An Overwhelmingly Métis Settlement

Members of Métis communities, affiliated with both the Hudson’s Bay and Northwest Companies [HBC and NWC], sought the formal establishment of a settlement prior to the colonization attempt of Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk.[1]

By 1810, Métis settlers were scattered along lake shores and rivers throughout Rupert’s Land. People identified in Cree as Otipaymsoowukgens libres or Freemen, their Aboriginal wives and Métis children — engaged in farming at the forks of the Red River.[2] The largest community was gathered at Pembina.[3] Members of families who had cultivated acreage opposite the mouth of the Assiniboine River from at least 1808, witnessed the arrival of Selkirk’s first settler group in 1812.[4]

In 1814, Miles Macdonell, Selkirk’s agent, estimated that his colonists, numbering about 200 individuals, could count an equal number of multi-person Métis households, in the vicinity, as their neighbours.[5] Successive influxes of migrants internal to North America, including large numbers of Métis (some with ‘English’ fathers/ ancestors, some with ‘French’), continued to arrive while the Settlement remained under the auspices of Selkirk’s estate.[6]

During the 1820s, at least 181 former employees, whose positions had been cut in the 1821 merger of the two fur trade companies, decided to ‘retire’ with their Métis families to Red River.[7] In 1823, some 50 families relocated from Pembina to the White Horse Plain, west of Red River, and to the Settlement proper. These were followed by approximately 100 more in 1824.[8] Family groups continued to arrive from remote areas of the fur trade to the end of the decade.[9]

By comparison, the number of migrants from locations external to North America, who arrived in Red River during this period, was considerably smaller.[10] There are problems associated with determining their exact numbers by reviewing primary and secondary sources:

  • Population figures supplied by the records of the HBC consist largely of informal enumerations scattered throughout Company correspondence.[11] As these were usually incorporated to bolster arguments either for or against encouraging the settlement of external migrants, the possibility of exaggeration or under reportage exists, and may in part explain the wide variation exhibited in the historiography.[12] As well, a degree of confusion can be attributed to the fact that those recruited in Europe were not all destined to be settlers, did not necessarily board the ships bound for Rupert’s Land, survive the journey, or continue on to Red River once they had arrived.[13]
  • English Canadian historiography (which has been dominant in the West) has not integrated well with French Canadian historiography on the subject of migration to Red River. Accounts in English are loose (or obscure) when it comes to distinguishing between settlers who were
    • Métis (with French progenitors/ ancestry, and who might have spoken French, but perhaps actually spoke Michif), and
    • newcomers from Lower Canada/ Quebec — especially those who shared family ties with Métis settlers (some ties going back generations; some including Eastern Aboriginal ancestry).[14]
  • French-language accounts likewise conflate Métis and former inhabitants of Quebec. This is not surprising, given that
    • much of the French-language historiography was written after the concerted attack on French culture launched by the Manitoba Schools Question (1890-1897 and beyond).[15] By the turn to the 20th century, in Manitoba, the Canadian French-English divide had loomed large enough to overshadow cultural sub-distinctions within the two groups.
    • During the same period, the Canadian attack on Aboriginality led many families and communities to keep quiet about (or protective of) Aboriginal heritage.[16]

Consequently, the historiography of French settlement in the West highlighted the French, not Aboriginal, aspect of ancestry and communities of origin.[17]

Research remains to be done, but to date it appears that most French settlers were individual males who married into, or began, Métis families. Organized parties of French settlers (as opposed to ecclesiastics and missionaries — male and female), were rare before 1870. A party reputedly arrived in 1818 with Joseph-Norbert Provencher (described in one account as “several families”).[18] And, reportedly, a sizable contingent arrived in 1856 (possibly 198 individuals, at Pointe-des-Chênes).[19] Otherwise, formal projects organized to import large numbers of French settlers took place after the formation of the province of Manitoba.[20]

