MACDONALD, ALLAN (he may also have signed MacDonald and McDonald), farmer, rancher, businessman, militia officer, and Indian agent; b. 19 May 1832 in Fort Langley (near Langley, B.C.), fourth of the 13 children of Archibald McDonald* and Jane Klyne; m. 29 Dec. 1869 Harriet Robertson in St Andrews (Saint-André-Est), Que., and they had one son and three daughters; d. 28 Nov. 1901 in Winnipeg.
Allan Macdonald’s father was a chief trader and later chief factor in the Hudson’s Bay Company and his mother was of Cree and Dutch Canadian ancestry. In 1834–35, while his father was in England on furlough, Allan lived with his mother and siblings in the Red River settlement (Man.). There, on 2 Nov. 1834, the children as well as their mother were baptized by a Church of England clergyman, the Reverend William Cockran*, and on the father’s return the parents married according to Christian rite. From 1835 to 1843 Macdonald lived with his family at Fort Colvile (near Colville, Wash.). In 1844 he was sent to Lower Canada to be educated. His parents retired to Montreal in 1845, but they eventually settled near St Andrews on a farm which Macdonald helped his father to manage. He inherited the farm after his father’s death in 1853. Five years later he was ranching in the area of the Cariboo gold-fields near Bonaparte River and, with his half-brother Ranald*, running pack-trains to the gold-mines. From 1859 to 1861 the brothers operated a store on Harrison Lake and ran a ferry across the Fraser River at Lillooet. He had a share in the Cameron claim [see John Cameron*], which would later prove valuable, but sold it and the rest of his business interests in 1862 and returned to St Andrews.
In 1864 Macdonald became a captain and two years later a major in the 11th Battalion of Rifles, also known as the Argenteuil Rangers, a unit organized by John Joseph Caldwell Abbott*. In 1866 the battalion was called out in anticipation of a Fenian invasion. It was as a military man that Macdonald again ventured west, having been appointed a captain in the expedition to the Red River settlement led by Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley* in 1870. Macdonald stayed in Manitoba, perhaps because he had relatives there, including his uncle George Klyne, member of the Legislative Assembly for Ste Agathe. For a time Macdonald owned a section of land in the village of Ste Agathe but he sold it in 1876. In 1873 he had commanded the escort of Lieutenant Governor Alexander Morris* during the negotiations for Treaty No.3 and he had signed the document as a witness. A year later he was part of the militia escort that accompanied commissioners to Fort Qu’Appelle (Sask.), and he was a witness to Treaty No.4.
In May 1877 Macdonald, by then a lieutenant-colonel, was appointed Indian agent to the bands in the eastern part of the area covered by Treaty No.4 (southern Saskatchewan), replacing Angus McKay*. He took up residence first at Swan River (Man.), where he stayed until 1879, and then at Fort Qu’Appelle. The collapse of the buffalo economy resulted in hunger, disease, and a high rate of mortality among the Cree, Saulteaux, Assiniboin, and Dakota of southern Saskatchewan. The bands that had settled on reserves shortly after Treaty No.4 suffered because they did not receive adequate provisions or assistance in farming. Their experience made other bands who congregated about Fort Walsh (Sask.) in the Cypress Hills reluctant to follow their lead. Macdonald was to pay annuities as far west as Fort Walsh, distribute the promised implements and cattle, and instruct in farming. After 1879 he had the additional responsibility of supervising six widely dispersed farm instructors. While at Fort Walsh in 1879 he negotiated the adhesions to Treaty No.6 of Little Pine [Minahikosis*] and Lucky Man [Papewes], and in 1882 he accepted the signature of Big Bear [Mistahimaskwa*]. During the early 1880s he assisted those bands forced to leave the Cypress Hills to return to the district of Qu’Appelle–Indian Head. His headquarters were moved in 1883 to Indian Head so as to be near a telegraph and to be closer to the recently settled reserves at Crooked Lake and to the south of Indian Head.
