John George Bourinot.

Canada under British Rule 1760-1900 online

. (page 23 of 29)
Online LibraryJohn George BourinotCanada under British Rule 1760-1900 → online text (page 23 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of traders, known as the "honourable company of adventurers from
England trading into Hudson's Bay," received from Charles II. a royal
licence in what was long known as Rupert's Land, and first raised its
forts on the inhospitable shores of the great bay, only accessible to
European vessels during the summer months. Among the prominent members
of this company was the cousin of the King, Prince Rupert, that gallant
cavalier. The French in the valley of the St. Lawrence looked with
jealousy on these efforts of the English to establish themselves at the
north, and Le Moyne d'Iberville, that daring Canadian, had destroyed
their trading-posts. Still the Hudson's Bay Company persevered in
their enterprise, and rebuilt their forts where they carried on a very
lucrative trade with the Indians who came from all parts of that
northern region to barter their rich furs for the excellent goods which
the company always supplied to the natives. In the meantime, while the
English were established at the north, French adventurers, the Sieur de
La Vérendrye, a native of Three Rivers, and his two sons, reached the
interior of the northwest by the way of Lake Superior and that chain of
lakes and rivers which extends from Thunder Bay {382} to Lake Winnipeg.
These adventurous Frenchmen raised rude posts by the lakes and rivers
of this region, and Vérendrye's sons are said to have extended their
explorations in January, 1743, to what was probably the Bighorn Range,
an outlying buttress of the Rocky Mountains, running athwart the
sources of the Yellowstone. The wars between France and England,
however, stopped French trade in that northwestern region, and the
Hudson's Bay Company's posts at the north were the only signs of
European occupation when Wolfe and Montcalm fell on the Plains of
Abraham, and the fleur-de-lis was struck on the old fort of the
Canadian capital.

Towards the latter part of the eighteenth century, the merchants of
Canada, who were individually dealing in furs, formed an association
which, under the title of the Northwest Company, was long the rival of
the Hudson's Bay adventurers. Both these companies were composed of
Englishmen and Scotchmen, but they were nevertheless bitter enemies,
engaged as they were in the same business in the wilderness. The
employés of the Hudson's Bay Company were chiefly Scotch, while the
Canadian Company found in the French Canadian population that class of
men whom it believed to be most suitable to a forest life. The
differences in the nationality and religion of the servants of the
companies only tended to intensify the bitterness of the competition,
and at last led to scenes of tumult and bloodshed. The Northwest
Company found their way to the interior of Rupert's Land by the Ottawa
River and the Great Lakes. Their posts were seen {383} by the
Assiniboine and Red rivers, even in the Saskatchewan and Athabascan
districts, and in the valley of the Columbia among the mountains of the
great province which bears the name of that noble stream. The
Mackenzie River was discovered and followed to the Arctic Sea by one of
the members of the Northwest Company, whose name it has always borne.
At a later time a trader, Simon Fraser, first ventured on the river
whose name now recalls his famous journey, and David Thompson, a
surveyor of the Northwest Company, discovered the river of the same
name. Previous, however, to these perilous voyages, the Hudson's Bay
Company had been forced by the enterprise of its rival to reach the
interior and compete for the fur traffic which was being so largely
controlled by the Canadian Company. In 1771, Samuel Hearne, one of the
Hudson's Bay Company's employés, discovered the Coppermine River, and
three years later established a fort on the Saskatchewan, still known
as Cumberland House. In later years, Sir John Franklin, George Back,
and Thomas Simpson added largely to the geographical knowledge of the
northern parts of the great region watered by the Coppermine, the Great
Fish - also called the Back, - and other streams which fall into the
Arctic Seas. As we glance at the map of this vast region, we still see
the names of the numerous posts where the servants of the fur companies
passed their solitary lives, only relieved by the periodical visits of
Indian trappers, and the arrival of the "trains" of dogs with supplies
from Hudson's Bay. Forts Enterprise, Providence, Good {384} Hope, and
Resolution are among the names of posts which tell in eloquent terms
the story of the courage, endurance, and hope that first planted them
throughout that solitary land.

