‘Before’ continues (1827 – 1856)

[Note: developments in governance that affected Red River Settlement — or rather might have inspired the political stance of the people in the settlement who undertook the Resistance during 1869 – 1870 — are highlighted in blue.]


In Lower Canada:

Pierre-Stanislas Bédard dies. He was the first Canadian politician to actively seek to end the opposition between the elected Legislative Assembly and the appointed governor and his appointed council, by putting forward the idea of ministerial responsibility (when the party holding the majority position in an elected legislative assembly loses in a vote of confidence, the positions of governor and executive council are also lost, thus  ‘responding’ to the vote of the elected assembly).


The Parti Patriote of Lower Canada adopts “an openly republican position”: in essence calling for popular power (self-governance by the people) being placed in the hands of elected officials (acting for the people).

[See Darren O’Toole, “The Red River Resistance of 1869-1870: The Machiavellian Moment of the Métis of Manitoba,” Ph.D. diss (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2010).]

In Assiniboia:

The population of the Red River numbers 2,390, including 262 Catholic and 198 Protestant families.


Alexander Christie arrives as HBC Governor of Assiniboia.


In Lower Canada:

In the elected Assembly of Lower Canada, the Parti Patriotes passes the “Ninety-two Resolutions” requesting vast democratic reforms. They demand the application of the elective principle to the political institutions of the province, after the American model (although they do not explicitly ask for responsible government).

In Britain:

Parliament rejects the “Ninety-two Resolutions” and revokes the elected Assembly of Lower Canada’s power to pass its own budget (the one real power the elected assembly had possessed).


The heirs of Lord Selkirk sell/ surrender the Selkirk Settlement grant back to the HBC, in Company shares worth 10 shillings more than its original purchase price.

In Assiniboia:

HBC. Gov. George Simpson convenes the former Selkirk Council of Assiniboia to reorganize it: adopting a constitution and passing laws to enlarge the legislative council; to organize a judicial system and police force; and to introduce taxation (import/ export duty on trade goods) to the settlement.

The new administration a.k.a. The HBC Council of Assiniboia, has a Governor, approximately ten councillors (their number will rise to fifteen — prior to 1835 there had been between five and seven),  and a Recorder. The councillors are appointed by the HBC at the suggestion of the Governor of Assiniboia, who is also appointed by the HBC. The council is given executive, law-making and judicial powers; the members also make up the General Court/ supreme court of Rupert’s Land (Assiniboia is divided into four judicial districts, each with its own court over which an appointed Magistrate or Justice of the Peace presides, dealing with minor criminal offenses and matters involving small debts; more serious cases are heard by the General Quarterly Court, consisting of the Governor and Council). The Recorder, who functions in a capacity analogous to Minister of Justice, Attorney General, and Chief Justice, presides over General Quarterly Court proceedings — though not, strictly speaking, as a judge of British law. He is compelled to observe the dictates of the 1670 HBC charter. The operational model is not therefore based on a contemporary version of English common law, but statutes that were so arcane as to remain a virtual mystery to the parties involved with their application. In addition, the formal court is introduced to a population numbering about 3700, who, up to this point, have relied on a “smoothing system” whereby justice is dispensed on an ad hoc basis that ignores legal precision and consistency in favour of flexible approaches intended to solicit equitable outcomes. The expectation that settler juries (as opposed to judges) will have final say  on court judgements will prove persistent.

[See H. Robert Baker, “Creating Order in the Wilderness: Transplanting the English Law to Rupert’s Land, 1835-1851,” Law and History Review, 17, no. 2 (summer 1999): 207-246; Norma Jean Hall, “A ‘Perfect Freedom’: Red River as a Settler Society, 1810–1870,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2003), 36-37; and Jill McConkey, “Native judgments: John Bunn and the General Quarterly Court in Red River,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2009).]


In Upper Canada:

Newspaper publisher and politician William Lyon Mackenzie (who has been calling for republican-style government in The Colonial Advocate since 1824), has helped draft the elected Assembly’s “Seventh Report of Grievances,” a 500 page compilation with proposed solutions.

In England:

Parliament rejects the “Seventh Report of Grievances,” countering with “Ten Resolutions” that remove the few effective means of control that the elected Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada had enjoyed.


