Attack ox H. B. Co.'s
Charter, 1749—Renewal and Revision of Charter, 1821—Correspondence of
1837-38, With Renewal for 21 Years—Agitation Revived in House of Commons
1849—Local Inconvenience Caused by Exclusion of British Hunters from
American Territory, 1856—Annexation Propaganda—Influence of Canadian
Exploring Parties—Report of Committee of 1857—Deadlock—Trade Monopoly
Surrendered, 1859—James W. Taylor's Reports to Congress—Bill Introduced
at Washington for Annexation of British America, 1866—Weakness of Local
Government—Proposed Conquest of Central British America, 1861 and
1867—Memorial to the Queen—Carnarvon's Objections to Immediate Union of
Rupert's Land to Canada— Petition from Portage La Prairie
Settlement—McDougall's Resolution in Canadian Parliament—Canadian
Delegates Confer with Hudson's Bay Co.—Conditions of Transfer Accepted,
1869—Surrender by Hudson's Bay Co. Confirmed, June 23, 1870—Terms of
The transfer of the
North West, including what is now the Province of Saskatchewan, from the
jurisdiction of the Hudson's Pay Company to that of the Dominion of
Canada involves an interesting story. Some of the most remarkable
incidents in connection with this momentous surrender has been all but
forgotten by the Canadians of the present generation, and to recall them
should be valuable, especially to the sons and daughters of the new
provinces that have arisen in what was once the Hudson's Bay Company's
territory. The very fact that these provinces are today part of the
British Empire is itself a result of the action of the company and of
the Governments of Canada and the United Kingdom half a century ago.
The agitation for the
cancellation of the extraordinary rights and privileges exercised by the
Hudson's Bay Company dated back to more than a century even from that
time. In 1749, as we have seen elsewhere, an unsuccessful attempt was
made in the British Parliament to deprive the company of its charter on
the [ilea of "non-user." One of the duties devolving upon it according
to the terms of its charter, was that of promoting colonization and
settlement, hut in the year mentioned the company had only some four or
five forts on all the coast of Hudson's Bay, and employed only one
hundred and twenty servants, though it had been carrying on an enormous
trade for over eighty years.
from this battle with its enemies in the British Parliament, the great
corporation entered upon the prolonged struggle with rival companies,
which has been treated of in an earlier chapter. This rivalry involves
the establishment of a very large number of trading centres throughout
the whole western area of British America, and culminated in the
amalgamation of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company in
1821.' The lease was renewed for a period of twenty-one years.
Under the legislation
of 1821 the criminal and civil jurisdiction of Canadian Courts had been
extended into the company's territories, but provision was made for the
maintenance of concurrent jurisdiction on the part of the company, and.
as a matter of fact, the Canadian authorities had very little occasion
to exercise their powers. Generally speaking, the whiles in the West had
seemed pretty well satisfied with the company's policy and methods. In
1837, however, the Dickson disturbance took place, when that self-styled
"Liberator of the Indian Race" assembled his half-breed followers and
attempted to raise a revolt in the Red River Settlement.
In February of 1837,
Governor Polly called the attention of the Government to the approaching
termination of the grant of exclusive trade and proposed its renewal.
The country in which the Hudson's Bay Company then traded was divided
into four districts, known as the Northern, Southern, Columbia and
Montreal Departments. In these were 136 establishments, employing 25
chief factors, 27 chief traders, 152 clerks, and about 1,200 regular
servants, besides the occasional labor of a great number of natives in
boating and other services.
Lord Glenelg turned the
matter over to the Board of Trade, which body advised him that it would
approve the extension of the charter for a definite period. Glenelg
emphasized the necessity of protecting the present and future colonies
within the Hudson Bay Territories and of exempting them from the
company's jurisdiction. Consequently in 183S Glenelg's secretary wrote
Governor Polly. proposing the extension of the grant subject to such
exemption for settled communities. The charter was renewed accordingly
on this basis for another period of twenty-one years, at a yearly rental
of five shillings.
