CANADA'S ACQUISITION OF THE NORTH-WEST.
One of the first acts of the new Parliament was to provide for the transfer of the North-West Territory to the Dominion of Canada. Negotiations, however, had first to be opened up with the Hudson's Bay Company, which for many years had enjoyed a charter giving them exclu- sive trading privileges in furs. Their charter was granted them as early as the reign of Charles the Second. The Company's means of access to England was chiefly by the shores of Hudson's Bay, the communication being maintained by an annual ship which brought out the season's outfit and carried back the furs. Thus isolated from Canada, little was known to the Canadian people of the vast resources of the Hudson's Bay region. But the value of the fur trade had early attracted the enterprise of the inhabitants of the shores of the St. Lawrence, and under the title of the North-West Company" an association of traders, penetrated the confines, of the vast territory. It is thus due to Canadian enterprise that this fertile belt is now under the Government of the Dominion ion of Canada.
The North-West is a country of "magnificent distances." commencing at the head of Lake Superior the traveller visiting the region will pass for over four hundred miles through a rough country of rock and small timber, supposed to contain a good deal of mineral wealth. About twenty miles east of Winnipeg he will then come to open prairie, which extends in one vast plain for a distance of eight hundred miles, gradually rising in steppes to the foot of the Rocky Mountains The forty-ninth parallel of latitude separates it on the south from the United States territory. This boundary line was marked out a few years ago by a joint commission, consisting of a company of Royal Engineers, under Major Cameron, and a company of American Engineers - Colonel Forrest representing the Canadian contingent. The prairie region is drained by numerous rivers, the greater number of which take their rise in the Rocky Mountains, some finding their outlet in the Arctic Ocean by the noble Mackenzie River, others in the Hudson's Bay through the two main outlets, the Churchill and the Nelson. These interior rivers have cut for themselves deep channels through the prairie, the bed of the streams being from two to three hundred feet below the prairie level. As a consequence, the smaller rivers and streams have worn for themselves deep gullies to reach the level of the main rivers, so that in travelling through the country these deep and precipitous gullies have frequently to be crossed, their natural scenery, which is bold and striking, relieving the great monotony of the prairie. The vegetation of the country is luxuriant and diversified; so much so that it is never customary, in travelling with native ponies, to carry oats for fodder. Numerous ponds and lakes everywhere abound, some of which are salt; the fresh water lakes being also more or less impregnated with alkali. The prairies and streams are the homes of a great variety of fur-bearing animals, which are trapped by the Indians and half-breeds, and are brought to the Hudson's Bay Company's posts for trade. The standard of trade before the introduction of currency was one skin. A pound of tea, instead of being six shillings, represented so much value in skins; the trade mark being designated in the motto of the Hudson's Bay Company, Pro pelle eutem. The rule of the Hudson's Bay Company was purely paternal in its character. Its officers dealt honourably with the Indians, and so obtained their confidence. If an Indian proved a defaulter, his name was put upon the books of the Company at every post where he was likely to visit, and he was not allowed to obtain any supplies. This made dealings on the part of the Indians also honourable, greatly to the protection of the Company. The private trader who made advances to the trapper had no surety that furs would be brought in to repay him; but it was not so with the Hudson's Bay Company, whose equitable management amply protected them. When any difficulty did occur it was generally smoothed over by the tact of the Company's officers. Thus this vast region with its handful of a nomadic population was peacefully and well governed up to the time of the transfer to Canada. Although the country was hidden from the eyes of the world, being separated from civilization on all sides by hundreds of miles of dense forests or trackless prairies, it has an intensely interesting history. This history covers a period of over two hundred years, and is replete with incidents which reflect credit on the adventurous spirits who in those early days sought to extend the commerce of the world, going hand in hand with the other agencies which promote Christianity and civilization. As an example of the complete isolation of this vast region, a pleasing fact may be recited, the truth of which is vouched for by the employees of the Hudson's Bay Company. One of the officers of the Company, not wishing to give up his old-fashioned liking for the morning paper, was in the habit of having sent to him, by the one annual sailing vessel which kept up communication with the territory and conveyed the supplies to and from England, a complete file of the Times of the previous year. Every morning this conservative old gentleman would digest his paper while digesting his breakfast, the journal losing nothing in interest by being a year old, while his faithful old servant had the corresponding pleasure of saying "Your morning paper, sir." These old officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, who led an isolated life in the loneliness of the great North-West have left behind them a memory that will long beneficially influence the country; and after leaving the service many of them settled down in comfort in Canada, whither their good record followed them.
