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Manitoba Historical Society
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Manitoba History: Red River’s Vernacular Historians

by Lyle Dick
Vancouver, BC

Number 71, Winter 2013

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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On the prairies and in other regions of Canada, students of historiography long assumed that the serious study of history began with the creation of the professional discipline around 1900. According to this scenario, as professionally-trained historians took positions in the region’s new universities and began to write works of history, they superseded the non-professionals, who were thereafter characterized as “amateurs.” [1] Though the post-1900 dominance of academic historical writing is undeniable, what has not been adequately acknowledged is that the serious study of history in Western Canada did not begin with the creation of the province of Manitoba and the founding of the academic discipline of history. Western Canada’s historiography had earlier origins, in the period of the Red River settlement. The non-professionals of the 19th century were not inept partisans, as has sometimes been argued. Most of Red River’s historians were not trained at universities but were nevertheless highly skilled at their craft and often motivated by a sense of civic duty to write on issues of pressing social, cultural and political importance to their community.

The continuing presence of Aboriginal peoples at Red River was later recorded by H. L. Hime in his photographs of 1858.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, H. L. Hind 18, N12555.

This article will focus on the work of five historians resident in Old Red River in the period between the arrival of the Selkirk settlers in 1812–1813 and the establishment of Manitoba in 1870. They include Pierre Falcon, Alexander Ross, the Reverend James Hunter, Joseph James Hargrave, and Donald Gunn. To facilitate the placement of these authors into appropriate historical contexts, their major historical works will be considered in the probable chronological order of composition. This article will seek to relate their works to larger forces influencing the community’s economic, social and political dynamics, as well as intellectual currents informing the writers’ assorted approaches to history. I call them “vernacular” historians, as they were not university-based professionals but nevertheless well prepared by virtue of a combination of book learning, oral tradition and direct experience or the “school of life.” [2]

The only Red River historian whose work was taken seriously by most subsequent observers was Alexander Ross. W. L. Morton characterized Ross as a combination of Herodotus and Thucydides, the two dominant scholars of ancient Greece who have been credited with being the fathers of historiography. Morton wrote that Ross was: “at once the Herodotus and the Thucydides, inquirer and reporter, participant and critic, of history on both sides of the Rockies from 1810 to 1852.” Morton held Ross’s skills of ethnographic description in high regard; he wrote: “He learned by experience and by enquiry, he was concerned both to deliver a lively narrative and to get his facts straight; he is widely used as a source and even copied; his work is curiously general in that he raised historical themes, notably the contact of cultures and the origin of the state, which recur in later historiography.” [3]

Alexander Ross (1783–1856), Red River’s first historian to publish a written history.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N21467.

The views of Morton and most other post-1870 practitioners regarding Red River’s historians were closely aligned to their attitudes towards Thomas Douglas, the Earl of Selkirk, a historical figure who looms large in this early period of Western Canadian history. Alexander Ross’s admiration of Selkirk prepared the groundwork for the warm reception of his own book by the post-Confederation historians, who readily agreed with him that Selkirk was a suitable founding father for the region. Selkirk’s heroic status was highlighted in the observances of the first centennial of the Red River Settlement of one hundred years ago. At that time Winnipeg’s Canadian Industrial Exhibition organized and published a handsome booklet that celebrated Selkirk as a visionary and progenitor of the province’s future economic development and progress. [4]

A handsome booklet that celebrated Selkirk as a visionary and progenitor of the province’s future economic development and progress was published in 1912 by Winnipeg’s Canadian Industrial Exhibition as part of celebrations of the first centenary of the Red River Settlement.
Source: Internet Archive, www.archive.org

This exhibition also coincided with a revival of interest in the early history of Manitoba and what Jack Bumsted called “The Quest for a Usable Founder,” [5] or what I call “The Cult of Selkirk.” One of the definitions of a cult is “an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers,” and this seems an apt depiction of the reception of Lord Selkirk by the early academic historians in Western Canada after 1870. For the 1912 centennial, Dr. George Bryce wrote an adulatory biography of Douglas, and he was similarly venerated by the scientific historian Chester Martin, whose Lord Selkirk’s Work in Canada was published only four years later, in 1916. [6]

The 1912 Centennial booklet echoed the emerging post-1870 historiography in its relegation of Aboriginal peoples to the role of welcoming the Selkirk settlers to Red River. Having fulfilled their historical function of introducing this Great White Father to the prairies, the Aboriginal peoples then disappeared from this text just as they largely evaporated from Western Canadian historical discourse over the next 60 years. Of course, as we know, the Aboriginal peoples not only predated Selkirk and his agents but they also did not disappear, as they continued to live in Manitoba and the Northwest after the arrival of Douglas’s colonists and throughout the history of Old Red River and the province of Manitoba, right up to the present day. This very fact of the continuing presence of First Nations and Métis peoples, and their status as founding peoples of Canada, require us to re-evaluate the historiography of Western Canada and the role of its constituent peoples in our histories.

While textual representations of the past from the 19th and early 20th centuries generally omitted reference to Aboriginal peoples, the presence of First Nations people in the colony was extensively documented in visual representations, especially the remarkable collection of paintings of Red River life by the artists Peter Rindisbacher in the 1820s and Paul Kane in the 1840s. Long before the collection of oral histories by archives and historical societies, both Rindisbacher and Kane recorded the material culture, economy and lifeways of plains First Nations cultures through numerous visual representations, as well as Kane’s writings. [7]

In addition to the First Nations, the Métis comprised a major Aboriginal people documented by these observers and prominent throughout Red River history. Often descended from Québecois voyageurs and First Nations women, the Métis by the late 18th century developed a distinctive culture and language known as Michif, [8] and had begun to settle in the areas of Pembina and Red River by the early 1800s. Prior to settling in the Red River region the Métis were closely associated with service with the Montreal-based companies in the fur trade, in particular, the North West Company. After the amalgamation of the HBC and NWC in 1821, many Métis based at Red River continued to work for the company on fur brigades and hunting for provisioning its posts.