English Canadian historiography about Red River Settlement, devoted though it has been to “constructing a historical role for the Anglo-Canadian newcomers,” has not compiled particularly compelling numerical evidence to bolster its claims (even though historiographers have counted the non-Canadian, and not strictly English-speaking, or even Protestant coreligionist, among the ‘Anglo Saxon’ vanguard).[21] Depending on the secondary source consulted, the declared size of the first Selkirk party to actually arrive in Red River in 1812 ranges from 18 to 23 individuals in August. A supplementary arrival of from 71 to 120 settlers took place in October. The third party to arrive (the second contingent sent by Selkirk), of 1814, is most often broken down into two smaller groups of from 41 to 51, and 15 to 32 individuals respectively (though by one account there were 83 and 15). A final party of between 80 to 84 Selkirk colonists arrived in November 1815. That same year, however, something like 114-140 disillusioned Selkirk Settlers left Red River for Canada.[22] The numbers of former de Meuron and de Watteville soldiers to arrive in 1816, followed by Swiss settlers in 1821, are equally imprecise — something over 50 soldiers, and about 170 Swiss.[23]

Few authors supply a total of the ‘Anglo Saxon’ external migrants to arrive, although in one instance the observation is made that there was “perhaps a total of 500-520 Scots, Irish, Swiss and de Meuron.”[24] However, depending on how the figures from various sources are handled, it is possible to arrive at a number closer to 450.

Selkirk Settlers

There are likewise few statements as to how many of these individuals actually persisted in the settlement after the separate mass departures of first Selkirk, then Swiss, de Meuron and de Watteville settlers.[25] While one historian ‘deduced’ that 130 ‘Highland’ settlers stayed at Red River, another suggested that fewer than fifty families remained. As the chart above illustrates, the number might have been quite low (and would remain so even if French arrivals were included).

In any case, by 1826, most of the external migrants having decided to depart, the Métis were recognized as the principal settler group in a community with a total population of perhaps near 2,000.[26] Natural increase (population growth by way of births) at the Settlement increasingly reflected the Métis presence. Many of the remaining non-Aboriginal settlers were absorbed into the wider community through either their own, or their children’s, marriages.[27]

By 1850, the Red River Métis numbered about 6,000 individuals. A near 100 percent increase occurred over the next twenty years — “By 1869, over 80 percent of the 12 000 people at Red River were Métis peoples.”[28] Overwhelmingly in the majority from the Settlement’s beginnings, the Métis actively participated in all aspects of Red River’s development to 1870, the year in which they oversaw the installation of the first representative government in the territory that would become Canada’s West.[29]


[1] W.L. Morton, Manitoba – a History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1957), 68. J.G. MacGregor, Peter Fidler: Canada’s Forgotten Surveyor 1769-1822 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966), 181, notes the earliest record of potential settlers took the form of a petition, submitted by William Auld to the London Office, listing HBC personnel. Archives of Manitoba [AM], MG2 41, Selkirk Papers, “Miles Macdonell to the Earl of Selkirk,” 1 October 1811, 49-50, reports that Auld, along with William Hemmings Cook, reaffirmed the interest in permanent settlement, and extended it to include members of the Métis community associated with the NWC.

