One could not divide the thirty acres between all male children. One male child was expected to become a priest, but other male children needed land and could not move to Ontario. After Confederation, the population of Canada, except Quebec, had to be English and Protestant. Orangists prevented French-speaking Canadians from settling elsewhere. They could no longer be educated in French. That was a disaster.
In order to earn a living, many Québécois moved North and cleared land. They had to “faire de la terre,” make land. Some tried to settle in or near Sudbury, Ontario. The school question surfaced. However, some went to Abitibi-Témiscamingue. This area was located in eastern Ontario, but it became part of Québec where the landless found land they could clear. The Church favoured “making land.” This is what le curé Labelle, an influential parish priest, suggested to the landless. It was the patriotic choice.
When people are hungry, they look for a place where they can earn a living. Quebec had very few skilled businessmen. In the early days of the colony, New France had a business class consisting of Huguenots mainly. Champlain was a Huguenot. They left Quebec in 1685, when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes (1598). They had to leave New France because Cardinal Richelieu started building absolutism. In Richelieu’s opinion, the requirements for absolutism were one King, one language and one religion. He established la Compagnie des Cent-Associés, the Company of One Hundred Associates.
The Seigneurial System
The Seigneurial System had not been truly abolished in 1854. The habitants who had not bought their thirty acres had to pay rent à perpétuité, permanently. This was a form of slavery: debt bondage. In 1935, the Québec government created the Syndicat national du rachat des rentes seigneuriales, or SNRRS (National Commission for the Repurchase of Seigneurial Rentes). The SNRRS would pay the habitants‘ debt in part.
Louis-Alexandre Taschereau is credited with helping eradicate the habitants‘ debt. Payments were required when Duplessis was premier of Quebec.
I will end this post as I have difficulty writing it.
Sir John A. Macdonald, lawyer, businessman, and the first prime minister of Canada (photo by William James Topley, courtesy Library and Archives Canada/c-10144). (The Canadian Encyclopedia)
A week ago, Canadians celebrated their nation’s birthday: Confederation. On 1st July 1867, Confederation united four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Previously, all Canadians observed their national holiday and were proud of their first Prime Minister. That is no longer the case.
A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald was removed in Victoria, British Columbia. John A. Macdonald put Amerindians on reservations and took Amerindian children from their parents and enrolled them in Residential schools, so they would be assimilated. Many were abused. One is reminded of Tzvetan Todorov‘s La Conquête de l’Amérique. La question de l’autre.[I]
In the wake of Confederation, arrangements were made to transfer the colony and the vast neighbouring territory of Rupert’s Land to Canada, yet without either consultation with the colony’s inhabitants or any guarantees of their political or property rights. That set the stage for the Red River Resistance (…)
(See Red River Settlement, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)
Later, he allowed Louis Riel to be hanged. Louis Riel had entered federal politics and was elected three times as a member of Parliament for Provencher, Manitoba. He was not permitted to enter the House of Commons. When he entered, “he was expelled from the House on a motion introduced by the Ontario Orange leader Mackenzie Bowel.” (See Louis Riel, The Canadian Encyclopedia.) The government of the Red River Resistance had executed Orangeman, Thomas Scott. However, Jean-Louis Riel was viewed as Thomas Scott’s killer.
The Red River Colony was bought from the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), by the Earl of Selkirk. After the Earl of Selkirk’s death, the Colony was returned to the Hudson’s Bay Company, but it was settled. Settled land, such as the Red River Colony and the land the Indigenous people inhabited could not belong to the HBC/Canada, by virtue of the Royal Charter signed on 2nd May 1670.
Sir John A. MacDonald was a member of the Orange Order. The Orangemen opposed the presence of French-speaking Canadians and Catholics outside Quebec. Sir John A. MacDonald had a beautiful dream, a Canada stretching from sea to sea: A Mari usque ad Mare. That is Canada’s motto, its devise. But French-speaking Canadians would have to stay on one side of the wide country. He promised British Columbia a railroad. The railroad had to go across ranges of mountains, the Rocky Mountains. Several Chinese died building the railway whose chief supervisor was Sir Cornelius van Horne. On 4th July 1886, a passenger train arrived at Port Moody, British Columbia. British Columbia entered Confederation in 1871, believing that a railroad would be built.
Arrival of the first Canadian Pacific transcontinental passenger train at Port Moody, British Columbia, July 4, 1886. Canadian Pacific Limited Rail Corporate Archives (Photo Credit: Britannica)
Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
British Columbia had been New Caledonia. However, it was renamed on 2nd August 1858, by Queen Victoria.
When Canada bought Rupert’s Land, the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company had merged. The North West Company had forts in British Columbia. But it was no longer called the North West Company. Rupert’s Land was bought from the Hudson’s Bay Company.
In 1821, a parliamentary Act granted exclusive trade to the HBC and to William and Simon McGillivray and Edward Ellice of the NWC, in an effort to placate all parties by devising coalition, not amalgamation.
(See The North West Company, The Canadian Encyclopedia.)
Sir John A. MacDonald put aside not only Canada’s Indigenous population, but he also ignored what I call the French Fact. Jacques Cartier discovered what would become Canada in 1534. In 1867, the year Confederation occurred, the French had been on the North American continent for 333 years and many had married Amerindians. I learned, late in life, that I am métissée, as are other Québécois.
