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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter XV - Laird's Administration and Councils, 1876-1881


David Laird—The Debt Owed Him by the West—Members of His Council—Livingstone, Swan River, the Provisional Capital— Humors of the Early Journals—Petitions for Schools—First Legislation of the Council—Indian Troubles, and Treaty Number Six—Territorial Budget—Transfer of Government to Battleford, 1877—The Civil Marriage Controversy—The Council Asks the Settlement of All Halfbreed Claims— Danger ok an Indian Outbreak—First Provision in Aid of Schools—Difficulties Regarding Electoral Districts—Dilatory Conduct of the Federal Authorities—Third Session of Council, 1879—Laird Resigns Supicrintendency of Indian Affairs—Newspaper Comment—Disappearance of the Buffalo —Appeal to Princess Louise—Disaffection of Beardy's Band— Delay in Forwarding Treaty Money—Volunteer Militia Company—Protests Against Federal Maladministration— Dewdney Becomes Indian Commissioner—First Electoral Districts Proclaimed—Constitutional Difficulties—Hard Times —Mail Service—Visits of Lord Dufferin and the Marquis of Lorne—Laird's Subsequent Career.

When, on October 7, 1876, the Honorable David Laird became Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories, a new era was opened alike in the government and the development of the West. Air. Laird was already well known to the public as a journalist and statesman. He had been a member of the Haythorne administration in Prince Edward Island, and was a delegate to Ottawa from the island colony when negotiations were undertaken for its entry into the Dominion. In 1873 be was elected to the House of Commons, and in Air. Mackenzie's administration he held the office of Minister of the Interior. In that capacity, as we have seen in a previous chapter, he had already played a very important part in relation to the negotiation of Indian treaties, especially the Treaty of Qu'Appelle. Mr. Laird was subject to his share of acrimonious party criticism, but now that the smoke of battle has cleared away it is agreed on all hands that there are few men who have given to the West services more characterized by fairness, breadth of sympathy, integrity and public spirit. The following paragraph is quoted from a well-known publicist who, though a political opponent, was cognizant of the problems confronting our first resident Governor:

"Mr. Laird's position was far from being a sinecure. His time was taken up with receiving deputations of discontented and often defiant savages. His residence was the central figure of an Indian encampment, for his followers loved to observe and comment upon his every movement, and his kitchen was an Indian restaurant, where meals were served at all hours while the guests waited. To add to the pleasure of his environments, his actions and motives were misconstrued and misrepresented by some of the eastern newspapers, which were ready with their criticism despite the fact that they displayed a vast ignorance of everything pertaining to the North West in the very articles in which they censured the Lieutenant-Governor. The North West owes a great deal to Mr. Laird; more than can be realised by those who only know the country in the present conditions of established civilization and peace." 1

What may be termed an inside opinion of Mr. Laird's administration was expressed by Honorable Senator Forget, Lieutenant-Governor of Saskatchewan, when the corner-stone of the Legislative and Executive building of that province was laid on October 1909, by His Excellency, Earl Grey, then Governor-General of Canada. Honourable Mr. Forget who declared the stone well and truly laid, then remarked:

"Before resuming my seat I wish to say that it was the intention of the members of the Government of the Province to have the latter part of this ceremony, that is, the witnessing of the laying of this stone and the declaration of its being duly done, performed by the Honorable David Laird, first Lieutenant-Governor of the North West Territories, of which this Province was then a part. The connection of the Honorable Mr. Laird with the events of those early days and the very great services rendered by him to the whole West in those difficult times eminently entitled him to this privilege. We therefore deeply regret his inability to be present here on this interesting day. Personally, having had the advantage as his secretary during the whole of his term of office of living in his close intimacy, I was in consequence in a position to know and fully appreciate his worth to the country as an administrator. For these and other personal reasons I particularly deplore his not being with us."

