THE ROMANTIC SETTLEMENT OF LORD SELKIRK'S COLONISTS
(The Pioneers of Manitoba)
DR. GEORGE BRYCE
President of the Royal Society of Canada, etc., etc.
Toronto The Musson Book Company Limited "Copyrighted Canada, 1909, by The Musson Book Company, Limited, Toronto."
Page. Chapter 1. Patriarch's Story 9 An Extinct Race. The Gay Frenchman. The Earlier Peoples. The Montreal Merchants and Men. The Dusky Riders of the Plain. The Stately Hudson's Bay Company.
Chapter 2. A Scottish Duel 33
Chapter 3. Across the Stormy Sea 44
Chapter 4. A Winter of Discontent 58
Chapter 5. First Foot on Red River Banks 69
Chapter 6. Three Desperate Years 80
Chapter 7. Fight and Flight 95
Chapter 8. No Surrender 107
Chapter 9. Seven Oaks Massacre 117
Chapter 10. Afterclaps 133
Chapter 11. The Silver Chief Arrives 142
Chapter 12. Soldiers and Swiss 152
Chapter 13. English Lion and Canadian Bear Lie Down Together 161
Chapter 14. Satrap Rule 170
Chapter 15. And the Flood Came 178
Chapter 16. The Jolly Governor 185
Chapter 17. The Oligarchy 194
Chapter 18. An Ogre of Justice 202
Chapter 19. A Half-Breed Patriot 210
Chapter 20. Sayer and Liberty 216
Chapter 21. Off to the Buffalo 224
Chapter 22. What the Stargazers Saw 232
Chapter 23. Apples of Gold 239
Chapter 24. Pictures of Silver 256
Chapter 25. Eden Invaded 276
Chapter 26. Riel's Rising 284
Chapter 27. Lord Strathcona's Hand 291
Chapter 28. Wolseley's Welcome 300
Chapter 29. Manitoba in the Making 307
Chapter 30. The Selkirk Centennial 315
The present work tells the romantic story of the Settlement of Lord Selkirk's Colonists in Manitoba, and is appropriate and timely in view of the Centennial celebration of this event which will be held in Winnipeg in 1912.
The author was the first, in his earlier books, to take a stand for justice to be done to Lord Selkirk as a Colonizer, and he has had the pleasure of seeing the current of all reliable history turned in Lord Selkirk's favor.
Dr. Doughty, the popular Archivist at Ottawa, has put at the author's disposal a large amount of Lord Selkirk's correspondence lately received by him, so that many new, interesting facts about the Settlers' coming are now published for the first time.
If we are to celebrate the Selkirk Centennial intelligently, it is essential to know the facts of the trials, oppressions and heartless persecutions through which the Settlers' passed, to learn what shameful treatment Lord Selkirk received from his enemies, and to trace the rise from misery to comfort of the people of the Colony.
The story is chiefly confined to Red River Settlement as it existed—a unique community, which in 1870 became the present Province of Manitoba. It is a sympathetic study of what one writer has called—"Britain's One Utopia."
The Romantic Settlement
Lord Selkirk's Colonists
* * * * *
Lord Selkirk's Colonists
THE EARLIER PEOPLE.
A PATRIARCH'S STORY.
This is the City of Winnipeg. Its growth has been wonderful. It is the highwater mark of Canadian enterprise. Its chief thoroughfare, with asphalt pavement, as it runs southward and approaches the Assiniboine River, has a broad street diverging at right angles from it to the West. This is Broadway, a most commodious avenue with four boulevards neatly kept, and four lines of fine young Elm trees. It represents to us "Unter den Linden" of Berlin, the German Capital.
The wide business thoroughfare Main Street, where it reaches the Assiniboine River, looks out upon a stream, so called from the wild Assiniboine tribe whose northern limit it was, and whose name implies the "Sioux" of the Stony Lake. The Assiniboine River is as large as the Tiber at Rome, and the color of the water justifies its being compared with the "Yellow Tiber."
The Assiniboine falls into the Red River, a larger stream, also with tawny-colored water. The point of union of these two rivers was long ago called by the French voyageurs "Les Fourches," which we have translated into "The Forks."
One morning nearly forty years ago, the writer wandered eastward toward Red River, from Main Street, down what is now called Lombard Street. Here not far from the bank of the Red River, stood a wooden house, then of the better class, but now left far behind by the brick and stone and steel structures of modern Winnipeg.
The house still stands a stained and battered memorial of a past generation. But on this October morning, of an Indian summer day, the air was so soft, that it seemed to smell wooingly here, and through the gentle haze, was to be seen sitting on his verandah, the patriarch of the village, who was as well the genius of the place.
The old man had a fine gray head with the locks very thin, and with his form, not tall but broad and comfortable to look upon, he occupied an easy chair.
The writer was then quite a young man fresh from College, and with a simple introduction, after the easy manner of Western Canada, proceeded to hear the story of old Andrew McDermott, the patriarch of Winnipeg.
"Yes," said Mr. McDermott, "I was among those of the first year of Lord Selkirk's immigrants. We landed from the Old Country, at York Factory, on Hudson Bay. The first immigrants reached the banks of the Red River in the year 1812.
"I am a native of Ireland and embarked with Owen Keveny—a bright Hibernian—a clever writer, and speaker, who, poor fellow, was killed by the rival Fur Company, and whose murderer, De Reinhard, was tried at Quebec. Of course the greater number of Lord Selkirk's settlers were Scotchmen, but I have always lived with them, known them, and find that they trust me rather more than they at times trust each other. I have been their merchant, contractor, treaty-maker, business manager, counsellor, adviser, and confidential friend."
"But," said the writer, "as having come to cast in my lot with the people of the Red River, I should be glad to hear from you about the early times, and especially of the earlier people of this region, who lived their lives, and came and went, before the arrival of Lord Selkirk's settlers in 1812." Thus the story-telling began, and patriarch and questioner made out from one source and another the whole story of the predecessors of the Selkirk Colonists.
AN EXTINCT RACE.
"Long before the coming of the settler, there lived a race who have now entirely disappeared. Not very far from the Assiniboine River, where Main Street crosses it, is now to be seen," said the narrator, "Fort Garry—a fine castellated structure with stone walls and substantial bastions. A little north of this you may have noticed a round mound, forty feet across. We opened this mound on one occasion, and found it to contain a number of human skeletons and articles of various kinds. The remains are those of a people whom we call 'The Mound Builders,' who ages ago lived here. Their mounds stood on high places on the river bank and were used for observation. The enemy approaching could from these mounds easily be seen. They are also found in good agricultural districts, showing that the race were agriculturists, and where the fishing is good on the river or lake these mounds occur. The Mound Builders are the first people of whom we have traces here about. The Indians say that these Mound Builders are not their ancestors, but are the 'Very Ancient Men.' It is thought that the last of them passed away some four hundred years ago, just before the coming of the white man. At that time a fierce whirlwind of conquest passed over North America, which was seen in the destruction of the Hurons, who lived in Ontario and Quebec. Some of their implements found were copper, probably brought from Lake Superior, but stone axes, hammers, and chisels, were commonly used by them. A horn spear, with barbs, and a fine shell sinker, shows that they lived on fish. Strings of beads and fine pearl ornaments are readily found. But the most notable thing about these people is that they were far ahead of the Indians, in that they made pottery, with brightly designed patterns, which showed some taste. Very likely these Mound Builders were peaceful people, who, driven out of Mexico many centuries ago, came up the Mississippi, and from its branches passing into Red River, settled all along its banks. We know but little of this vanished race. They have left only a few features of their work behind them. Their name and fame are lost forever.
"And is this all? an earthen pot, A broken spear, a copper pin Earth's grandest prizes counted in— A burial mound?—the common lot."
THE GAY FRENCHMAN.
Then the conversation turned upon the early Frenchmen, who came to the West during the days of French Canada, before Wolfe took Quebec. "Oh! I have no doubt they would make a great ado," said the old patriarch, "when they came here. The French, you know, are so fond of pageants. But beyond a few rumors among the old Indians far up the Assiniboine River of their remembrance of the crosses and of the priests, or black robes, as they call them, I have never heard anything; these early explorers themselves left few traces. When they retired from the country, after Canada was taken by Wolfe, the Indians burnt their forts and tried to destroy every vestige of them. You know the Indian is a cunning diplomatist. He very soon sees which is the stronger side and takes it. When the King is dead he is ready to shout, Long live the new King. I have heard that down on the point, on the south side of the Forks of the two rivers, the Frenchmen built a fort, but there wasn't a stick or a stone of it left when the Selkirk Colonists came in 1812. But perhaps you know that part of the story better than I do," ventured the old patriarch. That is the Story of the French Explorers.
"Oh! Yes," replied the writer, "you know the world of men and things about you; I know the world of books and journals and letters."
"Let us hear of that," said the patriarch eagerly.
Well, you know the French Explorers were very venturesome. They went, sometimes to their sorrow, among the wildest tribes of Indians.