In 1633 and 1635, the Huron-Wendat were asked by Champlain and Father Paul Le Jeune, S.J. to consider intermarriage with the French.
(See Huron-Wendat, TheCanadian Encyclopedia.)
One could take the view that it was all about the weather. Winters were cold in New France. Moreover, how could the colony’s few colonists get beaver pelts without a canoe and snowshoes. The inhabitants of New France depended on Amerindian skills and equipment to survive. Champlain could not alienate Amerindians. He in fact fought the Iroquois, the Huron‘s enemies.
An account of the alliance between the Indigenous people and the French can be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Interestingly, The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica have joined forces to tell the history of Canada.
“Already in 1603 Champlain had noted that the Iroquois, whom Jacques Cartier had found there, had withdrawn from the St. Lawrence under pressure from the Algonquin Indians of the north country. The French then became the allies of the Algonquin in the rivalry that began for control of the inland fur trade. In 1609, in accordance with this alliance, Champlain and three companions joined an Algonquin war party in a raid against the Mohawk, the easternmost group of the Iroquois Confederacy. The party ascended the Richelieu River toward Lake Champlain. In an encounter with a Mohawk band, Champlain and his men killed some Iroquois, and the Europeans’ firearms panicked the remainder. This skirmish signaled the initial commitment of New France to the side of the Algonquin and the Huron (the latter being Iroquoian but hostile to the confederacy) in what became a century-long struggle for control of the output of furs from as far away as the western Great Lakes.”[II]
A Métis man and his two wives, circa 1825-1826. Mikan # 2835810, Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1973-84-1
The killing of George Floyd nearly drowned the discussion about Covid-19. The current conversation is about a man who was killed by a man whose duty it was to protect him, even as he arrested him. The police have duties to everyone. Therefore, it was racism at its worst. George Floyd’s life didn’t matter.
Racism in the United States is a complex topic because the economy of the United States depended, in certain southern states, on slavery. Blacks travelled packed like sardines in the hull of a slave ship and, on their arrival in North America, they were sold. Slavery took away a person’s life. A human life belonged to the owner of a plantation, which means that life was taken away from a human being. Black lives matter. The mindset of Americans is therefore rooted in colour and status.
Racism exists in Canada. A the moment, the question is whether it is “systemic” racism (racisme structurel) or racism. Our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, says racism in Canada is systemic. At first, monsieur Legault of Quebec stated that racism in Canada is not systemic, but it seems he changed his mind. Premier Doug Ford of Ontario also believes that racism in Canada is systemic. For my part, I need to read further before I position myself. As for Dr Theresa Tam, Canada’s top doctor, she urges protesters to stay safe.
Because the Black in the United States were slaves, racism in the United States cannot be the same as racism in Canada. Canada’s racism may be systemic, but Canada’s economy did not depend on the work of slaves. Diamonds were not found on the shores of the St Lawrence River. Canada’s diamonds where its precious pelts at a time when men wore high beaver hats.
In other words, in the 17th century, survival in Nouvelle-France depended on agriculture and fur-trading. Logging was also important. Some houses were log cabin. It should also be noted that, in New France, settling would not have been possible without the Amerindians. Jacques Cartier the official discoverer of Canada made three trips to Eastern Canada. He first travelled to Canada in 1534. He took to France chief Donnacona‘s two sons and returned them to their father in 1535. They had learned French.
Cartier waited too long to return to France, so his ship(s) was locked into the ice and his men were rapidly dying of scurvy. Amerindians provided thuya occidentalis, white cedar rich in On his first trip, the French could not have gone to les pays d’en haut, the countries above or to the north, as voyageurs, in particular. They needed bark canoes and, snowshoes and the guidance Amerindians could provide. A canoe could be made in a matter of hours and the French had to work with the natives. “Survival” is a keyword in the history of Canada.
The fact remains, however, that the fur trade in Canada did not preclude abuse. The French gave trinkets and alcohol to natives who were prone to alcoholism, which outraged Monseigneur Laval, François-Xavier de Montmorency-Laval (1623-1708). But their land was not taken from Amerindians.
The Bishop of Quebec
However, in the United States, settlers deprived aboriginals of the land they had inhabited for centuries, if not millennia. American natives were sent West forcibly west of the Mississippi. The Louisiana Purchase (1803) would facilitate that process. Moreover, the French had settled in New Orleans, Nouvelle-Orléans, but the population of the rest of Louisiana consisted primarily of Aboriginals. In Canada, their land was not taken from Amerindians until what is known as Confederation (in 1867), or the birth of Canada.
There was hostility between tribes which affected New France. Iroquois captured and killed a number of French-speaking citizens of New France. Iroquois also tortured and killed eight Jesuit missionaries. They are the Canadian Martyrs. To defend the citizens of Nouvelle-France, France sent le Régiment de Carignan-Salières. Le Régiment de Carignan-Salières, soldiers, who arrived in 1759, which is during the ten years or so when les Filles du Roy, the King’s wards were sent to New France.