In 1849 another
agitation adverse to the company's monopoly was aroused in the British
House of Commons by Mr. A. K. Isbister, and a select committee was
appointed to determine the status of the Hudson's Bay Company with
respect to territory, trade, taxation and government. Little came of
this investigation so far as the British Government was concerned, but
it gave support and encouragement to the resistance of the company's
monopoly in which James Sinclair figured so prominently.
In 1856 the discontent
of the inhabit ants was further augmented by a proclamation issued under
the instructions of the President of the United States, notifying "such
of the inhabitants of the British Possessions as are in the habit of
crossing the boundary line between the United States and Great Britain
(49th Parallel of North Latitude) for the purpose of hunting and
trapping, etc., on American soil, that such depredation will no longer
be permitted." This proclamation was probably issued with the idea that
the people of the Red River settlement would agitate for annexation to
the United States if they found themselves cut off from access to the
buffalo country. These hunting grounds stretched across the line to the
Missouri, and to them the British settlers annually resorted to procure
skins and provisions.
Indeed, ten years
earlier, a petition had gone from Assiniboia to the American Government.
In the recorded evidence of Mr. Isbister before the House of Commons
Committee in London the following questions and answers occur:
Q. Is it within your
knowledge that any application or complaint was ever made to the
Government of America 011 the subject?
A. There was a petition
addressed by the Red River Settlers to the American Government, I
O. W hat is the date of
A. It was about 1846,
at the time of the excitement connected with the Oregon Boundary
O. What was the general
purport of the petition?
A. I believe that they
desired tbe .American Government to annex the Red River Territory to the
United States, and promised their assistance against the Hudson's Bay
Company in the event of war.
The prestige of the
Company was also being weakened by the activities of the Canadian
exploring parties under Talliser, and later under Dawson and Hind, whom
everyone looked upon as forerunners of a change of sovereignty.
In 1857 a committee of
the House of Commons drew up a lengthy report on the Hudson's Bay
Company and its affairs. In this document it was pointed out that
districts in the Red River and Saskatchewan were among those likely to
be desired for early occupation, and the hope was expressed that there
would be "no difficulty in effecting arrangements as between Her
Majesty's Government and the Hudson's Hay Company by which these
districts may be ceded to Canada on equitable principles." The Privy
Council believed it to be desirable that for the present the Company
"should continue to enjoy the privilege of exclusive trade," but
recommended that a bill should be prepared forthwith to lay the
foundation for a new order of affairs.
In the controversies of
1857 the interests of Canada were represented by Chief Justice Draper,
C. P., who presented important arguments supporting the claim that
considerable territory under the sway of the Hudson's Bay Company
rightfully belonged to Canada already. He quoted a letter from the
Company dated 1796, in which it was asked that the French be prohibited
from travelling or driving trade "beyond the midway between Canada and
Albany Fort." The Company had defined its territory as then including
"but a very small district of land from the South-East of the Bay
necessary for a frontier." This line would have given to the authorities
of French Canada territories now claimed as within those of the Hudson's
Bay Company. The claim to all the country the waters of which ran into
the Hudson Bay was not advanced until considerably later, and in the
meantime Canadian traders had well established themselves in the
disputed district. The Hon. William McGillivray, in 1818, had stated
under oath that there were no Hudson Bay traders established in the
Indian country about Lake Winnipeg or the Red River for eight or nine
years after he had been used (as a partner in the North-West Company) to
trade in that country. However, the vested interests and long admitted
rights and privileges of the Great Company were too strong to be
imperilled by any such legal subtleties as those advanced on behalf of
In this same year,
1857, a petition signed by 959 settlers at the Red River and by the
leading Indian Chiefs had been addressed to the Canadian Legislature
with a view to the annexation of the North-West Territories to Canada,
but in vain. In 1858, the Governor of the Company was advised by the
Home Government that the license would be renewed for a further term of
twenty-one years, after its expiration on the 30th of May, T859, subject
to certain conditions. Vancouver Island, and any other present and
prospective colonies should be definitely excluded from the jurisdiction
of the Company, and the boundary between the Hudson Bay Territory and
Canada should be authoritatively determined. Districts suitable for
settlement should be rendered free for annexation to Canada. Her
Majesty's Government proposed that the pecuniary compensation due the
Company should be set-led by a Board of three committees, representing
respectively Canada, the Company and the Home Government. Until these
propositions the Company expressed themselves in general agreement, but
an impasse was presently reached, delaying for several years a solution
of the difficulty.