The presence of Métis at Red River reminds us that from the outset the colony was multicultural and multilingual. Its constituent peoples included First Nations, Métis, Québecois, Scottish, Irish, and Swiss settlers, albeit that the Swiss departed following the flood of 1826. Beyond Aboriginal languages, its residents were roughly equally divided between anglophones and francophones during most of the colony’s history. Following the influx of large numbers of Anglo-Canadians and other settlers to Manitoba after 1870, this linguistic balance was irrevocably lost and thereafter francophone perspectives were largely omitted in mainstream historical writing in Manitoba and across the West. [9]

At Pembina, Red River, and other localities across the Northwest the Métis developed a distinctive identity rooted in their vernacular culture and traditions, and disseminated primarily through oral transmission. Over many hundreds of years, the First Nations of the Northwest passed on their traditions orally, often from Elders to younger members of their communities. [10] Québecois voyageurs – forerunners of the Métis – developed their own oral traditions, expressed in well-known paddling songs or ballads sung around the campfire and accompanied by the fiddle. [11] At Pembina, Red River, and other settlements, many of these songs were arranged as dances and incorporated into the fabric of social life of the entire community. We should also not overlook the fact that several Métis residents of the Northwest, including Cuthbert Grant and Pierre Falcon, were schooled in Québec. After the establishment of Roman Catholic Missions in the Northwest beginning in the 1820s, other Métis students learned skills of reading and writing from priests in their native region. Several of these individuals were typically conversant in both oral and written culture, including historical writing, even during the initial phase of settlement. [12]

This brings us to the first of Red River’s historians to be considered here – the Métis poet and songwriter Pierre Falcon. He was born at Indian Elbow on the upper Assiniboine in 1793, perhaps at Marlborough House, a North West Company fort established in that year. His father was Pierre Falcon senior, a clerk with the NWC and his mother belonged to a Plains First Nation from that area, perhaps of Cree origin. In 1799 Falcon’s father brought him back to Québec to be educated at la Prairie, and he returned to the Northwest in 1808 at the age of 16. Following his marriage to Mary Grant, the daughter of Cuthbert Grant, Sr., he continued to work in the area of Fort Tremblant in the upper Assiniboine. [13]

Pierre Falcon (1793–1876) had a special talent in being able to take an event and describe it in song. During the victory celebrations that followed the Battle of Seven Oaks, it is said that he composed “Chanson de la Grenouillère,” or the “Battle of Frog Plain.” Métis sang the ballad in the west and as far east as the St. Lawrence River in their travels as voyageurs.
Source: Archives de la Societe historique de Saint-Boniface

Falcon’s work emerged in the context of long-standing oral traditions of both sides of his family’s lineage, both First Nations and Québecois. Falcon is best known for his “Chanson de la Grenouillère,” said to have been composed by the poet on the evening following the Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816. Various versions of the song, its lyrics and music, have been uncovered over the years, including several collected and transcribed by Abbé Picton, and now in the holdings of the Archives de la Société historique de Saint-Boniface. [14] Written in the satirical style that characterizes his other songs, Falcon’s “Chanson de la Grenouillère” documented a Métis perspective on the battle and also related certain basic facts about this incident, as they appeared to Métis witnesses. It is a legitimate and rare account by a Métis witness of that pivotal event in Red River history. [15]

Lord Selkirk was the target of another of Falcon’s songs. In “La Danse des Bois Brulés,” the author mocked the Scottish earl’s seizure of the North West Company’s post at Fort William. Referring to both Selkirk and the leader of the Des Meurons mercenaries who took Fort William by force and arrested the NWC leaders, the song satirized the earl’s appropriation of the fort and ensconcing himself as commander inside the palisades. Falcon imaginatively constructed a tableau of Selkirk as the host of a grand ball featuring music and dancing by his Métis guests. [16]

In 1869, 53 years after writing his “Chanson de la Grenouillère,” the aged Pierre Falcon composed “Les Tribulations d’un Roi Malheureux” (“Misfortunes of an Unlucky King”). True to his satirical style, this song made fun of the hapless William McDougall, sent by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to Red River to oversee the transfer of the region to Canada. [17] Another probable Falcon song, named “The Buffalo Song,” comes to us through the unlikely source of Agnes C. Laut’s Lords of the North, as unpublished primary versions of it have not survived. This song captures both the drama and excitement of the chase and the importance of buffalo hunting to Métis culture and identity. [18]

The other major stream of historical transmission was through the writing and reading of historical prose. Three of the four prose writers considered here were born and schooled in Scotland or attended university in that country. Donald Gunn and Alexander Ross were raised on farms in northern Scotland. Joseph James Hargrave was born and raised at fur-trade posts in Rupert’s Land managed by his father James Hargrave, but he was sent back to Scotland to be educated at the University of St. Andrew’s. Important differences of class and identification among these writers seem to connect to their different socio-economic circumstances – the apparently humble origins of Gunn and Ross on small Scottish farms stand in contrast to Hargrave’s more privileged upbringing as a member of an elite family of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In assessing the form and content of Red River historiography, it is important not to overlook the role of readers or audiences in helping shape the works of these historians. Most of the potential readers at Red River were either HBC servants or Selkirk settlers hailing from Scotland, the Orkney Islands and the Hebrides although a minority came from communities in Ireland. [19] Their emigration came just after the height of the remarkable intellectual phenomenon known as the Scottish Enlightenment. Scholarship on the Scottish Enlightenment traditionally stressed the role of leading thinkers in the large cities, especially Edinburgh and Glasgow. Recently, this emphasis has been revised to acknowledge a larger trend of education and learning across Scotland during that remarkable epoch.

By the 19th century, the Scots were regarded by contemporary British observers as more highly educated than their English compatriots in the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the marked poverty of Scotland. [20] The Scots’ extensive reliance on books and libraries was documented in the remarkable multi-volume Statistical Account of Scotland, published in the 1790s. The Statistical Account documented the presence of numerous libraries across Scotland, including public libraries, church and school libraries, circulating and subscription libraries, and private book collections. [21] Even in very humble surroundings, teachers and ministers disseminated learning and knowledge to students across the country. [22] That the Scots brought their traditions of reading and book collecting to the Northwest has been well documented in a series of articles on libraries at fur trade posts in Rupert’s Land as well as the Red River Library established in the colony in the mid-19th century. [23] Books and libraries were present throughout the history of Red River, beginning with the collections at Hudson’s Bay Company posts and the libraries of the churches, beginning with the Roman Catholic establishment at St. Boniface, which reportedly lost a large collection in a fire at the bishop’s house in 1860. [24] Books were also obtained by individuals through mail orders or purchase within the colony, as advertised by a bookseller operating near Fort Garry who advertised in the pages of the Nor’Wester in 1860. [25] These local libraries and book collections established a core of literacy at the heart of Red River society, providing models of writing influencing the works of the historians and also their reception by the settlement’s residents. Indeed, works of both history and philosophy were strongly represented in the Red River Collection, especially after the books of Peter Fidler were integrated into the settlement’s principal library. [26] The important point here is that we are dealing with a society in which literacy was present from the outset, at least for some members of the community, albeit that much of the community’s knowledge was also disseminated by word of mouth.

Beyond book learning, the Scottish Selkirk settlers and other Scots serving in the fur trade were closely tied to the folk traditions of their native country, which were given impetus by such notable figures as James Macpherson, compiler of the poems of Ossian published in the 1760s, and the Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns, who composed his poems in the Scottish vernacular. [27] Folk music accompanied by the fiddle was popular in 18th-century Scotland and was part of a broadly-based vernacular culture that encompassed ballads, tales, dancing and other face-to-face interactions, especially in the Highlands region. [28]

At Red River and across the Northwest, distinctive economies, modes of production and lifeways established the material and social conditions enabling the production of vernacular history in the Northwest. One vernacular culture was rooted in a settled or sedentary agricultural economy in which both written and oral culture were prominent, while another was embedded in an itinerant economy based significantly on buffalo hunting, trading, and transport, in which oral forms of communication predominated. Further, a core of privileged residents, including HBC officers, the clergy and prominent businessmen, formed an elite whose socio-economic and political circumstances differed markedly from either the farmers or hunters. This group was most closely identified with the written forms of communication that came to dominate the affairs of Red River and Manitoba. These were not monolithic or mutually exclusive categories, as many Métis were farmers, and various anglophone residents of Red River were tied to the buffalo economy alongside other economic pursuits. These cultures emerged within different socio-economic structures and relationships and influenced the various writers’ orientations towards history, although it must be recognized that each practitioner developed his own voice in relation to a unique positioning in time and space. Even within the small community of Red River, there co-existed several vernacular cultures that were sometimes simultaneously at play in the work of a single author.