It was on the banks of Red River, where it forms a junction with the
Assiniboine, that civilisation made the first effort to establish
itself in the illimitable domain of fur-traders, always jealous of
settlement which might interfere with their lucrative gains. The first
person to erect a post on the Red River was the elder Vérendrye, who
built Fort Rouge about 1735 on the site of the present city of
Winnipeg. The same adventurer also built Fort La Reine at Portage La
Prairie. In 1811 an enterprising Scotch nobleman, the Earl of Selkirk,
who had previously made a settlement in Prince Edward Island, became a
large proprietor of Hudson's Bay stock, and purchased from the company
over a hundred thousand square miles of territory, which he named
Assiniboia. In 1812 he made on the banks of the Red River a settlement
of Highland Scotch and a few Irishmen. The Northwest Company looked
with suspicion on this movement of Lord Selkirk, especially as he had
such large influence in the rival company. In 1816, the employés of
the former, chiefly half-breeds, destroyed Fort Douglas and murdered
Governor Semple, who was in charge of the new Scotch settlement. As
soon as the news of this outrage reached Lord Selkirk, he hastened to
the succour of his settlement, and by the aid of some disbanded
soldiers, whom he hired in Canada, he restored order. Subsequently he
succeeded in {385} bringing to a trial at York several partners and
persons in the service of the Northwest Company on the charges of "high
treason, murder, robbery, and conspiracy," but in all cases the accused
were acquitted. The Northwest Company had great influence at this time
throughout Canada, and by their instigation actions were brought
against Lord Selkirk for false imprisonment, and for conspiring to ruin
the trade of the company, and he was mulcted in heavy damages. Two
years later Lord Selkirk died in France, and then the two companies,
which had received great injury through their rivalry, were
amalgamated, and the old Hudson's Bay Company reigned supreme in this
region until 1870. The Red River settlement became the headquarters of
the company, who established in 1835 a system of local government - a
president and council and a court of law - and built Fort Garry on the
site of a fort also bearing the same name - that of a director of the
company. The new fort was a stone structure, having walls from ten to
twelve feet high, and flanked by bastions defended by cannon and
musketry. In 1867 the houses of the settlers occupied the banks of the
Red River at short intervals for twenty-four miles. Many evidences of
prosperity and thrift were seen throughout the settlement; the churches
and school-houses proved that religion and education were highly valued
by the people. The most conspicuous structure was the Roman Catholic
Church of St. Boniface, whose bells at matins and vespers were so often
a welcome sound to the wanderers on the plains.


"Is it the clang of wild-geese,
Is it the Indians' yell
That lends to the voice of the North wind
The tone of a far-off bell?

"The voyageur smiles as he listens
To the sound that grows apace:
Well he knows the vesper ringing
Of the bells of Saint Boniface.

"The bells of the Roman mission
That call from their turrets twain,
To the boatmen on the river,
To the hunters on the plain."