The original Council consisted of the Governor, with Amedee E. Forget, Clerk of the Council, Matthew Ryan and Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Richardson as members cx-officio in their capacity as stipendiary magistrates, and Lieutenant-Colonel James F. McLeod, C. M. G., Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police, who held his seat at first by special appointment and later cx-officio. To these names that of Paschal Prelaud, who bad rendered such valuable assistance to Lieutenant-Governor Morris, was presently added. Before Governor Laird's regime ended, the Council also included the Honorable Lawrence Clarke, Hudson Bay Company's chief factor, who was chosen by the voters of Lome in the first election held in the North West, 1S81.

The members of the Council were sworn in 011 November 27, 1876. at Livingstone, Swan River, where the first session of the Territorial Council was also held in March, 1877, pending tbe erection of Government buildings at Battleford. Livingstone was therefore the first provisional capital of the North West.

It is hard to restrain a smile as one reads the journals of this miniature legislative body. It was possessed of a thoroughly adequate conception of its own dignity, and duly observed time-honoured customs in accordance with which, for example, the Governor would make his speech from the throne to his three or four associates, and they in turn would present an address in reply. From time to time, however, the entries in the journals indicate some of the difficulties attendant upon the conduct of public affairs by so small a group of legislators, required to travel vast distances to attend their official meetings. Such entries as the following are not uncommon:

"At two o'clock p. 111. His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor took the chair.

"Present . . . Mr. Ryan.

"There not being a quorum of members present, His Honor adjourned the Council."

To attend the session at Swan River, Colonel MacLeod was obliged to travel from MacLeod to Franklin, thence by rail to St. Paid and Moore-head, by stage to Winnipeg, and from there by dog train 330 miles to the provisional capital.

It is interesting to note the nature of the first petitions laid 011 the table of the Council:

"No. 1. Petition of Alexander Stuart praying to be granted a ferry license on the South Saskatchewan.

"No. 2. Petition of John Tanner praying that he may be authorized to charge tolls on his bridge on the Little Saskatchewan.

"No. 3. Petition of Moise Ouellette and Tierre Landry praying support for a school at St. Laurent."

Thus the question of education forced itself upon the Council from the very first, but that body found itself in a very unfortunate position in treating of the matter. The attitude of the Council is set forth in the following resolution on March 21, 1877, when the entire day's session was devoted to the question:

"Whereas, the petition of Moise Ouellette and Pierre Landry praying for assistance towards the establishment of a school at St. Laurent and salary of a teacher, has by the Lieutenant-Governor been laid before the Council for consideration:

"Resolved, therefore, that the Council request His Honor to reply to the petitioners and inform them that there are no funds in the hands of the Council applicable to educational purposes, and that the Council do not think it expedient at present to consider the question of establishing a system of taxation; and also that His Honor he good enough to express to the petitioners the regret of the Council that it is unable to grant assistance for so laudable an object as the advancement of education in the North West.

"The Council do likewise desire to suggest that His Honor do forward the above petition to the Honorable the Minister of the Interior, in order that the Dominion Government be made acquainted with the desire of the people of St. Laurent, which is believed to extend to other settlements in the Territories."

However, restricted as the powers of the council were, it lost no time in framing important legislation respecting registration of deeds, the protection of the buffalo, the prevention of the spread of infectious disease, and other important matters. A number of these topics represented uncompleted business inherited from the old North West Council at Fort Garry. In all, thirteen bills were passed at the first session.

The protection of the buffalo presented a problem of the utmost seriousness and difficulty. The ordinance of 1877 forbade the use of buffalo pounds, the wanton destruction of buffalo at any season, the killing of animals under two years of age, or the slaughter of female buffalo during a stated close season—briefer for Indians than for others. This bill was framed in the best interests of the Indians and halfbreeds, but their very destitution made the protection of the waning herds a hardship, and it was found necessary to repeal the measure in the following year. Indeed, the discontent ot both Indians and halfbreeds in connection with these wise game laws provided Sitting Hull with a dangerous card, which he was not slow to play in his efforts at this time to rally the Canadian Indians against the whites. A formidable outbreak was narrowly averted. However, Governor Laird and his colleagues packed their troublesome wards, and in October of this year Laird's notable treaty with the Blackfeet was effected.