The history of the Hudson's Bay Company is one of great interest. It tells of stirring times when the great trading company of England had to hold its own at the point of the pen or the bayonet. The Company had one principle, which all the officers rigidly acted upon, namely, to hide from the world any knowledge of the extensive and valuable resources over which they held sway, dreading the influx of an enterprising population, which might wrest from them their valuable fur trade and demoralize the hunting qualities of the Indian. The value of the resources of the region was first discovered by the French, who then occupied Old Canada, called New France, after the Gallic motherland, and in contradistinction to the colonies to the south, called England. The Jesuit fathers, who seem to have been ever among the most adventurous in disseminating Christianity among the aborigines, first brought to light the magnificent inland sea, called Lake Superior. Their report of the country brought from Quebec, in the year 1666, the adventurous spirits De Grosselier and Raddison, who sought to extend exploration. These travellers entered the Kaministiquia River, at the head of Lake Superior, and found their way by the chain of lakes and rivers westward into Lake Winnipeg, and from there, under the guidance of the Assiniboines, travelled northward to the shores of Hudson's Bay. In the following year they returned; and it was through the information they were able to give of the valuable resources of the interior of the country, and of the easy mode of communication by way of Hudson's Bay and Straits, that led to the celebrated charter being sought for and obtained by Prince Rupert and "his honourable company of gentlemen adventurers," trading to Hudson's Bay.
The history of the country for many years afterwards was one of enterprise and adventure, the competition for the possession of Hudson's Bay being very frequently and hotly contested by the French from Canada and the Hudson's Bay Company from England, assisted occasionally by the New England colonists from Boston. The Canadians, having known for many years the great value of the fur trade of the interior, extended their operations by means of the North-West Company,their channel of communication being by way of the head of Lake Superior and the chain of lakes and rivers running into Lake Winnipeg. The Hudson's Bay Company competed for this trade on the same ground, entering the country by way of Hudson's Bay. For some years the rivalry between the two companies was of a friendly character, but gradually the Hudson's Bay Company, becoming jealous of the success of their rivals, sought to expel them, and claimed exclusive possession of the country, under their charter from King Charles.
The Earl of Selkirk, a philanthropic and adventurous nobleman, who selected this region for his enterprise, was for some years a leading spirit in the country. He had acquired influence over the Hudson's Bay Company by large purchases of their stock, and in 1812 conceived the idea of placing a settlement in the interior, partly to place labour on the soil, useful to the Company, and partly to assist himself in withstanding the encroachments of his rivals, the North-West Company. These settlers were brought from Scotland by way of Hudson's Bay. Their early history is one of difficulty, danger and disaster, which many a time threatened extermination; but their natural hardihood overcame all obstacles, and the descendants of these enterprising settlers, in time, made comfortable homes for themselves. They formed a considerable portion of the population at the time of the transfer of the country to Canada, and to-day reap the benefit of the enterprise of their ancestors. Another element of the population, and forming about half of it, is that composed of the descendants of the employees and voyageurs of the North-West Company; nearly all of whom are of French origin. The French section, settled on the banks of the Red River, to the south of the Assiniboine, while the English occupied the north.
The Earl of Selkirk, to carry out his plan of settlement, obtained a grant from the Hudson's Bay Company of a tract of land, consisting of a narrow strip on the banks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. His title to this tract was completed, but it aroused hostility on the part of some of the shareholders of the Company at the time it was made, and in 1835 was repurchased from his heirs for £35,000. The noble earl, however, as chief of the Company, so pressed forward his plans and operations that the country was continually embroiled in conflict, greatly to the injury of trade. The North-West Company held their own, and an amicable solution of difficulties was finally arrived at by the amalgamation in 1821 of all interests. Since that period the Hudson's Bay Company has peacefully and successfully carried on the joint trade. The country, however, was not altogether without an occasional excitement, in the fights that took place between hostile tribes of Indians. At that early time the prairie was covered with countless herds of buffalo, producing the staple article of food for the Indians of the plains. The buffalo were valuable for their hides and meat. As the settlers and employees of the Company increased and intermarried with the Indians, they began to take part in the chase, and large camps were organized by the half-breeds who went hundreds of miles into the interior to take part in the sport and participate in the valuable trade. The Indians, often resenting their interference, had many a feud with the half-breeds, who, however, always held their own. These fights gave as much pleasure and excitement to the contending parties as the chase itself. Thus was the population of the country reared, amidst adventure and sometimes angry contest, which was much to their liking and more congenial to their habits than the humdrum life of a farmer. The population of the country, in 1869, was made up of about five thousand French, five thousand English and Scotch half-breeds, and a small number of Europeans and Americans, with whom were a handful of Canadians. The leading spirit among the latter was Dr. Schultz, who came into the country when a young man, and took a stand antagonistic to what he deemed the despotic rule of the Hudson's Bay Company. There can be no doubt that the difficulties created by him brought to the notice of those interested the advantages of opening up the magnificent country and of placing its resources at the enterprise of a future population. Dr. Schultz's name is historically connected with the new order of things; and he proved as difficult a problem for the Company to solve, in connection with their trade monopoly, as they had had for some time; and without knowing who was right or who was wrong, his share in the troubles occasioned many disputes in old Canada. There is no doubt either that the difficulties he got into with the Company brought forcibly before the Imperial and Canadian Governments the necessity for a change of administration. Dr. Schultz played no unimportant part in the troubles that followed the transfer of the country to Canada, and to indicate the feeling that existed prior to the transfer, an attempt was made by Mr. Thomas Spence to form an independent government at Portage la Prairie, supposed to be outside the limits of the Company's rule. Of course such an act was illegal, and when discovered to be so, proceedings towards independence went no further. But this was the commencement of an effort on the part of the people to obtain a greater voice in the conduct of affairs involving their interests.
