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