The Company was quite
prepared to acquiesce in the submission to the Privy Council of the
question of the extent of its territory, but refused to be a party to
any proceeding which was to call in question the actual; validity of its
Charter. Accordingly, in 1859, the Home Government suggested as an
interim settlement the issue of a fresh license of monopoly, valid only
for one year. The Governor of the Company replied that "the intelligence
of the renewal of the license for a year would not even reach a large
portion of the posts of the Company before that period had expired. If
better means can be devised for maintaining order and peace in the
Indian country, and for the protection of the Indian tribes from the
evils which have hitherto been found inseparable from competition in the
trade, as well as for the colonization and agricultural improvement of
the territory, the question of the abolition of the Hudson's Pay Company
should only he one of just indemnity to the shareholders for their legal
rights and interests."
proposition was rejected by the Company, and after 1859 the monopoly of
the trade was not again renewed. The Company, however, still continued
to exercise the right of administration.
In 1861 there appeared
at Port Garry an American official who was long and prominently
associated with public life in Western Canada, and in Fort Garry, or
Winnipeg, in particular. This was James W. Taylor, a special agent sent
by the Hon. H. P. Chase, the Secretary of the American Treasury, to
investigate conditions in North-West British America, in their bearing
upon American interests. In a letter to his superiors at Washington,
dated July, 1S61, Mr. Taylor wrote as follows:
"I anticipate also, if
further exploration shall attract the attention of the world to the
sources of the Saskatchewan and Athabasca in the same degree as in 1858
to Praser River, that the scale will be decisively turned in favor of
the following measures, which are even now prominent in London.
1. An Act of Parliament
organizing a Crown colony North-West of Minnesota, with an inhabitable
area of 300,000 square miles.
2. A Union of all the
American provinces of England, having for a prominent object a common
highway from ocean to ocean on British territory.
3. An overland mail, to
be speedily followed by colonization, adequate to the achievement and
support of a continental railway.
"One thing is very
apparent; unless the English Government shall promptly respond to the
manifest destiny of the great interior of British America—the basin of
Lake Winnipeg—the speedy Americanization of that fertile district is
inevitable. The indispensable requisites to the integrity of British
Dominion on this continent are such action in behalf of the Saskatchewan
and Red River districts as the Fraser River excitement secured for the
area fronting on the North Pacific three years since."
For a time much anxiety
seems to have been aroused by the presence of a considerable military
force on the American Frontier. However, in March, j 864, an armed
American force was given permission to cross the line to attack refugee
Sioux Indians, it being only stipulated that no blood should be •shed in
houses or enclosures of the settlers if the Sioux took refuge in these
In 1866, Sir Edmund
Head called the attention of the Home Government to Taylor's remarkable
reports. He spoke of the recent gold discoveries along the Saskatchewan
and of the probability of an inrush of settlers, and added the following
"We think therefore
that we are the more bound most respectfully to suggest whether, if it
is intended to retain the territory north of the 40th Parallel as
British soil, some steps ought not to be taken for asserting its British
character, and maintaining law and order within it.