A French Captain, named Verandrye, who was born in Lower Canada, came up the great lakes to trade for furs of the beaver, mink, and musk-rat. When he reached the shore of Lake Superior, west of where Fort William now stands, an old Indian guide, gave him a birch bark map, which showed all the streams and water courses from Lake Superior to Lake of the Woods, and on to Lake Winnipeg. This was when the "well-beloved" Louis XV. was King of France, and George II. King of England. It was heroic of Verandrye to face the danger, but he was a soldier who had been twice wounded in battle in Europe, and had the French love of glory. By carrying his canoes over the portages, and running the rapids when possible, he came to the head of Rainy River, went back again with his furs, and after several such journeys, came down the Winnipeg River from Lake of the Woods, to Lake Winnipeg, and after a while made a dash across the stormy Lake Winnipeg and came to the Red River. The places were all unknown, the Indians had never seen a white man in their country, and the French Captain, with his officers, his men and a priest, found their way to the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. This was nearly three-quarters of a century before the first Selkirk Colonists reached Red River. The French Captain saw only a few Indian teepees at the Forks, and ascended the Assiniboine. It was a very dry year, and the water in the Assiniboine was so low that it was with difficulty he managed to pull over the St. James rapids, and reached where Portage la Prairie now stands, and sixty miles from the site of Winnipeg claimed the country for his Royal Master. Here he collected the Indians, made them his friends, and proceeded to build a great fort, and named it after Mary of Poland, the unfortunate Queen of France—"Fort de la Reine," or Queen's Fort. But he could not forget "The Forks"—the Winnipeg of to-day—and so gave instructions to one of his lieutenants to stop with a number of his men at the Forks, cut down trees, and erect a fort for safety in coming and going up the Assiniboine. The Frenchmen worked hard, and on the south side of the junction of the Red River with the Assiniboine, erected Fort Rouge—the Red Fort. This fort, built in 1738, was the first occupation of the site of the City of Winnipeg. The French Captain Verandrye, his sons and his men, made further journeys to the far West, even once coming in sight of the Rocky Mountains. But French Canada was doomed. In twenty years more Wolfe was to wrench Canada from France and make it British. The whole French force of soldiers, free traders, and voyageurs were needed at Montreal and Quebec. Not a Frenchman seems to have remained behind, and for a number of years the way to the West was blocked up. The canoes went to decay, the portages grew up with weeds and underwood, and the Western search for furs from Montreal was suspended.
THE INDIANS OF THE RED RIVER.
No man knew the Indian better than Andrew McDermott. No one knew better how to trade and dicker with the red man of the prairie. He could tell of all the feuds of tribe with tribe, and of the wonderful skill of the Fur Companies in keeping order among the Indian bands. The Red River had not, after the departure of the French, been visited by travellers for well nigh forty years. No doubt bands of Indians had threaded the waterways, and carried their furs in one year to Pigeon River, on Lake Superior, or to Fort Churchill, or York Factory on Hudson Bay. It was only some ten or fifteen years before the coming of the Selkirk Colonists that the fur traders, though they for forty years had been ascending the Saskatchewan, had visited Red River at all. No missionary had up to the coming of the Colonists ever appeared on the banks of the Red River. Some ten years before the settler's advent, the fur traders on the upper Red River had most bitter rivalries and for two or three years the fire water—the Indian's curse—flowed like a flood. The danger appealed to the traders, and from a policy of mere self-protection they had decided to give out no strong drink, unless it might be a slight allowance at Christmas and New Year's time. Red River was now the central meeting place of four of the great Indian Nations. The Red Pipestone Quarry down in the land of the Dakotas, and the Roches Percees, on the upper Souris River, in the land of the wild Assiniboines were sacred shrines. At intervals all the Indian natives met at these spots, buried for the time being their weapons, and lived in peace. But Red River, and the country—eastward to the Lake of the Woods—was really the "marches" where battles and conflicts continually prevailed. Red River, the Miskouesipi, or Blood Red River of the Chippewas and Crees, was said to have thus received its name. Andrew McDermott knew all the Indians as they drew near with curiosity, to see the settlers and to speculate upon the object of their coming. The Indian despises the man who uses the hoe, and when the Colonists sought thus to gain a sustenance from the fertile soil of the field, they were laughed at by the Indians who caught the French word "Jardiniers," or gardeners, and applied it to them.
The Colonists were certainly a puzzle to the Red man. To the banks of the Red River and to the east of Lake Winnipeg had come many of the Chippewas. They were known on the Red River as Sauteurs, or Saulteaux, or Bungays, because they had come to the West from Sault Ste. Marie, thinking nothing of the hundreds of miles of travel along the streams. They were sometimes considered to be the gypsies of the Red men. It was they coming from the lucid streams emptying into Lake Superior and thence to Lake Winnipeg, who had called the latter by its name "Win," cloudy or muddy, and "nipiy" water. When the Colonists arrived, the leading chief of the Chippewas, or Saulteaux, was Peguis. He became at once the friend of the white man, for he was always a peaceful, kindly, old Ogemah, or Chieftain.
All the Indians were, at first, kindness itself to the new comers, and they showed great willingness to supply food to the hungry settlers, and to assist them in transfer and in taking possession of their own homes.
The Saulteaux Indians while active and helpful were really intruders among the Crees, a great Indian nation, who in language and blood were their relations. As proof of this the Crees at this time used horses on the plains. The horse was an importation brought up the valleys from the Spaniards of Mexico. Seeing his value as a beast of burden, more fit than the dog which had been formerly used, they coined the word "Mis-ta-tim," or big dog as the name for the horse. Their Chiefs were, with their names translated into pronounceable English, "the Premier," "the Black Robe," "the Black Man," while seemingly Mache Wheskab—"the Noisy Man"—represented the Assiniboines. The Crees, so well represented by their doughty Chiefs, are a sturdy race. They adapt themselves readily enough to new conditions. While the northern Indian tribes met the Colonists, yet in after days, as had frequently taken place in days preceding, bands of Sioux or Dakotas, came on pilgrimages to the Red River. Long ago when the French Captain Verandrye voyaged to Lake of the Woods, his son and others of his men, were attacked by Sioux warriors, and the whole party of whites was massacred in an Island on the Lake. The writer in a later day, near Winnipeg, met on the highway, a band of Sioux warriors, on horse-back, with their bodies naked to the waist, and painted with high color, in token of the fact that they were on the warpath. On occasion it was the habit of bands of Sioux to find their way to the Red River Valley, and the people did not feel at all safe, at their hostile attitude, as they bore the name of the "Tigers of the Plains."
With Saulteaux, Crees, Assiniboines, and Sioux coming freely among them, the settlers had at first a feeling of decided insecurity.
THE MONTREAL MERCHANTS AND MEN.
But the fur trade paid too well to be left alone by the Montrealers who knew of Verandrye's exploits on the Ottawa and the Upper Lakes. When Canada became British, many daring spirits hastened to it from New York and New Jersey States. Montreal became the home of many young men of Scottish families. Some of their fathers had fled to the Colonies after the Stuart Prince was defeated at Culloden, and after the power of the Jacobites was broken. Some of the young men of enterprising spirit were the sons of officers and men who had fought in the Seven Years' War against France and now came to claim their share of the conqueror's spoils. Some men were of Yankee origin, who with their proverbial ability to see a good chance, came to what has always been Canada's greatest city, on the Island of Montreal. It was only half a dozen years after Wolfe's great victory, that a great Montreal trader, Alexander Henry, penetrated the western lakes to Mackinaw—the Island of the Turtle, lying between Lakes Huron and Michigan. At Sault Ste. Marie, he fell in with a most noted French Canadian, Trader Cadot, who had married a Saulteur wife. He became a power among the Indians. With Scottish shrewdness Henry acquired from the Commandant at Mackinaw the exclusive right to trade on Lake Superior. He became a partner of Cadot, and they made a voyage as Canadian Argonauts, to bring back very rich cargoes of fur. They even went up to the Saskatchewan on Lake Winnipeg. After Henry, came another Scotchman, Thomas Curry, and made so successful a voyage that he reached the Saskatchewan River, and came back laden with furs, so that he was now satisfied never to have to go again to the Indian country. Shortly afterwards James Findlay, another son of the heather, followed up the fur-traders' route, and reached Saskatchewan. Thus the Northwest Fur Trade became the almost exclusive possession of the Scottish Merchants of Montreal. With the master must go the man. And no man on the rivers of North America ever equalled, in speed, in good temper, and in skill, the French Canadian voyageur. Almost all the Montreal merchants, the Forsythes, the Richardsons, the McTavishes, the Mackenzies, and the McGillivrays, spoke the French as fluently as they did their own language. Thus they became magnetic leaders of the French canoemen of the rivers. The voyageurs clung to them with all the tenacity of a pointer on the scent. There were Nolins, Falcons, Delormes, Faribaults, Lalondes, Leroux, Trottiers, and hundreds of others, that followed the route until they became almost a part of the West and retired in old age, to take up a spot on some beautiful bay, or promontory, and never to return to "Bas Canada." Those from Montreal to the north of Lake Superior were the pork eaters, because they lived on dried pork, those west of Lake Superior, "Couriers of the Woods," and they fed on pemmican, the dried flesh of the buffalo. They were mighty in strength, daring in spirit, tractable in disposition, eagles in swiftness, but withal had the simplicity of little children. They made short the weary miles on the rivers by their smoking "tabac"—the time to smoke a pipe counting a mile—and by their merry songs, the "Fairy Ducks" and "La Claire Fontaine," "Malbrouck has gone to the war," or "This is the beautiful French Girl"—ballads that they still retained from the French of Louis XIV. They were a jolly crew, full of superstitions of the woods, and leaving behind them records of daring, their names remain upon the rivers, towns and cities of the Canadian and American Northwest.