On all sides there were evidences of comfort in this little oasis of
civilisation amid the prairies. The descendants of the two
nationalities dwelt apart in French and British parishes, each of which
had their separate schools and churches. The houses and plantations of
the British settlers, and of a few French Canadians, indicated thrift,
but the majority of the French half-breeds, or _Métis_, the descendants
of French Canadian fathers and Indian mothers, continued to live almost
entirely on the fur trade, as voyageurs, trappers, and hunters. They
exhibited all the characteristics of those hardy and adventurous men
who were the pioneers of the west. Skilful hunters but poor
cultivators of the soil, fond of amusement, rash and passionate,
spending their gains as soon as made, too often in dissipation, many of
them were true representatives of the _coureurs de bois_ of the days of
Frontenac. This class was numerous in 1869 when the government of
Canada first presented itself to claim the territory of the {387}
Northwest as a part of the Dominion. After years of negotiation the
Hudson's Bay Company had recognised the necessity of allowing the army
of civilisation to advance into the region which it had so long kept as
a fur preserve. The British Government obtained favourable terms for
the Dominion, and the whole country from line 49 degrees to the Arctic
region, and from Lake Superior to the Rocky Mountains became a portion
of the Canadian domain, with the exception of small tracts of land in
the vicinity of the company's posts, which they still continue to
maintain wherever the fur trade can be profitably carried on. In 1869
the Canadian ministry, of which Sir John Macdonald was premier, took
measures to assume possession of the country, where they proposed to
establish a provisional government. Mr. William McDougall, a prominent
Canadian Liberal, one of the founders of confederation, always an
earnest advocate of the acquisition of the Northwest, was appointed to
act as lieutenant-governor as soon as the formal transfer was made.
This transfer, however, was not completed until a few months later than
it was at first expected, and the government of Canada appears to have
acted with some precipitancy in sending surveyors into the country, and
in allowing Mr. McDougall to proceed at once to the scene of his
proposed government. It would have been wise had the Canadian
authorities taken measures to ascertain the wishes of the small but
independent population with respect to the future government of their
own country. The British as well as French settlers resented the {388}
hasty action of the Canadian authorities. The halfbreeds, little
acquainted with questions of government, saw in the appearance of
surveying parties an insidious attempt to dispossess them eventually of
their lands, to which many of them had not a sound title. The British
settlers, the best educated and most intelligent portion of the
population, believed that a popular form of government should have been
immediately established in the old limits of Assiniboia, as soon as it
became a part of Canada. Some of the Hudson's Bay Company's employés
were not in their hearts pleased at the transfer, and the probable
change in their position in a country where they had been so long
masters. Although these men stood aloof from the insurrection, yet
their influence was not exercised at the commencement of the troubles,
in favour of peace and order, or in exposing the plans of the
insurgents, of which some of them must have had an idea. The
appearance of Mr. McDougall on the frontier of the settlement, was the
signal for an outbreak which has been dignified by the name of
rebellion. The insurgents seized Fort Garry, and established a
provisional government with Mr. John Bruce, a Scotch settler, as
nominal president, and Mr. Louis Riel, the actual leader, as secretary
of state. The latter was a French half-breed, who had been
superficially educated in French Canada. His temperament was that of a
race not inclined to steady occupation, loving the life of the river
and plain, ready to put law at defiance when their rights and
privileges were in danger. This restless man and his half-breed {390}
associates soon found themselves at the head and front of the whole
rebellious movement, as the British settlers, while disapproving of the
action of the Canadian Government, were not prepared to support the
seditious designs of the French Canadian _Métis_. Riel became
president, and made prisoners of Dr. Schultz, in later times a
lieutenant-governor of the new province, and of a number of other
British settlers who were now anxious to restore order and come to
terms with the Canadian Government, who were showing every disposition
to arrange the difficulty. In the meantime Mr. McDougall issued a
proclamation which was a mere _brutum fulmen_, and then went back to
Ottawa, where he detailed his grievances and soon afterwards
disappeared from public life. The Canadian authorities by this time
recognised their mistake and entered into negotiations with Red River
delegates, representing both the loyal and rebellious elements, and the
result was most favourable for the immediate settlement of the
difficulties. At this critical juncture the Canadian Government had
the advantage of the sage counsels of Sir Donald Smith, then a
prominent official of the Hudson's Bay Company, who at a later time
became a prominent figure in Canadian public life. Chiefly through the
instrumentality of Archbishop Taché, whose services to the land and
race he loved can never be forgotten by its people, an amnesty was
promised to those who had taken part in the insurrection, and the
troubles would have come to an end had not Riel, in a moment of
recklessness, characteristic of his real nature, tried {391} one Thomas
Scott by the veriest mockery of a court-martial on account of some
severe words he had uttered against the rebels' government, and had him
mercilessly shot outside the fort. As Scott was a native of Ontario,
and an Orangeman, his murder aroused a widespread feeling of
indignation throughout his native province. The amnesty which was
promised to Archbishop Taché, it is now quite clear, never contemplated
the pardon of a crime like this, which was committed subsequently. The
Canadian Government were then fully alive to the sense of their
responsibilities, and at once decided to act with resolution. In the
spring of 1870 an expedition was organised, and sent to the North-west
under the command of Colonel Garnet Wolseley, later a peer, and
commander-in-chief of the British army. This expedition consisted of
five hundred regulars and seven hundred Canadian volunteers, who
reached Winnipeg after a most wearisome journey of nearly three months,
by the old fur-traders' route from Thunder Bay, through an entirely
unsettled and rough country, where the portages were very numerous and
laborious. Towards the end of August the expedition reached their
destination, but found that Riel had fled to the United States, and
that they had won a bloodless victory. Law and order henceforth
prevailed in the new territory, whose formal transfer to the Canadian
Government had been completed some months before, and it was now formed
into a new province, called Manitoba, with a complete system of local
government, and including guaranties with {392} respect to education,
as in the case of the old provinces. The first lieutenant-governor was
Mr. Adams Archibald, a Nova Scotian lawyer, who was one of the members
of the Quebec conference, and a statesman of much discretion.
Representation was also given immediately in the two houses of the
Dominion parliament. Subsequently the vast territory outside of the
new prairie province was divided into six districts for purposes of
government: Alberta, Assiniboia, Athabasca, Keewatin, and Saskatchewan.
Out of these districts in 1905 were erected the provinces of Alberta
and Saskatchewan, which were then given responsible government. In
1908, when the boundaries of the provinces were again defined, Keewatin
was incorporated in the Province of Manitoba. In 1896 four new
provisional districts were, marked out in the great northern unsettled
district under the names of Franklin, Mackenzie, Yukon, and Ungava.