Before the arrival of the Filles du Roy, the French resorted to marrying the natives, which explains why some Québécois have Amerindian ancestry. Métissés Québécois never formed a nation and are not recognized as Métis. Therefore, I am métissée, but I must pay my taxes, and look after myself. Québecois are considered culturally French and we identify with France. However, I am proud of my Amerindian ancestry. It makes me feel a legitimate inhabitant of the North American continent. It appears I am also a descendant of Alix de France, Eleanor of Aquitaine‘s daughter with Louis VII, a Bourbon king.
The French lost the Seven Years’ War, called the French and Indian War in North America. France had to give some of its colonies. So when Nouvelle-France was officially ceded to Britain, Amerindians feared for their lives. They were rescued by George III’s Proclamation of 1763, which did not please Americans.
Ironically, Amerindians in the what would be Canada lost their waterfront lots beginning in 1867, when four provinces of Canada when Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Québec and Ontario confederated and bought Rupert’s Land. It was land that belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The HBC retained its trading posts, but Amerindians were eventually placed on reservations, a mixed blessing.
Louis Riel was a Métis, the most famous among Métis, and he was elected three times to Canada’s Parliament. Riel was executed on 16 November 1886 for the execution of Thomas Scott, an Orangeman (Protestant) from Ontario. The Métis thought they would participate in the creation of Canada and that it would be bilingual and Catholic, in the case of Catholic Métis. Between the Conquest, 1763, and Confederation, 1867, voyageurs were employed in the fur trade and when the beavers were nearly extant, they accompanied explorers, such as David Thomson, who married an Amerindian.
The Métis in Canada live West in or near Winnipeg and are the descendants of the voyageurs, persons who went west to collect fur from the Amerindians. But voyageurs also retired in Minnesota. When the border between Canada and the United States was traced, after the War of 1812, voyageurs trading posts were suddenly located in Minnesota, where a significant number of voyageurs retired. One of the voyageur who settled in Minnesota is Gabriel Franchère, a hero to Americans. (See Gabriel Franchère, a Hero to Americans.)
Voyageurs married Amerindians, because they could be away from Quebec for three years. Some had two wives, one west and one in Quebec. As the picture above illustrates, some had two Amerindian wives. Derek Chauvin has a French name, which suggests voyageur ancestry, but not necessarily Amerindian ancestry. Derek Chauvin has a French name. Other Métis are the descendants of the baron de Saint-Castin, who was an Amerindian chief. (See Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie, Baron de Saint-Castin.) One of my readers is a descendant of Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie, Baron de Saint-Castin.
Several Quebecers are métissés but they are not considered Métis. French-speaking Canadians identify with France, their motherland. We are culturally French, so despite our ancestry, we must pay our taxes. I like being métissée because it makes me feel that I belong just a little more than others.
Nova Scotia has a black population some of whom are part Amerindian.
However, I stand by George Floyd. His colour is an accident of birth and his ancestors. The only justice is eradicating racism and the process must start at home and in schools. We must not let children bully others.
Boat Encampment, Sketch Paul Kane, circa 1846, watercolour. Sketch made by Kane on the Columbia River, BC (courtesy Stark Foundation, Orange, Texas). (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)
North-West Rebellion: Events
Much took place during the North-West Rebellion. There were skirmishes, battles, and a massacre. For a complete list of events, one should read the University of Saskatchewan‘s North-West Resistance: Chronology of Events. Missing from this list is a battle between Amerindians. It is Gabriel Dumont’s first experience as a “warrior” and, therefore, marginal information.
In 1851, at the young age of 13, Dumont was introduced to plains warfare when he fought at the Battle of Grand Coteau, defending a Métis encampment against a large Dakota war party.
Frog Lake Massacre 2 April 1885 –Cree success
Members of Mistahimaskwa’s (Big Bear) Cree Nation led by Ayimisis (Little Bear) and Kapapamahchakwew (Wandering Spirit) kill Indian Agent Quinn and eight other whites.
Battle of Fort Pitt17 April 1885 –Cree victory
Fort Pitt is taken by warriors of Mistahimaskwa‘s (Big Bear) band. Mistahimaskwa negotiates the evacuation of the fort by the North-West Mounted Police.
Gabriel Dumont ambushes Middleton‘s column at Fish Creek.
Pitikwahanapiwiyin Cree Chief (Poundmaker) (COURTESY GLENBOW ARCHIVES) (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)
Everything that is bad has been laid against me this summer, there is nothing of it true… Had I wanted war, I would not be here now. I should be on the prairie. You did not catch me. I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted justice. Pîtikwahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker)
Amerindians (North-American “Indians”) participated in the North-West Rebellion. Pîtikwahanapiwiyin is Poundmaker and Mistahimaskwa, Big Bear (Gros Ours). Pîtikwahanapiwiyn surrendered to General Middleton at Fort Battleford. Mistahimaskwa surrendered at Fort Pitt. Kapapamahchakwew is Wandering Spirit (Esprit Errant).
Sources disagree on whether the Amerindians I have mentioned served a prison sentence or were hanged. I have read that many were hanged.
Moreover, although Amerindians had been conquered, they had been free to roam their land since Jacques Cartier claimed Canada for France, in 1534, until 1763, when Nouvelle France was ceded to England. French settlers had married Amerindian women when the number of European women in Nouvelle-France was much lower than the number of European men. (See King’s Daughters, Wikipedia.) The King’s Daughters, 800 women, arrived between 1663 and 1670. Sixty years are a long time.
