The Spirit of Resistance 2

After the rout of the North West Company at Red River in 1816, Governor Robert Semple had Fort Gibraltar torn down and the materials used to strengthen Fort Douglas (later to become Winnipeg).  The Nor’westers  inciting the Metis to regain a supply of pemmican that was being held at Brandon House , were gathering an army of Metis further up the Assiniboine.  Their leader was Cuthbert Grant the educated son of a Scottish trader.  Trouble started when they plundered  Brandon House  then headed for the colony. They struck off to the north-east planning to meet up with a company the HBC had promised from Fort William.  The company held back, leaving the onus on the Metis for any attack on the colony.  Semple, alerted to the arrival of the Metis, went out with thirty men to face Grant. The colony was in an uproar as people rushed for the shelter of Fort Douglas.

Seven tall oaks stood on Frog Plain where the two forces met on June 19, 1816 and the battle became the “Battle of Seven Oaks”.  Semple was approached by a man called Francois Boucher.  Semple asked what he wanted . The reply was “we want our fort”. Semple said  “Well go to your fort” and grabbed Boucher’s gun. A shot was fired from somewhere undetermined while fire continued from the other men.  Semple went down with 21 of his men. Only 1 Metis was lost. Again, the settlers ran for Norway House.  The event has been described by A.L. Burt,  ” A number of half-civilized Metis committed a crime at the bidding of a number of lawless Canadian merchants” (the Nor’westers). That opinion has been the source of much debate over the years.

Selkirk, in Montreal,  was heading to the colony with Swiss soldiers who had fought against the U.S. in the War of 1812. They were known as “De Meurons”. On his way, he was met by Miles Macdonell who told him of the attack at which point Selkirk decided to seize Fort William (now Thunder Bay). Several captives were being held there by the Nor’westers and he found orders for the attack on the Red River colony. After that he decided to stay on for the winter for lack of supplies. Macdonell was sent by snowshoe and sledge to Fort Douglas to regain control of the Fort.

InkedTrading_Posts_Canoe_Routes clip Ft.Will to Ft.Garry_Dot

Locations of Fort William and Fort Garry  (relative area of Fort Douglas)

In the spring of 1817, the colonists returned once again with Selkirk at the helm, planning and building the settlement. He had lost over half a million dollars do so but still forgave the settlers their debt to him. He had the first Indian treaty signed in the Northwest where they gave up claim to the land lying along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Things went well until Selkirk  was called to attend the lawsuits brought against him by the Northwest Company for his attack on Fort William and resisting arrest. He left the colony on September 9, 1817 and would not see it again. The rest of his ilfe was plagued by legal problems with no support to be found in Canada or Britain. He died in April, 1820.

The Northwest Company, though rich in furs, could no longer bear the expenses of the trial and expansion over the Rocky Mountains. Selkirk had effectively blocked a union with the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Now he was dead. In 1821 the two trading companies combined to form one of the largest controlling agents in the world under the HBC banner.

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