Robert L. Peters

19 June 2008

Here, on this day in 1816…


Winnipeg, Canada

This painting by Charles William Jefferys (1869-1951) depicts the The Battle of Seven Oaks (known to the Métis as la Victoire de la Grenouillière, or the Victory of Frog Plain) that took place here in the Red River Colony (modern-day Winnipeg) on June 19, 1816 during the long dispute between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, rival fur-trading companies in western Canada. The fight was triggered by a food shortage (an edict prohibiting the export of food called the Pemmican Proclamation had been issued by the Hudson’s Bay Company—this was not recognized by the local Métis, who also did not acknowledge HBC’s authority of the Red River Settlement). The Pemmican Proclamation was a blow to both the Métis and North West Company, who accused the HBC of unfairly monopolizing the fur trade with this action.

The battle erupted when a band of Métis, led by Cuthbert Grant, seized a supply of Hudson’s Bay Company pemmican (that was originally stolen from the Métis) and were travelling to a meeting with traders of the North West Company to whom they intended to sell it. They were met south of Fort Douglas along the Red River at a location called Seven Oaks by a group of HBC men and settlers—a heated argument eroded into a gunfight. Though well-supplied with hubris, the HBC men did not stand a chance against the Métis, who were skilled sharpshooters and outnumbered them by nearly three to one. The Métis killed 22 (of 24) on the HBC side, including the local Governor, while they themselves suffered only one casualty. The Métis were later exonerated by a Royal Commissioner appointed to investigate the incident. Grant went on to became an important figure in the Hudson’s Bay Company after its eventual merger with the North West Company.

(It seems clear that this incident was triggered the attempt at unfair monopolization — when “enterprising” goes too far)…

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