Queen Victoria renews the HBC charter (which would otherwise have expired in 1842) — the Company retains the its position as a proprietary government over its ‘plantation,’ Rupert’s Land.

In Lower Canada:

The Parti Patriotes seek to wrest control of the colonial government from the Governor and what they consider to be a corrupt entourage of appointed officials. The Patriot Rebellion/ Patriot War/la Guerre des patriotes/ Papineau Rebellion of 1837-1838 begins.

Martial law is declared in the district of Montreal. The Constitutional Act of 1791 is suspended so that the Governor and Special Council alone govern.

As historian Allan Greer explains, “In 1837-38 Canada came as close to revolution as ever it would. The parliamentary régime had ceased to function in Lower Canada, as a movement (the ‘patriots’), pushing in the direction of democracy and independence, ran into a stone wall of British intransigence.”

[Allan Greer, quoted by “Reference Material from the Patriot War 1837-38,” Thousand Islands Life.com; see also Allan Greer, The Patriot’s and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in Rural Lower Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); and  CBC, “The Reformers and the Patriotes,” CBC learning, http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP7CH2PA2LE.html]

In Upper Canada:

William Lyon Mackenzie advocates armed resistance and breaking ties with Great Britain. While British troops withdraw from Upper Canada to put down Lower Canada’s rebellion, Mackenzie and his supporters engage in the Upper Canada Rebellion — planning to seize Toronto and proclaim a provisional government. They proclaim the Republic of Canada on Navy Island in the Niagara River, after retreating from Toronto.

In Assiniboia:

According to the first Red River ‘historian,’ Alexander Ross: “The Papineau rebellion which broke out in Canada about this time, and the echo of which soon reached us, added fresh fuel to the spirit of disaffection [to HBC rule]. The Canadians of Red River sighed for the success of their brethren’s cause. Patriotic songs were chanted on every side in praise of [Louis-Joseph] Papineau. In the plains, the half-breeds made a flag, called the Papineau standard, which was waved in triumph for years, and the rebels’ deeds extolled to the skies.”

[See Alexander Ross, The Red River settlement: its rise, progress and present state; with some account of the native races and its general history, to the present day (London, 1856; reprint Minneapolis, Minn., 1957; reprint Edmonton, 1972), 239; and “Flags and the Red River Resistance,” this site.]


In the Canadas:

Adam Thom, a newspaper editor and lawyer at Montreal, advocates the death penalty for all 750 people arrested following the Rebellions — for which he is branded a “hateful fanatic” in the French Canadian press.

The new Governor-general for the Canadas, John George Lambton, Earl of Durham, writes his Report on the Affairs of British North America/ the Durham Report — notorious for recommending the assimilation of the French, described as an inferior “race” and “a people with no literature and no history.” Adam Thom is involved in preparing the report as an assistant-commissioner. He argues that the propertied and monied ‘class’ should maintain control in Lower Canada. Reformer Robert Baldwin, is also involved. He argues that the people of Upper and Lower Canada would be more loyal if the colonies were given as much freedom to govern themselves as the people of Britain. In essence, this would be to grant ‘responsible government,’  in which the governor’s executive council would not be appointed (for life), but instead would be drawn from the majority party in the elected assembly. Along with the political economic union of all the British North American colonies, the report recommends a legislative union of the Canadas, so that an English-speaking majority can dominate the French.

HBC. Gov. George Simpson has offered Adam Thom the newly created judicial post of Recorder of Rupert’s Land/ President of the Red River Court.

In Assiniboia:

Jean-Louis Riel (aka Louis Riel Sr.) arrives to settle at Red River, after having been present in Quebec during the Rebellions.

Note:  “The date of Jean-Louis’ departure from Québec” and “the appearance of a flag called the ‘Papineau standard’ among the Métis,” led historian W.L. Morton “to wonder whether the elder Riel had had any part in the rebellion of 1837.”

Riel Sr. has been credited with bringing the Papineau standard to Red River, in addition to information about Papineau, and about the francophobic newly appointed Recorder in Assiniboia, Adam Thom — who helped Lord Durham prepare the Report which judged the French had best be assimilated by the British.

