A great Scottish name, Selkirk, is commemorated in many place names in Canada, as it should be. There is the town of Selkirk, Manitoba, and the Selkirk range of mountains in British Columbia, among others. The Earl of Selkirk was the first large-scale colonizer of Canada. His enterprise cost him most of his fortune and eventually his life.
Thomas Douglas, the Earl of Selkirk was born in 1771, the seventh son of the laird of St. Mary’s Isle on the southwest coast of Scotland. One by one his older brothers died until he inherited the title. As he grew up he became the friend of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. He was perhaps a dreamer, as they were, and he wanted to help the needy Scottish people.
The Earl established settlements in Prince Edward Island and Baldoon. Neither worked out sell, because the land was said to be poor. This is hard to understand today because Baldoon is an area of thriving corn fields. People weren’t eating corn flakes and popcorn in those days! [forgive me, poor joke]
Like Napoleon, Selkirk had been impressed by Alexander Mackenzie’s account of his journey across Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He felt that the Red River area, where Winnipeg now stands, offered the best opportunities because it could be reached from Hudson Bay. This would avoid the costly trip from Quebec. So, Lord Selkirk bought a controlling interest in the Hudson’s Bay Company!
It was then that Selkirk made one of the most amazing deals in Canadian, and perhaps any, history. Using his position in the Hudson’s Bay Company, on June 12, 1811, he obtained a grant of 116,000 square miles of territory for colonization purposes. It included half of what is now Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota! It was an area five times bigger than Scotland, and he received it for a rental of 10 shillings ($0.122 today) a year on the understanding that he would supply the Hudson’s Bay Company with 200 servants a year and develop an agricultural colony.
To read more about today’s post, I suggest the Manitoba LIving History, and the Manitoba Historical Society. Other resources are Site of Kenny Morin, and Red River Bicentenary Commemoration, and lastly the full text of Lord Selkirk’s work in Canada by Chester Mattin, on the Internet Archive‘s Webpage.
- A Touch of History (selkirksnewnation.wordpress.com)
- A glimpse of Selkirk’s New Nation HERE! (selkirksnewnation.wordpress.com)