Some thirty years before the arrival of the Colonists, the Montreal traders found it useful to form a Company. This was called the North-West Fur Company of Montreal. Having taken large amounts out of the fur trade, they became the leaders among the merchants of Montreal. The Company had an energy and ability that made them about the beginning of the nineteenth century the most influential force in Canadian life. At Fort William and Lachine their convivial meetings did something to make them forget the perils of the rapids and whirlpools of the rivers, and the bitterness of the piercing winds of the northwestern stretches. Familiarly they were known as the "Nor'-Westers." Shortly before the beginning of the century mentioned, a split took place among the "Nor'-Westers," and as the bales of merchandise of the old Company had upon them the initials "N.W.," the new Company, as it was called, marked their packages "XY," these being the following letters of the alphabet.
Besides these mentioned there were a number of independent merchants, or free traders. At one time there were at the junction of the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers, five establishments, two of them being those of free traders or independents. Among all these Companies the commander of a Fort was called, "The Bourgeois" to suit the French tongue of the men. He was naturally a man of no small importance.
"THE DUSKY RIDERS OF THE PLAINS."
But the conditions, in which both the traders and the voyageurs lived, brought a disturbing shadow over the wide plains of the North-West. Now under British rule, the Fur trade from Montreal became a settled industry. From Curry's time (1766) they began to erect posts or depots at important points to carry on their trade. Around these posts the voyageurs built a few cabins and this new centre of trade afforded a spot for the encampment near by of the Indian teepees made of tanned skins. The meeting of the savage and the civilized is ever a contact of peril. Among the traders or officers of the Fur trade a custom grew up—not sanctioned by the decalogue—but somewhat like the German Morganatic marriage. It was called "Marriage of the Country." By this in many cases the trader married the Indian wife; she bore children to him, and afterwards when he retired from the country, she was given in real marriage to some other voyageur, or other employee, or pensioned off. It is worthy of note that many of these Indian women became most true and affectionate spouses. With the voyageurs and laborers the conditions were different. They could not leave the country, they had become a part of it, and their marriages with the Indian women were bona fide. Thus it was that during the space from the time of Curry until the arrival of the Selkirk Colonists upwards of forty years had elapsed, and around the wide spread posts of the Fur Trading Companies, especially around those of the prairie, there had grown up families, which were half French and half Indian, or half English and half Indian. When it could be afforded these children were sent for a time to Montreal, to be educated, and came back to their native wilds. On the plain between the Assiniboine and the Saskatchewan, a half-breed community had sprung up. From their dusky faces they took the name "Bois-Brules," or "Charcoal Faces," or referring to their mixed blood, of "Metis," or as exhibiting their importance, they sought to be called "The New Nation." The blend of French and Indian was in many respects a natural one. Both are stalwart, active, muscular; both are excitable, imaginative, ambitious; both are easily amused and devout. The "Bois-Brules" growing up among the Indians on the plains naturally possessed many of the features of the Indian life. The pursuit of their fur-bearing animals was the only industry of the country. The Bois-Brules from childhood were familiar with the Indian pony, knew all his tricks and habits, began to ride with all the skill of a desert ranger, were familiar with fire-arms, took part in the chase of the buffalo on the plains, and were already trained to make the attack as cavalry on buffalo herds, after the Indian fashion, in the famous half-circle, where they were to be so successful in their later troubles, of which we shall speak. Such men as the Grants, Findlays, Lapointes, Bellegardes, and Falcons were equally skilled in managing the swift canoe, or scouring the plains on the Indian ponies. We shall see the part which this new element were to play in the social life and even in the public concerns of the prairies.
THE STATELY HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY.
The last of the elements to come into the valley of the Red River and to precede the Colonists, was the Hudson's Bay Company—even then, dating back its history almost a century and a half. They were a dignified and wealthy Company, reaching back to the times of easy-going Charles II., who gave them their charter. For a hundred years they lived in self-confidence and prudence in their forts of Churchill and York, on the shore of Hudson Bay. They were even at times so inhospitable as to deal with the Indians through an open window of the fort. This was in striking contrast to the "Nor'-Wester" who trusted the Indians and lived among them with the freest intercourse. For the one hundred years spoken of, the Indians from the Red River Country, the Saskatchewan, the Red River and Lake Winnipeg, found their way by the water courses to the shores of the Hudson Bay. But the enterprise of the Montreal merchants in leaving their forts and trading in the open with the Indians, prevented the great fleets of canoes, from going down with their furs, as they had once done to Churchill and York. The English Company felt the necessity of starting into the interior, and so within six years of the time of the expedition of Thomas Curry, appeared five hundred miles inland from the Bay, and erected a fort—Fort Cumberland—a few hundred yards from the "Nor'-Westers'" Trading House, on the Saskatchewan River. By degrees before the end of the century almost every place of any importance, in the fur-producing country, saw the two rival forts built within a mile or two of each other. Shortly before the end of the 18th Century, the "Nor'-Westers" came into the Red River Valley and built one or two forts near the 49th parallel, N. lat.—the U.S. boundary of to-day. But four years after the new Century began, the "Nor'-Westers" decided to occupy the "Forks" of the Red and Assiniboine River, near where Verandrye's Fort Rouge had been built some sixty years before. Evidently both companies felt the conflict to be on, in their efforts to cover all important parts, for they called this Trading House Fort Gibraltar, whose name has a decided ring of the war-like about it. It is not clear exactly where the Hudson's Bay post was built, but it is said to have rather faced the Assiniboine than the Red River, perhaps near where Notre Dame Avenue East, or the Hudson's Bay stores is to-day. It was probably built a few years after Fort Gibraltar, and was called "Fidler's Fort." By this time, however, the Hudson's Bay Company, working from their first post of Cumberland House, pushed on to the Rocky Mountains to engage in the Titanic struggle which they saw lay ahead of them. One of their most active agents, in occupying the Red River Valley, was the Englishman Peter Fidler, who was the surveyor of this district, the master of several forts, and a man who ended his eventful career by a will made—providing that all of his funds should be kept at interest until 1962, when they should be divided, as his last chimerical plan should direct. It thus came about that when the Colonists arrived there were two Traders' Houses, on the site of the City of Winnipeg of to-day, within a mile of one another, one representing a New World, and the other an Old World type of mercantile life. It was plain that on the Plains of Rupert's Land there would come a struggle for the possession of power, if not for very existence.
"A SCOTTISH DUEL."
Inasmuch as this tale is chiefly one of Scottish and of Colonial life, the story of the movement from Old Kildonan, on the German Ocean, to New Kildonan, on the Western Prairies—we may be very sure, that it did not take place without irritation and opposition and conflict. The Scottish race, while possessing intense earnestness and energy, often gains its ends by the most thoroughgoing animosity. In this great emigration movement, there were great new world interests involved, and champions of the rival parties concerned were two stalwart chieftains, of Scotland's best blood, both with great powers of leadership and both backed up with abundant means and strongest influence. It was a duel—indeed a fight, as old Sir Walter Scott would say, "a l'outrance"—to the bitter end. That the struggle was between two chieftains—one a Lowlander, the other a Highlander, did not count for much, for the Lowlander spoke the Gaelic tongue—and he was championing the interest of Highland men.
The two men of mark were the Earl of Selkirk and Sir Alexander Mackenzie. Before showing the origin of the quarrel, it may be well to take a glance at each of the men.
Thomas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, was the youngest of seven sons, and was born in 1771. Though he belonged to one of the oldest noble families, of Scotland, yet when he went to Edinburgh, as a fellow student of Sir Walter Scott, Clerk of Eldon, and David Douglas, afterward Lord Reston, it was with a view of making his own way in the world, for there were older brothers between him and the Earldom. He was a young man of intense earnestness, capable of living in an atmosphere of enthusiasm—always rather given indeed to take up and advocate new schemes. There was in him the spirit of service of his Douglas ancestors, of being unwilling to "rust unburnished," and he was strong in will, "to strive, to seek, to find." This gave the young Douglas a seeming restlessness, and so he visited the Highlands and learned the Gaelic tongue. He went to France in the days of the French Revolution, and took great interest in the Jacobin dreams of progress. The minor title of the House of Selkirk was Daer, and so the young collegian saw one Daer depart, then another, until at last he held the title, becoming in 1799 Earl of Selkirk and was confirmed as the master of the beautiful St. Mary's Isle, near the mouth of the Dee, on Solway Frith. On his visits to the Highlands, it was not alone the Highland straths and mountains, nor the Highland Chieftain's absolute mastership of his clan, nor was it the picturesque dress—the "Garb of old Gaul"—which attracted him. The Earl of Selkirk has been charged by those who knew little of him with being a man of feudal instincts. His temper was the exact opposite of this. When he saw his Scottish fellow-countrymen being driven out of their homes in Sutherlandshire, and sent elsewhere to give way for sheep farmers, and forest runs, and deer stalking, it touched his heart, and his three Emigration Movements, the last culminating in the Kildonan Colonists, showed not only what title and means could do, but showed a kindly and compassionate heart beating under the starry badge of Earldom.
Rather it was the case that the fur trading oligarchy ensconced in the plains of the West, could not understand the heart of a philanthropist—of a man who could work for mere humanity. Up till a few years ago it was the fashion for even historians, being unable to understand his motive and disposition, to speak of him as a "kind hearted, but eccentric Scottish nobleman."