"This may, no doubt,
either be effected by the direct action of the English Government, or be
attempted by the agency of Canada, but, as we understood the latter
course to have been deliberately selected, the Committee (provided the
Company are fairly dealt with, in the matter of compensation) can have
no right to offer any remarks on the subject."
How urgent the
situation really was, and how seriously the Americans were considering
the propriety of annexing the British West, is indicated in the
following facsimile of the preamble to a bill introduced this year in
the American Congress:
"39TJ1 Congress, 1st
"Printer's No. 266.
"H. R. 754-
"IN THE HOUSE OF
July 2, 1866.
"Read twice, referred
to the Committee of Foreign Affairs, and ordered to be printed.
"Mr. Baker, on leave,
introduced the following bill:
"A BILL for the
admission of the states of Nova Scotia. New Brunswick, Canada East and
Canada West, and for the organization of the territories of Selkirk,
Saskatchewan, and Columbia.
"The opening by ns of
the North Pacific Railway seals the destiny of the British Possessions
west of the 91st Meridian. They will become so Americanised in interests
and feelings that they will be in fact severed "from the new Dominion,
and the question of their annexation will be but a question of time.
Next year Governor
McTavish called attention to serious Indian outbreaks that had occurred
within the sight of Fort Garry. The culprits were Americans and
immediately escaped across the border. Out of this outrage had developed
a violent animosity towards the Indians, and one of them had been
murdered by a half-breed within the very walls of the Fort.
"The Half-breed is now
in gaol," said the Governor, "awaiting his trial for murder at the
August quarterly court. No attempt has yet been made to set him free,
but many are of the opinion that the attempt will yet be made, and in
the circumstances in which the Government here is placed will, if made,
probably be successful, as for some time past the Government may be said
to have existed on sufferance." Note the ominous phrase with which the
foregoing quotation closes.
The Blackfeet were also
reported to be in a very unsettled and violent frame of mind, and
altogether the Government had plenty cause for anxiety. It was well
known that mischievous persons were at work in the Red River settlement
inciting to resistance of the established Government, and the local
authorities begged for military aid from the Home Government.
contains quotations from the Wortester newspaper, referring to unchecked
disorders and commenting upon the situation in the following terms :
"This is a signal proof
of what we have frequently affirmed, that the Government at Red River is
unsuited to the times. We require a change; we need more vigor, more
energy, more strength, more vigilance, more general effectiveness. Let
it come how it may, and whence it may, but a change is absolutely
necessary. Allowing that we should have to pay some taxes, we would
rather do that and have security of life and property than continue to
be under a rule which is cheap, certainly, but which fails to afford
The following paragraph
from Taylor's report makes rather startling reading:
"I hasten, sir, to lav
before you these facts in regard to the Red River settlement, as
confirming my conviction that no portion of the British territory on
this continent is so assailable, so certain of occupation by American
troops in case of a war with England as Fort Garry and the immense
district thence extending along the valley of the Saskatchewan to the
Rocky Mountains. If our struggle is to he in the fullest sense a
struggle for national existence, against foreign foes as well as
domestic traitors, Minnesota, however remote from the scenes of the
southern insurrection, will claim the distinction of a winter campaign
for the conquest of Central British America. I append a rough diagram,
exhibiting that portion of British territory (enclosed in heavy black
lines), which one thousand hardy Minnesotans, aided by the French,
American and half-breed population could seize before the 4th of March."
So anxious was the
Hudson's Bay Company at this time to have troops sent to Fort Garry that
their Governor in London offered on behalf of the Company to pay for
their transport both ways, and for their maintenance. When the American
force, however, departed from rembina it was no longer possible to argue
that British interests at large were imperilled by it. Nevertheless, in
spite of the objections of the General commanding in Canada, the
Colonial Secretary was convinced of the necessity for the presence of a
military force of some description, and orders were sent for 120 men of
the Royal Canadian Rifles to proceed to Fort Garry. But for this
imperial protection it is probable that the West would have been invaded
by Fenian filibusters in 1867.
