This year we mark not only the bicentennial of the War of 1812 (as previously posted here) but also a pivotal event in our province’s history: the arrival of the Selkirk settlers to what would later become Winnipeg. Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, used personal wealth to help re-settle poor farmers from Scotland in what he hoped would be a permanent colony. This not only heralded the coming of permanent European settlements, but also introduced agriculture in a region that had been dominated by the fur trade. The enterprise faced many hardships, including the financial ruin of Lord Selkirk and the razing (twice) of Fort Douglas, the initial trading post of the colony, not least because of the wars fought between the Hudson Bay and NorthWest Companies. Despite never prospering in Selkirk’s lifetime, the Red River Colony eventually became the Province of Manitoba.
Starting on February 4, Winnipeg Public Library will exhibit replicas and authentic artifacts representing the Selkirk Settlers’ clothing, tools, and everyday objects, provided courtesy of Parks Canada, the Manitoba Museum, and the Active History Associates. The exhibit will run from early February until late April . Come and check it out!
For those who would like to read up on the subject, there are a few choice picks that I can recommend. J. M. Bumstead is an authority on the subject of the Red River Colony and has written an excellent biography of Lord Selkirk.
Another fascinating read is “A Son of the Fur Trade: the life of Johny Grant” , the memoir of a Metis fur trader and rancher who lived an adventurous life in the Red River territory through much of its history from 1833 until his death in 1907. Grant was involved in the rebellion of 1870, and even briefly arrested on orders of Louis Riel for opposing him.
If you are a fiction reader with an interest in this era (this being festival du voyageur month), then Margaret Elphinstone’s “Voyageurs” might appeal to you. A devout English Quaker in search of his sister who disappeared in the Canadian wilderness faces war and hardship while working with voyageurs in the fur trade. The inner conflict between religious beliefs and “real life” is also a central element of the story.
On a housekeeping note, I would like to announce that a book scanner is now available for the public use in the Local History Room at the Millennium Library. There is no charge to use the scanner, but patrons will need to bring a memory stick in order to save the scanned material on it. This will provide an improved way to make copies of the material in the Local History Room and also help in the preservation of more fragile material. Though the scanner’s primary function is to allow the digital reproduction of Local History Room books, the public can bring outside material to scan as well.