 1839 the Governor was Judge also. A Recorder was then appointed, Mr. Abram Thom, who presided till 1854, with some intermission, during which Colonel Caldwell, in charge of some troops at the settlement, acted with much ability. Mr. Frank Godshall Johnson, a Montreal lawyer, was next Governor of Assiniboia and Recorder ; then Dr. Bunn, who was equally skilled in law and physic. Judge John Black was appointed in 1862 and held office till the creation of the Province of Manitoba, when the appointment of its Judges came under the control of the Dominion Government, as stated in another chapter.

The population of the colony in 1816 is stated at 200, in 1823 at 600, in 1843 at 5,143, in 1858 at 8,000, and in the next ten years about 4,000 were added. Various families have, at different times, moved from the original site to Portage La Prairie and elsewhere in the Province. Till its entering the Canadian Confederation, the settlement, including fifty miles in depth east and west of the river, was ruled by the Council of Assiniboia with the Governor of the Company, and the Recorder, at its head, and formed in every respect a Crown Colony. As Mr. Dawson argues in the speech referred to, the Hudson’s Bay Company established this colony in conformity with the conditions of their charter. The Imperial Government maintained troops there as it had done in Canada : it corresponded with the Governors of that colony, both directly and through the Hudson’s Bay Company, and in every way recognised it as a colony.

After the union of the two companies the people of this settlement were long the only whites in the country, save the servants of the Company and the occasional missionary or adventurer. Their young people united in marriage with the natives, daughters of Cree, Chippewa and other chiefs ; and we find among the well-to-do half-breeds the names of the old Scotch Highlanders. Native instinct has led the children to till the farm, while the French Metis prefers the chase. The strong fibre of the Scottish mind has not generally given way but has often raised the Indian to its own level, and many traits of character will be found in the Bois-brûlés of the North-West which seem to have been derived from the half-wild and sometimes cruel followers of the heroes of Waverley.

Owing to the exceeding richness of the soil carelessness in farming has resulted. The same land is for many years in succession cropped with wheat. Manure used to be got rid of by burning or by drawing it to the ice that it might float away.

The amount of imports to the Red River settlement for a number of years before Confederation was $100,000 per annum ; but it is estimated that as much more, entering from Hudson’s Bay, was distributed along the interior. On the other hand, the annual average export of furs from the various possessions of the Company was at this period about 81,800,000, or nearly six times the value of imports to all their posts which amounted to about *300,000. The amount of cultivated land in Rupert’s Land in 1866 was but 20,000 acres, as Mr. Dodds estimated in his address soon to be referred to. The Company professed to sell land to half-breeds and other settlers at 7s. 6d. an acre, but the consideration was seldom paid, and the possession of those who did not interfere with the fur trade was not often questioned. Windmills were used to grind the grain, and there were then eighteen of these mills in the settlement.

Mutual advantage brought about the union of the rival companies, the united Company so continuing till 1869, when its imperial sway passed by hard bargain to the Dominion, the company retaining its forts, trading posts, and valuable reserves round them, as also a certain amount of land in each township. It cannot be doubted that the North-West Company was of much benefit to Canada. Its catch of peltries was yearly carried to Montreal, which was one of the great fur marts of the world. The older corporation having swallowed up its rival, peltries that formerly found their market in the Canadian metropolis, were sent by way of Hudson’s Bay to England. Every avenue of communication with Canada was closed, and reports, often entirely false and unfavourable to the country and its trade, were spread in order to secure a continuance of the rich profits enjoyed from the monopoly. This monopoly was rigidly enforced by the officers of the Company, who even assumed the right to fine and imprison the free trader who ventured to offer a skin for sale to any but themselves. Persons still living, among them Mr. A. G. B. Bannatyne, M.P. for Provencher, were so imprisoned for trading unlicensed. The goods trade was an important pendant of the fur trade, as rigidly guarded as a monopoly. As to the profit and nature of this trade, we have the words of Mr. James Dodds, in an address to the shareholders of the Company, at the London Tavern, in March, 1866 ” Our goods trade was entirely barter, an enormous truck system, and formerly, from, the ignorance of the Indians, we disposed of our goods at twenty times their real value. Now that this charm of our exclusive right has been dispelled, traders come up from the States and traverse the country, and a number of pushing and successful merchants have established themselves on the Red River.”

That ” The Adventurers ” and the Indians were very good friends, and that the latter were very serviceable and well managed, cannot be doubted after reading the above.