Lord Selkirk's active mind led him into various different spheres of human life. He visited France and studied the problem of the French Revolution, and while sympathizing with the struggle for liberty, was alienated as were Wordsworth and hundreds of other British writers and philanthropists, by the excesses of Robespierre and his French compatriots. When the Napoleonic wars were at their height, like a true patriot, Lord Selkirk wrote a small work on the "System of National Defence," anticipating the Volunteer System of the present day. But his keen mind sought lines of activity as well as of theory. Seeing his fellow-countrymen, as well as their Irish neighbors, in distress and also desiring to keep them under the British flag, he planned at his own expense to carry out the Colonists to America. Even before this effort, reading Alexander Mackenzie's great book of voyages detailing the discoveries of the Mackenzie River in its course to the Arctic Sea, and also the first crossing in northern latitudes of the mountains to the Pacific Ocean—he had applied (1802), to the Imperial Government, for permission to take a colony to the western extremity of Canada upon the waters which fall into Lake Winnipeg. This spot, "fertile and having a salubrious climate," he could reach by way of the Nelson River, running into Hudson Bay. The British Government refused him the permission necessary. Lord Selkirk's first visit to Canada was in the year 1803, in which his colony was placed in Prince Edward Island. Canada was a country very sparsely settled, but it was then turning its eyes toward Britain, with the hope of receiving more settlers, for it had just seen settled in Upper Canada a band of Glengarry Highlanders. Lord Selkirk visited Canada by way of New York. To a man of his imaginative disposition, the fur trade appealed irresistibly. The picturesque brigades of the voyageurs hieing away for the summer up the Ottawa toward the land of which Mackenzie had written, "the Nor'-Wester" garb of capote and moccassin and snowshoe, and the influence plainly given by this the only remunerative industry of Montreal, caught his fancy. Then as a British peer and a Scottish Nobleman, the fun-loving but hard-headed Scottish traders of Montreal took him to their hearts. He met them at their convivial gatherings, he heard the chanson sung by voyageurs, and the "habitant" caught his fancy. He was only a little past thirty, and that Canadian picture could never be effaced from his mind. In after days, these "Lords of the North" abused Lord Selkirk for spying out their trade, for catching the secrets of their business which were in the wind, and for making an undue use of what they had disclosed to him. In this there was nothing. His schemes were afire in his own mind long before, his Montreal experiences but fanned the flame, and led him to send a few Colonists to Upper Canada to the Settlement to Baldoon. This settlement was, however, of small account.
In 1808 though inactive he showed his bent by buying up Hudson's Bay Company stock. During this time projects in agriculture, the condition of the poor, the safety of the country, and the spread of civilization constantly occupied his active mind. The Napoleonic war cut off the vast cornfields of America from England, and as a great historian shows was followed by a terrible pauperization of the laboring classes.
There is no trace of a desire for aggrandizement, for engaging in the fur trade, or for going a-field on plans of speculation in the mind of Lord Selkirk. The feuds of the two branches of the Montreal Fur traders—the Old Northwest and the New Northwest—which were apparently healed in the year after the Colonization of Prince Edward Island, were not ended between the two factions of the united company led by McTavish—called the Premier—on the one hand and Sir Alexander Mackenzie on the other.
During these ten years of the century, the Hudson's Bay Company had also established rival posts all over the country. The competition at times reached bloodshed, and financial ruin was staring all branches of the fur trade in the face.
It was the depressed condition of the fur trade and the consequent drop in Hudson's Bay Company shares that appealed to Lord Selkirk, the man of many dreams and imaginations and he saw the opportunity of finding a home under the prairie skies for his hapless countrymen. It requires no detail here of how Lord Selkirk bought a controlling interest in the Hudson's Bay Company's stock, made out his plans of Emigration, and took steps to send out his hoped-for thousands or tens of thousands of Highland crofters, or Irish peasants, whoever they might be, if they sought freedom though bound up with hardship, hope instead of a pauper's grave, the prospect of independence of life and station in the new world instead of penury and misery under impossible conditions of life at home. Nor is it a matter of moment to us, how the struggle began until we have brought before our minds the stalwart figure of Sir Alexander Mackenzie—Lord Selkirk's great protagonist. Like many a distinguished man who has made his mark in the new world, and notably our great Lord Strathcona, who came as a mere lad to Canada, Alexander Mackenzie, a stripling of sixteen, arrived in Montreal to make his fortune. He was born as the Scottish people say of "kenn't" of "well-to-do" folk in Stornoway, in the Hebrides. He received a fair education and as a boy had a liking for the sea. Two partners, Gregory and McLeod, were fighting at Montreal in opposition to the dominant firm of McTavish and Frobisher. Young Alexander Mackenzie joined this opposition. So great was his aptitude, that boy as he was, he was despatched West to lead an expedition to Detroit. Soon he was pushed on to be a bourgeois, and was appointed at the age of twenty-two to go to the far West fur country of Athabasca, the vast Northern country which was to be the area of his discoveries and his fame. His energy and skill were amazing, although like many of his class, he had to battle against the envy of rivals. After completely planning his expedition, he made a dash for the Arctic Sea, by way of Mackenzie River, which he—first of white men—descended, and which bears his name. Finding his astronomical knowledge defective, he took a year off, and in his native land learned the use of the instruments needed in exploration. After his return he ascended the Peace River, crossed the Rocky Mountains, and on a rock on the shore of the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia, inscribed with vermillion and grease, in large letters, "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the Twenty-second of July, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-three." That was his record as the first white man to cross North America, north of Mexico. A few years afterwards he received the honor of knighthood for his discoveries. He gained much distinction as a leader, though the great McTavish in his Company was never very friendly to him. At length he retired, became a representative in the legislature of Lower Canada, and was for a time a travelling companion of the Duke of Kent. With a desire for loftier station, he settled in his native land, married the beautiful and gifted daughter of the House of Seaforth, and from her enjoyed the property of Avoch, near Inverness.
Three years before the starting of Lord Selkirk's Colonists and before his marriage with Geddes Mackenzie, Sir Alexander took up his abode in Scotland. He was the guardian of the rights of the North-West Company and manfully he stood for them.
Mackenzie was startled when he heard in 1810 of Lord Selkirk's scheme to send his Colonists to Red River. This he thought to be a plan of the Hudson's Bay Company, to regain their failing prestige and to strike a blow at the Nor'-Wester trade. To the fur trader or the rancher, the incoming of the farmer is ever obnoxious. The beaver and the mink desert the streams whenever the plowshare disturbs the soil. The deer flee to their coverts, the wolf and the fox are exterminated, and even the muskrat has a troubled existence when the dog and cat, the domestic animals, make their appearance. The proposed settlement is to be opposed, and Lord Selkirk's plans thwarted at any cost. Lord Selkirk had in the eyes of the Nor'-Westers much presumption, indeed nothing less than to buy out the great Hudson's Bay Company, which for a century and a half had controlled nearly one-half of North America. The Nor'-Westers—Alexander Mackenzie, Inglis and Ellice—made sport of the thing as a dream. But the "eccentric Lord" was buying up stock and majorities rule in Companies as in the nation. Contempt and abuse gave place to settled anxiety and in desperation at last the trio of opponents, two days before the meeting, purchased L2,500 of stock, not enough to appreciably affect the vote, but enough to give them a footing in the Hudson's Bay Company, and to secure information of value to them.
The mill of destiny goes slowly round, and Lord Selkirk and his friends are triumphant. He purchases an enormous tract of land, 116,000 square miles, one-half in what is now the Province of Manitoba, the other at present included in the States of Minnesota and North Dakota, on the south side of the boundary line between Canada and the United States. The Nor'-Westers are frantic; but the fates are against them. The duel has begun! Who will win? Cunning and misrepresentation are to be employed to check the success of the Colony, and also local opposition on the other side of the Atlantic, should the scheme ever come to anything. At present their hope is that it may fall to pieces of its own weight.
Lord Selkirk's scheme is dazzling almost beyond belief. A territory is his, purchased out and out, from the Hudson's Bay Company, about four times the area of Scotland, his native land, and the greater part of it fertile, with the finest natural soil in the world, waiting for the farmer to give a return in a single year after his arrival. A territory, not possessed by a foreign people, but under the British flag! A country yet to be the home of millions! It is worth living to be able to plant such a tree, which will shelter and bless future generations of mankind. Financial loss he might have; but he would have fame as his reward.
"ACROSS THE STORMY SEA."
Oh dreadful war! It is not only in the deadly horror of battle, and in the pain and anguish of men strong and hearty, done to death by human hands. It is not only in the rotting heap of horses and men, torn to pieces by bullets and shell, and thrust together within huge pits in one red burial blent. It is not only in the helpless widow and her brood of dazed and desolate children weeping over the news that comes from the battlefield, that war become so hideous. It is always, as it was in the time of the Europe-shadowing Napoleon when for twenty years the wheels of industry in Britain were stopped. It is always the derangement of business, the increased price of food for the poor, the decay of trade, the cutting off of supplies, and the stopping of works of improvement that brings conditions which make poverty so terrible. Rags! A bed of straw; a crust of bread; the shattered roof; the naked floor; a deal table; a broken chair! A writer whose boyhood saw the terror, and want, and despair of the last decade of the Napoleonic War, puts into the mouth of the victim of poverty this terrible wail:
"But why do I talk of death? That phantom of grizzly bone; I hardly fear his terrible shape It seems so like my own; It seems so like my own, Because of the fasts I keep; Oh God, that bread should be so dear And flesh and blood so cheap!"