Caught up in the speculative fever of the early 1880s, Macdonald, along with Samuel Benfield Steele* of the North-West Mounted Police and several others, organized the Qu’Appelle Syndicate in December 1881 for the purpose of acquiring, improving, and selling land. Macdonald wrote to his friend Abbott, a Conservative mp, asking for information about the proposed sites of important stations along the Canadian Pacific Railway. “A great deal of money will be made in this country the next few years,” he wrote, “but unless a person has friends in the East, it is up hill work.” The syndicate purchased land at Troy (Qu’Appelle) and Racette’s Crossing, but it is unknown what profit, if any, was derived from its investment.
Following the events of the North-West rebellion in 1885 [see Louis Riel*], the Department of Indian Affairs was reorganized and Macdonald became agent for the reserves situated along Crooked Lake in the Qu’Appelle valley. With his assistance this agency became one of the most advanced in farming, and it was chosen as a feature stop on tours of the governors general in 1889 and 1895. Macdonald took an avid interest in farming operations, carrying out experiments with varieties of seeds, trees, fruits, and bushes in the agency garden. He was instrumental in acquiring threshing equipment and a grist-mill for the agency.
As part of his duties Macdonald enforced restrictive measures such as the pass and permit systems but he would also defy directives which he believed were not in the best interests of the natives. During the 1890s he allowed farmers to employ labour-saving machinery although it was the official policy of the government to discourage its use. When asked by deputy superintendent Hayter Reed* in 1894 to dissuade natives from electing chiefs and headmen because Reed wished to abolish these offices, Macdonald curtly replied that elections were a treaty right, that the natives did not wish the terms of the treaty interfered with, and that “they are perfectly civil and orderly but quite firm in their request for a new election.” Like several others in the first generation of Indian agents he became an advocate of the interests of the natives as relations with white settlers became increasingly strained. He steadfastly refused to consider the surrender of any land on the Crooked Lake reserves despite persistent pressure in the 1880s and 1890s, since he believed this would be fatal, especially to the native cattle industry.
Macdonald’s independent stance did not always endear him to his superiors and it is perhaps for this reason that he never received promotion. It had become department policy not to hire people who were either native or part-native and this practice may also have prevented his advancement. Through his mother’s people he had family ties to reserve residents. In 1897, when the department underwent drastic cut-backs and reorganization, Macdonald was initially retired but this order was rescinded. He was transferred to the office of the Indian commissioner in Winnipeg, where he was working as a clerk when he died.
ANQ-M, CE6-34, 29 déc. 1869. GA, M6734. Man., Dept. of Natural Resources, Lands Branch (Winnipeg), Crown Lands Registry, Historic holders index, Allan Macdonald (mfm. at PAM); Legislative Library (Winnipeg), Manitoba hist. scrapbooks, P1; Vert. file, George Klyne. NA, RG 10, 3648, file 8162-1; 3732, file 26623; 3878, file 91839-4; 3911, file 111404; 3964, file 148285. S. [A.] Carter, Lost harvests: prairie Indian reserve farmers and government policy (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1990). J. M. Cole, Exile in the wilderness: the biography of Chief Factor Archibald McDonald, 1790–1853 (Don Mills [Toronto] and Seattle, Wash., 1979). H. A. Dempsey, Big Bear: the end of freedom (Vancouver, 1984). W. S. Lewis, “Archibald McDonald: biography and genealogy,” Wash. Hist. Quarterly (Seattle), 9 (1918): 93–102. Ranald MacDonald, Ranald MacDonald: the narrative of his early life on the Columbia under the Hudson’s Bay Company’s regime . . . , ed. W. S. Lewis and Naojiro Murakami (Spokane, Wash., 1923). Morris, Treaties of Canada with the Indians.
© 1994–2023 University of Toronto/Université Laval
Cite This Article
Sarah A. Carter, “MACDONALD, ALLAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 25, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/macdonald_allan_13E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Sarah A. Carter|
|Title of Article:||MACDONALD, ALLAN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1994|
|Year of revision:||1994|
|Access Date:||March 25, 2023|