The first and probably the best-known vernacular historian to write a history of Red River was Alexander Ross. Born in 1783 and raised on his father’s farm in the parish of Dyke, near Inverness, Scotland, Ross left for Canada in 1804 and worked for a period as a schoolteacher in both Québec and Ontario. Later, while working for John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company, he participated in the founding of Fort Astoria on the Columbia River in 1811 before joining the North West Company, with which he served until the merger of the companies in 1821. In 1825, he obtained from Governor George Simpson a 100-acre tract of land at Red River. Settling near Point Douglas, Ross established a farm that he named Colony Gardens. His farm was located near Fort Garry, a logical extension of Ross’s close connections to the hierarchy of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Ross’s book The Red River Settlement: Its Rise, Progress and Present State appeared in 1856, the year of his death. Part history and part commentary on Red River society, it was the author’s third book published by the London firm Smith Elder and Company. The publishers promoted this work in an advertisement in The Publishers’ Circular with an excerpt from a review in the Spectator: “The subject is novel, curious, and not without interest, while a strong sense of the real obtains throughout. The story is that of a small colony some forty-five years old; including famine, frost, snow, flood, the plague of birds, grasshoppers, or locusts, mice, with an attack of severe pestilence.” [29]

Ross’s identification with the elite in the hierarchy of Red River immediately is suggested in the image he selected for the frontispiece. An engraving of Upper Fort Garry based on an 1840 sketch by Elizabeth Finlayson, spouse of a former chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, this image anticipated the privileged role occupied by the Company in his narrative. Ross’s political sympathies could also be inferred from the larger structure of his book, which commenced with an account of the granting of the HBC charter to Prince Rupert and associates by King Charles II of England. Acknowledging disputes prompted by the HBC Charter, Ross invoked the authority of Earl Grey, former Secretary for the British Colonies, who in 1850 declared in favour of the company’s authority over Rupert’s Land. [30] It was one of the very few pieces of written evidence quoted by Ross but it served a critical role in his book, as it established the foundation for his entire approach to the colony’s history, centred on the leading role of the HBC and its allies.

The hero of the first part of Ross’s book was Lord Selkirk, whom he characterized as “a man of great mind and a good heart,” whose “real object” was “the pious and philanthropic desire of instructing civilization into the wilderness.” The valorization of Selkirk buttressed Ross’s privileging of the role of the HBC and its attendant dominance over the political affairs of the settlement.

In terms of genre, Ross’s book showed the strong influence of the picturesque history of the early 19th century, exemplified in the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott. Like Scott, Ross used the technique of developing characters for his book to represent different social classes and forces, personalizing history and presenting arresting tableaux to resonate with readers. [31] Apart from the frontispiece, Ross did not rely on actual illustrations but instead sought to create vivid images of peoples and characters with words rather than pictures, including extensive accounts of Métis characters and life.

Ross provided an account of the hunting economy of the Métis, although his narrative evinced little sympathy for this people. His relentlessly negative treatment of the Métis in his book marked the beginning of a hundred years of stereotyping of Aboriginal peoples in Western Canadian historical discourse, as I argued in the article “The Seven Oaks Incident and the Construction of a Historical Tradition.” [32] For his treatments of the Métis and First Nations people, it is clear that Ross relied on second- or third-hand oral accounts for much of his information. As F. G. Roe showed so extensively in his magisterial The North American Buffalo, Ross’s reliance on indirect information led him into error regarding the numbers of buffalo taken by Métis hunters and helped prompt his premature conclusions of wanton slaughter. [33]

In his treatment of the Battle of Seven Oaks, Ross largely replicated the interpretations advanced in partisan pamphleteering by Selkirk’s agents. He went so far as to assert that 26 of Semple’s opponents at Seven Oaks subsequently came to a grisly early demise. He took their supposed fate as confirmation of a kind of divine retribution on sinners, an interpretation later endorsed by Joseph James Hargrave. There was little indication of erudition or the critical evaluation of sources in Ross’s The Red River Settlement. Rather, the author seems to have been preoccupied with preparing a history whose conclusions were determined before he began writing his book.

Like Sir Walter Scott, whose books were enormously popular in this period, [34] Ross employed the narrative device of developing composite characters deemed to be representative of larger social groups. Unlike Scott’s treatments, Ross’s characters were one-dimensional depictions. One such example was his treatment of Baptiste L’Esprit, a fictional Métis resident intended, in Ross’s words, to “serve as a portraiture of the whole class.” [35] Ross presented Baptiste L’Esprit as an aimless wastrel, indolent, and lacking any plans for the future. He wrote:

Among the class illustrated by this character are to be seen many of the old voyageurs, and other waifs and strays of society, as well as the half-breeds, of which it is chiefly composed. They pretend to the character of civilized men, call themselves Christians, and occasionally frequent the church. In all else they are no better than vagrant savages. [36]

Ross concluded his book with a tribute to his friend Andrew McDermot, a dynamic entrepreneur whose business acumen he regarded as an example of the spirit of free enterprise that would be the salvation of the colony. In introducing the theme of civilization versus savagery in the wilderness, Ross has been credited with defining the colony’s identity and its historical role. Yet this imagined identity was achieved through marginalizing Aboriginal peoples in his text, as he constructed them as supposedly savage cultures in opposition to the presumed civilizing influences of European culture and the elite group to which Ross belonged. These assorted treatments served Ross’s narrative purpose of supporting his advocacy of dispersing the Aboriginal residents of Red River and transferring control by the HBC to a core of formally educated residents such as himself. [37] Notwithstanding the author’s subjectivities, Ross’s reported facts and interpretations proved to be enormously influential in post-1870 historiography and were embraced by such leading writers at George Bryce, George Stanley, Marcel Giraud and W. L. Morton.

In 1861, only five years after the publication of Ross’s book, another vernacular history of the settlement appeared in 16 instalments in the pages of The Nor’Wester. [38] The colony’s only newspaper, The Nor’Wester had been established just two years earlier but was already the major source of news and commentary on local affairs for the colonists. In his biography of James Ross in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, the late historian Bill Smith suggested that Ross himself authored the history published in his newspaper. Alternatively, Jack Bumsted has surmised that the author of the history was an Anglican priest. If so, the most likely candidate appears to be the Reverend James Hunter, then the resident Anglican priest at St. Andrew’s Church at Little Britain. Of the pool of Anglican ministers at Red River, Hunter had the requisite education, skills and experience to compose such a history, so he seems a likely candidate. [39]

James Hunter (1817–1881), shown here with his wife Jean, is now believed to have been the author of a history of the Red River Settlement previously attributed to journalist James Ross (1835–1871). Hunter, then the resident Anglican priest at St. Andrew’s parish, had the requisite education, skills, and experience to compose such a history.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N10619.

