Note(s) on Place-names: Red River Settlement, Assiniboia, Rupert’s Land, the North-West and Beyond


The place-names used in the historiography about Western Canada can be confusing. Below is a guide to names used in documents and histories that describe the Red River Resistance (and then some).


Red River Settlement:

parish map with Town of Wpg 1870

Map (click map to link to larger image), giving a rough indication of the location of parishes from which representatives to the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia were elected; derived from, and illustrating differences with the map “The Red River Settlement, 1870,” drawn by C.C.J. Bond and printed in The Birth of Western Canada: A history of the Riel Rebellions by George F.G. Stanley  (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961), which illustrated the electoral parishes of the new province of Manitoba.

See also, “The People,” this site, which lists the parishes with their representatives and links to further description of each parish and its inhabitants.

Red River Settlement is the name given to an area in which settlers began to arrive and establish permanent homes in the last decade of the 1700s and the first decades of the 1800s. The first settlers were First Nations people, led by Peguis, to their new home near the mouth of the Red River, c.1792.[1] Métis settler families followed and were beginning to settle along the Red River by 1810.[2] By 1870 the Métis had become the predominant settler group.

The larger Red River Settlement was made up of smaller ‘neighbourhoods’ of settlement — generally referred to as ‘parishes.’ In 1870 the settlement was divided into 27 parishes for voting purposes (shown in the map above).


Red River Colony:

Red River Colony is another name sometimes used to refer to Red River Settlement. Initially, however, Red River Colony only referred to the settlement established by Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of Selkirk/ Lord Selkirk: for people (known as the Selkirk Settlers), whom Selkirk transported from overseas (mainly from Scotland and Ireland, but also from Switzerland); or for people he hired (‘soldier settlers,’ to protect his colony). Selkirk’s settlement was situated within the area in which settlement had already begun (and would be rapidly expanded) by people who were already present in North America.[3]

[3] See nos. [1] and [2] above.


Selkirk Colony/ Selkirk Settlement:

Selkirk’s colonization attempt was begun on the banks of the Red River in 1812. By the time the floodwaters of 1826 had receded, the original colony existed virtually in name only. Selkirk had died and the majority of his imported colonists had departed for elsewhere.

Selkirk's grant

Map illustrating Lord Selkirks 116,000 Square Miles land grant, area which was known as Assiniboia,” (published 1881) showing land set aside for Selkirk by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1811. Source: Wikipedia, public domain (copyright expired).

In 1811, the Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC] had granted Lord Selkirk a large tract of land (a.k.a. the Selkirk Concession) in which to locate his colony (outlined as Assiniboia on the map above — half was lost when the boundary with the United States was determined in 1818, in keeping with the Treaty of Ghent that was negotiated after the War of 1812). The colony itself, however, was quite small.

Most of the Selkirk Settlers were located on the west bank of the Red River, between Fort Douglas (in what is now know as the Point Douglas area of Winnipeg), and what became known, by 1870, as Kildonan Parish (which extended north over Frog Plain, shown on the map below). The Selkirk Settlement amounted to something under one half of what was, by 1870, known as St. John’s Parish (which, by that year, ran along both sides of the river and wrapped around the north-western boundary of Town of Winnipeg). On the east bank of the Red River, Selkirk’s colony included an area originally granted to the ‘soldier settlers,’ as well as land granted to the Catholic Church in 1818 (the beginnings of St. Boniface Parish).

Selkirk's Colony

Bartholomew, facsimile of section map (1818), showing Selkirk’s colony, printed in Louis Aubrey Wood, The Red River Colony: A Chronicle of the Beginnings of Manitoba (Toronto: Glasgow Brook and Company, 1915), 64; and George Bryce, The Romantic Settlement of Lord Selkirk’s Colonists (The Pioneers of Manitoba) (Toronto: Musson Book Company, 1909), 124.

By way of a treaty, in 1817 Lord Selkirk had obtained permission to allow additional settlers to continue to take up residence along the banks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers at a distance of two miles out from the rivers’ banks (within the dotted lines shown on the treaty map below).

Selkirk Treaty Map

“Selkirk Treaty – Indian Chart of Red River,” undated. Library and Archives Canada, Online MIKAN no. 3972592 (2 items) accompanying note reads “Land involved: The Red River north of Red Lake River and South of Lake Winnipeg and the Assiniboyne River from Fort Douglas to ‘Musk rat or Rivière des Champignon [sic]‘ … No date (but probably accompanies treaty of 1817/07/18).”