Before negotiating with the Imperial Government for the transfer of the country, it was necessary to purchase the claims and vested interests of the Hudson's Bay Company in the region. These interests were exclusive trading rights, granted them by their charter; and as they claimed a vested interest in the soil, they valued the privilege which they held very highly. The Canadian Government sent the late Sir George Cartier and the Honourable William Macdougall to England to negotiate with the directors of the Company, whose headquarters were in London. The Company were inclined to drive a hard bargain, and it was difficult for the commissioners to negotiate on terms acceptable to Canada. But as a failure to negotiate would interfere with the settled Imperial policy in regard to Canada, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, then Colonial Secretary, intervened and brought about a satisfactory agreement between the Hudson's Bay Company and the commissioners. The terms of this agreement were a money payment of three hundred thousand pounds, and one-twentieth of the lands as they were surveyed, to be selected by the Company within fifty years, also a reservation around each of their principal posts throughout the country. Having concluded the bargain, the Canadian Parliament passed an Act confirming it, and empowering the Government to pay over the purchase money. The Government now gave to the North-West Territory a Constitution, under which it was in future to be governed; and Canada at once became possessed of a vast colony of her own, and in good faith accepted the trust reposed in her to govern the immense region. Being anxious to carry out this trust, she lost no time in providing the machinery for its development and government.
In the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company two diverse elements existed; one, the shareholders, whose interests sought large financial returns for their investment, the other, the Company's officers, who, besides their pay, in time obtained an addition to their income, in a percentage of the annual profits, as a reward for long service,
It is important to note that the negotiations thus concluded were made solely with the shareholders in London, and without reference to their large army of employees scattered throughout the Territory. Neither was regard paid to the local population in the neighbourhood of Fort Garry, which had now increased to about twelve thousand souls, and which had very scant information about the great political change about to come over them. It was felt by leading men in the settlement that to bring about such a political change without danger to the country, a few troops were necessary; but the Imperial Government either did not wish to interfere in the mode of transfer or felt that it was the duty of Canada and the Hudson's Bay Company to arrange the transfer on their own responsibility. No steps, however, were taken to place a small protective force in the country.
In their eagerness to open up communication with and take possession of the country, the Canadian Government, in advance of the Imperial proclamation transfer- ring the country to Canada, in the early part of 1869 sent a surveying party to locate and construct a highway between Winnipeg and the Lake of the Woods, giving communication by aid of the water-stretches from there to Lake Superior. This was followed by a surveying party, under Colonel Dennis, to run the meridian lines and lay the foundation of the future surveys of the territory, upon the American principle, of square blocks containing six hundred and forty acres each, with a road allowance around the four sides. This proceeding created a feeling of hostility among the population, which had not been consulted, and were not cognizant of any policy propounded, or that might be pursued towards them, in regard to their holdings. The region had been surveyed by the Hudson's Bay Company with the view of giving river frontage to the settlers, and the farms of the people were laid out in narrow strips of land, two miles deep by a few chains wide, fronting on the Red and Assiniboine rivers. In addition to this the settlers possessed what was termed "a hay privilege," or a similar strip of land running two miles into the prairie. The churches also had grants of land for educational and religious purposes. The titles of these lands were not held in fee simple, but as leasehold from the Hudson's Bay Company. The Canadian Government, therefore, who had become possessed of the sovereignty of the soil, had they so willed, might possibly have set aside this mode of survey and ignored the settlers. This was the feeling among many of the half-breeds; and there were not a few who fostered the idea that the Canadian Government would not deal justly in the matter. There were others of the population who, though bound by ties to England, owed no allegiance to Canada, and did not feel disposed to assist in bringing about a change the effect of which might possibly imperil their interests. A few Canadians, chief among whom was Dr. Schultz, had travelled extensively over the territory, and had mainly been the means of disseminating the information in Canada as to the value of and resources of the country. These Canadians were eagerly looking forward to the consummation of the transfer, and were not in sympathy with the governing power of the Hudson's Bay Company, whose policy had naturally been one of isolation in the interests of their trade. Such was the state of feeling in 1869, when the surveying parties alluded to arrived on the scene.