[Illustration: Fort Garry and a Red River steamboat in 1870.]

In the course of a few years a handsome, well-built city arose on the
site of old Fort Garry, and with the construction of the Canadian
Pacific Railway - a national highway built with a rapidity remarkable
even in these days of extraordinary commercial enterprise - and the
connection of the Atlantic sea-board with the Pacific shores, villages
and towns have extended at distant intervals across the continent, from
Port Arthur to Vancouver, the latter place an instance of western
phenomenal growth. Stone and brick buildings of fine architectural
proportions, streets paved and lit by electricity, huge elevators, busy
mills, are the characteristics of {393} some towns where only yesterday
brooded silence, and the great flowery stretches of prairie were only
crushed by the feet of wandering Indians and voyageurs.

Fourteen years after the formation of the province of Manitoba, whilst
the Canadian Pacific Railway was in the course of construction, the
peace of the territories was again disturbed by risings of half-breeds
in the South Saskatchewan district, chiefly at Duck Lake, St. Laurent,
and Batoche. Many of these men had migrated from Manitoba to a country
where they could follow their occupation of hunting and fishing, and
till little patches of ground in that shiftless manner characteristic
of the _Métis_. The total number of half-breeds in the Saskatchewan
country were probably four thousand, of whom the majority lived in the
settlements just named. These people had certain land grievances, the
exact nature of which it is not easy even now to ascertain; but there
is no doubt that they laboured under the delusion that, because there
was much red-tapeism and some indifference at Ottawa in dealing with
their respective claims, there was a desire or intention to treat them
with injustice. Conscious that they might be crowded out by the
greater energy and enterprise of white settlers - that they could no
longer depend on their means of livelihood in the past, when the
buffalo and other game were plentiful, these restless, impulsive,
illiterate people were easily led to believe that their only chance of
redressing their real or fancied wrongs was such a rising as had taken
place on the Red River in {394} 1869. It is believed that English
settlers in the Prince Albert district secretly fomented the rising
with the hope that it might also result in the establishment of a
province on the banks of the Saskatchewan, despite its small
population. The agitators among the half-breeds succeeded in bringing
Riel into the country to lead the insurrection. He had been an exile
ever since 1870, and was at the time teaching school in Montana. After
the rebellion he had been induced to remain out of the Northwest by the
receipt of a considerable sum of money from the secret service fund of
the Dominion Government, then led by Sir John Macdonald. In 1874 he
had been elected to the House of Commons by the new constituency of
Provencher in Manitoba; but as he had been proclaimed an outlaw, when a
true bill for murder was found against him in the Manitoba Court of
Queen's Bench, and when he had failed to appear for trial, he was
expelled from the house on the motion of Mr. Mackenzie Bowell, a
prominent Orangeman, and, later, premier of the Canadian Government.
Lepine, a member also of the so-called provisional government of Red
River, had been tried and convicted for his share in the murder of
Scott, but Lord Dufferin, when governor-general, exercised the
prerogative of royal clemency, as an imperial officer, and commuted the
punishment to two years' imprisonment. In this way the Mackenzie
government was relieved - but only temporarily - of a serious
responsibility which they were anxious to avoid, at a time when they
were between the two fires: of the people of Ontario, {395} anxious to
punish the murderers with every severity, and of the French Canadians,
the great majority of whom showed a lively sympathy for all those who
had taken part in the rebellion of 1869. The influence of French
Canada was also seen in the later action of the Mackenzie government in
obtaining a full amnesty for all concerned in the rebellion except