[2] W.L. Morton, Manitoba, 42; Barry Kaye, “Some Aspects of the Historical Geography of the Red River Settlement from 1812 to 1870,” M.A. thesis (University of Manitoba, 1967), 22-23; Robert J. Coutts, The Road to the Rapids: Nineteenth Century Church and Society at St. Andrew’s Parish, Red River (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2000), 23; E.S. Russenholt, The Heart of the Continent: Being a History of Assiniboia — the truly typical Canadian community (Winnipeg: MacFarlane Communications Services, 1968), 47-48. See Maurice L’Hirondelle, foreward to The Metis People of Canada: A History, ed. the Alberta Federation of Métis Settlement Associations, R. Anderson and Alda M. Anderson (Toronto: Gage Publishing, 1978), 2. Alternate spellings are common, for example see R. Faries, ed., A Dictionary of the Cree language as spoken by the Indians in the Provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta: Based on the foundation laid by Rev. E.A. Watkins 1865 C.M.S. Missionary (Toronto: General Synod of the Church of England in Canada, 1938), 83; Diane Paulette Payment, ‘The Free People-Otipemisiwak’ Batoche, Saskatchewan 1870-1930 (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, 1990); and Anne Anderson, Métis Cree Dictionary (Edmonton: Duval House Publishing, 1997), 282. The alternate spellings reflect differences in dialect, see Gérard Beaudet, Cree-English, English-Cree Dictionary: Nehiyawe Mina Akayasimo-Akayasimo-Mina Nehiyawe-Ayamiwini-Masinahigan (Winnipeg: Wurez Publishing, 1995). Norma Hall, “Seeking freedom to decline the fall: literary form, historiography, and the determination of the Red River Métis,” paper submitted to Historical Method and Historiography 11.440, S01 (University of Manitoba, 12 Dec. 2001), 2, explains, “When referring to themselves in Cree, the term used was Oteepaymsoowuk which identified them as ‘free’ or ‘their own boss.’ In a European context the name distinguished the Métis from European born contemporaries engaged in the fur trade, for whom tenure in Rupert’s Land was determined by the contractual nature of their employment. The freedom of the Oteepaymsoowuk to inhabit the territory of their birth did not end with the termination of a contract. In a First Nations context, the term identified them as free of the traditional responsibilities dictated by one’s position within a band. In a Métis context, the name reflected the freedom of the Oteepaymsoowuk to participate in European and First Nations worlds, to varying degrees at different times in their lives, or to construct a separate way of living.” But see also “Note(s) on Terminology and Aboriginality,” this site for additional names by which Métis self-identified.

[3] Kaye, “Aspects of the Historical Geography,” 39. D.N. Sprague and R.P. Frye, The Genealogy of the First Metis Nation: the development and dispersal of the Red River Settlement, 1820-1900 (Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications, 1983), 12. 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), 27-28; and Ruth Swan, “The crucible: Pembina and the origins of the Red River Valley Metis,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Manitoba, 2003). During the 1700s, Métis associated with the fur trade operating out of Montreal had established a seasonal gathering place known as Rivière Sale, on the Pembina Trail at the junction of the Red River and Sale/ Dirty River (later renamed the La Salle River). By 1811, former North West Company [NWC] carpenter, Jean-Baptiste Charette and his wife Charlotte Sansregret, had built a “sturdy oak storey-and-a-half cabin” at Rivière Sale as a stopping house for travellers — the first commercial venture at the location [see photo]. A few Métis families, engaged in the seasonal pursuits of freighting, farming, and the buffalo hunt, followed the Charette’s lead and settled nearby — and lent aid to under-supplied Selkirk Settlers in 1812.

[4] Donald Gunn/ Charles B. Tuttle, History of Manitoba front the Earliest Settlement/ And from 1835 to the Admission of the Province into the Dominion (Ottawa: McLean, Roger and Company, 1880), 73, 77: Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West to 1870-71, Being a History of Rupert’s Land (The Hudson’s Bay Company Territory) and of the North-West Territory (Including the Pacific Slope) (Toronto: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1939), 544-545; W.L. Morton, Manitoba, 480 n. 17, notes Jean Baptiste Roi stated in 1820, “For twelve years past I have cultivated a piece of ground of my own [on the east bank of the Red opposite the mouth of the Assiniboine]. … I used to sell the produce to the gentlemen of the North West Company or of the Hudson’s Bay Company”; Russenholt, Heart of the Continent, 24-26, 28; see also, Sprague and Frye, Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, ID #4266 shows Jean Baptiste Roy married Marguerite (First Nations); and Kaye, “Aspects of the Historical Geography,” 23.

[5] W.L. Morton, Manitoba, 49. Russenholt, Heart of the Continent, 28, 35 ,37, puts the total “‘populace’ whose lives centred at the ‘Forks’,” on a “more or less” permanent basis, at “perhaps, 2000.”