[See Margaret MacLeod and William L. Morton, Cuthbert Grant of Grantown (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974), 135].

No doubt Riel Sr. was aware of the arguments of the Patriotes. One of the members of a committee later organized (in 1849) by Riel Sr. to resist the HBC’s monopoly  was François Bruneau, “a first cousin of Julie, wife of Louis-Joseph Papineau, and a nephew of Pierre Bruneau, member for Chambly, Lower Canada.”

[See Lionel Dorge, “The Metis and Canadien Councillors of Assiniboia,” Part I, The Beaver 305, 1 (1974): 18.]


Adam Thom arrives at Red River to act as judicial Recorder of Rupert’s Land.

The HBC Gov. and Council of Assiniboia resolve: the boundaries of Assiniboia are to be “coextensive with such portions of the Territory granted to the late Thomas Douglas, fifth Earl of Selkirk […], as is now within the Dominions of Her Britannic Majesty.”


In England:

The Union Act  combines Upper and Lower Canada into one Province of Canada. It does not grant responsible government.

In the North-West:

HBC and American Fur Company [AFC] agree to cooperatively oppose a third party trading in the Rainy Lake, Winnipeg, and Red River districts. The HBC reduces its complement of servants in the district.

In Assiniboia:

Alexander Christie goes on furlough; Duncan Finlayson becoms Governor of Assiniboia.

Adam Thom drafts the first Code of Laws of Assiniboia (some unpopular clauses are not adopted.)


The HBC Gov. and Council regulations specify: the ‘Municipal District of Assiniboia’ is limited to an area that “extended in all directions fifty miles from the forks of the Red River and the Assiniboine.”

James Sinclair (brother-in-law to the former Sheriff of the Selkirk Colony, John Spencer), organizes  the migration of twenty-one Métis settler families (121 British subjects), to Oregon Territory with encouragement from the HBC — which is attempting to retain the Columbia District as British North American territory in the face of U.S. encouragement of American settlement. James ‘Jimmy Jock’ Bird (brother-in-law to Sinclair) and Maskepetoon/ Bras Croche/ Abraham Broken Arm act as guides. The journey takes 134 days. Some Sinclair expedition families settle in the Willamette Valley, others at Cowlitz and Fort Nisqually.


In the U.S.:

At Pembina:

Norman Wolfred Kittson, agent for Henry H. Sibley of St. Paul [not the American Fur Company?] establishes a trade post at Pembina.

In Oregon:

“Private U.S. citizens” take it upon themselves to form a provisional government in Oregon. It exists from 2 May 1843 until 3 March 1849, providing a legal system and a common defense for settlers of the region — including those newly arrived with James Sinclair from Red River. The government has three branches, including an executive, legislature, and judiciary — for which laws were drafted. The executive is a committee, initially with three members, in effect to 1845 (at which time the position of governor is created). The legislature is a committee of nine to 1845 (at which time the Oregon House of Representatives is established). The judiciary has one supreme judge along with several lower courts.


In Assiniboia:

Alexander Christie is again HBC governor of Assiniboia.

Andrew McDermot and James Sinclair organize individual traders and small merchants to demand “unrestricted trade with American settlements to the south.”

HBC Gov. Christie posts a proclamation stating that Company ships will not receive goods addressed to anyone at Red River unless that person submitted a declaration to the company’s office at Upper Fort Garry stating that he had neither directly nor indirectly trafficked in furs. Christie then orders that all letters sent out of the settlement in the Company mails must be sent to Fort Garry for inspection. The pronouncements are not well received and Christie has no real means to prevent private traders from continuing their business.

Scarlet fever and whooping cough is epidemic.


James Sinclair writes a letter, with a Métis settler-trader list of rights, to HBC Gov. Christie, posing questions which in effect argue the right to inter-Aboriginal trade as protected in the HBC Charter given their status as  ‘natives of the country.’  Christie responds that “as British subjects, the half-breeds have clearly the same rights in Scotland or England as any person born in Great Britain,” no more, no less.

Alexandre-Antonin Taché arrives at St. Boniface.

The Métis negotiate a peace treaty with the Sioux.