I11 these negotiations the powerful influence of that wise old warrior, Crowfoot, was on the side of the authorities. In accepting the treaty, Crowfoot expressed special gratitude to the police, who, he said, were protecting his people against bad men and whiskey "as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frost of winter." In our chapters on "'The unrest of Canadian Indians and the Incursion of the Sioux" and "The Surrender of Saskatchewan by the Indians," we have already treated of some of the most important events of Governor Laird's regime.

It is rather interesting to compare with a provincial budget of the present day the following statement of receipts for the North West Territories from March, 1877, to July, 1878:

Licenses for billiard and other tables...........................$130.00
Ferry licenses ............................................... 8.00
Fines under Prairie Fire Ordinances........................... 37-50
Fines under Masters and Servants Ordinances................... 16.00
Fines under the Ordinance for the Prevention of Gambling........ . 302.00
Fines under the Buffalo Ordinance............................. 12.50
Miscellaneous fines........................................... 20.00
$526.00

Deposited in the Ontario Hank, Winnipeg...............$483.50
Balance in hand of Lieutenant-Governor................ 42.50
$526.00

On August 1, 1877, the seat of the Government was transferred from Livingstone (Swan River) to Battleford. and there the North West Council assembled for its second session. July 10 to August 2. 1878. Mr. Breland had received his appointment during the recess.

Apart from the repeal of the buffalo legislation, the consideration of ordinances regarding the fencing of property, the promiscuous use of poisons and provision for civil marriages occupied the major portion of the Council's time. The marriage ordinance authorized clergymen of every church, duly ordained and resident in the Territories, to solemnize marriage, and simply rendered optional die performance of the ceremony by a .civil magistrate. This latter provision was intended to meet a manifest need in the many localities which were rarely visited by a clergyman. This provision, however, provoked the displeasure of the Archbishop of St. Boniface, and produced a somewhat lengthy correspondence, and at length, in June, 1881, the law was so amended as to cancel the [lowers of magistrates to perform the ceremony, but at the same time to provide that commissioners, appointed for that purpose by the Lieutenant-Governor, might solemnize marriage. The whole episode throws interesting light upon the great influence exercised in the Territories by the dignitaries of the Catholic Church.

Upon the 2d of August, 1878, we find upon the journals a lengthy resolution with regard to the issue of scrip to halfbreeds in the Territories, a matter that appears and reappears year by year thereafter. Apparently no lesson less emphatic than that involved in the rebellion seven years later could teach the Dominion Government that satisfaction among the halfbreeds of the North West was something not to be expected unless and until, in the matter of land grants, they should be allowed terms similar to' those given their brethren in Manitoba under the Manitoba Act of 1870. The Council advised that non-transferable location tickets should be issued -to each halfbreed bead of a family, and each halfbreed child of parents resident in the Territories at the time of the transfer to Canada. These location tickets should be valid on any unoccupied Dominion lands. The title should remain vested in the Crown for ten years, and if within three years after entry 110 improvements had been made upon the land, the claim of the halfbreed locatee should be subject to forfeiture. Furthermore, to induce nomadic halfbreeds to settle and avoid the destitution which the approaching extinction of the buffalo rendered imminent, the Council recommended that some initial equipment of agricultural implements and grain be granted them. Had these wise proposals been received with favor, much misery might have been avoided.

The constant danger that petty strife between settlers and Indians might provoke a serious outbreak was ever in the minds of the authorities in these critical days. During the session of 1878 a petition was presented praying for an ordinance to compel Indians, camping near a settlement, to keep their dogs secured, on pain of the animals being lawfully subject to destruction by the settlers. The Council passed a suggestive resolution, declaring it "inexpedient in the present state of the Indian question in this country to grant the prayer of the petitioners."

In the course of the session, the Lieutenant-Governor reported to his Council that the Honorable David .Mills, Minister of the Interior, had suggested the legality and wisdom of action on the part of the Council to allow local school corporations to tax themselves for educational purposes. If government aid were required to supplement local contributions, the Lieutenant-Governor should place the amount of the required sum in his estimates. It was decided to act upon this suggestion, so far as practicable, and in the estimates for the financial year 1879-1880 we find an item of $2,000.00 in aid of schools.