At the time The Nor’Wester history was written, Hunter resided in the rectory at St. Andrew’s, a large house but not the grand house he desired. Hunter instead aspired to Bishop’s Court, the residence of the Bishop of Rupert’s Land, as he hoped to succeed Bishop Anderson in that position, although Hunter’s ambition was never realized. [40] While endorsing annexation to Canada, The Nor’Wester author was cool to the concept of an elected legislature. Trained in the feudal hierarchies of the Anglican Church, and aspiring to the Anglican bishop’s seat on the Council of Assiniboia, Hunter thereby expressed his own hierarchical opposition to democracy for Red River. Limiting or halting the movement towards democracy was the main goal of his narrative.

Within a decade, another vernacular history of the colony was published by Joseph James Hargrave. The son of the HBC Chief factor James Hargrave and Letitia MacTavish, and the nephew of the future HBC governor William MacTavish, Hargrave was born into the privileged classes of the Northwest. Spending his early years at York Factory, the site of one of the best libraries in the Northwest, Hargrave was also exposed at an early age to reading by his father, who was an avid collector of books. While he was not born in Scotland, Hargrave’s family ties to the ancestral homeland were strong and his father sent him back to Scotland to receive a classical education at the University of St. Andrew’s.

Joseph James Hargrave (1841–1891) was private secretary to Governor William McTavish in 1869 and was thus perfectly placed to produce a pseudonymous series of letters on the Red River Rebellion, published in the Montreal Herald under the name “Red River.” In 1871 Hargrave published Red River—A History of the Red River Settlement based on his father’s papers and his own recollections of the 1860s.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N20167.

In 1871, only a year after Manitoba joined Confederation, Hargrave published his book Red River, the first monograph on the settlement’s society and history published within the new Dominion of Canada. Hargrave’s attitudes and implied philosophy in this narrative suggested the influence of Thomas Babington Macaulay, the most widely-read British historian of the mid-19th century. Macaulay was the quintessential Whig historian, devoted to charting the upward progress of the British Empire in politics, economics and society. [41] Macaulay’s History was a favourite of James Hargrave and prominent in the family’s book collection, [42] so the younger Hargrave would have grown up exposed to these works alongside other classics of history.

Underscoring his own commitment to progress and technological innovation, Hargrave commenced his book The Red River as a travel account of his 1861 voyage across the Atlantic in the Hibernian—a steam ship that superseded the age of sail, and by extension the era with which it was associated. Hargrave’s valorization of modern technology continued in his account of a subsequent leg of his journey in the steamboat International that sailed up the Red River towards the forks of the Red and Assiniboine. [43] Having arrived, Hargrave became ensconced at Fort Garry along with other members of the Hudson’s Bay Company elite.

Working as a journalist during the first Northwest Resistance of 1869–1870, [44] Hargrave applied his skills of observation and on-the-spot reporting in developing a historical treatment of the community, combined with an account of its institutions and social mores. He described a wide range of activities he observed in and around Red River, including cross-cultural practices such as a First Nations dog feast, although his account was one of a detached rather than a sympathetic observer. Hargrave also commented on a wide variety of personalities that imbued his narrative with immediacy, including the Dakota leader Little Crow, who visited the settlement, the controversial figure of John Christian Schultz, future M.P. for Lisgar, and Hargrave’s uncle HBC governor William MacTavish, whom he served as secretary at Fort Garry.

A revealing section of Hargrave’s book was his recounting of a trip he made in 1861 to Lower Fort Garry with his colleague William McMurray, another avid reader, to see off the Company of Royal Canadian Rifles, who were departing for York Factory. At Lower Fort Garry, Hargrave and McMurray were hospitably received by Alexander Lillie, the post manager, in the officer’s quarters. Hargrave seems to have limited his socializing to the company of other HBC officers at their comfortable lodgings within the stone fort. While at Lower Fort Garry he was very near the farm and home of Donald Gunn, an Elder, custodian of the Red River Library and future historian of Red River, but there is no indication that he sought an interaction with Gunn on this or other occasions. At the conclusion of his journey, Hargrave returned to the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine to his comfortable refuge within the walls of the Upper Fort. From that vantage point, Hargrave looked forward to Manitoba’s annexation to Canada and the business opportunities that would ensue from the province’s membership in Confederation. His book was well structured to advance that position.

Donald Gunn was the last of the major historians of Red River and the last to write a historical account during or near the time when the colony was in existence. Some other former residents of Red River, including R. G. Macbeth and A. C. Garrioch, subsequently wrote histories but did not publish them until later. Moreover, they did not deal substantively with governance and other critical issues; so they will not be treated here. [45] Gunn was 44 years older than J. J. Hargrave and his experiences stretched back to the early era of the Selkirk Settlement but he delayed writing his history until near the end of the period. His principal history did not appear until 1880, two years after his death. Gunn’s place in Western Canadian historiography suffered in part from bad timing. His first foray into historical writing, a serialized history of the Red River colony, was cut short by the outbreak of the Red River Resistance, while his larger history was apparently incomplete at his death in 1878. [46]

A history of Red River colony, written by Donald Gunn (1797–1878) and published in installments in The Nor’Wester in 1869, was cut short by the outbreak of the Red River Resistance, and his larger history was apparently incomplete at his death.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, N9976.

Nevertheless, Lewis G. Thomas, author of an article on Gunn in The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, expressed high praise for this author’s historical work. He wrote: “Gunn disputes with Alexander Ross the title of father of the history of Canada’s prairie west.” Other observers have been less generous towards Gunn, as they have taken him to task, alternately, for his extended critique of Lord Selkirk, his apparent sympathy with the North West Company, and his criticism of the HBC. [47] There were other dimensions to Gunn that have not yet been adequately treated by historians. In several respects, he was the most expansive of Red River’s historians in terms of the issues he was seeking to address and their implications for Western Canadian politics and society. Gunn has not yet been fully placed into appropriate historical contexts, so I will try to do that now.

Gunn grew up on a small farm in northern Scotland and was educated in the parish school of Halkirk. That was the extent of his formal education. At the age of 16, he accompanied the Selkirk settlers who sailed to Hudson Bay in 1813. After 10 years’ service with the HBC at various posts, Gunn joined the ranks of several other retired HBC servants and settled at Red River in 1823. There, he developed a farm on the river at Little Britain, now the parish of St. Andrews. Gunn also assumed responsibility for the Church Missionary Society’s parish school at St. Andrews, where he taught for 18 years. Following the establishment of the Red River Library in 1848, Gunn also assumed the role of custodian of this important collection. Many of its volumes were housed at his stone house at Little Britain. [48] The Red River Collection was well patronized and reading was reportedly a favoured pastime in the colony.

