Métis Conflict With the Hudson's Bay Company - 1812

In 1812 the Hudson's Bay Company gave Lord Selkirk a land grant of 116,000 acres centred on the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in the Red River Valley to bring in Scottish settlers.

The Métis opposed the settlers because they feared losing their lands, since they were squatters and held no legal title.

Many Métis were working as fur traders with both the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company.

Others were working as free traders, or buffalo hunters supplying pemmican to the fur trade.

They had settled along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, with their homes along the river, and long narrow lots extending back from the river in the French Canadian style.

But they had no legal title to their land, even though they had occupied it for some time.

The Hudson's Bay Company wanted to stop Métis from selling pemmican to the Northwest Company, and the settlers tried to stop the Métis pemmican export business because they wanted the pemmican for themselves.

Miles Macdonnell, leader of the settlers, passed a law  to stop the export of pemmican from the district. Métis, led by Cuthbert Grant, ignored the new law. There was constant conflict between the Métis and the settlers.

At  a confrontation with the Métis at Seven Oaks in 1816,  21 settlers were killed. This became known as the Seven Oaks Massacre.

The junction of the Red River (left) and the Assiniboine, where the first Métis settlement began in western Canada. This site became an explosive powder keg in western Canada in 1816 and again in 1869.

The original features of the classic Métis strip farms north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, can still be made out today.


Fort Garry, at the junction of the Red & Assiniboine Rivers in 1869, just when the Métis, who had lived here in peace
for generations, were starting to feel threatened by the actions of the Canadian Government. Painted by Lionel Macdonald Stephenson, a 15 year old resident, who was to paint many of these and sell them to the soldiers sent west, in 1870,
to put the Métis in their place.

A Disappearing Way of Life1840s-1860s

Tent at Red River, 1821: A 15 year old artist, Peter Rindisbacher, an immigrant from Switzerland, painted this well known family scene inside a tent on the site where Fort Garry would later be built.

The Hudson's Bay Company tried to monopolize the fur trade by outlawing all other traders. But the Métis were the majority in all the settlements, and refused to comply.

The Hudson's Bay Company needed the Métis, so it finally made compromises. During the 1850's, the Métis succeeded in breaking the fur trade monopoly that the Company had held until then, and they gained some political and property rights.

But their old way of life was disappearing.

The buffalo were declining in number, and the Métis and First Nations had to go further and further west to hunt them.

In 1857 the Dawson-Hind exploration expedition arrived from eastern Canada to study the land. The expedition recommended that the Canadian government acquire the arable part of the Company's land for settlement.

At the same time, many Americans were pressing Washington to annex the Hudson's Bay Company lands. The Company had no way to defend its lands in case of  an American invasion.

As well, profits from the fur trade were declining because the Hudson's Bay Company had to extend its reach further and further away from its main posts to get furs.

The York Boat (by Arthur Heming) with which many Métis, in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company,
ferried fur and trade goods all over western and northern Canada

Go to Arthur Heming

Outside the walls of Fort Garry

In 1869, the Hudson's Bay Company agreed to sell its territory to the new Dominion of Canada, which had been formed in 1867 by the uniting of four British colonies: Canada East (Quebec), Canada West (Ontario), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

First Nations were alarmed when they heard rumors that the Hudson's Bay Company was selling their land (i.e. the First Nations' land) to the new government of Canada in Ottawa.

The Métis were also alarmed. They feared they would lose their lands and their rights. They were especially alarmed that no one was consulting them about the takeover by the government of Canada.

Another Lionel Stephenson painting, from 1879, a decade after the troubles of 1870.
Many Métis families had fled the area for the western prairie spaces of Saskatchewan
where they hoped to regain their traditional freedom,
far from the clutches of the Canadian Government and its business partners

Go to Lionel Stephenson

The interior of Fort Garry in 1884, by HA Strong,
and one of finest antique lithographs from the history of western Canada

Metis or Métis ? - No, not a typo! To be perfectly correct, grammatically, in French, the second is correct.

The word stems from the French moitié, or "half" to describe a people who stem from the French traders and voyageurs of the Fur Trade days, who married Indian women.

They were proud of their "half breed" heritage.

Today Métis organizations write it in the latter French style.

But the Oxford dictionary uses the spelling Metis, without the accent, to describe the same group of people.

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Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 2007