[6] See Adrien Gabriel Morice, Les droits historiques du français dans l’ouest canadien (Winnipeg: La Libre parole, 1918), 7. When it comes to the fur trade the seeming linguistic and/or national designations ‘English’ and ‘French’ can be misleading. After the violence at Red River in 1816 (a.k.a. the Seven Oaks incident), as part of the process of resolving that dispute, litigation took place at the Assizes of York, Upper Canada, in 1818. At that time and place, reporter Samuel Hull Wilcocke attempted to define categories of people associated with the fur trade. Under his system of definition, the term English/ Anglois [sic] was taken to include: “An Englishman, the English,” but, in the context of the fur trade, it also “applied exclusively to the servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company, whether English, French, or Half-breeds.” Likewise, the term French/ François [sic] meant “A Frenchman, the French,” although in the fur trade context it “applied exclusively to the Canadian fur-traders,” regardless of country, language, or nation. The looseness of designation never really cleared up. As researchers of Red River genealogy are aware, there was so much overlap among fur trade families that attempting to qualify individuals as belonging solely to one of Canada’s ‘founding nation’ categories is often futile and borders on absurd.

[7] Gunn, History of Manitoba, 226, asserts that “The influx of families, from the fur trade, in 1822, and the following summer, exceeded in number those who represented the original colonists brought in from all quarters by his Lordship.” See also, Sprague and Frye, Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, 15, notes “almost 1,300 employees lost their jobs”; Russenholt, Heart of the Continent, 52.

[8] See, Margaret Arnett MacLeod, and W.L. Morton, Cuthbert Grant of Grantown: Warden of the Plains of Red River (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1963), 86-88, 94. Sprague and Frye, Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, 15. George Simpson, quoted in Russenholt, Heart of the Continent, 57.

[9] Gunn, History of Manitoba, 240-241, 261, 268; and Margaret McWilliams,  Manitoba Milestones (Toronto: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1928), 61, note the arrival of an additional sixty families “of the Company people” from James Bay in 1829.

[10] See Donald Gunn, cited in Russenholt, Heart of the Continent, 55.

[11] Sprague and Frye, Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, 29 n.71, note that “About thirty such inventories are found in the Selkirk Papers.”

[12] 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 (1856: reprint, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1972), 78, 143 (page citations are to the reprint edition); George Bryce, The Remarkable History of the Hudson’s Bay Company: Including that of the French Traders of North-Western Canada and of the North-West, XY, and Astor Fur Companies (Toronto: William Briggs, 1900), 213: McWilliams, Manitoba Milestones, 41-46, 48-49, 53, 58; A.S. Morton, History of the Canadian West, 541-543, 545, 548, 550, 554-555, 564-566, 573: W.L. Morton, Manitoba, 46, 50, 52; Macleod and Morton, Cuthbert Grant, 86-88, 94; MacGregor, Peter Fidler, 181, 183, 186, 189, 192, 194-198, 200-204, 220; James A. Jackson, The Centennial History of Manitoba (Winnipeg/ Toronto: Manitoba Historical Society/ McClelland and Stewart, 1970), 38-41, 43, 53: Keith Wilson, The Red River Settlement (Toronto: Grolier, 1983), 11, 13, 20: and Sprague and Frye, Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, 13-15.

[13] See, for example: AM, Selkirk Papers, “Macdonell to Selkirk,” I October 1811, 42-43, 47, and 4 July 1812, 411; “Auld to Macdonell, ” 16 October 1811, 89- 100; and exchanges between Macdonell and Auld, 18 April to 20 April to 20 April 1812, 295-320; and “Selkirk to Owen Keveny,” 15 June 1813.

[14] See Alexander Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River journal: and other papers relative to the Red River resistance of 1869-1870, ed. W.L. Morton (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1956), 46, 299, and references to André Nault, for an example of a French settler who appears indistinguishable from the Métis (unless one researches a source listed in a footnote), the incursion onto whose land by Canadian surveyors touched off the Resistance in 1869. Ruth Swan and Janelle Reynolds, “André Nault,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography online (accessed 3 April 2014) are somewhat clearer,  describing Nault as a “buffalo hunter, farmer, and captain of the Métis” and as “integrated into the Métis community,” although his “parents were of French Canadian origin.” Nault, was the grandson of Jean-Baptiste Lagimonière and Marie-Anne Gaboury and so was a cousin to Louis Riel (whose paternal grandmother, Marguerite Boucher, was a “Franco-Chipewyan Métisse”). See also “Note on Alexander Begg’s Journal, History and Heritage,” this site, which notes “He generally portrays ‘half breeds’ as either ‘English’ or ‘French’ without any apparent awareness of whether they spoke those languages or lived in parishes nominally designated according to ‘English’ or ‘French’ religious orders. Sometimes he uses the term ‘Native,’ but does not necessarily reserve the term for those of Aboriginal heritage. At times he means born in the region.”