See also Plan of land bought by the Earl of Selkirk from Pegius and other Indians. 18th July 1817,” Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 4149347, “Copyright: Expired.”



rough quess district of Assiniboia, 50 miles out from Fort Garry

The area within the circle gives a rough indication (that is a guess only — I am not a cartographer and did not have a map to scale to work on) of the dimensions of Assiniboia as of the 1840s. The base map is that of Canadian surveyor Colonel John Stoughton Dennis, “Rough Diagram, Based on [Henry Youle] Hind’s Map intended to illustrate Report on Townships Surveys and Red River Territory. Scale: 1 inch to 6 miles,” (1869) dated 1870. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Microfiche: NMC 7065. Call no. H12 740 Red River Settlement 1870. Record no.: 27994. Copyright expired. Note that the surveyors were measuring to the American plan, which marked out 160 acre quarter sections, as opposed to the settlement plan, which allotted every holding river frontage with a long narrow lot extending behind. The map’s shaded area represents some of the parishes of Red River Settlement. The Winnipeg or Principal Meridian is shown cutting across settlers’ lots, and the point where Major Adam Clarke Webb/ Webbe’s survey party was stopped at Anastasie Landry and André Nault‘s farm on 11 October 1869 is marked.

Assiniboia was a district of local government, overseen by a HBC governor of Assiniboia, who was usually stationed at the fur-trade post at the Forks/ Coblenz (initially in Fort Douglas, later in Fort Garry, and finally in Upper Fort Garry). By the 1840s, the district of Assiniboia had Upper Fort Garry as its centre and extended approximately 50 miles in all directions from that centre (roughly the area within the circle on the map above).[4] Assiniboia was situated within the territory known as Rupert’s Land.

[4] Alfred Thomas Phillips, “Development of Municipal Institutions in Manitoba to 1886,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1948), 1-2, notes that the district of Assiniboia “was created in 1836 with the re-transfer of the Lord Selkirk land grant to the Hudson [sic] Bay Company. Provision for district government through governor and council had been made the year before. … In 1841 limits of the District of Assiniboia were reduced. … Boundaries of this new unit were very hazily drawn; they roughly extended fifty miles in radius from the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.” See also Archer Martin, The Hudson’s Bay Company’s Land Tenures and the Occupation of Assiniboia by Lord Selkirk’s Settlers, with a List of Grantees under the Earl and the Company (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1898), 8.


rough indication, size of Assiniboia 1870

The area within the circle gives a rough indication of the dimensions of Assiniboia as of 18 March 1870. The base map is that of Canadian surveyor Colonel John Stoughton Dennis, “Rough Diagram, Based on [Henry Youle] Hind’s Map intended to illustrate Report on Townships Surveys and Red River Territory. Scale: 1 inch to 6 miles,” (1869) dated 1870. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Microfiche: NMC 7065. Call no. H12 740 Red River Settlement 1870. Record no.: 27994. Copyright expired.

In 1870, the district of Assiniboia was enlarged (roughly as indicated by the circle on the map above), by the Legislative Assembly of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia, so as to include Portage la Prairie and settlements along the south shore of Lake Manitoba. At the same time, the Legislative Assembly changed the name of Rupert’s Land to Assiniboia.[5]

[5] Norma Hall, with Clifford P. Hall, and Erin Verrier, A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/ le Conseil du Gouvernement Provisoire (Winnipeg:  Manitoba, Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, 2010), 7, note, “Once [the Legislative Assembly was] in session, ‘Assiniboia’ was added to the names of the Provisional Government and the Legislative Assembly. There had been debate during the Convention of Forty about the geographical reach of the government. The HBC municipal district of Assiniboia, by local regulations of 1841, had been ‘limited to a circle of a hundred miles in diameter, with the Forks as a centre.'” Quotation source: Martin, Hudson’s Bay Company’s Land Tenures, 8. The convention agreed to enlarge this circle to extend their control to the American border and to encompass the parish of St. Mary’s Laprairie (also known as Portage). Afterwards, the Legislative Assembly, although it “did not claim jurisdiction over all of Rupert’s Land, it did presume the right to rename it. Dr C.J. Bird, representative for St. Paul’s parish, moved that they do so, arguing, ‘We ought to retain the Indian names as far as possible, for they are appropriate and euphonious.’ He proposed the name Assiniboia and his motion carried unanimously. Thus, the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia controlled a district known as Assiniboia in a country of the same name.”

See “Convention at Fort Garry, Very Important Debates, The Bill of Rights (Reported for The New Nation.),” New Nation (11 February 1870), 1, which states that Louis Riel, on 2 February 1870, moved, “That the local Legislature of the Territory have full control of all the lands inside a circumference having Upper Fort Garry as a centre, and that the radii of this circumference be the number of miles that the American line is distant from Fort Garry.” During discussion he added, “For my part, I wish the whole country was under the control of the Local Legislature. We have to work for the country, in case the Canadians will not work for us.” The motion was carried on a division: Yeas 21, Nays 18. Mr. Kenneth McKenzie, representing the Portage, “protested against this decision of the Convention, on the ground that it appeared to stretch beyond the limits of Assiniboia proper and encroached on the Portage boundary.” See also “Session 1, Day 4: 18 March,” Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, this site.