The Iroquois often attacked the French settlers. They also tortured and killed missionaries (see Canadian Martyrs, Wikipedia), but other tribes, the Algonquian tribes, the Abenakis especially, were friendly tribes. Many Quebecers have Amerindian ancestry. However, it is difficult for Québécois-es to be recognized as Métis. Métis are the descendants of persons involved in the fur trade.
To a certain extent, Confederation was a mixed blessing. It created a Canada that would stretch from coast to coast, which all Canadians enjoy, but Confederation happened at a cost, as did colonialism in general.
Amerindians would be sent to Indian Reserves and their children were forced to enter Residential Schools,
Métis who had no title to their lots, lost their land and they had no status,
the execution of Louis Riel alienated the French-speaking citizens of Québec. Quebec was one of the four provinces that joined Confederation in 1867. They believed they would be able to live and maintain their culture in Quebec and outside Quebec. However, William McDougall and Orangemen were anti-Catholic, anti-French, and racist.
I will not discuss what I would call the “Amerindian question.” It is an extremely complex issue.
I reset my computer successfully. As for my diagnostic, it cannot be established with certainty. Mild cognitive impairment is a symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), which has bedevilled me for decades. In other words, all is well.
William McDougall, June 1872 (courtesy Library and Archives Canada, PA-033505). (Photo credit: The Canadian Encyclopedia)
This post is a continuation of Louis Riel, Hero or Rebel, published on 18 March 2018. The main subject matter of my earlier post was the Red River Rebellion, and résistance remains our subject matter. However, we will be focussing on William McDougall. William McDougall was the lieutenant-governor designate of Rupert’s and the North-West Territories. He and his party were prevented from entering the Red River by Métis, led by Louis Riel.
I will also introduce Gabriel Dumont, a Métis who left the Red River in 1869-1870 and settled in Saskatchewan. Dumont spoke six first nation languages and Michif-French, but did not speak English and could not write. (See Gabriel Dumont, The Virtual Museum.ca.) He went to Montana where Louis Riel taught school and asked for his assistance in petitioning the Canadian government to ensure that Métis did not lose their river lots and Amerindians, their land. In 1873, three years after the Wolseley Expedition, an emboldened Dominion of Canada had established the North-West Mounted Police and a railroad that would ensure Canada stretched from sea to sea, a Mari usque ad Mare, was under construction. The railway was a promise to British Columbia.
To some extent, we are revisiting the Red River Rebellion because there are gaps to fill. First, Riel’s story begins in the Red River Rebellion and ends in the North-West Rebellion. Métis leader Gabriel Dumont was born in the Red River settlement and he is the person who asked Louis Riel to come to Saskatchewan to help him appeal to John A Macdonald’s deafened Canadian government. Louis Riel would be hanged a few months after the Battle of Batoche which was not only the end of Riel’s story but also that of the North-West Rebellion.
Moreover, Riel had dreamed of a bilingual and multicultural Canada West, which was could not happen. Canada West would be, in its initial years, William McDougall’s Canada: English and Protestant. French Canadians were prevented from settling west of Quebec, as if there had not been a Quebec Act of 1774. As for Amerindians, they were sent to “Indian Reserves” and their children were educated in Residential Schools, despite the Royal Proclamation of 1763. (See A History of Residential Schools, CBC.ca.)
The Canadian Party
In the Red River, William McDougall, a Clear Grit, met members of the Canadian Party, two of whom were Doctor John Christian Schultz and Charles Mair. The Canadian Party supported Canada’s expansion westward, a noble cause, were it not for William McDougall who was anti-Catholic and anti-French. His world was white, English and Protestant. It was Thomas Scott’s world, who was and sentenced to death by a Métis court and then turned into a martyr in a 19th-century Orangist Ontario.
The growing threat, in his view, was ultramontane interference from Lower Canada in the civil affairs of the united province, a fear that would increasingly distort his political perception.
In April 1861, for example, McDougall indicated in a fit of pique that he would ‘look to Washington’ to rescue Canada West from ‘the control of a foreign race, and of a religion which is not the religion of the Empire.’
Therefore, one wonders why he was appointed lieutenant-governor of Rupert’s Land and the North West territories.
No poorer choice for the post could have been made, in view of the necessity for diplomatic caution in dealing with the officials of the HBC and with the lay and clerical spokesmen of the various groups at Red River. The transfer was to take place on 1 Dec. 1869.
(See Louis Riel, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)
Louis Riel was a Métis, one-eight Amerindian. Métis and Amerindians stood to lose their land, unless the future Manitoba’s entry into Canadian Confederation were carefully negotiated. Riel and his government advocated a bilingual and multicultural expansion westward. Moreover, the citizens of the Red River were Catholics and Anglicans. As for the descendants of Scottish crofters and other Scots, fur traders and their descendants, they were Presbyterians. All had lived at Red River harmoniously. Its Anglican bishop and archbishop was Robert Machray and Alexandre-Antonin Taché, its Catholic bishop and then archbishop. Under the leadership of William McDougall, who was anti-Catholic, Manitoba could have become a state and faith society, other religions not being “the religion of the Empire.”