[See Société Historique de Saint Boniface, Fonds CACRSB, 10 sept 1845 ‐correspondance envoyée‐ série Taché ta 0001‐00012.]


Métis settlers agitate for their civil rights in the form of free trade and the right to contract. Members “d’un Commité élu par le peuple” (including William Dease and Jean-Louis Riel) submit a petition (with 1000 signatures) to HBC. Gov. George Simpson demanding what is to all intents an elected legislature. In addition, the petition calls for “independence of the judiciary” from any governing council.

[See Alexander Kennedy Isbister, A few words on the Hudson’s Bay Company. With a statement of the grievances of the native and half-caste Indians, addressed to the British Government through their delegates now in London (London: C. Gilpin, 1846), which includes petitions for redress of grievances; the petition pp. 8 – 11 is in French.]

James Sinclair  sets out for England, carrying the Red River petition.

Colonel John Folliot Crofton arrives with a force of 347 men of the British 6th (Royal First Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot (and 15 women and 17 children), detailed to handle defense in light of HBC. Gov. George Simpson’s insistence that there was a possibility of war with the United States over the Oregon boundary dispute. Britain cedes all claims to land south of the 49th parallel to the United States by the Oregon Treaty, before the troops reach Red River. They overwinter at the settlement, then leave in the spring.

In the U.S.:

At Pembina:

Norman Wolfred Kittson writes:  the Métis not only “petition the Queen for freedom of trade,” but, significantly, for “a Governor independent of the HBC and an elective legislature.”

[See Darren O’Toole, “The Red River Resistance of 1869-1870: The Machiavellian Moment of the Métis of Manitoba,” Ph.D. diss (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2010), 105 – 106.]

In Oregon:

John McLoughlin resigns as Chief Factor, HBC Fort Vancouver, and establishes Oregon City in the Willamette Valley.


In Assiniboia:

Major John Griffiths arrives as Governor of Assiniboia.

In England:

James Sinclair has delivered the Red River petition to Alexander Kennedy Isbister, who brings the it to the attention of British authorities. He writes that the settlers seek the protection of the Imperial Government, “either by incorporation into Canada or by establishment of a separate government” — in the latter option, by being made a Crown colony. Earl Grey, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, however, follows the advice of Herman Merivale, Permanent Undersecretary of the Colonial Office, and rejects the idea as too difficult and expensive to implement.

[Darren O’Toole, “The Red River Resistance of 1869-1870: The Machiavellian Moment of the Métis of Manitoba,” Ph.D. diss (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2010).]


In the Province of Canada (the united Canada East/ former Upper Canada and Canada West/ former Lower Canada)

Moderate reformer parties of both Canada East and Canada West — led by Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin respectively — win the elections. Sir James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin asks the two leaders to form a government together (of which they will be the head). He thus becomes the first governor general to remove himself from the affairs of the legislature. Governor Elgin also agrees that the majority parties from Canada East and Canada West will form their own Executive Council, made up of members from the elected House of Assembly, thus allowing responsible government.

[See chart showing Government structure of “United Canada in 1848.]

In Canada West (formerly Upper Canada):

Captain William Kennedy (uncle of Alexander Kennedy Isbister), begins lobbying against the HBC trade monopoly in Canada West. Extracts from his letter to Sir James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, Governor General of Canada, are published in the Toronto Globe.

In Canada East (formerly Lower Canada):

What had been a French-speaking majority in Lower Canada has become a political minority in the unified Canada. This does nothing to ease cultural resentment and bridge any consequent political divides.

In Assiniboia

Major William Bletterman Caldwell, officer in charge of the Sixth Regiment of Foot at Fort Garry (56 out-pensioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea accompanied by 42 women and 57 children), replaces Major John Griffiths as Governor of Assiniboia. Caldwell was appointed “in an attempt to solve the basic anomaly in the government of the colony at Red River: the HBC enjoyed a monopoly of the fur trade and at the same time appointed the members of the government and the courts. It was hoped as well that the pensioners under his command would have a stabilizing effect on the colony, made restless by the approach of American settlement and by demands from its inhabitants for self-government and free trade, but this attempt by the HBC to give the settlement an impartial government, with some force at its disposal, failed. The settlers continued to regard the governor and the Council of Assiniboia as creatures of the HBC, and the pensioners were too few in number and their habits too unmilitary to instil … respect.”