An early indication of Gunn’s populist sympathies was evident in an 1861 exchange of letters to The Nor’Wester prompted by a petition dictated by the Ojibwa Chief Peguis to the Aborigines’ Protection Society. Businessman Andrew McDermot had been dismissive of Peguis’s claims but Gunn responded by providing historical perspectives challenging McDermot’s assertions, including correcting the businessman’s incorrect historical dates. He supported Peguis’s position by referring to the Ojibwa chief’s repeated complaint “of the action of the Company in occupying and selling their lands, without giving them any adequate compensation for the same.” [49]

Gunn has been given more credit for his contributions in the natural sciences than for his works in history. Characterizing him as “the Nestor of the settlement,” the Reverend Dr. Bryce praised his work as a correspondent and collector of specimens for the Smithsonian Institution. [50] Yet, Gunn’s approach to history was similarly scientific, less given to philosophizing than to documenting the past. As a long-term advocate of responsible government and sponsor of initiatives to bring democratic institutions to Red River, [51] he was vitally interested in drawing lessons from history that he considered applicable to civic affairs in his own era. Rather than painting a picturesque portrait of the Red River Settlement in the manner of Ross, he sought to address such issues as models of governance, the role of individuals in history, and the moral requirements of leaders and citizens in Red River society.

Apart from Donald Gunn and Charles Tuttle’s History of Manitoba, …”, the only other historical work by Gunn that I have been able to identify is his serialized history of Red River published in instalments in The Nor’Wester in 1869. In introducing the first article in the history, the editors of the journal stated: “…the name of its author, Donald Gunn, Esq. is a sufficient guarantee for its accuracy and reliability, and by giving it in continuous weekly parts, we will be able to present to the reader a vivid impression of the causes which led to the creation of the Red River Colony; and the chances that preserved it from being destroyed by the warring elements which surrounded it.” [52] This history was cut short by the seizure of The Nor’Wester’s printing press by insurgents during the Red River Resistance in the fall of 1869.

Gunn’s mature historical work was his History of Manitoba from the Earliest Settlement to 1835, published posthumously in 1880 as part of a longer narrative completed by Charles Tuttle, who covered the history of the period between 1836 and 1870–1871. Unlike Ross, Gunn commenced his narrative well before the HBC charter and he placed Manitoba’s history into the larger contexts of the exploration of the New World by figures such as Christopher Columbus, Jacques Cartier, and Samuel de Champlain. For his book, Gunn relied heavily on written evidence, especially in the early part of his manuscript devoted to the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company, its conflicts with the North West Company, and the role of Lord Selkirk. Clearly, Gunn also drew upon oral evidence, especially the testimony of the Selkirk settlers for his accounts of the colony’s early period. He nevertheless stressed the importance of collecting direct testimony from living witnesses rather than relying on hearsay. [53] For example, he devoted considerable attention to the hardships and suffering of the Selkirk settlers, beginning with their trans-Atlantic voyages in 1812 and 1813, and relied upon both his own experiences and first-person accounts by the settlers in narrating their difficulties.

Prominent in Gunn’s book text were his treatments of three leaders of the Selkirk settlement—Miles Macdonell, Robert Semple, and Lord Selkirk himself, each of whom he saw as inclined to arbitrary action without regard for due process, consultation, and negotiation, as in the case of Macdonell’s notorious Pemmican Proclamation. Regarding the Battle of Seven Oaks of 1816, Gunn argued that Semple’s decision to lead a party out to confront the Métis was intemperate and foolhardy. Gunn’s treatment of Seven Oaks can fairly be judged the most balanced and dispassionate treatment of that violent episode produced by Red River’s vernacular historians and indeed, was more judicious than any of the professional accounts produced in the English language between 1870 and 1970. It rivalled the report of Commissioner William Bachelor Coltman in its approach to weighing of the available evidence although there is no indication that Gunn referred to Coltman’s report when he composed his own narrative. [54] What he did have access to was first-hand knowledge imparted over many decades of discussions with long-term residents of Red River, including both surviving witnesses and other individuals who were present in the colony at the time of Seven Oaks.

Gunn also provided an extended account of Lord Selkirk’s engagement of the Des Meurons soldiers, a mercenary army and his extralegal occupation of Fort William, arrest of the NWC principals, and seizure of their property and documents. In Gunn’s view, Selkirk further compounded his flouting of laws by illegally confining and transporting the NWC prisoners to Canada for trial, including William McGillivray.

To appreciate Gunn’s intentions in highlighting the actions and roles of the colony’s early leaders, I believe we need to look at probable intellectual influences on his writing. Unlike Ross and Hargave, whose approaches to history were distinctly of the 19th century, Gunn seems to have reached back to the 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment for inspiration, especially the work and concerns of the great historian and philosopher David Hume. According to several authorities, between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries, Hume’s History of England was “the most widely read and influential of the English histories,” [55] and this was certainly true within his native Scotland. Like Hume, Gunn was pre-occupied with studying and evaluating the specific actions of historical actors in light of the distinctive interplay of custom and experience. Rather than assert a putative human nature rooted in immutable essences, a notion common in the historiography of the 19th and 20th centuries, Gunn limited his discussion to the perceived behaviour of the players, their motives and the consequences of their actions. Similarly, in his History of England, Hume narrated British history through the lens of motives and actions of political leaders, especially the British monarchs around whom his narrative was constructed. He was especially concerned with the issue of how democracy could flourish or even survive in contexts of barbarism and lawlessness. [56] For Hume, a supreme example of lawlessness and the threat to democracy in British history was not posed by a monarch but rather by Oliver Cromwell, the 17th-century dictator of Britain who presided over the abolition of the monarchy, the regicide of Charles I, the dissolution of Parliament, and the bloody invasions and oppression of Scotland and Ireland. [57]

We can establish that Hume’s History and a published index to its volumes were present in the Red River Library when administered by Gunn in his own home, and so it is probable that he was intimately acquainted with this work and its author’s philosophical admonitions and conclusions. [58] Gunn was also schooled in rural Scotland in a period in which the works of Hume and other major Scottish Enlightenment authors were widely disseminated through subscription libraries. [59] In an account with some affinities to Hume’s dissection of Cromwell, Gunn provided an extended critique of Selkirk, another prince who took the law into his own hands by employing mercenaries in his occupation of Fort William, arrest of the principals of the Northwest Company, and appropriation of their property. [60]

While focussing much of his narrative on Selkirk, in the last three pages of his narrative Gunn introduced what I believe was his overriding concern—the lack of democratic and representative political institutions in the Red River colony. He closed his narrative with an account and critique of the Council of Assiniboia, whose members were largely hand-picked by Governor George Simpson and his successors. Like Hargrave, then, Gunn supported the incorporation of Red River into the new Dominion of Canada, but for very different reasons. [61] Where Hargrave saw business opportunities in Confederation, Gunn looked forward at long last to the introduction of democratic institutions in the new province of Manitoba within an expanded Dominion that would supersede the old HBC autocracy. He had long been a leading advocate of responsible government for the colony and the author of petitions to the British and Canadian parliaments to promote democratic institutions.