Interestingly, both bishops and William Mactavish, the governor of Assiniboia and Rupert’s Land, warned against a premature arrival of Canadians at Red River. According to William Mactavish “as soon as the survey commences the Half breeds and Indians will at once come forward and assert their right to the land and possibly stop the work till their claim is satisfied.” Ironically, Mactavish was imprisoned by Riel, yet his wife was a countryborn, a Métis. He died of tuberculosis, in Liverpool, a few weeks after his release. (See Louis Riel, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)
Ukrainian Christmas Eve by William Kurelek, 1973
The Section Foreman’s House by William Kurelek, 1966
In July 1869, William McDougall, then minister of public works, sent a survey party to the Red River under Colonel John Stoughton Dennis. In fact, a team, including Thomas Scott, was already building a road linking Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) to Lake of the Woods. It would be called “the Dawson Road,” after Simon James Dawson, a surveyor exploring the country between Lake Superior and the Red River settlement, in 1857. Yet, the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada was to occur on 1st December 1869.
The Red River Rebellion
Under such circumstances, Métis and Amerindians had cause to fear a takeover of Red River. As well, one can understand that its inhabitants felt alarmed when “strangers” attempted to settle in the former Red River Colony. Since the arrival of tens of thousands United Empire Loyalists, including 3,000 Black Loyalists, the English-speaking population of Britain’s still new colony to the north of the United States had increased significantly.
But as noted above, on 2nd November 1869, Métis under Riel, prevented William McDougall, his family, and his entourage from entering the Red River. They were pushed back to Pembina, North Dakota. The Métis then seized Fort Garry and, beginning in December, Louis Riel was forming a Provisional Government. This story was told in Louis Riel, Hero or Rebel (20 March 2018). We also know that the Provisional Government’s “List of Rights” would be deemed acceptable. Louis Riel and his provisional government did succeed in negotiating Manitoba’s entry into Confederation
On 15 March 1870, Taché read a telegram in which Joseph Howe, the secretary of state for the provinces, stated that the “List of Rights” was “in the main satisfactory.” Delegates could go to Ottawa. On 23 and 24 March, a three-man delegation left for Ottawa. These were Abbé Ritchot, representing the Métis, Judge Black, representing the English settlers, and Henry Scott, representing the Americans.
However, Schultz and Mair arrived in Toronto before the three-man delegation and described the execution of Thomas Scott as a murder. Thomas Scott, Schultz, and Mair had plotted to overthrow Riel’s Provisional Government, but a death sentence was too cruel a punishment. Thomas Scott’s execution was turned into a murder and he was depicted as a victim and a hero. Thomas Scott was a violent man, but Riel blundered. Consequently, upon their arrival in Toronto, Noël-Joseph Ritchot and Henry Scott were detained for “abetting murder,” but released because the judge ruled that the warrant was not legal. (See Louis Riel, The Dictionary of Canadian Biography.)
Negotiations were successful. On 12 May 1870, the Manitoba Act received royal assent.
“My mission is finished,” Louis Riel
On 24 August 1870, the day the Wolseley Expedition reached Fort Garry, Louis Riel learned that the soldiers planned to lynch him. So, he left Fort Garry. Before leaving, he told Bishop Taché that his mission was finished. His mission had been a negotiated entry of Manitoba into the Canadian Confederation, but, in 1890, French ceased to be one of the two official languages of Manitoba under Premier Thomas Greenway. Bilingualism would not be revived until the Official Languages Act of 1969 and the Manitoba Act would not be recognized until the Constitution Act of 1982.
The Northwest Rebellion, A Country by Consent (CBC.ca) summarizes the North-West rebellion. Riel surrendered on 15 May, after the Battle of Batoche. He was tried, convicted of treason, and hanged, on 16 November 1885. Montreal journalist Joseph Israel Tarte, editor of Le Canadien, had this to say:
At the moment when the corpse of Riel falls through the trap and twists in convulsions of agony, at that moment an abyss will be dug that will separate Quebec from English-speaking Canada, especially Ontario.
I am publishing a page entitled Canadiana 1. It should be revised taking into account a group called Canada First and a figure: William McDougall. McDougall and his party were pushed back to North Dakota by Métis led by Louis Riel, in 1869, when they attempted to enter the Red River Colony. They wanted to build a White and Protestant Canada West and spread hatred as a means to achieve their goal. French Canadians were not wanted west of the province of Québec.
Music video of ‘À la claire fontaine‚’ (By the clear fountain/spring) performed by Vancouver choir musica intima, arrangement by Stephen Smith. My [huntn] own urban re-interpretation of the traditional French folk song.
the Hudson’s Bay Company ‘have for eighty years slept at the edge of a frozen sea; they have shewn no curiosity to penetrate farther themselves, and have exerted all their art and power to crush that spirit in others to take pelts to fur traders.’
Therefore, the HBC built trading posts inland and started to use riverways and employ voyageurs. Wikipedia has a complete list of HBC trading posts.
Winter Fishing on the Ice by Peter Rindisbacher, 1821 (Photocredit: Wikipedia)
Summer View in the environs of the Company Fort Douglas on the Red River by Peter Ridinsbacher, 1822 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Riverways were the highways of the day, which I noted in an earlier post, hence the lots of the Red River Colony being narrow and deep. Inhabitants had their boat, a canoe, “at the ready” at the river end of their lot. Swiss-born Artist Peter Ridinsbacher left a visual testimonial of this juxtaposition of lots. In the images above, one can see the canoes at the river end of narrow lots and adjoining houses. The ice was also used in winter. Peter Rindisbacher lived in the Red River Settlement at the time the fur companies, Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company were merged, in 1821.