The stock of the Company is reported to be ten millions of dollars. They employ as much in the fur trade. Sir Edward Ellice stated in 1837 that the annual profits were twelve per cent. Such profits were made, though the Company’s affairs were conducted in an expensive manner. Muchcapital was sunk in the erection of the great forts, with walls and towers, several of which we have described or mentioned, and in keeping up costly establishments. Many of these are now far away from the wilder regions in which game is found. An inexpensive trading house here and there will, now at least, answer all the requirements of the trade. Within the last score of years the merchants of Manitoba have been successful in securing a part of this rich traffic, but with limited capital and the fear of the Company constantly before them, their efforts were hampered till territorial jurisdiction was taken from the Company, and the present system of legal institutions and mounted police introduced. The factors’ license is now no longer requisite ; all fur traders are on an equality. Capital is being largely embarked in this enterprise, both by traders individually and by an incorporation which revives in its name and head-quarters the Company that succumbed in 1821. Prices of furs have ranged continually with an upward tendency, while the demand is increasing. Buffalo robes which ten years ago sold for five or six dollars now sell for nearly double these figures, and there is a similar rise in the value of other furs. Access to the fur-trading regions is yearly becoming more easy and less expensive. Old voyageurs spent many months in gaining points now reached in a few days, and goods and supplies are transported from Montreal or Toronto to Winnipeg for one-tenth the sum that their carriage by rivers, lakes, and portages cost a few years since. The saving in time is proportionately great. Canadians may, therefore, well congratulate themselves on the gain that has thus arisen to them since Confederation or, shall we rather say, the annual loss thus averted ?—in the recovery of at least a large proportion of this valuable trade.

It would be a mistake to imagine that the spirit guiding the Company’s affairs is changed. Though excluded from their self-asserted monopoly of the staple article of commerce, they hold their lands in the exclusive spirit of persons whose interest it is to drain the country’s resources, and not of those having a desire to develop its agricultural and other permanent interests. As immigration advances and centres are formed, irritation and trouble will arise. Under article five in the deed of surrender, the Company is entitled to one-twentieth of all land in the great Fertile Belt as it is surveyed and set out into townships. In carrying out this agreement, the Company have assigned to them, in every fifth township as surveyed, two sections, or 1,280 acres, and, in every other township 560 acres ; and this applies to all lands, whether arable or mineral. All this is in addition to the sum of £300,000 stg. paid, and to the land in and around every fort or trading post occupied.

What the Company pretend to have lost, as to the fur trade monopoly, they have more than gained by their treaty and statutory title to these lands which will be made yearly more and more valuable by the labour of immigrants, and the expenditure for public works, and opening of the country at the expense of the Dominion and Provincial exchequers.

We have referred to the thousand lots, the finest property in Winnipeg, now held by this Corporation at such prices as force settlers to purchase further from the rivers rather than pay their figures. It seems quite mysterious how they obtained so large a block here, even under the ternis of the statutory agreement. Some of these lots are claimed by old residents, by reason of prior occupation, and they will not tamely submit to be ejected. At Fort William we were pointed to a tract of beautiful land, on the banks of the Kaministiquia, which the astute factor claims for time Company, and which will be rendered very valuable by the completion of the Thunder Bay Branch of the Canada Pacific Railroad. So doubtless, it will be at Fort Frances, and in each Province, Territory and District where this Corporation has the smallest post. When the immigrant gets to the forks of the Saskatchewan and to the banks of the Peace River, if he find a coal mine or open an oil well, ” The Adventurers’ ” agent will be there soon after, with a claim to the choicest locations. Well may the Manitoban exclaim :-

” He doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus: we petty men Walk under his huge legs, and peep about, To find ourselves dishonourable graves ! ”

Other trading corporations are generally limited as to the time during which, and the amount of land, they may hold in mortmain. This Company is untrammelled. Another hard bargain will probably be forced on the Do-minion and Manitoba, to place matters on an equitable footing. When such is made, let us hope it will be less one-sided than was the last.

Much of the Company’s trade now passes through Winnipeg. The steamers ” Northcote” and “Colville” on the Saskatchewan and Lake Winnipeg, belong to the Company: One other matter of importance may be well here referred to in connection with the fur trade, viz : the market for grain and the necessaries of life so created, in the interior. For many years the demand will be generally equal to the supply, as it often now far exceeds it, causing a large importation through ‘Winnipeg and more westerly points. The settler, miller and clothier, need not wait for the steamer or railcar, but may exchange their productions for the lighter furs that will be more easy of transport, and increase in value, as they move each mile eastward.


For years before Confederation, long cavalcades of half-breed ox and pony carts with furs for barter came annually by the Mississipi Valley to St. Paul. Hunters from the settlement, too, roamed without restraint, over the United States territory, and generally brought their peltries to Hudson’s Bay stores. In 1844, Mr. Norman W. Kittson, of St. Paul, established a trading post at Pembina. The Company strove in vain to break up his establishment, and went so far as to arrest Mr. Kittson for infringement of their chartered privileges, but did not press the charge.

The trade, thus tapped, soon grew into importance. In 1850, $15,000 worth of furs were sold. Five years late] they reached $40,000, at an expenditure of $24,000. The fur trade of St. Paul with British territory, before the time of Confederation, much exceeded $100,000 a year.

On the establishment of steam navigation on Red River, by the fortunate company of which Mr. Kittson is still a director, the Pembina post was given up, and Mr. Kittson’s name, as far as the fur business was concerned, disappeared in that of a St. Louis firm, Pirre Choteaux & Co., who now do a large business in furs gathered from both sides of the boundary.