[15] See Morice, Les droits historiques du français dans l’ouest canadien. See also “Controversy and Compromise over the Manitoba Schools Question,” Canada’s History (accessed 3 April 2014), which implies resolution. But see also J.L. Finley and D.N. Sprague,The Structure of Canadian History, 5th ed. (Scarborough: Prentice Hall, Allyn and Bacon Canada), 210, 266-269, 278, 280, 329 [6th ed. (2000), 274. 276-278, 338-339], on the ongoing objections of Francophone Canadians to the loss of equal education services, the repudiation of the ‘compromise’ in 1916, and hopes that something better might yet be installed.

[16] See Norma J. Hall, research essay, “We Were Children: The Provision, Conduct, Legacy and Implications for Reconciliation of Residential Schooling for the Métis,” with appended list of schools, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada (2012).

[17] See Louis Arthur Prud’homme, “L’Élément français au Nord-Ouest et son action bienfaisante,” Memoires de la Société Royale du Canada 3e ser. (Ottawa: Société Royale du Canada, 1938); Adrien Gabriel Morice, Aux sources de l’histoire manitobaine, extrait de la Nouvelle-France (Quebec: Imprimerie de la compagnie de “L’Événement”, 1907); Adrien Gabriel Morice, Dictionnaire historique des canadiens et des métis français de l’ouest (Saint-Boniface: l’Archevêché, 1908). Cornelius J. Jaenen, “The French Presence in the West, 1734-1874,” Manitoba History 24 (Autumn 1992), notes “By 1823 the francophones numbered about 350 in the vicinity of St. Boniface” but does not distinguish Aboriginal from non-Aboriginal.

[18] Martin, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Tenure, 27.

[19] See “History,” Town of Sainte-Anne (accessed 3 April 2014), which neglects to mention the Métis setters already established there, and does not indicate if the newcomers who settled there were all from Lower Canada, or included Métis. I have not confirmed the date of migration, or the number of migrants.

[20] Rather than import settlers, the emphasis of ‘official’ French Canadian concerns — realized through representatives of missionary orders of the Catholic Church (primarily Oblate) —  was in growing a French, Catholic population, settled on farms, by way of ‘civilizing’ people already in the West. The approach reflected concerns that any population decrease in Lower Canada due to westward migration would threaten its political and cultural survival. See Timothy Paul Foran, “Les Gens de Cette Place: Oblates and the Evolving Concept of Métis at Île-à-la-Crosse, 1845 – 1898,” PH.D. diss. (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2011), 23 – 24, who explains, “Within the Oblates’ ultramontane paradigm, the institutional Catholic Church was the one and only source of true civilization—la civilisation chrétienne. The Church alone could inculcate and reinforce ‘civilized’ habits of thought and behaviour that conformed with the divinely willed order of things”; and Huel, Archbishop A.-A. Taché of St. Boniface The “Good Fight” and the Illusive Vision (Edmonton: University of Alberta, 2003), 70-71, identifies 1859 as the earliest date that suggestion was made that migration from Quebec might be worthwhile and names no influx of settlers prior to 1870.

[21] Lyle Dick, “The Seven Oaks Incident and the Construction of a Historical Tradition, 1816 to 1870,” in Making Western Canada: Essays on European Colonization and Settlement, ed. Catherine Cavanaugh and Jeremy Mouat (Toronto: Garamond Press, 1996), 12. See “Note on Alexander Begg’s Journal, History and Heritage,” this site, which cautions, “It is not always clear whether those whom [Begg] designates ‘English speaking settlers’ include any who are not ‘Selkirk Settlers’ (and possibly Gaelic speaking), or who are not Canadian. The activity of English speaking ‘Half breads’ (whether they spoke Aboriginal languages or not) is therefore under-acknowledged in Begg’s version of events.”