This story has a happy beginning, despite glitches and the disastrous Battle of Seven Oaks.
The Earl of Selkirk, a philanthropist, set about finding land for the Scottish crofters who had lost their home. Many settled in Nova Scotia, i. e. New Scotland. My neighbours, Dr Cecil MacLean, professor of French at St. Francis Xavier, and the Honourable Allan J. MacEachen, one of the finest politicians in the history of Canada, were both descendants of crofters. Mr MacEachen spoke Gaelic. The video inserted at the bottom of this post tells the story of crofters Lord Selkirk helped relocate to the Red River Colony. The crofters would live in the Canadian great plains which was fine territory for farmers. They were excellent recruits.
In order to acquire the land he needed to found the Red River Colony, the Earl of Selkirk and his family bought a large number of shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). In fact, the Earl of Selkirk became the majority shareholder.
The fur trade was drawing to a close for want of beavers, which meant a complete change of lifestyle for voyageurs. Retired voyageurs, such as Louis Riel’s grandparents, Jean-Baptiste Lagimonière or Lagimodière and Marie-Anne Gaboury, settled in the future Winnipeg, However, many young voyageurs did not prove suited to farming. So, as the fur trade declined, they became guides to explorers in search of the Northwest Passage and a way to the Pacific Ocean, north of the South Pass (Wyoming). Truth be told, voyageurs and Amerindians opened up the continent, but as employees rather than employers. They were employed by explorers.
Settling the Red River Colony was extremely difficult. Allow me to quote Wikipedia:
In July 1811 Miles Macdonell sailed from Yarmouth, England to the Hudson’s Bay post at York Factory with 36 primarily Irish and Scottish settlers. Due to persuasive efforts of the North West Company only 18 settlers actually arrived at Red River in August 1812. As the planting season had ended before the settlers could complete the construction of Fort Douglas, they were forced to hunt bison for food and were completely unprepared for the arrival of 120 additional settlers in October.
In short, although crofters —farmers, were excellent recruits to the great plains, they had to face hunger. They needed pemmican from the nearly extinct “buffalo.” Pemmican was the food of the fur trade and it would also be the food of explorers. Amerindians and Métis prepared pemmican for voyageurs. Voyageurs were customers.
However, newcomers faced not only hunger, but also the coldest and harshest winters in Canada, south of the Arctic. I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan, for a year and loved it, but it was cold. However, the worst our new Canadians had to cope with, other than memories of a lost land, were warring factions: the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), chartered in May 1670 (at first, a fur-trading company), and its rival, the North West Company (NWC), founded in 1789 and headquartered in Montreal.
The Red River and the Assiniboine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Among recruits to the Red River Colony was the family of Swiss artist Peter Ridinsbacher, whose lovely watercolours depicting Aboriginals, Métis, and the Red River Colony are a precious legacy. The Ridinsbachers lived in Assiniboina or the Red River Colony. Their home was flooded in 1826, which was calamitous. Peter’s family decided to leave Assiniboina, or the Red River Colony, for the United States. (See 1826 Red River Flood, Wikipedia). They therefore moved to Wisconsin, but ended up settling in St. Louis, Missouri, where Peter died, “possibly of cholera,” (Wikipedia) at the age of 28.
Another inhabitant of Assiniboina was Swiss musician Edward Ermatinger, a Hudson’s Bay Company employee who ended up settling in St. Thomas, Ontario. His collection of the words and music of French Canadian folksongs, the voyageurs répertoire, as well as a “Red River March” he composed, may be the only connection to have come down to us.
Our fur trading companies competed not only for the best and the most pelts, but they also needed pemmican.
On 8 January 1814, fearing famine, Miles Macdonell, who was appointed first governor of Assiniboia, the Red River Colony, in 1811, issued the Pemmican Proclamation. The Pemmican Proclamation forbade the exportation of food from the Red River Colony (HBC territory), which angered both the Métis and employees of the North West Company. They believed it was a ploy on the part of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Six months later, Miles Macdonnell also issued a proclamation banning the “running” of buffalo with horses.
Hostilities culminated in the Battle of Seven Oaks (The Canadian Encyclopedia). A group of Métis had retrieved pemmican from the Hudson’s Bay Company, claiming it had been stolen. The canoes came down the Assiniboine escorted by Cuthbert Grant, an Anglo-Métis, who was the son of Cuthbert Grant père, a Nor’Wester from Scotland, and a Métis mother. Young Cuthbert was educated in Scotland.
On 19 June 1816, a band of Nor’Westers, Métis mainly, led by Cuthbert Grant (NWC) was returning from retrieving pemmican allegedly stolen by the Hudson’s Bay Company. They were to meet Nor’Westers at Fort William, but were intercepted by Robert Semple who had replaced Miles Macdonell. Semple was the governor of Rupert’s Land. A Nor’Wester, François-Firmin Boucher, was dispatched to speak to Robert Semple’s men. Someone fired a gun. Reports suggest the shot was fired by one of Semple’s men. A battle ensued which took 21 lives, including the life of Robert Semple. Only one of Cuthbert Grant’s men was killed, a 16-year-old. Discouraged, many settlers left the Red River Colony the very next day. François-Firmin Boucher spent two years in prison, but the Métis were exonerated by W. B. Coltman, a Royal Commissioner. (See The Battle of Seven Oaks, Wikipedia, Coltman’s Report, and Transcribing the Coltman Report – Crowdsourcing at Library and Archives Canada, posted on .)
