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The Selkirk Concession

In 1809, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, and two others Scots, bought into the Hudson's Bay Company. In an effort to mitigate the desperate condition of a large number of the people living on his land in Scotland, Lord Selkirk organized settlement on land near the Red River. He convinced the shareholders of the Hudson's Bay Company to grant him 300 000 km2 of land in what is now Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota. In return for this concession, Lord Selkirk promised to provide the Company with 200 employees per year, to allow it to set up trading posts on the colony's territory, to forbid the colonists from taking part in the fur trade and to provide land to Company employees wishing to retire.

In 1811, the colonization of the Selkirk concession was going well, in spite of climate-related difficulties. The aims of this colonization did not seem to be related strictly to immigration, however. The Métis living in this territory supplied the North West Company, a rival of the Hudson's Bay Company, with pemmican. Setting up a colony on this part of the territory would have destabilized the bison population. As bison were essential for the production of pemmican, this would have adversely affected the North West Company. Setting up a permanent colony would also have strengthened the claim of the Hudson's Bay Company on this territory.

Conflicts with the Métis populations began a few years later. As a result of the pemmican war, the Hudson's Bay Company named a new governor, Robert Semple, who took stern measures, burning down Fort Gibraltar.

To express their displeasure, the Métis organized an attack in May 1816. Cuthbert Grant, on the Métis side, and Governor Semple, faced each other at Seven Oaks. What began as a more-or-less peaceful confrontation results in tragedy: 21 colonists and one Métis were killed.

After a series of skirmishes between 1815 and 1819, relations between the colonists and the Métis calmed down and life returned to a more normal course. The confrontation at Seven Oaks, however, would have a strong impact on the identity of the Métis. It gave them a sense of community and belonging. This would prove very important in the years that followed, especially with the arrival of Louis Riel 50 years later.

Sources

Bowers, Vivien ; Garrod, Stan. -- L'Ouest et son histoire. -- Montréal: Trécarré, 1988. -- P. 134 -- 139.

Friesen, Gerald. -- The Canadian Prairie: A history. -- Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984. -- P.  69  -  83.