Rupert’s Land:

rupert's land map 1857

John Arrowsmith, map, “Map of North America. Drawn by J. Arrowsmith,” (1857), showing, as coloured green, the ‘plantation’ of Rupert’s Land, claimed by the Hudson’s Bay Company by virtue of the charter granted by King Charles II. Other British territories are shaded pink, some of which also fell under the governance of the HBC — at one point, the Company oversaw almost three million square miles of land (one-twelfth of the earth’s surface). Russian territory is shaded yellow. Source: Library and Archives Canada, CARTO24287, Copyright: Expired = Domaine public. For a close-up image, see facsimile map,—Map-of-North-America–.

Rupert’s Land was the ‘plantation’/ proprietary possession (shaded green in the map above) of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Rights to the territory had been granted in 1670 by a royal charter from Charles II of England (who claimed ownership).


North-Western Territory:

northwestern territory 1859

Dean Tiegs, map, “North-Western Territory, 1859,” (2004). Source: Wikimedia Commons, Attribution Share Alike license.

The North-Western Territory was initially separate from Rupert’s Land. It was comprised of lands to the west and north-west of Rupert’s Land that were accessed for the fur trade by the North West Company. The lands became HBC territory after the amalgamation of the two companies in 1821.[6]

However, during the period after the negotiations in 1868 to transfer HBC territory to Canada, up until the creation of the Province of Manitoba in 1870, both Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory were often referred to jointly, as the North-West.[7]

[6] For a more detailed account see “History of the Name of the Northwest Territories,” The Evolution of the Northwest Territories, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (accessed 8 October 2014).

[7] As is evident by searching “North-West,” this site and noting usage in historical sources.



Assiniboia and Canada 1869

Assiniboia and Canada 1869, separated by approximately 300 kilomtres/ 500 miles through the Canadian Shield.

Canada is a geo-political construct that has changed over time. Depending on the period, Canada was not necessarily a country in its own right — historically, at times Canada was a dependent ‘dominion,’ province, colony, or merely a settlement. At times it was claimed as a possession or dependency of Britain, or of France. Prior to that, it was the territory of a people original to Turtle Island/ North America. It is a good idea to be aware of differences between Canada in the present and the various versions of Canada that existed at different times in the past. It is even better to be able to clarify which version of Canada is meant when writing about the past.[8]


The West/ Canadian West/ Western Canada:

Existed as of the confederation of Assiniboia with Canada and the creation of Manitoba in 1870. Prior to that agreement, the territory was known as Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory (inclusively the ‘North-West’). I use the phrase ‘the Canadian West,’ a.k.a Western Canada, to designate a “region process … transcending time,” that does not include British Columbia.[9]

[9] See Kathleen E. Braden, “Region, Semple, and Structuration,” Geographical Review 82, no. 3 (July 1992): 239, 242; see also Thomas Bender, “The Boundaries and Constituencies of History,” American Literary History 18, no. 2 (summer 2006): 268, who discusses the problematic nature of naming of regions to suit the agendas of nation states.

Richard I. Ruggles, “The West of Canada in 1763: Imagination and Reality,” Canadian Geographer 15, no. 4 (1971): 235, notes,

The ‘Canadian West’ is a recent entity in geographic terminology, since it did not begin to take definite form until into the nineteenth century, as agricultural, forestry, and mining populations began to diffuse through the area. Before this, the region was being explored and developed by fur-trading interests, at first British and French, and later, after 1763, by men from the new British colony of Canada. During this time there was no such region as Western Canada, but only a congeries of various ill-defined spaces which bore various names, such as le Pays d’en Haut, Rupert’s Land, the West Main, the North Main, Buffalo Country, and so on. But before any of this area began to have original names applied to it, it lay unknown to Europeans, and was as such, Europocentrically, non-existent therefore.


The West Beyond ‘the West’/ British Columbia/ The Pacific Slope:

At the time of the Red River Resistance, the region that became British Columbia — a.k.a. the Pacific Slope — was separate from Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory.[10]

[10] As the title of Jean Barman, The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, 3d. ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), indicates, British Columbia still maintains an identity distinct from ‘The West.’ Nevertheless, there are writers, such as J. Arthur Lower, Western Canada: An Outline History (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1983), 1, 2, who define Western Canada as including “the four provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia and the two territories, Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories, which lie mostly west of Hudson Bay.” Lower supplies a map.