[22] Martin, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Tenures, 24 n. (j), notes that, as of January 1814, there were about 100 Irish and Scottish Highland settlers; in June 50 more arrived; by September there were 200 in total, if HBC labourers are included; in November 1815 about 160 additional settlers arrived at Red River. He adds that in 1815, 140 of the Settlers left for Canada. “The Settlers,” Lord Selkirk Association of Rupert’s Land (accessed 1 April 2014), puts the number at “114 settlers (and 29 H.B.C. servants).” W.L. Morton, Manitoba, appears to combine the two parties which make up the second contingent (1814), finding 83 settlers in the first, while yet retaining 15 for an additional influx. His estimates of external migrants are consistently higher than those of other authors.

[23] See Martin, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Tenures, 25-27, 29-30, who notes departures of Swiss in 1822 and 1823. J.M. Bumsted, Thomas Scott’s Body and Other Essays on Early Manitoba History (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2000), 58, 69, lists “About fifty de Meurons and a few de Watteville” as having settled at Red River, and 112 Swiss in Rotterdam as destined for Hudson’s Bay. The number of these to make Red River is not clear. Russenholt, Heart of the Continent, 53, 54, contends that, after several children died en route to Red River from York Factory, there were 170 Swiss.

[24] Kaye, “Aspects of Historical Geography,” 38.

[25] E.H. Oliver, The Canadian North-West, Its Early Development and Legislative Records: Minutes of the Councils of the Red River Colony and the Northent Department of Rupert’s Land, vol. 1 (Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, 1915), 261, 263, includes a letter from Donald McKenzie, writing to A. Colville in 1824, who states that 180 people departed from the settlement, in his estimation “a consummation much to be desired,” then in a postscript mentions 5 others who left as well. Gunn, History of Manitoba, 251, records a total of 243 discontented “souls” as having left on 24 June 1826. Martin, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Tenures, 30, 32, only reports 5 families of Swiss leaving in 1822, followed by 13 in 1823, then 243 individuals of various sorts in 1826.

[26] Sprague and Frye, Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, 15 n. 15, 16. Bryce, Remarkable History, 213, on the basis “deduction,” arrived at 130 — perhaps including children born at Red River? The total population figure is a guesstimate, based on there having been 2,751 people counted in 1832.

[27] George F. G. Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada: A History of the Riel Rebellions (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1936; reprint, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 12-13 (page citations are to the reprint edition). Ross, Red River Settlement, 142, 408. John E. Foster, “The Country-Born in Red River Settlement, 1820-1850” (Ph.D. diss., University of Alberta, 1973), 202, 207, dates the first intermarriage of Selkirk Settlers and Métis to the 1840s — about the time when the children, of the first generation of Selkirk Settlers to arrive, became of marriageable age. Martin, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Tenure, 75-77, describes the arrival of Chelsea Pensioners in 1848 and 1850, with wives and families as settlers (anywhere from 56-140 troops), as well as the departure, in 1855, of most for Canada and England (again, the numbers are uncertain), after which apparently 25 families remained.

[1928] J.L. Finlay and D.N. Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History, 5th ed. (Scarborough: Prentice Hall Allyn and Bacon Canada, 1997), 206-207. Gerald Friesen, The Canadian Prairies, A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987; reprint, 1998), 90 (page citations are to the reprint edition). Sprague and Frye, Genealogy of the First Metis Nation, 18; Foster, “Country-Born,” 12.

[29] See “Definition: Legislative Assembly,” this site, which notes, “A Legislative Assembly of Vancouver Island [LAVI] (a.k.a the “House of Assembly of Vancouver Island”) predated the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia — and no doubt inspired efforts to create the latter. In 1856, after petitions were sent to the Colonial Office in London, protesting HBC proprietary rule, the LAVI was created as an elected body to represent voters in the Colony of Vancouver Island. Only a handful of colonists met the voting requirement, most of whom were tied to the HBC. In addition, at the time, the colony did not attain responsible government as it was headed by an appointed governor — an HBC chief factor. See “The Revolt and Its Lessons,” New Nation (14 January 1870), 1, column 4 and column 5.

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. 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. … At the time of the Resistance, the region that became British Columbia — the Pacific Slope — was separate from Rupert’s Land. 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.”


