2. Red River before 18703. The reasons for the resistance4. The resistance at Red River
Red River before 1870Large-scale permanent settlement of the Red River commenced in 1821 when the Hudson's Bay and North West Company, the two dominant fur-trade companies of the period, ended their fierce competition and merged. The new company did not need as many employees; those who were laid off or retired were encouraged to take up land at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. By the 1860s there were three significant population groups in Red River: the Métis, the English-speaking country born, and the Canadians. Of these, the Métis and the English-speaking country born were by far the largest. The relations between these groups were complex and would determine the success of the Red River Resistance. A census taken in 1870 showed that there were approximately 5,700 Métis, 4,100 English-speaking country born, 1,500 Canadians, and 550 First Nations people at Red River at the time.
The Métis: The North West Company had employed traders and voyageurs from Quebec to travel, trade, and live in the Canadian north-west. Many of these employees were French-speaking Roman Catholics, who established families with Aboriginal women. Their children became the Métis, a distinct French-speaking community with its own dialect and traditions, and even its own flag. In keeping with the practices of Quebec, the Métis established river-lot farms along the Red and Assiniboine rivers. These narrow strip farms extended back from the river for two miles or more. In general, the farmers did not have legal deeds to the land, simply occupying it as squatters. Most Métis drew their livelihood from the buffalo hunt, in which hundreds of Métis participated every summer, traveling hundreds of miles in large-scale and well-organized expeditions. The buffalo meat was processed and sold to the Hudson's Bay Company, as was much of the produce that the Métis grew on their farms. The Métis were very involved in the transporting of goods to and from the United States. Others continued to work as boatmen for the Hudson's Bay, although poor wages and difficult working conditions led to numerous conflicts between the boatmen and the company. The Roman Catholic Church had been active in Red River since 1818, and St. Boniface Bishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché provided the Métis community with considerable leadership, although he, like the other Catholic priests in Red River, was not of Métis ancestry.
The English-speaking country born: English-speaking employees of the Hudson's Bay Company also established families with Aboriginal women across the Canadian north-west. Their children, often referred to as the country born, were English speaking and raised in a Protestant faith, usually that of the Church of England. They also established small farms and worked for the Hudson's Bay Company at Red River. It was also clear to them that the company was not prepared to promote children of Aboriginal ancestry into senior positions. A number of the country-born established successful business operations in Red River, but most in the end were dependent on the Hudson's Bay Company either for employment or to buy their crops. Like the Métis, most of the English-speaking country born did not have title to their land. Conflict developed between the country born and some Protestant church leaders over attitudes towards the social standing of the children of relationships between European fur traders and Aboriginal women. The fact that the European wives of the Protestant clergy felt that they were socially superior to country-born women created considerable tensions in the small community.
The Canadians: Starting the late 1850s settlers from Ontario began to arrive in Red River. Primarily of English and Scottish background, they saw themselves as pioneers, the forerunners of European and Protestant settlement in what they wanted to be a Canadian west. They looked down on the Métis because they were French, Catholic, and of Aboriginal ancestry, and on the country-born because they were of Aboriginal ancestry. John Schultz, a businessman with some medical training, was a leading member of their community. The Nor'Wester newspaper, which Schultz owned, editorialized in favour of Canada taking over of Red River. One Canadian, Charles Mair, created a controversy when he mocked the Aboriginal wives of a number of leading Red River citizens in an article in the Toronto Globe. After the article appeared, one of the women slapped him in the face and beat him with a horsewhip. To the Canadians, the current residents of the Red River, be they country born or Métis, would have to give way to the Canadians, “an energetic and civilized race.” The Canadians were to provide the strongest opposition to the Métis, but because of their disdain of the country-born English speakers, they were never able to attract enough supporters to mount an effective opposition to the Métis.