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The Selkirk Settlers
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LESSON 16: The Selkirk Settlers

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This lesson corresponds to material found in:
Episode 6 The Pathfinders

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During the 18th and early 19th centuries, two trading companies, the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, fought bitterly for control of the fur trade in the Canadian west. For years they coexisted uneasily, with violent sabotage sometimes undermining the successful delivery of furs. The dream of a wealthy English aristocrat, Lord Selkirk, ended this coexistence. Selkirk dreamed of finding a home for dispossessed peasants from the Scottish Highlands. In reading accounts by explorer Alexander MacKenzie, Selkirk became enamoured of the Canadian west and decided to acquire land at Red River.

Selkirk bought a third of the shares in the Hudson's Bay Company in 1808, and procured the concession for 300,000 square kilometers in Red River already inhabited by Métis. He recruited impoverished Scots and appointed a governor, Miles Macdonell, who was assigned to manage newcomers settling in Red River in 1812 and 1813. Life was hard for the settlers; harvests were poor, illness struck and their presence was resented by the Métis. In January, 1814, Macdonnell published a decree that applied to his entire territory. Known as the Pemmican Proclamation (pemmican was a food made of corn and buffalo-meat), it forbade the export of food out of the colony. The decree was explosive, since pemmican was the fur traders' staple.

This measure cut the North West Company off from supplies received via the Red River route. It frustrated the Métis who were the main suppliers of pemmican. The North West Company incited the Métis to take up arms against the Scottish settlers. In 1816, the Scots were attacked at Red River. Hostilities continued to escalate between the two companies, each struggling for supremacy in the lucrative fur trade.

Selkirk died in France in 1820. The following year, the British government stepped in and pressured the two companies to merge, putting an end to the violence. Selkirk's dream was laden with hardship for the settlers, but they survived famine, drought, floods and bitter cold, and laid the foundation for a British population in the West.

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    Lesson Plans
    Episode 1
    When the World Began...
    Lesson 1 Canada's First Peoples
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 2 Stories of Creation
    Lesson 3 Cartier and Donnacona

    Episode 2
    Adventures and Mystics
    Lesson 4 The Beginning of the Fur Trade
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 5 The Jesuits and the Huron
    Lesson 6 Immigration to New France

    Episode 3
    Claiming the Wilderness
    Lesson 7 Expansion to the Gulf of Mexico
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 8 The Expulsion of the Acadians

    Episode 4
    Battle for a Continent
    Lesson 9 Before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 10 The Battle of the Plains of Abraham
    Lesson 11 The Quebec Act
    (includes activity)

    Episode 5
    A Question of Loyalties
    Lesson 12 Conflict in Quebec, 1775
    Lesson 13 United Empire Loyalists
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 14 Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh

    Episode 6
    The Pathfinders
    Lesson 15 The Fur Trade in Canada
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 16 The Selkirk Settlers
    Lesson 17 The Gold Rush

    Episode 7
    Rebellion and Reform
    Lesson 18 The Rebellions of 1837
    Lesson 19 Union of the Canadas
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 20 A Land of Hope

    Episode 8
    The Great Enterprise
    Lesson 21 Newcomers to Canada
    Lesson 22 The Making of Confederation
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 23 Confederation in the Maritimes

    Episode 9
    From Sea to Sea
    Lesson 24 The Red River Resistance
    (includes activity)
    Lesson 25 The Pacific Scandal

    Episode 10
    Taking the West
    Lesson 26 The North-West Rebellion
    Lesson 27 The Trial of Louis Riel
    Lesson 28 Macdonald's National Dream

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