The animal that roamed the great plains was often called a buffalo, which was a misnomer i.e. the wrong name. To tell the difference between the bison and the buffalo, Britannica suggests focusing on the three H’s: “home, hump, and horns.” Bison have a hump and their horns are shorter. Bison, not buffaloes, therefore lived in the great plains of North America. Interestingly, French Canadians call(ed) the buffalo a bison, which happens to be the correct name. For a very long time, I thought bison was the French translation of buffalo. It isn’t. The buffalo is un buffle in French and bison is both a French and an English word. Bison does not have a plural in English.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 empowered Amerindians and Métis. We do not know whether or not Métis residents of the Red River took the Pemmican Proclamation seriously. But it could be they didn’t. As I suggested in Louis Riel, Hero or Rebel, it is altogether possible Louis Riel looked upon his government as genuine and the execution of Thomas Scott as legitimate. But he was blamed. He could not take his seat in the House of Commons and he hid for fifteen years. Rupert’s Land belonged to North-American Indians, but colonists felt entitled to land that did not belong to them but which they claimed and then sold. John A. Macdonald’s government bought Rupert’s Land.
As for the settlers who left the Red River after the The Battle of Seven Oaks, they made the right decision, but thousands of United Empire Loyalists, those who would not live in an independent United States, took refuge in the British colony immediately north of the fledgling United States.
Despite difficult beginnings, The Red River Settlement would be a permanent settlement. We have a Winnipeg and a Saint Boniface. In the late 1860s, when Canada or William MacDougall and surveyors entered their community, the varied inhabitants of the future Winnipeg lived peacably. The Earl of Selkirk died in 1820. His death allowed a merger of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company (1821), and ended a merciless conflict.
Expedition Doubling Cape Barrow by Sir George Back, 25 July 1821, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
More on the voyageur’s personality
The explorers left testimonials about the voyageur’s personality. According to Sir John Franklin, they were “creatures of the moment.” Sir George Simpson writes that they loved to eat and that, if a piece of equipment was good, they said that it came from France or “la vieille France deLondres,” London’s old France, and were “witty.” [i]
Sir George Back (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As for the explorers, they knew the name of every single one of their voyageurs. Most of these explorers came from Scotland. Obviously the Scots and the voyageurs got along very well. By the way, the gentleman who lost so many of his voyageurs was Admiral Sir George Back, FRS [Fellow of the Royal Society] (6 November 1796 – 23 June 1878). I have therefore edited my last post accordingly and, in doing so, I discovered that Sir George Back was an excellent artist.
When they were working for explorers, the voyageurs may have transported pelts. However, when employed by explorers such as Simon Fraser and Sir Alexander MacKenzie, they did not. They were simply finding their way, dangerously, to the Pacific. At that time, they also worked for travellers who were gathering information on Canada.
HMS Terror Thrown up by Ice by Sir George Back
The Singing Voyageur
The voyageurs did sing. We know for certain that they sang mostly old French songs and that their favourite song was “À la claire fontaine.” During the ten years he was in the employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company (1819-1829), Edward Ermatinger (1797-1876) collected eleven voyageur songs. They are traditional folksongs.
As for songs composed by the voyageurs, we know of three:
Le Six mai de l’année dernière (Last Year on the Sixth of May).
The Bois-Brûlés were Dakota Amerindians. As for the Sixth of May, that was the date on which the voyageurs left for “les pays d’en-haut,” the north or, literally, the countries above.
These were published in the Beaver, a Canadian journal, by Marius Barbeau, the “founder of Canadian anthropology.” There can be no doubt that these songs are authentic voyageur songs.
Moreover, Grace Lee Nute lists voyageur songs. For the most part, the songs she discusses are well-known traditional folksongs. There are two exceptions:
C’est dans la ville de Bytown [Ottawa] (It’s in the town of Ottawa)
Parmi les voyageurs (Among the Voyageurs)
Parmi les voyageurs is unquestionably a voyageur song. However, loggers also left from Ottawa. They too had to find a living and left for the winter to work as lumberjacks. As a result, C’est dans la ville de Bytown could be a forestier song or both a voyageur and forestier song. Forestiers worked in the lumber industry. They were lumberjacks or river drivers, riding the wood down riverways.
Sadly, W. F. Wentzel’s collection of voyageur songs has been lost. W. F. Wentzel, a Norwegian trader of the far North West, was also a fine musician. He therefore transcribed voyageur songs that could have been an extremely valuable source to later generations of collectors and ethnologists.
Let us read Grace Lee Nute:
“It is a great pity nevertheless, that Wentzel’s large collection of these songs has not survived. His musical gifts added to his unusual command of languages would surely have made the collection invaluable. Moreover, he collected the songs of the voyageurs, and “mentions the indecorous quality of some of their [the voyageurs’] songs.” [ii]
Also lost are the songs of Pierre Falcon, except Les Bois Brûlés, an account of the Battle of Seven Oaks. Falcon wrote canoe songs that have probably been destroyed due to their ‘smutty’ character. Métis called themselves Bois Brûlés. They were not as dark as Amerindians.