From Montreal the
officers administering the Government forwarded on the nth of February,
1867, a series of resolutions adopted at a public meeting of inhabitants
of the Red River settlement. They wished to join confederation, and to
have a detachment of troops. A committee had also been formed by them to
prepare a memorial to the Queen, Andrew McDermott, Esq., Dr. Schultz,
Colonel Robinson and Mr. Spence. This memorial was signed by eighty-four
persons and dated from the Red River settlement January 17, 1867.
In his dispatch to the
Earl of Carnarvon the Canadian Administrator advised against the
immediate union of the Hudson's Bay territory to Canada, or the creation
of a crown colony at the Red River, for the following reasons:
First—That at present
the channel of all the trade to and from the Red River settlement was in
the hands of the United States.
Secondly—That it was
doubtful whether water communication, save for defensive purposes, could
ever be made from the settlement to Lake Superior.
thorough surveys were made, the possibility of the construction of a
remunerative line of railway to Lake Superior could not be estimated.
supposing a water communication or a railway were opened from Fort Garry
to Lake Superior, all use of it in time of war would be impossible,
unless a British gunboat fleet could enter that lake.
Administrator concluded that "until a safe communication for military
purposes is completed between Canada and Fort Garry,
3 Dated December 17th,
either the union of the
Hudson's Hay Territory to Canada, or the creation of a crown colony at
the Red River settlement, would be a source of weakness and danger to
Canada and England."
Later in the same year,
however, still another noteworthy petition, to which we alluded in
Chapter IX, was forwarded from Portage la Prairie. At the risk of
repetition it seems worth while reproducing it here at length :
"To Her Most Gracious
Majesty Queen Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, etc., etc.,
etc., in Council assembled.
"The Memorial of the
Inhabitants of Portage la Prairie Settlement, in Rupert's Land, British
North America, humbly showeth,
"That in consequence of
British law and protection only extending through the Council of
Assiniboia for a radius of fifty miles round Fort Garry, your Majesty's
loyal subjects, inhabitants of this settlement, arc left totally without
law or protection, civil or criminal, and wholly different from any part
of the British Empire;
"That this settlement
contains a population of nearly 500, exclusive of Indians, and although
nearer to the United States frontier than the adjoining settlement of
Red River, and notwithstanding its vastly superior agricultural
resources and climate, your Majesty's loyal memorialists are left
helpless to develop the same or to attract immigration, from the want of
law and protection.
memorialists would here humbly represent that, in the opinion of
settlers here, farmers who have immigrated from Canada, this settlement
and the country extending westward for hundreds of miles is proved by
actual experience to be one of the richest agricultural countries in the
world, and is even acknowledged by the Government of the State of
Minnesota, in its immigration pamphlets, to be vastly superior.
memorialists would further humbly represent that, with the proper
machinery to develop the resources of this vast, rich and beautiful
country, it would become the most attractive point of emigration in the
British Empire, and that the facilities offered by Nature for the
construction of a railway to the Rocky Mountains, for cheapness of
construction is unequalled, being one vast prairie, and wooded level,
and the depth of snow in winter rarely exceeds a few inches.
memorialists humbly trust that with the confederation of the British
North American provinces the time has arrived when they may fairly urge
upon your Majesty's Government the importance of favorably considering
this memorial, and immediate action hereon, or your Majesty's Royal
sanction for our development, under the care and protection of the
Confederate Government of British North America, in the interim of a
final settlement with the Hudson's Bay Company.
Majesty's memorialists humbly pray that your Gracious Majesty may be
pleased to cause action to be taken as will give immediate protection to
your Majesty's loyal memorialists, and the privileges of British
"And as in duty bound
they will ever pray.
"(Signed) Tuos. Srence
"Caledonia, Portage la
Prairie, "i June, 1867."
A week or ten days
later similar representations were made4 by Messrs. Spence, McLean.
