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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter X - The Surrender of the North West Territories by the Hudson's Day Company


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 Transfer—Its Importance.

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.

Emerging triumphant 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 believe.

O. W hat is the date of the petition?

A. It was about 1846, at the time of the excitement connected with the Oregon Boundary Question.

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 Canada.

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."

Consequently this 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 places.

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 recommendations:

"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 Session.

"Printer's No. 266.

"H. R. 754-

"IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

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.

Taylor's correspondence 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 security."

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.

Thirdly—That, until thorough surveys were made, the possibility of the construction of a remunerative line of railway to Lake Superior could not be estimated.

Fourthly—That even 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.

Accordingly the Administrator concluded that "until a safe communication for military purposes is completed between Canada and Fort Garry,

3 Dated December 17th, 1861.

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.

"Your Majesty's 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.

"Your Majesty's 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.

"Your Majesty's 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.

"Wherefore, your 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 subjects.

"And as in duty bound they will ever pray.

"(Signed) Tuos. Srence and Others.

"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.' Carried."

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 surrender.

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.


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