Late in life, Gunn was at long last able to participate fully in the democratic governance he had advocated for nearly half a century. Defeated in an attempt to secure a seat in the provincial legislature in 1870, he was nevertheless appointed a member of Manitoba’s Legislative Council, before he helped abolish the upper chamber in 1876. At his death, Gunn was an acknowledged sage in the community. In a biographical sketch, Frank Larned Hunt described the varied sources of his grass-roots approach to history:

In an intercourse of nearly twenty years we fail to recall other than the most genial and unaffected cordiality to all; superadded to this, his varied powers of conversation, replete with valuable material gathered from all sources, his sense of humor lighting up old Gaelic lore, the traditions of the Viking race from whom he sprung, the rough adventures and eccentricities of the hero worthies of ‘the trade,’ the early and chequered life in the settlement, with a vein of grounded culture running through all, made him to be one of the most companionable and instructive of men. [62]

Gunn’s History seems to have had little impact on subsequent historiography, perhaps due in part to its unfinished status and the fact that it was buried in the larger volume with Tuttle’s text on the post-1835 era. As well, Gunn’s critique of Selkirk held little appeal for the Anglo-Canadian newcomers from Ontario who were inclined to view the Scottish earl as a suitable founder-figure of the province.

When the Canadian Industrial Exhibition venerating Lord Selkirk during the first centennial observance of the Selkirk settlers, Gunn’s grandson George H. Gunn was seeking to publish an edited version of his grandfather’s manuscript as a stand-alone history of Manitoba to 1835. While apparently never published, this intended centennial project stood in marked contrast to its counterpart. In his Editor’s preface, George Gunn explained some of the reasons why he held his father’s History in such regard. He drew attention to the presence at Red River of several leading figures of the fur trade and the early period of the settlement, including the former chief factors James Sutherland and James Bird, and the historian Alexander Ross, among others, whom he described as a “veritable living archives.” Noting that these individuals were the authors of the very fur-trade manuscripts on which academic historians were then beginning to rely, George Gunn wrote:

But these men did not lock up all their knowledge in these journals. The subject matter of these manuscripts represented largely their stock-in-trade of adventure and experience; and all the salient facts of this experience remained with them, and became, in the more leisurely and reminiscent days of their life in the Settlement, the staple of their conversation when, in neighbourly or public festive occasions, they foregathered with one another. In the midst of these associations, and in this atmosphere, Mr. Gunn lived and moved. [63]

Gunn was the last of Red River’s “homegrown” vernacular historians although vernacular traditions continued in historical writing well after Manitoba entered Confederation. Charles Napier Bell, who arrived in Red River as a 16-year-old bugler with the Wolseley Expedition in 1870, became a business executive, and helped found the Manitoba Historical Society, continued the grass-roots practice of history in various monographs based on textual and oral research. An example was Bell’s pamphlet The Selkirk Settlement and the Settlers, for which he carried out both documentary research and oral history interviews with several surviving residents of early Red River. One of his informants was the then-elderly Donald Murray, a member of a family with the Selkirk settlers, who was present in Red River during the Battle of Seven Oaks. The testimony of Murray and other witnesses presented a more sympathetic picture of Cuthbert Grant and the Métis than the version that was emerging in the professional historiography on the incident. [64]

Bell’s more pluralistic approach was also reflected in his essay published in a pamphlet issued by the Manitoba Historical Society in 1891 to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of Seven Oaks. [65] His text shared space in the pamphlet with an essay by the Reverend George Bryce, often credited with being the father of academic history in Western Canada. In contrast, Bryce relied heavily on written sources, which were by then heavily weighted to the representation of Seven Oaks as a massacre, and the interpretation of Semple and his party as innocent victims. Bryce’s ascendancy brought to an end the more pluralistic approaches to history of the Red River era and the inauguration of a new order supporting the claims to dominance of the Anglo-Canadian settlement group he represented. [66]

W. L. Morton’s comparison of Alexander Ross to Herodotus and Thucydides referenced at the beginning of this article may open a useful way of thinking about the character and significance of Red River’s vernacular histories. Obviously none of the colony’s writers exerted an influence on world historiography in the manner of the Greek masters, but they fulfilled similar foundational roles within their chosen locality, in a region with little prior recorded historiography. With the important caveat that Red River’s historians apparently drew upon oral and literate cultures of the 18th or 19th centuries more than on the works of antiquity, we may nevertheless discern some parallels between their work and ancient precursors. [67]

In Pierre Falcon, Bard of the Métis, we can discern something of the strains of Homer. Blending history and legend, both poets wrote foundational texts expressing the military victories and aspirations of their peoples, whether the ancient Greeks or the Métis Nation. Alexander Ross belongs to a different tradition more closely aligned to Herodotus. Both writers left wide-ranging accounts based heavily on oral sources, in which they sought to represent comprehensively the peoples they were writing about. Both apparently relied heavily on local knowledge although Ross structured his narrative to serve partisan purposes in a manner that would have been anathema to Herodotus.

For the nearest parallel to Thucydides, the founder of scientific history, I find far greater affinities in the work of Donald Gunn than in Alexander Ross. Like Thucydides, Gunn relied on both written and oral information but he placed a particular emphasis on verifying his sources, referencing thereby only oral informants who directly witnessed the events they were asked to comment upon. Further, he applied critical judgement in evaluating the veracity of his informants.

Gunn can also fairly be compared to Polybius, the final writer in the triumvirate of great ancient Greek historians. Like Polybius, Gunn sometimes adopted a harsh tone when discussing historical figures he judged to have acted against the public interest, as was evident in his treatment of Selkirk, a historical actor he held responsible for much of the suffering of the early colonists. Most importantly, Gunn followed Polybius in his emphasis on providing lessons for statecraft and in writing history to contribute directly to civic dialogue and to help develop sound and responsive political institutions.

In Gunn’s case, his orientation towards political history was probably highly influenced by the work of the historians of the Scottish Enlightenment, especially David Hume, sometimes considered the Thucydides of his own era. Gunn emerges as the most philosophical of Red River’s historians—a democrat who operated under a succession of authoritarian regimes, whether in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, or Red River society under the HBC-dominated Council of Assiniboia. Like Thucydides, he displayed his evidence for the scrutiny of his readers, and applied critical judgement to the evaluation of his sources. Like Polybius, Gunn produced history to contribute to notions of responsible citizenship and the critical issue of the relationships between governors and the governed. The fact that he may occasionally have fallen short of the objectivity to which he aspired should not overshadow his notable achievement.