Published 31 March 2014



  1. Hello – Your research and writing is appreciated. I am trying to learn more about the Beaubien Family. I am a Beaubien thru my grandmother. Some of the men are documented in history because they were successful in business, medicine and public service. I am particularly interested in the women, who as you know, are much harder to research. The Beaubien family originally came to New France around 1640. Some family came west sometime in the 1800’s. They lived in the MB Red River area, along with SK and AB later. Do you have any suggestions for how I can research my family further? I live in BC so getting access to archival records is difficult, except thru online sources. Thanks for any help or suggestions. P.S. The slideshow of women from Red River is great! This kind of history is rarely found.

    • Hi Susan,

      Thanks for your comment. Like you, I seldom get to any archives anymore and have to rely on online searching. One development lately is that the Archives of Manitoba is gradually posting digitized documents online. It might be worthwhile trying to search their database. It can be a little difficult though — it doesn’t always give up its contents easily and takes some dedicated trial and error attempts. Otherwise, my advice is to keep googling, and looking for databases kept by museums, newspapers, and universities etc. — it is amazing how much new information is getting posted.

      Best of luck,

  2. i am really enjoying the information – have one questions though – on the tabulation Status Dated RR from 1835 census – Allen McDonnell family – Margaret Cameron listed as Metis – living with Livingston. I have gone through every 1835 census I could find and could not find Margaret Cameron anywhere and would really like to – any direction? Thanks Lorna

  3. Hi Lorna,
    Wives were seldom named in censuses. Info on Margaret being Allen McDonnell’s wife can be found at Dictionary of Canadian Biography online

    • I have her as his “reputed wife”, but on the Status data it actually states she is Metis and living house of Livingston. Just wondering where I could find this info. Thanks.

      • Thanks for your query — I might have to revise my list of people at Red River, 1835.

        My guess, for the purpose of compiling economic information for Red River people of that year, was that Allan McDonnell was recorded in the censuses as Allan McDonald (see explanation below). Allan McDonald/ McDonnell is absent from the censuses I looked at, beginning 1831, which is in keeping with his Dictionary of Canadian Biography [DCB] entry and HBC Biographical Sheet (he was posted elsewhere). But his “family’, not present in the 1831 census, appears in the 1834 census as consisting of a woman, born “Rupert’s Land”, Protestant, living with 2 sons under the age of 16, and having a cow and calf, but no house or land. The 1834-35 census has Allan McDonald’s family (without Allan) as a woman, “Native” (which was the polite English-language term for Metis at the time), Protestant, without any children, living with “John Livingston”. The 1835 census at the Archives of Manitoba, entry no. 366, has McDonald’s family being a “Native” Protestant woman, living with a person, initial “J.” surname “Livingston”. Allan McDonald’s family is gone by the 1838 census.

        Interpreting these entries as representing Allan McDonnell’s family requires adopting the logic that if there is no record of an Allan McDonald who was married with a family at Red River (for example, no such person appears in Sprague and Frye’s Genealogy of the First Metis Nation), then this is likely a phonetic misspelling of McDonnell (which name also does not appear in Sprague and Frye’s Genealogy). Although that interpretation would not be acceptable for a strictly genealogical treatise, it was adequate for the purposes of my study on relative asset accumulation at Red River in 1835. As noted in that paper, the families had to be reconstituted, and many ‘best guess’ hypotheses had to be applied to supply names — particularly of women. I adopted the name Margaret for the unnamed wife of Allan McDonald, based on the DCB entry and the HBC Bio sheet for Allan McDonell.

        But, now having looked into this a little bit more — the HBC bio sheet for the Livingston Family ( indicates that a John Livingston (born 1808) married 18 December 1834 to a “Sophia McDonnell” (1811-1835). So, Sophia McDonnell would seem likely to be the woman listed as “Allan McDonald’s family” and living with a John Livingston in the 1834 and 1835 censuses. Was this one of Allan McDonnell’s ‘country wives’? or a daughter? Or somebody else?

        Your thoughts?

  4. This was his daughter. She was only married for one year before she died.

  5. Margaret was in Red River 1833 – this was year of baptism her and daughter also I believe the year of her marriage – will have to confirm that one.

  6. I have been through these census how many times and cannot find any indication for Allan McDonnell – or referring to his family.

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