To the philanthropist or the benevolent sympathiser like Lord Selkirk, who aims at benefiting suffering humanity, it is not the trouble, the self-sacrifice, or the spending of money in relief that is the worry, but it is the bitterness, the suspicion, the unworkableness, and the selfishness of the poverty-stricken themselves that disturbs and distresses the benefactor's heart. It is often too the heartlessness and prejudice of those who oppose the benefactor's plans that causes the generous man anxiety and even at times despair. Poverty in its worst form is a gaunt and ravenous beast, that bites the hand of friend or foe that is stretched out toward it. So Lord Selkirk found it, when he undertook to help the poverty-stricken Celts of the Scottish Highlands and of the West of Ireland. He had the sympathising heart; he had the true vision; and he had as few others of his time had, the power to plan, the invention to suggest, and the skill and pluck to overcome difficulties, but the carrying out of his intent brought him infinite trouble and sorrow. His prospectus, offering the means to the poverty-stricken people of reaching what he believed to be a home of ultimate plenty on the banks of the Red River, was an entirely worthy document. His first point is, that his Colonists will be freemen. No religious tenet will be considered in their selection. This was even freer that was that of Lord Baltimore's much-vaunted Colony, on the Atlantic Coast, for Baltimore required that every Colonist should believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Then, the offer was to the landless and the penniless men. Employment was to be supplied; work in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, or free grants of land to actual settlers, or even a sale in fee simple of land for a mere nominal sum; free passages for the poor, reduced passages for those who had small means, food provided on the voyage, and the prospect of new world advantages to all.
But the poor are timid, and they love even their straw-thatched cottages, and it needs active and decided men to press upon them the advantages which are offered them. The Emigration Agent is a necessity.
The fur traders' country was at this time well known to many of the partners. It was by employing or consulting with some of these fur traders that Lord Selkirk obtained a knowledge of the Western land which he was to acquire. Years before the Colony began Lord Selkirk had been in correspondence with an officer who belonged to a well known Catholic family of Highlanders, the Macdonells, who had gone to the Mohawk district in the United States before the American Revolution, and had afterwards come to Canada as U.E. Loyalists. One of these, a man of standing and of executive ability was Miles Macdonell. He had been an officer of the King's Royal Regiment of New York, and held the rank of Captain of the Canadian Militia. This officer had a brother in the North-West Fur Company, John Macdonell, who, more than ten years before, had been in the service of his Company on Red River and whose Journal had no doubt fallen into the hands of his brother Miles. He had written: "From the Forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers the plains are quite near the banks, and so extensive that a man may travel to the Rocky Mountains without passing a wood, a mile long. The soil on the Red River and the Assiniboine is generally a good soil, susceptible of culture, and capable of bearing rich crops."
He goes on to state, "that the buffalo comes to the fords of the Assinboil, besides in these rivers are plenty of sturgeon, catfish, goldeyes, pike and whitefish—the latter so common that men have been seen to catch thirty or forty a piece while they smoked their pipes." To reach this land of plenty, which his brother knew so well, Miles Macdonell became the leader of Lord Selkirk's Colonists. He arrived in Great Britain in the year for the starting of the Colony, and immediately as being a Roman Catholic in religion went to the West of Ireland to recommend the Emigration scheme, obtain subscriptions of stock, and to engage workmen as Colonists. Glasgow was then, as now, the centre of Scottish industry, and it is to Glasgow that the penniless Highlanders flock in large numbers for work and residence. Here was a suitable field for the Emigration Agent, and accordingly one of their countrymen, Captain Roderick McDonald, was sent thither. The way to Canada was long, the country unknown, and it required all his persuasion and the power of the Gaelic tongue—an open Sesame to an Highlander's heart—to persuade many to join the Colonists' bank. It required more. The Highlander is a bargainer, as the Tourist in the Scottish Highlands knows to this day. Captain Roderick McDonald was compelled to promise larger wages to clerks and laborers to induce them to join. He secured less than half an hundred men at Stornoway—the trysting place—and the promises he had made of higher wages were a bone of contention through the whole voyage.
Perhaps the most effective agent obtained by Lord Selkirk was a returned trader of the Montreal merchants named Colin Robertson. He had seen the whole western fur country, and the fact that he had a grievance made him very willing to join Lord Selkirk in his enterprise.
One of the Nor'-Westers in Saskatchewan a few years before the beginning of Lord Selkirk's Colony, was "Bras Croche," or crooked-arm McDonald. He was of gentle Scottish birth, but his own acquaintances declared that he was of a "quarrelsome and pugnacious disposition." In his district Colin Robertson was a "Bourgeois" in charge of a station. A quarrel between the two men resulted in Colin Robertson losing his position, and as we shall see he became one of the most active and serviceable men in the history of the Colony. Colin Robertson went among his countrymen in the Island of Lewis and elsewhere.
And now as the time draws nigh for gathering together at a common port, the Stromness (Orkney), the Glasgow, the Sligo and the Lewis contingents to face the stormy sea and seek a new untried home, a fierce storm breaks out upon the land. Evidence accumulates that the heat and opposition of the "Nor'-West" partners—Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Inglis and Ellice—shown at the general meeting of the Company, were to break out in numberless hidden and irritating efforts to stop and perhaps render impossible the whole Colonizing project.
Just as the active agents, Miles Macdonell, Capt. McDonald and Colin Robertson, had set the heather on fire on behalf of Lord Selkirk's project, so the aid of the press was used to throw doubt upon the enterprise. Inverness is the Capital of the Highlanders, and so the "Inverness Journal," containing an effusion signed by "Highlander," was spread broadcast through the Highlands, the Islands, and the Orkneys, picturing the dangers of their journey, the hardships of the country, the deceitfulness of the agents, and the mercenary aims of the noble promoter.
Before Miles Macdonell had cleared the coast of England, he wrote to Lord Selkirk: "Sir A. (Mackenzie) has pledged himself as so decidedly opposed to this project that he will try every means in his power to thwart it. Besides, I am convinced he was no friend to your Lordship before this came upon the carpet."
No doubt Miles Macdonell was correct, and the two Scottish antagonists were face to face in the conflict. We shall see the means supplied by which the expedition will be harassed. And now the enterprise is to be set on foot.
For nearly a century and a half the Hudson's Bay Company ships have sailed yearly from the Thames, and taken the goods of the London merchants to the posts and forts of Hudson Bay, carrying back rich returns of furs. Sometimes more than one a year has gone. In 1811 there was the Commodore's ship the "Prince of Wales," with cabin accommodation and such comforts as ships of that period supplied. A second ship, the "Eddystone," chartered for special service, accompanied her. These two were intended to carry out employees and men for the fur trade, as well as the goods.
It must not be forgotten that there was some want of confidence between the trading side of the Hudson's Bay Company and that which Lord Selkirk represented, in the Colonizing enterprise. Also at this time the laws in regard to the safety of vessels, the comfort of passengers, or precautions for health were very lax. While the records of emigration experiences of British settlers to Canada and the United States are being recited by men and women yet living in Canada, the want of resource and the neglect of life and property by Governments and officials up until half a century ago are heart-sickening. So the third ship of the fleet that was to carry the first human freight of Manitoba pioneers was the "Edward and Ann." She was a sorry craft, with old sails, ropes, etc., and very badly manned. She had as a crew only sixteen, including the captain, mates and three small boys. It was a surprise to Miles Macdonell that the Company would charter and send her out in such a state. The officers came down to Gravesend from London and joined their ships, and somewhere about the 25th of June, 1811, they set sail from Sheerness on their mission, which was to become historic—not so historic, perhaps, as the Mayflower—but still sufficiently important to deserve a centennial celebration.
The fleet was, however, to take up its passengers after it had passed Duncansby Head, on the north of Scotland. But the elements on the North Sea were unpropitious. Sheerness left behind, the trio of vessels had not passed the coast of Norfolk before they were driven into Yarmouth Harbor, and there for days they lay held in by adverse winds. On July 2nd they again started northward, when they were compelled to return to Yarmouth.
In company they succeeded in reaching Stromness, in the Orkney Isles, in about ten days. Here the "Prince of Wales" remained and her two companions sailed down to Stornoway on the 17th.
And now, with the storms of the German Ocean left behind, began the opposition of the "Nor'-Westers." The "Prince of Wales" brought her contingent from the Orkneys, and on July 25th Miles Macdonell writes that after all the efforts put forth at all the points he had 125 Colonists and employees, and these were in a most unsettled state of mind.
Some dispute the wages offered them. One party from Galway had not arrived. Some are irritated at not being in the quarter of the ship which they desired, and some anxiety is evident on the part of Miles Macdonell because large advances of money have been given to a number and he fears that they may desert. The expenses of assembling the settlers have been very heavy, and now opposition appears. Sir Alexander's party are doing their work. Mr. Reed, Collector of Customs at Stornoway, was married to a niece of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, and as collector he throws every obstacle in the way of Macdonell. He has also taken pains to stir up discontent in the minds of the Colonists and to advise them not to embark.
Further trouble was caused by a Captain Mackenzie—called "a mean fellow"—who proved to be a son-in-law of the Collector of Customs Reed, and who went on board the "Edward and Ann," recruited as soldiers some of the settlers, himself handing them the enlisting money and then seeking to compel them to leave the ship with him. Afterwards, Captain Mackenzie came on board the "Edward and Ann" and claimed the new recruits, as deserters from the army. The Customs officials also boarded the emigrant ship and most officiously proclaimed that if any emigrants were not satisfied, or were not going of their own free will then they might go ashore, and the scene as described by Miles Macdonell may be imagined. "Several said they were not willing, and many went over the ship's side into Captain Mackenzie's boat. One party ran away with the ship's boat, but were brought back. One man jumped into the sea, and swam for it until he was picked up by the recruiting boat." The Revenue Cutter's boat was likewise very active in taking men away, and the collector took some ashore in his boat with himself. A prominent employee of the promoters of the expedition, Mr. Moncrieff Blair, who posed as a gentleman, deserted on July 25th, the day before the sailing of the vessel.
