Winnipeggers mark 200 years since Métis Battle of Seven Oaks

A 200-year-old battle that left 22 people dead was remembered in Winnipeg Sunday as a turning point in the history of Manitoba's Métis people.

Historic battle helped change view of Métis as 'just a group of half-breeds,' Métis federation says

Dozens of people attended a commemorative ceremony in Winnipeg Sunday to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Oaks. (CBC)

A 200-year-old battle that left 22 people dead was remembered in Winnipeg Sunday as a turning point in the history of Manitoba's Métis people.

The Battle of Seven Oaks was a critical step in the Métis winning free trade rights.

On June 18, 1816, a bitter corporate feud between the Northwest Company and the Hudson's Bay Company culminated in the violent battle, which is also occasionally referred to as the Seven Oaks Massacre.

"Cuthbert Grant and many of his Métis colleagues had to defend their way of life," said Will Goodon, minister of housing and property management with the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF). "There was an edict handed down that they couldn't trade in pemmican and other stuffs anymore. There was a confrontation, and they took matters into their own hands."
The Pemmican Proclamation, issued by Miles Macdonell, governor of Assiniboia in 1814, banned the export of food from Red River and thereby prevented the North West Company from supplying its distant trading posts. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History) (CBC)

Led by Cuthbert Grant, a group of mostly Métis people were intercepted by a group led by The Hudson's Bay Company regional governor, Robert Semple. The battle left 21 with Hudson's Bay dead, including Semple, as well as one person on the Métis side.

The battle took place in what is now West Kildonan near Main Street and Rupertsland Boulevard. 

On Sunday afternoon, a renewed historic site was unveiled in West Kildonan to mark the bicentennial of the battle.

"What we look at when we see the Battle of Seven Oaks is a time when we stood up for ourselves. It was only us. It was just the Métis and we were more than just a group of half-breeds," Goodon said. "We were a people and we could stand and defend our way of life."
David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Mé​tis Federation, front right, and Will Goodon, minister of housing for the Manitoba Mé​tis Federation, left, in Ottawa in April. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The renewal of the historic site started in 2007 with a class project from Governor Semple School. Eight years and $350,000 later, the renewed site is now open to the public.

Albert Legatt, the Archbishop of St. Boniface, said organizers spent a year planning the commemoration event. He said it's important Manitobans recognize the importance of the battle.

"Twenty-two lives were lost in a moment of violence ... Remembering that's part of our history, how do we continue to search together for peace and reconciliation?" Legatt said. 

St. John's Cathedral marked the anniversary with a healing and reconciliation event and a feast sponsored by the North West Company at St. John's Park on Sunday.

The MMF and Métis National council commemoration for Grant, the battle and the Métis Nation flag on Sunday as well at St. Francois Xavier Church.

A special ceremony was also held at the Battle of Seven Oaks National Historic Site at the intersection of Main Street and Rupert's Land Boulevard.