Red River and Northwest Rebellions

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Consider Questions like:

Did the lives of people in the 19th Century get better or worse?

How should history remember John A. Macdonald? What happens when cultures collide?

What you will learn!

To indicate causes and consequences of the settlement of Red River in 1869

To describe the main points of the Indian Act.

To indicate the consequences of the National Policy on the Metis.

To explain the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous peoples in the 1880s.

Rupert’s Land and the Selkirk Settlement

The territory of Canada, initially limited to the central and eastern regions, began to expand more quickly westward in the late 1800s. Rupert’s Land, the vast stretch of territory inhabited by Cree, Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many other peoples, had been granted to the Hudson’s Bay company in 1670 by Charles II, King of England, who had claimed the whole area after earlier expeditions by Hudson and Baffin. However, independent fur traders and the competing North West Company also soon infiltrated the territory, and using established trade routes they mingled, traded, and even lived with the various peoples already there.

Then “the stakes upped considerably when, in 1811, HBC sold over 74 million acres (300,000 km²) in the Red River valley to majority shareholder Thomas Douglas, Lord Selkirk. Selkirk planned to use the land to settle displaced Scottish highlanders, the first of whom arrived in 1812. [...] This immediately caused friction. [...] At the best of times, the farmer and the fur trader were poor neighbours: the success of the former usually depends on clearing the forests that support the animals sought by the latter.”

After Selkirk’s death, various crop failures and even floods, land subsidies were limited and European immigration decreased, leaving the colony to grow slowly, though conflicts between Metis (descendants of both French and Indigenous parents) and the Anglophone “country born” groups continued. (Source)

Explore Rupert's Land and the Red River areas

Use the reference maps of Rupert's land territory, and compare with similar areas on maps like that at Research to find out which people's would have been affected by the Hudson's Bay posts you can research, and by the sale of the Red River area to Selkirk.

Red River now an extension of Canada!

The Americans just paid 7.2 million dollars for Alaska, and they were looking to expand their republic. Canada too eyed the lands to the west as a natural extension of their new nation, with George Brown claiming that vast and fertile territory “our birthright”. The English government too insisted that the territory not be sold to the United States, and so for 1.5 million dollars a quarter of the continent became Canadian-owned, with even Macdonald noting the problematic nature of the transaction, saying "No explanation it appears has been made of the arrangement by which the country is to be handed over," and then continuing, in a note to George-Etienne Cartier, how "All these poor people know is that Canada has bought the country from the Hudson's Bay Company and that they are handed over like a flock of sheep to us."

An immediate consequence was more settlers. Even during the lengthy negotiations “Protestant settlers from the East moved into the colony, and their obtrusive, aggressive ways led the Roman Catholic Métis to fear for the preservation of their religion, land rights and culture. Neither the British nor the Canadian government — with no appreciation of the Métis people — made any serious efforts to assuage these fears, negotiating the transfer of Rupert's Land as if no population existed there.” (Sources)

HBC Farm Lands advertisement, The Beaver, December, 1930, Public Domain. Retrieved with permission from

Red River - Various community traits

The Red River colony area was isolated, with the next village, also distinctively Métis, being 60 miles to the south and in American territory. The community had a cultural character all its own, with various community traits that were common to Cree and Anishnaabeg/Ojibway traditions, including kinship (family connections mattered!), respect for diversity and harmony (they didn’t have or need a police department!), orality where people talked out their problems, leaders who spoke for their people, and territoriality which was assumed (they had a sense of the land they protected!) (Sources)

Under construction

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Document collection

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1840-1896 (#10) - Red River and Northwest Rebellions