No wonder that Miles Macdonell should write: "My Lord, this is a most unfortunate business * * * I condole with your Lordship on all these cross accidents."
Thus amid annoyance, opposition, and discouragement did the little fleet set sail, on July 26th, 1811.
But this time of Napoleonism in Europe affected even the high seas. French cruisers might seize the valuable cargoes being sent out to York Factory. Accordingly a man-of-war had been detailed to lead the way. This had caused a part of the delay on the East Coast of England, and when fairly away from the British Isles and some four hundred miles northwest of Ireland, the protecting ship turned back, but the sea was so wild that not even a letter could be handed to the Captain to carry in a message to the promoter.
The journey continued to be boisterous, but once within Hudson straits the weather turned mild, and the great walls of rock reminded the Highlanders of their Sutherlandshire West Coast.
They saw no living being as they went through the Strait. Their studies of human nature were among themselves. Miles Macdonell reports that exclusive of the officers and crews who embarked at Gravesend, there were of laborers and writers one hundred and five persons.
Of these there were fifty-three on the "Edward and Ann." Two men of especial note, representing the clerical and medical professions were on board the Emigrant Ship. Father Burke, a Roman Catholic priest, who had come away without the permission of his Bishop was one.
Miles Macdonell did not like him, but he seems to have been a hearty supporter of the Emigration Scheme and promised to do great things in Ireland on his return.
When he reached York Factory, Burke did not leave the shore to follow the Colonists to their homes on the banks of Red River. He married two Scotch Presbyterians, and while somewhat merry at times had amused the passengers on their dreary ocean journey. More useful, however, to the passengers was Mr. Edwards, the ship's doctor.
He had much opportunity for practising his art, both among the Colonists and the employees.
At times Miles Macdonell endeavored on shipboard to drill his future servants and settlers, but he found them a very awkward squad—not one had ever handled a gun or musket. The sea seemed generally too tempestuous in mood for their evolutions. As the ships approached York Factory the interest increased. The "Eddystone" was detailed to sail to "Fort Churchill," but was unable to reach it and found her way in the wake of the other vessels to York Factory. It seemed as if the sea-divinities all combined to fight against the Colonists, for they did not reach York Factory, the winter destination, until the 24th of September, having taken sixty-one days on the voyage from Stornoway, which was declared by the Hudson's Bay Company officers to be the longest and latest passage ever known on Hudson Bay. Then settlers and employees were all landed on the point, near York Factory, and were sheltered meantime in tents, and as they stood on the shore they saw on October 5th, the ships that had brought them safely across the stormy sea pass through a considerable amount of floating ice on their homeward journey to London.
For one season at least the settlers will face the rigor of this Northern Clime.
A WINTER OF DISCONTENT.
The Emigrant ship has landed its living freight at Fort Factory, upon the Coast of Hudson Bay—a shore unoccupied for hundreds of miles except by a few Hudson's Bay Company forts such as those at the mouth of the Nelson River, and of Fort Churchill, a hundred miles or more farther north. It was now the end of the season, and it will not do to trifle with the nip of cold "Boreas" on the shore of Hudson Bay. The icy winter is at hand, and all know that they will face such temperatures as they never had seen even among the stormy Hebrides, or in the Northward Orkneys. Lord Selkirk's dreams are now to be tested. Is the story of the Colony to be an epic or a drama?
It was by no means the first experiment of facing in an unprepared way the rigors of a North American winter.
In the fourth year of the Seventeenth Century De Monts, a French Colonizer, had a band of his countrymen on Douchet's Island, in the Ste. Croix River, on the borders of New Brunswick. Though fairly well provided in some ways yet the winter proved so trying that out of the number of less than eighty, nearly one-half died. The winter was so long, weary and deadly, that in the spring the survivors of the Colony were moved to Port Royal in Acadia and the Ste. Croix was given up. This was surely dramatic; this was tragic indeed. But in the fourth year of this Century, the Tercentenary of this event was celebrated in Annapolis and St. John, as the writer himself beheld, and the shouts and applause of gathered thousands made a great and patriotic epic.
Again four years after De Monts, when knowledge of climate and conditions had become known to the French pioneers, Samuel de Champlain wintered with his crew and a few settlers on the site of Old Quebec, on the St. Lawrence. Discontent and dissension led to rebellion, and blood was shed in the execution of the plotters. Hunger, suffering and the dreadful scurvy attacked the founder's party of less than thirty, of whom only ten survived, and yet in July of 1908, the writer witnessed the grand Tercentenary celebration of Champlain's settlement of Quebec, and with the presence of the Prince of Wales, General Roberts, the idol of the British Army, a joint fleet, of eleven English, French and American first-class Men-of War, with pageantry and music, the Epic of Champlain was sung at the foot of the great statue erected to his memory.
In the Twentieth year of the Seventeenth Century, a company of very sober folk, came to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in a trifling little vessel the "Mayflower," and brought about one hundred Immigrants from the British Isles to Plymouth Rock to build up a refuge and a home. What a mighty song of patriotism will burst out when in a few years the United States hold their Tercentenary of the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers.
And so we see the first Selkirk Colonists landed on the Hudson Bay numbering at the outside seventy, a number not greatly different from the French and Pilgrim Fathers and called on to pass through similar trials in the severe winter of Hudson Bay. Their experience has been less tragic than that of the other parties spoken of, but in it the same elements of discomfort, dissension and disease certainly present themselves. However distressing their winter was, the dramatic conditions passed away, in a short time we shall be engaged in commemorating the patience and the heroism of these settlers, and in 1912 we shall sing a new song—the epic of the Lord Selkirk Colonists.
But to be true we must look more closely at the trials, and sufferings of the untried, and somewhat turbulent band, on their way to the Red River.
York Factory as being the port of entry for the southern prairie country was a place of some importance. As in the largest number of cases, other than a few huts for workmen, and a few Indian families, the Fort was the only centre of life in the whole region. Two rivers, the Nelson and the Hayes, enter the Hudson Bay at this point—the Nelson being the more northerly of the two. Between the two rivers is really a delta or low swampy tongue of land. On the Nelson's north bank, the land near the Bay is low, while inland there is a rising height. Five or six different sites of forts are pointed out at this point. These have been built on during the history of the Company, which dates back to 1670. In Lord Selkirk's time the factory was more than half a mile from the Bay and lay between the two rivers. Miles Macdonell states that it was on "low, miry ground without a ditch." The stagnant water by which the post was surrounded would be productive of much ill-health, were there a longer summer. The buildings of the Factory were also badly planned, and badly constructed, so that the Fort was unsuitable for quartering the Colonists. Besides this, Messrs. Cook and Auld, the former Governor of York Factory, and the latter chief officer of Fort Churchill, having the old Hudson's Bay Company's spirit of dislike of Colonists, decided that the new settlers, being an innovation and an evil, should have separate quarters built for them at a distance from the Fort.
Poor Colonists! Miles Macdonell is wearied with them in their complaining spirit, berates them for indolence, and finds fault with their awkwardness as workmen. To Macdonell, who was a Canadian, accustomed as a soldier and frontiersman to dealing with canoes, boats, and every means of land transport, the sturdy, steady going Orkneyman was slow and clumsy.
The inexperienced new settler thus gets rather brusque treatment from the Colonial, more a good deal than he deserves.
Accordingly it was decided to erect log dwellings for the workmen and the settlers on the higher ground north of the Nelson River. Several miles distant from the Factory itself, Spruce trees of considerable size grew along the river, and so all hands were put to work to have huts or shanties erected to protect the Colonists from the severe cold of winter, which would soon be upon them, although on October 5th Miles Macdonell wrote home to Lord Selkirk: "The weather has been mild and pleasant for some days past."
The erection of suitable houses, that is homely on the exterior, but warm in the coldest weather, was superintended by Miles Macdonell—himself a Colonial and one aware of the precautions needing to be taken.
Amid all the troubles and complaints of the winter there were none against the suitableness of the log dwellings which were erected on the chosen site to which was given the name, "Nelson Encampment." Winter, however, came in fiercely enough in November, although again on the 29th of November, Macdonell writes to Cook, Governor of the Factory: "A mild day enables us to send a boat across the Nelson with the Express." It was open water on the river.
Macdonell knew well that with the recent arrivals from the Old Land, one of the greatest dangers would be the weakening and dangerous disease of scurvy. He had sought for supplies of "Essence of Malt" and "Crystallized Salts of Lemon," and at the beginning of December as the people were living chiefly on salt provisions and a short allowance of oatmeal the scurvy made its appearance. Medical care was given by Mr. Edwards and the disease was at once met. However within a month one-third of the Immigrants were thus afflicted and the fear was that the malady would go through the whole Encampment. But the remedy that Champlain found so effective at Quebec—the juice of the Spruce tree, which grew in abundance around the Encampment—checked the disease, wherever the obstinacy of the settlers did not prevent its use, for says Macdonell, "It is not an easy matter to get the Orkneymen to drink it, particularly the old hands." A smouldering fire of discontent that had been detected on board the ship on crossing the ocean now broke out into a flame. The Irish and the Orkneymen could not agree. In February the vigilant leader Macdonell writes: "The Irish displayed their native propensity and prowess on the first night of the year, by unmercifully beating some Orkneymen. Too much strong drink was the chief incitement." This antipathy continued to be a difficulty even until the party arrived at Red River.