William Cowan arrives, serving as doctor to the Chelsea Pensioners. (He will marry Harriet Goldsmith Sinclair, daughter of James Sinclair and Elizabeth Bird).

Throughout the world:

Revolutions occur, beginning with an uprising in Italy,  spreading through France, Germany, Poland, Ireland, and the Austrian Empire to as far as Latin America — affecting over fifty countries. In Europe the year is also known as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples, and the Year of Revolution — representing a collapse of traditional authority. It appears spontaneous in that there is no coordination or cooperation among the different revolutionaries. Significantly, however, newspapers — including the Illustrated London News and papers of the Canadian press* — report on the disturbances.

An increase in civil liberties is the prevalent demand: “for constitutional rule where it did not exist, expansion of the suffrage where it only included a tiny fraction of the population, and demands for freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom to form trade unions and to strike. … basic human rights.” Other factors cited as giving rise to unrest and revolution include: dissatisfaction with political leadership; an upsurge in nationalism; and the response of royalty, aristocracy, and army ‘classes’ to retrench their positions in defense of traditional authority.

In India The Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848 – 1849), begins between the Sikh Empire and the British East India Company.

[* Note: News of the revolutions would have reached James Sinclair of Red River, who subscribed to the Illustrated London News (See W.J. Healy, Women of Red River (1923), . For an indication of stories carried in the paper of that year see: http://adminstaff.vassar.edu/sttaylor/FAMINE/ILN/Evictions/Evictions.html ; http://www.c-s-p.org/flyers/9781847181985-sample.pdf; and http://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=jo-briggs-1848-and-1851-a-reconsideration-of-the-historical-narrative.

For examples of stories of the revolutions carried in the Canadian press — which likely made it to subscribers in Red River, or to relatives and business associates of subscribers who forwarded the paper to Red River — see, “Further from Jamaica! Revolution in Bolivia!!,” the Toronto Globe (Wednesday, 2 February 1848), 3; “Italy,” the Toronto Globe (Wednesday, 9 February 1848), 2; “Successful Revolution in Naples,” the Toronto Globe (Saturday, 11 March 1848), 1.

See also Robert Goldstein. “Civil Liberties and the 1848 Revolutions,” Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions, http://www.ohio.edu/chastain/index.htm.]

In the U.S.:

The California gold-rush begins. The crew of Captain Colin Robertson Sinclair, brother of James Sinclair, deserts ship at San Francisco Harbor to hunt for gold.


The U.S. Congress creates the Territory of Minnesota which includes an elected legislature.

On Vancouver Island:

The British Crown Colony of the Island Vancouver and its Dependencies is founded.

In Assiniboia:

Settlers challenge the authority of the HBC.

John Ballenden, HBC chief factor at Upper Fort Garry, charges Pierre-Guillaume Sayer, of Grantown, and 3 others with violating the HBC charter by trading in furs. They are brought to trial  in the General Quarterly Court. Jean-Louis Riel/ Louis Riel Sr. and the Committee of Twelve/ Commité élu par le peuple (including James Sinclair, Pascal Breland, Urbain Delorme, and  François Bruneau) — protesting against both the HBC monopoly and the inadequate representation of the Métis on the Council of Assiniboia — rally 300 armed Métis to assemble outside the courthouse.

James Sinclair, as ‘delegate of the people’/ “Chief of the Halfbreeds,” acts as Sayer’s counsel for the defence and presents a list of grievances to the court which demands: free trade, an end to restrictions on American imports, appointment of 12 Métis members to the Council of Assiniboia, the removal of Adam Thom from the settlement, and a new bilingual Recorder appointed in his place.

A jury of 7 English speakers and 5 French speakers hear the evidence. Sayer admits to trafficking in furs, but asserts he was exchanging presents with relatives as was an Aboriginal right. Following recorder Adam Thom’s summation, the jury find the defendant guilty, but recommends mercy given that Sayer sincerely believes Métis have an Aboriginal right to trade freely.