In these same estimates provision is made for $1,000.00 for probable election expenses. This was the dawn of representative institutions. The Lieutenant-Governor was manifestly anxious to meet the wishes of the people by introducing an elective element into the Council at as early a date as possible. Air. Laird called the attention of Sir John A. Macdonald, Premier and Minister of the Interior, to serious difficulties in connection with the establishment of representative institutions under the North West Territories Act of 1875. Under it the Lieutenant-Governor had power to erect into an electoral district any territory containing a thousand square miles with one thousand male non-Indian inhabitants of adult age. Mr. Laird pointed out that in British Columbia and Manitoba there were constituencies containing less than half this number. As yet 110 electoral district had been erected in the Territories on account of the lack of the requisite population, and there were some detached settlements that under the existing law it would be impossible to include in any electoral district for a long time to come. Further, some amendment to the North West Territories Act was necessary to enable the North West Council to pass an ordinance empowering the people of any settlement, with the sufficient number of children for a school, to assess themselves for its support.

More than six months after the Lieutenant-Governor had forwarded his estimates including grants for schools, roads and bridges, he was still in the dark as to the attitude of the central Government in this matter. In reply to a despatch of inquiry, the Deputy Minister of Education telegraphed him on August 4, 1879; "Please wire scheme you would recommend for aiding schools; also scheme expenditure for roads and bridges." The Lieutenant-Governor sent the following reply, which is an interesting document bearing upon the founding of school and local improvement systems for the West:

"Battleford, August 16, 1879. Propose aid schools supported by missions or voluntary subscriptions of settlers to extent of paying half teachers' salaries where minimum average of 15 scholars taught.

"Recommend Council be authorized employ competent surveyors to select

best trail from Manitoba west and report on muskegs and streams requiring brushing or bridging. These contracts let and carried out under inspection of *supervision and approval of Lieutenant-Governor at first on most needful places."

No reply was received, and when the Council reassembled on the 2Sth of August, 1879, the Government still had no definite information to give upon these extremely important topics.

Commenting on the situation the Saskatchewan Herald, a fortnightly newspaper at Battleford, published by P. J. Laurie & Co., in the preceding year had offered the following protest:—"The Council was unable to legislate respecting schools for want of sufficient powers and to deal with roads and bridges for want of funds. It is about time the people of the Territories, who contribute largely to the general revenue of the Dominion, should at least have the allowance of eighty cents per head of the population which is granted to the provinces for local purposes."

The third session of Laird's Council sat from August 28 to September 27, 1879. Another serious outbreak of smallpox was threatening, and owing to the urgency of the situation the Council put through all its stages, on the first day of their session, a bill for the more efficient prevention of the spread of infectious diseases. Fortunately no general epidemic actually occurred.

In this year the Lieutenant-Governor felt compelled to resign the position of superintendent of Indian affairs, which he had previously held in conjunction with the Governorship.

"His loss will be severely felt," said The Herald, "and much anxiety will prevail pending the appointment of his successor. Thoroughly acquainted with the details of the whole Indian business of the North West, most patient and painstaking in mastering the intricacies of every case brought under his notice, with his whole heart engaged in his work, and enjoying the confidence and respect of those who have had to do with him, it will be difficult to find one who can so efficiently fill the office. If at times in the past some of his suggestions and most urgent representations to the Department at Ottawa had been complied with, there is no doubt that many of the difficulties that have arisen might have been obviated, and, by the timely expenditure of a little money, a large saving effected in the end. It cannot be too strongly urged upon the Government at Ottawa that the more the details of the work of this superintendency are left in the hands of the officers here, the more efficient will be the service, the greater the true economy to the country, and the more beneficial and satisfactory the result to the Indians themselves."

