The Spirit of Resistance

On November 16, 1885, a lone figure stood silently on the gallows waiting to meet his destiny.  His name was Louis David Riel and he was my cousin 4 times removed. Below, a clip from Ancestry linking my father to the Lagimodiere family from whom Riel`s mother, Julie sprang. Julie`s brother Romain was my  3rd great grandfather.

Riel Connection snip

You can see in the chart the names that were well known in the Red River Settlement, Lagimodiere, Diagneault, Cyr, Thibault. Other names in the family were Jennie Cameron, Mary Inkster, Catherine Martineau and of course, Marie Anne Gaboury. Further back in the family one finds the more obscure appellations, Marie…..(Lesperance), Charlotte….., Josette….(Indienne) and Suzanne Sauteuse. On the 1901 Census of Canada, my great grandfather, William Daigneault declared  himself and his family as being French Metis (M.F.) and Red in skin colour.

The settlement was established at the confluence of the northern Red and Assiniboine rivers which is in modern day Winnipeg, Manitoba. It had been a prominent trading place for the aboriginal people of the area, the Cree and Ojibwa among them.  Before that prehistoric peoples had camped and traded there. These two rivers were part of a canoe route that joined with the Mississippi and Missouri rivers on the southern trade route.

in 1783, the first trading post was built by Pierre Gualtier de la Verendrye. He named it Forte Rouge or Red River.  Many of the French trappers who traded there married First Nations women which eventually led to the creation of a new culture, the Metis.  Initially, there was a society dominated by the First Nations people of the area with whom the French were on amicable terms .

For the main part, the French traders and their offspring blended with the First Nations culture . The buffalo hunt remained one of the main features of life among the people.  Sedentary farming did not come naturally to them. It didn’t even make sense. The winters were long and freezing, in the spring the Red River would storm its banks and flood the area. The summers were hot and humid and the tall prairie grasses provided ideal forage for the hundreds of buffalo which roamed through the land.

A stalwart young Scot, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, had visions of solving the problem of the Highland Clearances in northern Scotland. He inherited his brother’s fortune and decided to purchase land from the then beleaguered Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1811, he purchased 116,000 square miles of land, a good portion of Rupert’s Land which made him the major shareholder in the company. Two new forts had been built, Fort Gibraltar by the North West Company out of Montreal and Fort Douglas by the British run Hudson’s Bay Company carrying the fur trade battle into the area. A year later the Scots started to pour in and the canvas of the colony began to change.

The Battle of Seven Oaks

After the Seven Years War ended with the Royal Proclamation of 1763,  all land west of the Appalachian Mountains was closed to settlement and designated an Indian Reserve. This the Metis and their aboriginal brothers took to heart. In 1814, the governor of the colony, Miles McDonnell, issued the “Pemmican Proclamation” which forbade the export of pemmican from the colony for the next year. It was needed to support the new settlers who were experiencing crop failure. This though, would leave the Metis and the NWC without their means of support besides fracturing the non-settlement proclamation.

The Metis, under Cuthbert Grant,  refused to recognize the authority of the HBC and were soon involved in a skirmish with the new governor Robert Semple at Seven Oaks further along the Red River. Semple attempted to arrest Francois Boucher when he was sent to parlay.  Shots were fired and Semple as well as 21 of his men were killed. The Metis formed part of the colony’s militia and were crack shots, only 1 man was lost. The settlers lost heart and sailed north away from the settlement. Later, the Metis were exonerated by the Royal Commissioner. Lord Selkirk after being counter sued by the North West Company for unlawful seizure of Fort William,  lost his health and left for France where he died in 1820 just prior to the amalgamation of the two fur trade companies. The two would operate under the HBC flag. Cuthbert Grant was appointed “warden of the plains of the Red River” in 1828.