Tag Archives: June 12

Little Giant

English: 'Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Pra...

‘Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies’, oil on canvas painting by John Mix Stanley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was not until 1926 that historians could be certain that Henry Kelsey really did reach as far west as Saskatchewan in 1691.  He was an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company and his career was distorted by witnesses who criticized the company during a parliamentary investigation in 1749.  The story of his journey to Western Canada came to light in 1926 when his diary was found in the library of Castle Dodds, at Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was granted its charter in 1670 on the understanding that it would explore the enormous territory under its control, and try to find the Northwest Passage.  Kelsey, although only twenty years old, was working at the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort Nelson, Hudson Bay.  He volunteered to go with a party of Stone Indians to their hunting grounds, and left with them on June 12, 1690.

Many of the great explorers, Cartier, Champlain, Mackenzie, Fraser, and Thompson kept diaries.  Fortunately Kelsey did too, but  much of his writing was in poor verse.  He described his departure:

Then up ye River I with heavy heart
Did Take my way & from all English part
To live among ye natives of this place
If God permits me for one two years space.

Kelsey’s writings are entertaining but do not give a clear account of where he went.  It is known now that he reached The Pas, which he named Deering’s Point after a director of the company.  He was the first white man to see the Prairies, musk oxen, and a buffalo hunt; he actually took part in a buffalo hunt on August 23, 1691.

Kelsey was given the name Mis Top Ashish by the Indians.  It meant Little Giant because he saved an Assiniboine Indian in a fight with two fierce grizzly bears.

Before any other white man penetrated the Prairies (La Vérendrye and his sons did so in 1738), Kelsey had spent nearly forty years on Hudson Bay, including the two years exploring the interior.  He was captured by Iberville in 1694 when the great French-Canadian military leader attacked York Factory.

For more about today’s post, I suggest going to Dictionary of Canadian Biography to learn about the man, and the Manitoba Historical History with more of his diary is revealed. And lastly, a site I just found, the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains.



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It’s A Little Like Napoleon ….

Authentic Map of Manitoba Compliments of the S...

Authentic Map of Manitoba Compliments of the Selkirk Chamber of Commerce (1957) (Photo credit: Manitoba Historical Maps)

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.


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