The papers and correspondence of these times are full of references to the misery of the Indians and the dangers of an Indian rising. The buffalo were disappearing with fearful rapidity. From Fort MacLeod 30,000 buffalo robes were exported in 1877; in the following year the number fell to less than 13,000; and in 1879 only 5,764 were handled. Similarly, at Fort Walsh in 1S78, 18,235 robes were exported, but in 1879 only 8,617. While some have thought that the practical extinction of the buffalo within so brief a period could be accounted for only by a general epidemic, the prevailing opinion is that the wholesale destruction of the herds, without distinction of age or sex, to supply the fur market provides an adequate explanation. Doctor MacRae, of Calgary, in his History of Alberta (p. 377), quotes Colonel Herchmer, formerly Commissioner of the Royal North West Mounted Police, as having expressed to him the belief that the extinction of the buffalo herds was consummated under the deliberate management of the American military authorities, with a view to reducing the Sioux to submission. Startling as this suggestion ma}' be, it coincides with the opinions expressed to the present writer by well informed buffalo traders, such as Mr. Louis Le Gare, of Willow Bunch.

Through sub-inspector Denny, a number of Blackfeet chiefs at this time sent an appeal to the Princess Louise, the Governor-General's Consort. "Our people are starving; do help us, for some of us have nothing to eat, and many of us could find none anywhere. We have heard of the daughter of our Great Mother being now on this side of the Great Lake. She has her mother's heart. Let her know that women and little ones ask her to give them life, for our Great Mother's sake. She is good, and will hear 11s and save us. Too many other people eat our buffalo—Sioux and Halfbreeds— and we have nothing to cat ourselves."

It is a satisfaction to note that the Indians' confidence was not altogether misplaced, as sub-inspector Denny was provided with means for the relief of some of the most distressed of the Indians who applied to him. There is, however, evidence all too convincing, showing that the interests of the red wards of the Government were receiving scant notice at Ottawa. Starvation occurred in various camps, and resulted, sonic say, in a case or two of cannibalism.

From The Herald, of January 27, 1879, we learn of the restlessness of the Indians at Duck Lake. Chief Beardy demanded that his reserve should be enlarged, and that settlers in the added territory should be his tenants and pay him half their crops. If these and other demands were not granted, he and his warriors would take from Fort Carlton and from Stobart's stores at Duck Lake, such provisions as they might require. The Indians even went so far at this time as to warn their missionary, Father Ottdre, that "much as they would regret having to strike their father, he would have to go with the rest."

Owing to the official delay in forwarding the treaty money, much distress and anxiety had been caused in 1878, and in 1879 matters were still worse. In The Herald of August 11. 1879, the following editorial comment occurs:

"By the last mail we see that the Ontario people had a little sensation in the rumored sacking of a number of dwellings, the Government House responsible for the present muddle. As usual on all occasions of importance, the telegraph line is not working."

On account of the prevailing anxiety, steps were taken to provide the Halfbreeds and other settlers with arms, and volunteer militia companies were organized. As these were utterly neglected, however, their supplies were soon lost as far as the Government was concerned. . Some of the rifles, however, were said to have been recovered at Batoche and elsewhere some years later!

The same policy of neglect was evident in all directions. In February. 1879, a number of Indian agents were appointed in the Fast, but by August 9, The Herald informs us, not a single one of them had put in an appearance. The choice made in selecting farm instructors for the reserves also aroused much disapproval in the West. It is fairly reflected in the following passage from the editorial columns of The Herald:

MALADMINISTRATION' OF INDIAN AFFAIRS

"It is currently reported in Ottawa that the Government has appointed three or four farmers to go to the North West to teach the Indians farming. Had they been selected from farmers in the North West who understand the language of the Indians, it would have saved both travelling expenses and the salaries of the interpreters.

"There is but one way out of the difficulty. The Indians must' be provided with food; and there is no difference of opinion as to how that could best be done. It could only be satisfactorily done by getting then to settle on their reserves, and to do so without providing them with instructors in the simpler brandies of agriculture would have been useless This was urged upon the Ottawa authorities by the Superintendent two years ago. and it has also been strongly and continuously pressed on their attention by Mr. Morris. Colonel MacLeod. Air. Dickinson and others; yet their warnings were almost unheeded. True, during the past winter the Superintendent received permission to hire men to help them to put ii their crops on their reserves. The permission came rather late to be a; useful as was desirable, but under the guidance of the Government instructors, aided by the missionaries of the several churches in the Saskatchewan district, a small acreage of land has been put under crop."


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