There are signs in his letters, of the constant strain on Miles Macdonell arising from the difficulties of his position and the waywardness of the Immigrants. At times he consults with the Hudson's Bay Company's officer, Mr. Hillier, and at others thus unbosoms himself to Messrs. Cook and Auld. "In this wild, desolate and (I may add) barren region, excluded at present from all communication with the civilized world, intelligence of a local kind can alone be expected. Could we join in the sentinel's cry of 'All is well,' although not affording great changes, it might yet be satisfactory in our isolated condition. We have as great variety as generally happens in this sublunary world, of which we here form a true epitome, being composed of men of all countries, religions and tongues."
Plainly Governor Macdonell feels his burdens! However, the culmination of this officer's troubles did not reach him until a serious rebellion occurred among his subjects—so mixed and various.
A workman—William Finlay—presumably an Orkneyman, who had been regularly employed by Miles Macdonell when the scurvy was bad in Mr. Hillier's camp, refused to obey the health regulations, his one objection being to drink this spruce decoction. He was immediately dropped from work. A few days afterward supposing the matter had blown over, Macdonell ordered him to work again. Finlay declined, whereupon, though under engagement he refused to further obey Macdonell. The Governor then brought him before Mr. Hillier, who like himself, had been made a magistrate. His breach of law in this, as in other matters being brought against Finlay he was sentenced to confinement. There being no prison at York Factory it seemed difficult to carry out the sentence by his being simply confined with his other companions in the men's quarters. Accordingly the Governor ordered a single log hut to be constructed, and this being done, in it the prisoner was confined. Not a day had entirely passed when a rebellion arose among some of his compatriots—the Scottish contingent from Orkney and Glasgow—and a band of thirteen of them surrounded the newly built hut, set it on fire and as it went up in smoke rescued the prisoner.
The men were arrested and were brought before Macdonell and Hillier, sitting as magistrates. This was about the end of February. The rebels, however, defied the authorities, departed carrying Finlay with them and getting possession of a house took it defiantly for their own use. During their remaining sojourn at York Factory they subsisted on provisions obtained at the Factory itself and carried by themselves from the post to the encampment. Governor Macdonell, meantime, decided to send these rebellious spirits home to Britain for punishment, and not allow them to go on to Red River.
The possession by the rioters of some five or six stand of firearms, was felt to be a menace to the peace of the encampment. An effort was made to obtain them by Macdonell, but "the insurgents," as they were called, secreted the arms and thus kept possession of them. In June on the rebels being very bold and being unable to get back across the Nelson River from the Factory for a number of days, they were forced by Mr. Auld, then at York Factory, to give up their arms and submit or else have their supplies from the Factory stopped. They were thus compelled to submit and on the receipt of a note from Mr. Auld to Macdonell, the latter wrote a joyful letter to Lord Selkirk to the effect that the insurgents had at length come to terms, acknowledged their guilt and thrown themselves upon the mercy of the Hudson's Bay Committee.
This surrender made it unnecessary to send the body of rioters back to England for trial.
During the months of later winter Governor Miles Macdonell was specially employed in building boats for the journey up to Red River. He introduced a style of boat used on the rivers of New York, his native State. These, however, he complains, were very badly constructed through the clumsiness and lack of skill of the Colonists and Company employees, whom he had ordered to build them.
Now on July fourth, 1812, Governor Macdonell, his Colonists, and the Hudson's Bay officials—Cook and Auld—are all gazing wistfully up the Nelson and Hayes Rivers, and we have the postscript to the last letter as found in Miles Macdonell letter book, sent to Lord Selkirk, reading, "Four Irishmen are to be sent home; Higgins and Hart, for the felonious attack on the Orkneymen; William Gray, non-effective, and Hugh Redden, who lost his arm by the bursting of a gun given him to fire off by Mr. Brown, one of the Glasgow clerks."
(Signed) H. MacD.
The expedition left York Factory for the interior on the 6th of July, 1812.
FIRST FOOT ON RED RIVER BANKS.
The weary winter passing at Nelson Encampment had its bright spots. Miles Macdonell in the building erected for himself, on the south side of the Nelson River, kept up his mess, having with him Mr. Hillier, Priest Bourke, Doctor Edwards, and Messrs. John McLeod, Whitford and Michael Macdonell, officers and clerks. Those Immigrants who took no part in the rebellion fared well. True, the scurvy seized several of them, but proved harmless to those who obeyed the orders and took plentiful potations of spruce beer. With the opening year a fair supply of fresh and dried venison was supplied by the Indians. In April upwards of thirty deer were snared or shot by the settlers. Some three thousand deer of several different kinds crossed the Nelson River within a month. "Fresh venison," writes Macdonell, "was so plenty that our men would not taste salt meat. We have all got better since we came to Hudson Bay."
But as in all far northern climates the heat was great in the months of May and June, and Governor and Colonists became alike restless to start on the inland journey.
The passing out of the ice in north-flowing rivers is always wearisome for those who are waiting to ascend. Beginning to melt farther south, the ice at the mouth is always last to move. Besides, the arrival was anxiously awaited of Bird, Sinclair and House. By continuous urging of the dull and inefficient workmen to greater effort, Miles Macdonell had succeeded in securing four boats—none too well built—but commodious enough to carry his boat-crews, workmen, and Colonists.
Though Macdonell sought for the selection of the workmen who were to accompany him to Red River, he was not able to move the Hudson's Bay Company officials. Two days, however, after arrival of the Company magnates from the interior his men were secured to him, and he was fully occupied in transporting his stores up the river as far as the "Rock"—the rapids of the Hill River which here falls into Hayes River. For a long distance up the river there is a broad stream, one-quarter of a mile wide, running at the rate of two miles an hour through low banks. The boatmen have a good steady pull up the river for some sixty miles, and here where the Steel River enters the Hayes is seen a wide, deep, rapid stream running about three miles an hour. The banks of this river are of clay and rising from fifty to one hundred feet, the clay of the banks is so smooth and white that a traveller has compared them in color to the white, chalk cliffs of Dover. Thus far though it has required exertion on the part of the boatmen, a good stretch of a hundred miles from the Factory has been passed without any obstruction or delay. Now the serious work of the journey begins. The Hill River, as this part of the river is called, is a series of rapids and portages—where the cargo and boat have both to be carried around a rapid; of decharges where the cargo has thus to be carried, and of semi-decharges—where a portion of the cargo only needs to be removed.
At times waterfalls require to be circuited with great effort. A high mountain or elevated table-land seen from this river shows the rough country of which these cascades and rapids are the proof. Here are the White-Mud Falls and other smaller cataracts. To the expert voyageur such a river has no terrors, but to the raw-hand the management of such boats is a most toilsome work. The birch-bark canoe is a mere trifle on the portage, but the heavy York boat capable of carrying three or four tons is a clumsy lugger. The cargo must be moved, the non-effectives such as the women and children and the old men must trudge the weary path, varying from a few hundred yards to several miles along a rocky, steep and rugged way. When the portage is made the whole force of boatmen and able-bodied passengers are required to stand by each boat, pull it out of the water, and then skid or drag or cajole it along till it is thrust into its native element again. To the willing crofter or Orkney boatmen this was not a great task, but to the Glasgow immigrant, or the waiter-on-fortune this was hard work. Many were the oaths of the officers and the complaints and objections of the men when they were required to grapple with the foaming cascades, the fearful rapids and the difficult portages of Hill River. Mossy Portage being now past the landing on a rocky island at the head of the river showed that the first "Hill Difficulty" had been overcome.
Swampy lake for ten miles gives a comparative rest to the toiling crews, but at the end of it a short portage passed takes the beleagured party into the mouth of the Jack Tent River. Day after day with sound sleep when the mosquitoes would permit, the unwilling voyageurs continued their journey. Ten portages have to be faced and overcome as the brigade ascends the rapid Jack Tent River, covering a stretch of seventy miles. The party now find themselves on the surface of Knee Lake, a considerable sheet of water, but a comparative rest after the trials of Jack Tent River. The lake is fifty-six miles long and at times widens to ten miles across.
But there is trouble just ahead.
The travellers have now come to the celebrated Fall Portage. It is short but deterrent. The height and ruggedness of the rocks over which cargo and boats have to be dragged are unusually forbidding. The only consolation to the contemplative soul, who does not have to portage, is that "The stream is turbulent and unfriendly in the extreme, but in romantic variety, and in natural beauty nothing can exceed this picture." High rocks are seen, beetling over the rapids like towers, and are rent into the most diversified forms, gay with various colored masses, or shaded by overhanging hills—now there is a tranquil pool lying like a sheet of silver—now the dash and foam of a cataract—these are but parts of this picturesque and striking scene.
But Fall Portage was only a culmination, in this fiercely rushing Trout River, for above it a dozen rapids are to be passed with toilsome energy. After this the party is rewarded with beautiful islets, and the lake for a length of thirty-five miles lies in a fertile tract of country. It was formerly appropriately called Holy Lake, and as a summit lake suggests to the traveller abiding restfulness. To the traders on their route whether passing up or down the water courses, it was always so. After the long and tedious voyaging it was their Elysium. Not only are the sweet surroundings of the lake most charming, but the Indians of the neighborhood have always been noted for their good character, their docility and their industry.