Riel, Lepine, and O'Donohue, who were banished for five years. The
popularity enjoyed by Riel and his associates in French Canada, as well
as the clemency shown to them, were doubtless facts considered by the
leaders in the second rising on the Saskatchewan as showing that they
had little to fear from the consequences of their acts. Riel and
Dumont - the latter a half-breed trader near Batoche - were the leaders
of the revolt which broke out at Duck Lake in the March of 1885 with a
successful attack on the Mounted Police and the Prince Albert
Volunteers, who were defeated with a small loss of life. This success
had much effect on the Indian tribes in the Saskatchewan district,
among whom Riel and his associates had been intriguing for some time,
and Poundmaker, Big Bear, and other chiefs of the Cree communities
living on the Indian reserves, went on the warpath. Subsequently
Battleford, then the capital of the Territories, was threatened by
Indians and _Métis_, and a force under Big Bear massacred at Frog Lake
two Oblat missionaries, and some other persons, besides taking several
prisoners, among whom were Mrs. Delaney and Mrs. Gowanlock, widows of
two of the murdered men, who were released at the close {396} of the
rising. Fort Pitt, on the North Saskatchewan, thirty miles from Frog
Lake, was abandoned by Inspector Dickens - a son of the novelist - and
his detachment of the Mounted Police, on the approach of a large body
of Indians under Big Bear. When the news of these outrages reached
Ottawa, the government acted with great promptitude. A French
Canadian, now Sir Adolphe Caron, was then minister of militia in Sir
John Macdonald's ministry, and showed himself fully able to cope with
this, happily, unusual, experience in Canadian Government. From all
parts of the Dominion - from French as well as English Canada - the
volunteers patriotically rallied to the call of duty, and Major-General
Middleton, a regular officer in command of the Canadian militia, led a
fine force of over four thousand men into the Northwest. The Canadian
Pacific Railway was now built, with the exception of a few breaks of
about seventy-two miles in all, as far as Qu'Appelle, which is sixteen
hundred and twenty miles from Ottawa and about two hundred and
thirty-five miles to the south of Batoche. The Canadian troops,
including a fine body of men from Winnipeg, reached Fish Creek, fifteen
miles from Batoche, on the 24th of April, or less than a month after
the orders were given at Ottawa to march from the east. Here the
insurgents, led by Dumont, were concealed in rifle-pits, ingeniously
constructed and placed in a deep ravine. They checked Middleton, who
does not appear to have taken sufficient precautions to ascertain the
position of the enemy - thoroughly trained marksmen who were able to
shoot down a considerable {397} number of the volunteers. Later, at
Batoche, the Canadian troops, led with great bravery by Colonels
Straubenzie, Williams, Mackeand, and Grassett, scattered the
insurgents, who never made an attempt to rally. The gallantry of
Colonel Williams of the Midlanders - an Ontario battalion - was
especially conspicuous, but he never returned from the Northwest to
receive the plaudits of his countrymen, as he died of fever soon after
the victory he did so much to win at Batoche. Colonel Otter, a
distinguished officer of Toronto, had an encounter with Poundmaker at
Cut Knife Creek on Battle River, one of the tributaries of the North
Saskatchewan, and prevented him from making any hostile demonstrations
against Battleford and other places. Riel's defeat at Batoche cowed
these Indians, who gave up their arms and prisoners to Otter.
Elsewhere in the Territories all trouble was prevented by the prompt
transport of troops under Colonel Strange to Fort Edmonton, Calgary,
and other points of importance. The Blackfeet, the most formidable
body of natives in the Territories, never broke the peace, although
they were more than once very restless. Their good behaviour was
chiefly owing to the influence of Chief Crowfoot, always a friend of

Online LibraryJohn George BourinotCanada under British Rule 1760-1900 → online text (page 23 of 29)