A comparison of the form and content of the works of Red River’s historians, then, suggests that the privileged position accorded Alexander Ross in subsequent historical writing is misplaced, and W. L. Morton’s characterization of Ross as a combination of Herodotus and Thucydides seems only half-right. I am inclined to agree with Lewis G. Thomas that Donald Gunn is perhaps a superior candidate to Ross for the title of father of Western Canadian historiography. [68]

Whatever their diverse individual perspectives and methods, or strengths and weaknesses, each of Red River’s historians made a distinctive contribution to the early historiography of Western Canada albeit that some practitioners were more closely connected to the grass roots than others. Notwithstanding his literary talents, Ross’s ambivalence towards his own First Nations family relationships contributed to his prejudicial views of Aboriginal peoples and diminished the value of his work. Joseph Hargave’s Red River added significantly to our historical knowledge of the colony although Hargrave could not separate himself from the elite status to which he was born and his work tended to reinforce class privilege. The Reverend James Hunter’s history suffered from the author’s hierarchical aspirations and incapacity to appreciate the importance of democratic institutions to the future of Manitoba. Generally, the works of Pierre Falcon, which constituted a founding narrative for one of the principal peoples of the West, and those of Donald Gunn, which introduced critical history into the region, resonate most strongly in light of the concerns of today. Their works bring us closer to the society that was Old Red River, providing a unique and indispensable window on a critical period in Western Canadian history, and its historiography.


The author would like to thank the Manitoba Historical Society for its sponsorship of the Selkirk Bicentenary Symposium as well as the organizers of the conference: Gerald Friesen, Adele Perry, Robert Coutts and Gordon Goldsborough. Jack Bumsted shared his knowledge of Red River historiography and Ron Frohwerk critically reviewed the manuscript. The assistance of Chris Kotecki at the Archives of Manitoba and Nigel Tappin at the Manitoba Legislative Library was also greatly appreciated.


1. See for example Carl Berger, The Writing of Canadian History: Aspects of English-Canadian Historical Writing: 1900 to 1970, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976; and M. Brook Taylor, Promoters, Patriots, and Partisans: Historiography in Nineteenth-Century English Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.

2. For an elaboration of the interpretive framework I am proposing for approaching vernacular history, see Lyle Dick, “Vernacular Currents in Western Canadian Historiography: The Passion and Prose of Katherine Hughes, F. G. Roe, and Roy Ito,” in Sarah Carter, Alvin Finke, and Peter Fortna, eds., The West and Beyond: New Perspectives on an Imagined “Region”, Athabasca: Athabasca University Press, 2010, pp. 13-46.

3. W. L. Morton, “The Historiography of the Great West,” Historical Papers / Communications Historiques 1970, Ottawa: Canadian Historical Association / l’Association historique du Canada, 1970, p. 48.

4. 1812 Red River 1912: Lord Selkirk’s Centennial, Winnipeg: Canadian Industrial Exhibition, 1912; Jim Blanchard, Winnipeg 1912, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1912, pp. 135-160.

5. J. M. Bumsted, “The Quest for a Usable Founder: Lord Selkirk and Manitoba Historians, 1856–1923,” Manitoba History, No. 2 (June 1981), pp. 2-7.

6. George Bryce, The Life of Lord Selkirk: Coloniser of Western Canada, Toronto: Musson Book Co., 1912; Chester Martin, Lord Selkirk’s Work in Canada, Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1916.

7. Alvin M. Josephy, The Artist was a Young Man: The Life Story of Peter Rindisbacher, Fort Worth, Texas: Amon Carter Museum, 1970; Paul Kane, Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, From Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon, Through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and back Again, London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1858.

8. On Michif as a culture and language, see Paul L. A. H. Chartrand, Pierriche Falcon: The Michif Rhymster: Our Métis National Anthem: The Michif Version, Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2008, p. 3.

9. Lyle Dick, “The Seven Oaks Incident and the Construction of a Historical Tradition, 1816–1970,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association / Revue de la Société historique du Canada 1991, New Series, Vol. 2, pp. 91–113.

10. See the discussion of Elders and First Nations oral tradition in another region, in Julie Cruikshank, Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith and Annie Ned, Life Lived Like a Story: Life Stories of Three Yukon Native Elders, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

11. Donna Lowe, “Folk Music,” in David J. Wishart, ed., Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2004, p. 298.

12. See François Bruneau’s account of his early education at Red River in The Nor’Wester, 28 April 1860, p. 3.

13. Margaret Arnett MacLeod, Songs of Old Manitoba, Toronto: The Ryerson Press, 1959, pp. 2–3.

14. Two of the earliest versions of Falcon’s song appear to be (1) a handwritten version located among the papers seized by Selkirk at Fort William in 1816 and now found in Library and Archives Canada, Selkirk Papers, MG2, A1, Fols. 9207-08; and (2) another version published as part of an appendix in Joseph James Hargrave, Red River, Montréal: John Lovell, 1871, pp. 488–489.

15. For an interesting account of the efforts to recover Falcon’s song on Seven Oaks, see Jacques Julien, “Pierre Falcon: Le Détournement littéraire d’une tradition orale” (première partie) Francophonies, No. 5 (1995), pp. 107–120.

16. Ibid., pp. 10–15.

17. Margaret Arnett MacLeod, “Songs of the Insurrection”, The Beaver, Outfit 287 (Spring 1957), pp. 18–23.

18. Agnes C. Laut, Lords of the North, Toronto: William Briggs, 1900; Margaret Arnett MacLeod, Songs of Old Manitoba, pp. 16–22.

19. W. L. Morton, “Lord Selkirk Settlers”, Manitoba Pageant, Vol. 7, no. 3.

20. R. A. Houston, Scottish Literacy and the Scottish identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 600–1800, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 3.

21. Sir John Sinclair, The Statistical Account of Scotland Drawn Up from the Communications of the Ministers of the Different Parishes, Vols. 1–21, Edinburgh: William Creech, 1791–1799.

22. Mark Towsey, Reading the Scottish Enlightenment: Books and their Readers in Provincial Scotland, 1750–1820, Leiden: Brill, 2010.

23. Jean Murray Cole, “Keeping the Mind Alive: Literary leanings and the Fur Trade”, Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 16, no. 2 (Summer 1981), pp. 87–93; Michael Payne and Greg Thomas, “Literacy, Literature and Libraries in the Fur Trade”, The Beaver, Outfit 313 (April 1983), pp. 44–53; Judith Hudson Beattie, “My Best Friend’: Evidence of the Fur Trade Libraries Located in the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives”, Ėpilogue, Vol. 8, nos. 1 and 2 (1993), pp. 1–32.

24. Joseph James Hargrave, Red River, p. 189.

25. The Nor’Wester, 28 January 1860, p. 2.

26. Debra Lindsay, “Peter Fidler’s Library: Philosophy and Science in Rupert’s Land”, in Peter F. McNally, ed., Readings in Canadian Library History, Ottawa: Canadian Library Association, 1986, pp. 209–221.

27. Dafydd Moore, Enlightenment and Romance in James MacPherson’s The Poems of Ossian: Myth, Genre, and Cultural Change, Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2003); and Robert Crawford, ed., Robert Burns and Cultural Authority, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997.

28. Robert Allan Houston and Ian D. Whyte, Scottish Society, 1500–1800, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 33.