[i] Quoted by Nute in The Voyageur (St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1987 ), pp. 244 and 255.
[ii] “Mr W. F. Wentzel, Letters to the Hon. Roderic McKenzie, 1807-1824,” in Masson, Les Bourgeois, 1:71. Quoted in Nute’s The Voyageur, p. 155.
I am including, below, Blanche comme la neige, a folksong. Sir Ernest MacMillan composed a choral setting of this song. I do not have Sir Ernest’s setting, but we have the song. Blanche comme la neige is featured as a Christmas song, but it could be a song about winter and purity. It tells the story of a young woman who feigned death not to be raped. She is placed in a coffin and discovered, three days later, by her father. She tells him she has preserved her virginity: “pour mon honneur garder,” (to keep my honour).
One of the McGarrigle sisters died in 2010. It saddens me to know that they are now forever separated. Besides, it is difficult to find good renditions of folksongs. I do not know the origin of Ce matin.
Several books have been written about the voyageurs, but Grace Lee Nute is our pioneer. She published her The Voyageur in 1931 (D. Appleton and Company). That book is still one’s best reference.
The Voyageur‘s clothes
At the beginning of her second chapter, Nute quotes missionnary Sherman Hall:
[m]y man dresses himself in the habit of a voyageur, that is, a short shirt, a red woolen cap, a pair of deer skin leggins which reach from the ancles a little above the knees and are held up by a string secured to a belt about the waiste, the aziōn [breech cloth] of the Indians, and a pair of deer skin moccasins without stocking on the feet. The thigh are left bare. This is the dress of voyageurs in summer and winter.[i]
As Grace Lee Nute writes, there are missing items: “a blue capote, the inevitable pipe, a gaudy sash.” The gaudy sash is “une ceinture fléchée,” a wool belt with an arrow (une flêche) design, made by French Canadians. It resembles the Irish woven belt but is wider and features the arrows.
Nute adds that the voyageur also wore a “gay beeded bag or pouch hung from the sash,” quite similar to the Scottish Highlander’s hair horse sporran. The voyageur stood out in a crowd.
Dr Bigsby, whom we will meet in my next voyageur post,
was disappointed and not a little surprised at the appearance of the voyageurs. On Sundays, as they stand round the door of the village churches, they are proud dress fellows in their parti-coloured sashes and ostrich-feathers; but here they were a motley set to the eye: but the truth was that all of them were picked men, with extra wages as serving in a light canoe [ii]
hivernants (winterers): they stayed during the winter, trading and manning the “fort;”
hommes du Nord (northern men): outstanding voyageurs who travelled further inland and opened up Forts from Athabasca to Fort Vancouver, established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821. Sometimes these voyageurs accompanied explorers such as Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (17 November 1685 – 5 December 1749) and his four sons and Simon Fraser (20 May 1776 – 18 August 1862), an employee of the North West Company until its merger with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821.
mangeurs de lard (pork-eaters), who went back and forth between Montreal and trading posts such as Grand-Portage.
One voyageur song is entitled “Épouser le voyage,” or to marry thevoyage. The voyageur saw his work as a profession. As for the canoe, it was his home. Voyageurs travelled in their canoe and the canoe was the voyageur’s roof for the night. He slept underneath his upside-down canoe.
Origins of the Canoe
A voyageur learned how to make a canoe from what he could find in the wood. The birchbark canoe was of course borrowed from the Amerindians, but it was pointed out to me that there is a resemblance between the Longships used by Vikings and the York boat. However, the York boat was a boat, not a canoe. Yet the canoe resembled the Longships, except that it was relatively small. Europeans have long fished off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. There is a pre-history to history (recorded history) just as there is an oral tradition preceding the written tradition.
In Newfoundland, there is a town named Port aux Basques, which would indicate that Basques fishermen probably fished nearby or used the channel located close to Port aux Basques. The Trans-Canada highway ends, or begins, at Port aux Basques.
“In building a canoe, bark is stripped from the birch, placed inside a staked frame, sewn and attached. Ribs are fixed in position and seams sealed with spruce gum (artwork by Lewis Parker).” [iii]
There were several types of canoes used by voyageurs, but the first two were the most important.
“The famous canot du maître or canot de Montréal, on which the fur trade depended, was up to 12 m long and carried 6 to 12 crew and a load of 2300 kg over the route from Montréal to Lake Superior.” [iv]
“The smaller canot du nord or North canoe carried a crew of 5 or 6 and a cargo of 1360 kg over the smaller lakes, rivers and streams of the Northwest.” [v]
The canot bâtard or bastard canoe was a mid-size canoe.
However, voyageurs also used Amerindian canoes.
“The birchbark canoe of the Algonkian peoples was ideal for travel by rivers and lakes separated by narrow watersheds or portages (artwork by Lewis Parker).” [vi]
“The Kootenay-Salish canoe was built for the rapid rivers of southern BC, with both ends extending out under the water (artwork by Lewis Parker).” [vii]
The York Boat was named after the Hudson’s Bay Co’s York Factory. “It was one of 3 types of inland boats (the others being scows and sturgeon-heads) used by the HBC, and the most suitable for lake travel.” [viii]