Ballenden, satisfied with the verdict, asks that there be no punishment and withdraws the charges against the other 3. When Sayer and his supporters emerge from courthouse, the crowd responds with shouts of “le commerce est libre” and a gunfire feu de joie. The HBC legal victory dissolves, their monopoly has proven unenforceable: “Henceforth they would have to meet the free traders with effective competition and not with the legal canons of their charter.”

In England:

Major John Griffiths submits his Memorandum upon the Petition of the French ‘Half-Breeds’ of the Red River Settlements, Hudson’s Bay Company to the Colonial Office, declaring Métis are not “at present, neither from position, habits or character fitted for legislators.”

Although Bishop Provencher of St. Boniface recommends 6 French-speaking settlers (Narcisse Marion, Maximilien Genthon dit Dauphiné, François Bruneau, Salomon Hamelin, Pascal Breland, and Abbé Louis Laflèche), the HBC London Committee declines to increase the number of Councillors of Assiniboia — on the advice of HBC. Gov. George Simpson (who describes all but Lafleche, and perhaps Bruneau, as  “ignorant and illiterate”).

Simpson requests to be freed of responsibility for the settlement.


In Assiniboia:

500 ‘English-speaking’ settlers, led by Alexander Ross, petition for the dismissal of Major William Bletterman Caldwell as governor for his “irregular handling” of the Foss vs. Pelly court case.

Eden Colville, the new Governor of Rupert’s Land and Assiniboia, arrives. Adam Thom is removed as Recorder in response to settler protest. Responding to the Commité élu par le peuple, which demanded French – English balance, the Governor and Committee appoint Abbé Louis Laflèche as a Francophone member to the Council of Assiniboia.

About 6,000 Métis inhabit the settlement. Their representatives write to HBC. Gov. George Simpson protesting: “You promised us last year that we should have councillors chosen from our nation by ourselves, but they were nominated without our knowledge.”

In the U.S.:

The Legislature of the Territory of Minnesota adopts a law that provides, “all persons of a mixture of white and Indian blood and who shall have adopted the habits and customs [of civilized Americans] are hereby declared to be entitled to all the rights and privileges’ of voting.” Métis of Pembina, who are counted among the ‘whites’ in the census this year, are granted full political rights.

In Canada:

John McLean writes to George Brown, editor of the Toronto Globe, asserting, “the interior of Rupert’s Land belongs to the people of Canada both by right of discovery and settlement.” Canadians begin arguing through the press that the HBC Charter is illegal and that Red River Settlement falls outside chartered territory so “already” belongs to Canada West by virtue of the Treaty of Paris, 1763.


In Assiniboia:

The Reverend John Black, Presbyterian minister, arrives. (He will marry Henrietta Ross, the daughter of Alexander Ross and Sally/ Sarah).

Archdeacon William Cockran establishes a settlement at Portage la Prairie.

In the U.S.:

Buffalo hunters from Red River engage Sioux in The Battle of Grand Coteau, which takes place on the Souris plains not far from Turtle Mountain.


In Assiniboia:

A spring flood of the Red River proves devastating.

Rev. Griffith Owen Corbett arrives and establishes a settlement at Headingly.

A Presbyterian church is built at Kildonan.


Responding to settler pressure to have ‘native’ representation, François Bruneau — one of the members of the committee organized by Riel Sr. to resist the HBC’s monopoly in 1849 — is appointed by the Governor and Committee to the HBC Council of Assiniboia.

[Bruneau was “a first cousin of Julie, wife of Louis-Joseph Papineau, and a nephew of Pierre Bruneau, member for Chambly, Lower Canada.” See Lionel Dorge, “The Metis and Canadien Councillors of Assiniboia,” Part I, The Beaver 305, 1 (1974): 18.]


James Sinclair leads a second party of Red River settlers to Fort Walla Walla,  Oregon Territory, U.S.


Métis refuse to pay customs duty unless there is equal French and English representation on the Council of Assiniboia (‘no taxation without representation’).

Rev.  Griffith Owen Corbett leaves the settlement.


In Oregon:

James Sinclair dies, killed in an attack at a settlement on the Columbia River.


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