A short delay at Oxford House led to the continuation of the journey over what was now the roughest, most desolate, and most trying part of the voyage. On this rough passage, perhaps the most distressing spot was "Windy Lake," a small but tempestuous sheet. The voyageurs declare that they never cross "Lac de Vent" without encountering high winds and very often dangerous storms. Again "the Real Hill Difficulty" is encountered above the lake at the "Big Hill" portage and rapids—one of the sudden descents of this alarming stream. Those coming toward Oxford Lake run it at the very risk of their lives, but the painful portages impress themselves on all going up the "Height of Land," which is reached after passing through a narrow gorge between hills and mountains of rocks, the stream dashing headlong down from the mile-long Robinson Portage.
This region is an elevated, rugged waste, with no signs of animal life about it. It is the terror of the voyageurs. This eerie tract culminates in the ascending "Haute de Terre," as the French call it—the dividing ridge between the waters running eastward to Hudson Bay and those running westward and descending to meet the Nelson River, on its headlong way to Hudson Bay as well. The obstacle known as the "Painted Stone" being passed the Colonists' brigade was now on its way to the inland plain of the Continent.
The portage led from this string of five small lakes to the head waters of a trifling, but very interesting stream called the "Echimamish River." A doubtful but curious explanation has been given of the name. On the stream are ten beaver dams; which ever of these filled first gave the voyageur the opportunity to launch in his canoe or boat and go down the little runway to Black Water Creek. It was said that in consequence it was called "Each-a-Man's" brook, according as each voyageur took the water with his craft first. The way was now clear, down stream until shortly was seen the dashing Nelson River, or as it is here called, "The Sea River." When this was accomplished the Immigrants had only to pull stoutly up stream for forty miles or more until Norway House, the great Hudson's Bay Fort at the north end of Lake Winnipeg was reached.
The weary journey—430 miles from York Factory—was thus over and the worn out, weather beaten, ragged, and foot-sore travellers had come to the lake, whose name, other than that of Red River, was the only inland word they had ever heard of before starting on their journey.
It was the first standing place in the country, which was now to have them as its pioneers.
There is no turning back now. The Rubicon is crossed. Thirty-seven portages lie between them and the dissociable sea. For better or for worse they will now complete their journey, going on to found the Settlement which has become so famous.
The appearance of Norway House with its fine site and evidences of trade cheered the Colonists, and the sight of a body of water like Lake Winnipeg, which can be as boisterous as the ocean, brought back the loud resounding sea by whose swishing waves most of the settlers, for all their lives, had been lulled to sleep. It is a great stormy and dangerous lake—Lake Winnipeg. But for boats to creep along its shore with the liberty of landing on its sloping banks in case of need it is safe enough. The season was well past, and haste was needed, but in due time the mouth of the river—the delta of Red River—was reached. Now they were within forty or forty-five miles of their destination. At this time the banks of the Red River were well wooded, though there was open grassy plains lying behind these belts of forest. There was only one obstruction on their way up the river. This was the "Deer," now St. Andrew's Rapids, but after their experiences this was nothing, for these rapids were easily overcome by tracking, that is, by dragging the boats by a line up the bank.
Up the river they came and rounded what we now call Point Douglas, in the City of Winnipeg, a name afterwards given to mark Lord Selkirk's family name. They had completed a journey of seven hundred and twenty-eight miles, from York Factory to the site of Winnipeg—and they had done this in fifty-five days. Now they landed.
THE RED LETTER DAY OF THEIR LANDING WAS AUGUST 30TH, 1812.
At York Factory the Colonists had met a Hudson's Bay Company officer—Peter Fidler—on his way to England. He was the surveyor of the Company and a map of the Colony of which a copy is given by us marks the Colony Gardens, where Governor Miles Macdonell lived. This spot they chose, and the locality at the foot of Rupert Street is marked in the City of Winnipeg. A stone's throw further north along the bank of Red River, Fort Douglas was afterwards built, around which circles much of this Romantic Settlement Story.
This spot was the centre of the First Settlement of Rupert's Land and to this first party peculiar interest attaches.
There can only be one Columbus among all the navigators who crossed from Europe to America; there can only be one Watt among all the inventors and improvers of the steam engine; only one Newton among those who discuss the great discovery of the basal law of gravitation.
There can be only one first party of those who laid the foundation of collective family life in what is now the Province of Manitoba—and what is wider—in the great Western Canada of to-day. There may have been not many wise men, not many mighty, not many noble among them, but the long and stormy voyage which they made, the dangers they endured on the sea, the marvellous land journey they accomplished, and their taking "seisin of the land," to use William the Conqueror's phrase, entitles them to recognition and to respectful memory.
"THREE DESPERATE YEARS."
Pioneering to-day is not so serious a matter as it once was. To the frontiers' man now it involves little risk, and little thought, to dispose of his holding, and make a dash further West for two or three hundreds of miles across the plains. When he wishes more land for his growing sons, he "sells out," fits up his commodious covered wagon, called "the prairie schooner," and with implements, supplies, cattle and horses, starts on the Western "trail." His wife and children are in high spirits. When a running stream or spring is reached on the way he stops and camps. His journey taken when the weather is fine and when the mosquitoes are gone is a diversion. The writer has seen a family which went through this gypsy-like "moving" no less than four times. At length the settler finds his location, has it registered in the nearest Land Office and calls it his. With ready axes, the farmer and his sons cut down the logs which are to make their dwelling. The children explore the new farm lying covered with its velvet sod, as it has done for centuries; they gather its flowers, pluck its wild fruits, chase its wild ducks or grouse or gophers. Health and homely fare make life enjoyable. Subject to the incidents and interruptions of every day, which follow humanity, it seems to them a continual picnic.
But how different was the fate of the worn-out Selkirk Colonists. The memory of a wretched sea voyage, of a long and dreary winter at Nelson Encampment, and of a fifty-five days' journey of constant hardship along the fur traders' route were impressed upon their minds. The thought of fierce rivers and the dangers of portage and cascade still haunted them, and now everything on the banks of Red River was strange. On their arrival the flowers were blooming, but they were prairie flowers, and unknown to them. The small Colony houses which they were to occupy would be uncomfortable. The very sun in the sky seemed alien to them, for the Highland drizzle was seen no more. The days were bright, the weather warm, the nights cool, and there was an occasional August thunderstorm, or hailstorm which alarmed them. The traders, the Indians, the half-breed trappers, and runners were all new to them. Their Gaelic language, which they claimed as that of Eden, was of little value to them except where an occasional company-servant chanced to be a countryman of their own. They were without money, they were dependent upon Lord Selkirk's agents for shelter and rations. The land which they hoped to possess was there awaiting them, but they had no means for purchasing implements, nor were the farming requisites to be found in the country. Horses there were, but there were only two or three individual cattle within five hundred miles of them.
If they had sung on their sorrowful leaving, "Lochaber no more," the words were now turned by their depressed Highland natures into a wail, and they sang in the words of their old Psalms of "Rouse's" version:
"By Babel's streams we sat and wept, When Zion we thought on."
They thought of their crofts and clachans, where if the land was stingy, the gift of the sea was at hand to supply abundant food.
But this was no time for sighs or regrets.
The Hudson's Bay traders from Brandon House were waiting for expected goods, and Messrs. Hillier and Heney, who were the Hudson's Bay Company officers for the East Winnipeg District, had arduous duties ahead of them. But though the orders to prepare for the Colonists had been sent on in good time, there was not a single bag of pemmican or any other article of provision awaiting the hapless settlers. The few French people who were freemen, lived in what is now the St. Boniface side of the river, were only living from hand to mouth, and the Company's people were little better provided. The river was the only resource, and from the scarceness of hooks the supply of fish obtainable was rather scanty.
As the Colonists and their leader were strangers they desired leisure to select a suitable location for their buildings. For the time being their camp was at the Forks, on the east side of the river, a little north of the mouth of the Assiniboine.
The Governor, Miles Macdonell, on the 4th of September, summoned three of the North-West Company gentlemen, the free Canadians beside whom they were encamped, and a number of the Indians to a spectacle similar to that enacted by St. Lawson, at Sault Ste. Marie, nearly a hundred and fifty years before. The Nor'-Westers had not permitted their employees to cross the river. Facing, as he did, Fort Gibraltar, across the river, the Governor directed the patent of Lord Selkirk to his vast concession to be read, "delivering and seizin were formally taken," and Mr. Heney translated some part of the Patent into French for the information of the French Canadians. There was an officers' guard under arms; colors were flying and after the reading of the Patent all the artillery belonging to Lord Selkirk, as well as that of the Hudson's Bay Company, under Mr. Hillier, consisting of six swivel guns, were discharged in a grand salute.
At the close of the ceremony the gentlemen were invited to the Governor's tent, and a keg of spirits was turned out for the people.
Having made such disposition as we shall see of the people, Governor Macdonell went with a boat's crew down the river to make a choice of a place of settlement for the Colonists. A bull and cow and winter wheat had been brought with the party, and these were taken to a spot selected after a three days' thorough investigation of both banks of the river for some miles below the Forks. The place found most eligible was "an extensive point of land through which fire had run and destroyed the wood, there being only burnt wood and weeds left." This was afterwards called Point Douglas.