The North:

Prior to the 20th century (and for a considerable period afterwards), the North was widely regarded (by people who did not live there) as a region of “waste lands” and of little appreciable activity.[11] The region extended from the upper margin of the “fertile belt” of the Prairie West (about 54° north latitude), through to the Arctic (the lower boundary of which lies 66° 33′ 39″ north of the equator).[12]

[11] W.L. Morton, ed., “Appendix II: Section 30, The Manitoba Act,” Manitoba: The Birth of a Province (Winnipeg: Manitoba Record Society Publications, 1965), 258. In 2001, Kerry Abel, and Ken S. Coates, “Introduction: The North and the Nation,” in Northern Visions: New Perspectives in Canadian History, ed. Kerry Abel, and Ken S. Coates (Peterborough ON.: Broadview Press, 2001), 8, noted that W.L. Morton, as early as the 1960s, had argued, “the North was central to the story of Canada,” yet, they observed, “the North remains a marginal place in the nation’s understanding of its past.” See also W.L. Morton, “The ‘North’ in Canadian History,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada 7, fourth series (1970): 40; Richard Diubaldo “The North in Canadian History: An Outline,” Fram: The Journal of Polar Studies 1, no. 1 (1984): 187; Ken Coates, “The Rediscovery of the North: Toward a Conceptual Framework for the Study of the North/Northern Regions,” The Northern Review 12, no. 13 (summer/winter 1994): 15-43.

[12] Arthur Lower, Western Canada: An Outline History (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1983), 104.


The Arctic:

Described during the 19th century as a region “of eternal ice and snow,” the Arctic lay above latitude 66° 33′ 39″ north of the equator, extending through to the North Pole.[13]

[13] William Dennis, “The Sources of North-Western History,” Transactions of the Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society, no. 6, First Series (read 1883).


North America:

‘Old World’ and ‘New World’ are Eurocentric phrases. The ‘New World’ was an old world to its inhabitants by the time Europeans arrived. If I use either term, I indicate my awareness that they are problematic by marking them off with inverted commas or quotation marks: ‘New World’ indicating ironic usage; “New World” indicating a quote from a source.

The name by which the continent of North America was known by First Nations at the time of contact has been hypothesized to have been ‘Turtle Island.’ In the Seneca language, the mythical turtle was apparently known as Hah-nu-nah (the word for an ordinary turtle being ha-no-wa). In Western Algic [Algonkian/ Algonquian] languages the name of the continent might, in some previous era, have been Mishi-nimikina.

In the 1970s, writer Jan Carew revived 19th-century arguments that “the name America was brought back to Europe from the New World” and asserted that “To rob people or countries of their names is to set in motion a psychic disturbance which can in turn create a permanent crisis of identity. As if to underline this fact, the theft of an important place-name from the heartland of the Americas and the claim that it was a dilettante’s [Amerigo Vespucci’s] Christian name robs the original name of its elemental meaning.”[14]

[14] See Harriet Maxwell Converse, Herman Le Roy Fairchild, William John Miller, Arthur Caswell Parker, Myths and legends of the New York State Iroquois (New York: University of New York, 1908), 33; J. Watts de Peyster, Miscellanies: By an Officer vol. 1 (Dumfries [England: C. Munro, 1888]), cii; Jonathan Cohen, “The Naming of America: Fragments We’ve Shored Against Ourselves,”  (accessed 12 October 2011). See also “The naming of America,” The Renaissance Mathematicus blog (accessed 14 September 2014).



  1. Thank you for your great site and resources for Red River history. I am writing a personal family history and would like to use your map “Assiniboia and Canada 1869” to illustrate Canada at that time. I am seeking permission to use the map in a non-commercial, personal document. If permission is given, what credits should I use? Thanks

    • Hi Murray and thanks. You could compose a credit along the lines of: Norma Hall, map, “Assiniboia and Canada, 1869,” Provisional Government of Assiniboia website (accessed date),

      • Thank you for your prompt reply, and the use of your map is much appreciated as the illustration of Canada at that time. I am also appreciative of the resources on your website and the perspective it brings to the Canadian story. Murray

  2. Thanks for your help understanding place names in Assiniboia. I’m wondering if anyone might know the exact location of a residence cited for my grandchildren’s ancestors in a Scrip dated 22 Aug 1885. It states that the people involved lived at “Willow Bunch on plains near Emerson”. I know where Emerson is but I have not been able to find “Willow Bunch”. BTW, I know there is a “Willow Bunch” in Saskatchewan, but that can’t be it since the Scrip explicitly states “near Emerson”. Thanks, Mardon

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