29. “Messrs. Blackwood’s New Publications: List of New Books”, The Publishers’ Circular, 16 July 1856, p. 284.

30. Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement: Its Rise, Progress, and Present State, London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1865, pp. 1–3.

31. See David Brown, Sir Walter Scott and the Historical Imagination, London, Boston, and Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979, pp. 190–94; and Rosemary Mitchell, Picturing the Past: English History in Text and Image, 1830–1870, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000, pp. 84–110.

32. Lyle Dick, “The Seven Oaks Incident and the Construction of a Historical Tradition, 1816–1970,” pp. 91–113.

33. F. G. Roe, The North American Buffalo: A Critical Study of the Species in its Wild State, Toronto: University of Toronto press, 1951, pp. 367–413.

34. The phenomenal sales of Scott’s novels in the 19th century were enumerated by William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004, Appendix 9, pp. 632–644.

35. Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement, p. 86.

36. Ibid., p. 94.

37. The deep ambivalence of Ross and members of his family to his partnership with a First Nations spouse and the mixed racial inheritance of his children was sensitively analyzed by Sylvia Van Kirk in “‘What if Mama is an Indian?’: The Cultural Ambivalence of the Alexander Ross Family”, in Jacqueline Peterson and Jennifer S. H. Brown, eds., The New Peoples: Being and Becoming Métis in North America, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1985, pp. 207–217.

38. “History of the Red River Settlement”, The Nor’Wester, 1 February – 15 October 1861.

39. I would like to thank both Jack Bumsted and Robert Coutts for proposing Hunter as the likely author of the 1861 History published in The Nor’Wester.

40. Bruce Peel, “Hunter, James”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XI (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976).

41. The classic critique of the Whig version of history is Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, London: G. Bell and Sons, 1931.

42. Michael R. Angel, “Clio in the Wilderness”, Manitoba Library Association Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 3 (June 1980), p. 16.

43. Joseph James Hargrave, Red River, pp. 17–57.

44. J. M. Bumsted, “Reporting the Resistance of 1869–1870”, in Thomas Scott’s Body and Other Essays on Early Manitoba History, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, pp. 179–186; and J. M. Bumsted, ed., Reporting the Resistance: Alexander Begg and Joseph Hargrave on the Red River Resistance, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2003.

45. Roderick George Macbeth, The Selkirk Settlers in Real Life, Toronto: William Briggs, 1897; and Rev. A. C. Garrioch, First Furrows: A History of the Early Settlement of the Red River Country, including that of Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg: Stovel Company Ltd., 1923.

46. Archives of Manitoba, MG9, A78-1, George Henry Gunn Fonds, Box 4, File 1: Revised manuscript of the Donald Gunn chapters in Donald Gunn and Charles R. Tuttle’s “History of Manitoba from the earliest settlement to 1836, by the late Hon. Donald Gunn, and from 1835 to the admission of the province to the Dominion” (1912), p. 9.

47. Frits Pannekoek, “The Historiography of the Red River Settlement, 1830–1868”, Prairie Forum, Vol. 6, no. 1 (1981), p. 76; J. M. Bumsted, “Trying to Describe the Buffalo: An Historiographic Essay on the Red River Settlement”, in Thomas Scott’s Body, pp. 18–19.

48. Lewis G. Thomas, “Gunn, Donald”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 10, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972, pp. 324–325.

49. Andrew McDermot, “Peguis Refuted”, Letter to the Editors, The Nor’Wester, 28 February 1860, p. 3; Donald Gunn, “Peguis Vindicated”, Letter to the Editors, The Nor’Wester, 28 April 1860, p. 4.

50. George Bryce, “Worthies of Old Red River”, Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, Series 1, No. 48, Winnipeg, MHS, 1896.

51. Frank Larned Hunt, “Sketch of the Life of the Late Donald Gunn”, in Donald Gunn, History of Manitoba From the Earliest Settlement to 1835, p. xvii.

52. The Nor’Wester, 12 February 1869, p. 1.

53. Donald Gunn, History of Manitoba From the Earliest Settlement to 1835, in Donald Gunn and Charles R. Tuttle, History of Manitoba, Ottawa: McLean, Roger and Co., 1880, p. 156.

54. William Bachelor Coltman, “A General Statement and Report Relative to the Disturbances in the Indian Territories of British North America by the Undersigned Special Commissioner for Inquiring into the Offences Committed in the Said Indian Territories and the Circumstances Attending the Same”, published in Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons, Papers Relating to the Red River Settlement, Paper 18, No. 584, London: House of Commons, 1819, pp. 152–250.

55. Rosemary Mitchell, Picturing the Past: English History in Text and Image, 1830–1870, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000, p. 35.

56. See Donald W. Livingston, “Hume’s Conception of Liberty”, and Nicholas Capaldi, “The Preservation of Liberty”, in Nicholas Capaldi and Donald W. Livingston, eds., Liberty in Hume’s History of England, Dordrecht / Boston / London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990, pp. 105–154 and 195–224.

57. The version of Hume’s History formerly present in Peter Fidler’s library, later incorporated into the Red River Library, is David Hume, The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Abdication of James the Second, London: C. Cooke, 1793-94.

58. Courtesy of Nigel Tappin with the Manitoba Legislative Library, I was able to peruse the library’s indexes for the Red River Collection, which is now housed at the Legislative Library. Copies of both Hume’s History and a separately published Index to this work were part of the collection in the mid-19th century and are still extant in the collection.

59. Mark Towsey, “‘All Partners May be Enlightened and Improved by Reading Them’: The Distribution of Enlightenment Books in Scottish Subscription Library catalogues, 1750–c1820,” Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, Vol. 28. Issue 1, pp. 20–43.

60. Donald Gunn, History of Manitoba From the Earliest Settlement to 1835, pp. 174–195.

61. Ibid., pp. 292–294.

62. Frank Larned Hunt, “Sketch of the Life of the Late Donald Gunn”, in Gunn’s History of Manitoba From the Earliest Settlement to 1835, p. xxi.

63. Archives of Manitoba, MG9, A78-1, George Henry Gunn Fonds, Box 4, File 1: Revised manuscript of the Donald Gunn chapters…, p. 7.

64. Charles Napier Bell, The Selkirk Settlement and the Settlers: a concise history of the Red River country from its discovery, including information extracted from original documents lately discovered and notes obtained from Selkirk Settlement colonists, Winnipeg: Office of the Commercial, 1887, p. 37.

65. George Bryce and Charles Napier Bell, Seven Oaks: An Account of the Affair of Seven Oaks; and a Report of Proceedings of the Gathering for the Unveiling of the “Seven Oaks Monument,” June 19th, 1891, Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, Series 1, no. 43, Winnipeg, Manitoba Historical Society, 1891.

66. Lyle Dick, “The Seven Oaks Incident and the Construction of a Historical Tradition, 1816–1970”, pp. 101–110.

67. See the discussion of the methods of the Greek practitioners in T. J. Luce, The Greek Historians, Routledge: London and New York, 1997.

68. Lewis G. Thomas, “Gunn, Donald”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 10, pp. 324–325.

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