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 first 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 people 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 freely.

The land that had been owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company as part of its vast empire was called Rupert’s Land and it had been given complete authority over it.  Now, the Company’s fortunes were waning. It proved to be a fortunate time for a wealthy and very idealistic  young nobleman, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk. When his brother died, he inherited a great fortune.  He also had a compassionate heart and hoped to transplant hundreds of Scots who were being driven off their land during the Highland Clearances.

Selkirk realized that to gain enough land he would have to become a major shareholder in the Hudson’s Bay Company.  He bought as much stock as possible and then asked for a grant of 116,000 square miles which covered parts of  present day Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota. In May, 1811, the deed was granted willingly, they knew he was likely to lose money.

The first colonists arrived from the Hebrides in Scotland in the summer of 1811. At their head was Miles Macdonell also a Scot and appointed governor of the colony. They had to spend the winter at York Factory before they could come. In August 1812, they arrived at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers and settled at Point Douglas. After they took formal possession of the land, they continued on to Fort Daer on the Pembina River in North Dakota to find food.  The Metis people there supplied them with fish and pemmican made from the buffalo they hunted.  In 1813 more colonists arrived  and they all sowed crops together on long strip plots running back from the river.  The sowing was too late however and the crops failed.

The men who worked for the HBC resented the extra trouble of  having to help the new settlers and the stricter rules Selkirk was enforcing on them. They could not easily make private deals for extra money now. At Fort York, some of Macdonell’s men had been persuaded against him and he found himself with no supplies when they finally got to Point Douglas.

Selkirk had no notion of how serious the rivalry was between the HBC and the North West Company. The Northwest Company was composed largely of Metis and French from Montreal. The settlement lay across the path to the Athabasca country where the Nor’Westers gained most of their wealth. The King’s charter had granted the HBC only the lands that drained into the Hudson Bay. The Athabasca drained into the Arctic but to get to it the Nor’Westers would have to cross what was becoming British territory. They had been able to do this until now because there weren’t enough men to stop them.  The new settlement was composed of British people, faithful to Selkirk who could help close the gates to the Athabasca.  The fur trade war intensified.

Below, a map of trading posts and canoe routes:

Trading_Posts_Canoe_Routes

Trading Posts and Canoe Routes -Cristian Ionata-edmaps.com 

The map shows the canoe routes up to Athabasca country where the highest quality furs were found (colder weather made for thicker furs). From Fort Garry and up through Lake Manitoba to  Fort Cumberland  and then to Ile a La Crosse and the Athabasca River, the source of which lies in Jasper National Park, Alberta. At Ile a La Crosse we find mention of Jean Baptiste Beauchamp who travelled with Peter Skene Ogden on the Snake River Expeditons which I have written about hereRichard Daigneault is listed as an employee of the HBC in 1804 here. Jean Baptiste and Vincent Daigneault (my grandmother’s maiden name) are listed as HBC employees for 1855-6 here.

The NWC tried preventing the colonists from even arriving at the settlement by complaining to officials in Britain but did not accomplish that.  Then they tried to stop the Metis at Fort Pembina from selling supplies to the colonists.  Back at Fort Garry, they made every attempt to get the them to desert. They found themselves caught in the trade war.

Macdonell decided to act by issuing the “Pemmican Proclamation” in January 8th, 1814. For one year no supplies were to be taken out the colony without permission. He began to seize pemmican from the Nor’Westers and supervised provisioning of all canoes traveling between Lake Superior and the Athabasca country.  In June of that year the Montreal partners of the NWC arrived and decided that the colony must be destroyed entirely. The settlers were promised free passage and provisions to resettle in Upper Canada (Ontario) or be driven off.

Commander of Fort Gibraltar, Duncan Cameron, tried to win the settlers over with parties and talk of coming on side with the NWC . He even spoke Gaelic to them. When that failed he tried to raise  insurrection among the Metis by driving home the fact that they were forbidden to sell pemmican and that their land was being stolen . The Metis, reverting to the ways of their mothers, intimidated the settlers by killing horses, taking guns and plundering houses. They were setting the stage for what became known as the “Pemmican Wars”. Finally, in June, Macdonell decided it was in the settlers best interests that they give up the fight. It was too late. He and 134 deserting settlers were taken by Duncan Cameron to Fort William where he was to be charged with robbing the company. He did not get charged but the settlers proceeded to Upper Canada to settle.

Likewise,  the settlers who stayed behind were driven out and fled to Norway House on Lake Winnipeg. While they were there, a brigade of HBC officials was making its way from Montreal to the settlement on the Red River.  When they arrived and heard what was happening, they continued to Norway House to bring the settlers back. A few stubborn men had stayed behind to build Fort Douglas and start some crops. On November 3 of 1814, another group of colonists arrived with a new governor, Robert Semple. A second colony had been planted. Below, a map of the Red River Settlement as it was in 1818.

Map RRS 1818

Red River Settlement 1818 -Scan from The Romance of the Prairies by A.L. Burt

Right click on the image to open it in a new tab.