Garvin Garnoch, Corrigal, Thomas Anderson, Sinclair, F. A. Bird, C.
Whiteford, Hay and their friends. At the meeting when these
representations were drawn up in the store of Mr. Spence it was "moved
by Mr. Hay, and seconded by Mr. J. Whiteford, 'That the Honorable George
Brown. M. P., be requested to present a copy of these resolutions and
memorial at the first Confederate Parliament, and move to bring in a
bill for the temporary protection of this settlement under the
Confederate Government, with llcr Gracious Majesty's sanction.'
Accordingly within a
month of the meeting of the first Parliament of the Dominion, the Hon.
William McDougall brought forward a series of resolutions praying for
the union of Rupert's Land and the Territories with Canada, and Sir
George A. Cartier and Mr. McDougall were in 1868 sent to England as
Canadian delegates to confer with tbe Hudson's Bay Company. Terms were
arranged, and an Act was passed by the Imperial Parliament in the same
year authorizing the change of control. The proposed arrangement was
accepted by the Canadian Parliament in June, 1869, and 011 November 19th
the Company made its surrender to Her Majesty. On June 23rd of the
following year an Order in Council was issued at Windsor confirming the
Under the terms of the
transfer, the Company's special rights were extinguished in
consideration of the payment of three hundred thousand pounds sterling
by the Dominion and the recognition of the Company's right to claim, in
any township within the fertile belt, one-twentieth of the land set out
for settlement. The boundaries of this fertile belt were decided as
follows: "On the South by the United States boundary: on the West by the
Rocky Mountains; on the North by the northern branch of the
Saskatchewan; on the East by Lake Winnipeg and the Lake of the Woods
with the waters connecting them." In 1867. in accordance with the
Dominion Lands Act, it was agreed that "the said one-twentieth will be
exactly met by alloting in every fifth township the whole of sections
eight and twenty-six. and in each and every other township, the whole of
section eight, and the South half of section twenty-six." The Company,
of "course, retained its liberty to carry on its trade in its corporate
capacity, and it was agreed that no exceptional tax was to be placed on
the Company's land, trade or servants. While the terms of the surrender
had been under consideration the London directors had officially
informed tbe employees that "should the Company surrender their
chartered rights, they would expect compensation for the officers and
servants as well as for the proprietors." The spirit and letter of these
promises were forgotten when the surrender was made— a circumstance
pregnant with trouble for the future.
The retired servants of
the Company, with their families, included very many of the whites, a
large proportion of the English Half-breeds and the great majority of
the French Half-breeds in the British West. As we have previously
pointed out, these people believed that one-tenth of the territory
formerly ceded to Selkirk belonged rightfully to themselves and their
heirs, and that these lands were therefore legally incapable of being
surrendered by the Hudson's Bay Company. These facts seem to have been
deliberately concealed bv the Company during the progress of
negotiations with the Governments of the United Kingdom and Canada.
Consequently the people of the East never to this day have been able to
understand the bitter sense of wrong cherished especially by the
Half-breeds of the West. Those who were in a position to realize their
grievance cooperated in a conspiracy of silence. This was a primary
cause of the troubles of 1870 and 1885.
However, whatever may
have been the errors attending the annexation of the British North West
to Canada, the importance of the transfer cannot be exaggerated. Already
the danger to British connections was serious indeed, and within the
territories themselves the old regime had become an impossible
anachronism. A "government existing on sufferance" is not a government
at all, and in 1870 the condition of the British possessions from the
Lake of the Woods to the Pacific Ocean was one closely approaching
anarchy. No mighty upheaval occurred, but the dangers incident to the
situation must be apparent to every thoughtful reader. Many strong
reasons were urged, both in the East and in the West, against the
annexation of Rupert's Land to Canada; its justification lay in the fact
that there was no alternative if British territory in America were to be
preserved intact and escape a deluge of blood.