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An Arduous Task, Marked by a Private War (1812–21)
 

A clerk, recruiting agent, and administrator, Archibald McDONALD assisted in the birth of the Red River colony and was soon faced with a situation that threatened the settlers’ security:

“Archibald McDonald was enlisted in early 1812 by Lord Selkirk [Douglas*] to serve as clerk and agent for the Red River settlement. In Scotland he assisted in the recruitment of the second group of settlers, who sailed in 1812.… In June 1813 he sailed from Stromness, Scotland, with a group of 94 Kildonan emigrants on the Prince of Wales for York Factory (Man.), as second in command to Dr Peter Laserre.…

“Before his departure from Great Britain, McDonald had been appointed to the Council of Assiniboia, a body created by Selkirk to aid the colony’s governor, Miles Macdonell*, and during the winter of 1814–15 he served as one of Macdonell’s principal lieutenants. In the spring of 1815 Cuthbert Grant and the Métis, encouraged by the North West Company, who were opposed to the establishment of the Selkirk settlement, openly harassed the colony, attacking the settlers and stealing livestock, until in June they forced the abandonment of the colony.”

 

The first settlers had to cope not only with a harsh environment, but also with the repercussions of a bitter feud, known as the pemmican war, between the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the North West Company (NWC). People were killed during this private war, as related in the biography of fur trader, explorer, and colonial administrator Peter FIDLER:

“By June 1815, after the resignation of the colony’s governor, Miles Macdonell, Fidler was temporarily in command. As a result of constant harassment by the Métis, led by Cuthbert Grant* and encouraged by the [North West Company], he signed, on 25 June 1815, a capitulation that ordered ‘all settlers to retire immediately from this river, no appearance of a colony to remain.’ Fidler and the colonists abandoned the settlement and fled to Jack River House (Man.). There they were met by Colin Robertson*, who returned with some of the settlers to re-establish the colony. Fidler went on to York Factory, to be given the task of transporting the newly arrived governor of the HBC territories, Robert Semple*, and additional settlers, to Red River. He then went back to Brandon House, and from there continued to aid the struggling colony. The Métis retaliated in early June 1816, plundering Fidler’s post. Two weeks later at Seven Oaks (Winnipeg), Semple and about 20 men were killed. The next year Selkirk re-established the colony once again, and Fidler resumed the surveying of property lots.”

 

The biographies that appear in the following lists provide additional information about the challenges faced by the colony’s settlers, administrators, and founder, Thomas DOUGLAS, 5th Earl of Selkirk, during the first years of its existence, and the conflict that lasted until the two companies merged in 1821.

 

The Pemmican War: Violence in the Fur Trade
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