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Memorable Manitobans: Alexander Greenfield MacDonell (?-1835)

Fur trader.

Born in Greenfield, Scotland, the sixth son of Alexander Macdonell of Greenfield, and a second cousin of John Macdonell and Miles Macdonell, he emigrated with his family to Upper Canada in 1792. He entered the service of the North West Company in 1803, and in 1808 was a clerk in the Red River Department under the service of John MacDonald of Garth. He was made a partner in 1814 and played an important and prominent part in the Selkirk troubles which followed. He was among the Nor’Westers criticized by the leadership for failing to resist Miles MacDonnell’s “pemmican proclamation” more vigorously, and he was apparently made a partner and placed (with Duncan Cameron) in charge of the Red River Department on the understanding that there would be more opposition to the settlement. For the next few years he and Cameron would lead a campaign against the colony, employing the local freemen, mixed-bloods, and Indians as the apparent actors. He helped promote a concept of Aboriginal rights among these people, and appears to have favoured intimidation short of the “shedding of blood.” Cuthbert Grant’s men at Seven Oaks were under his orders, but the violence of that confrontation was probably inadvertent. He denied responsibility for the 1816 murder of Owen Keveny.

In 1819 Narrative of thetransactions in the Red River Country from the commencement ofthe operations of the Earl of Selkirk till the summer of 1816 appeared under his name in London, in an attempt to exculpate him from the “calumnious libels” levelled against him by the Selkirk interests, who regarded him with such hostility that he was specifically excluded from employment with the HBC after the merger. He served as MLA from Glengarry from 1821 to 1824 in the Upper Canada Assembly and won the riding of Prescott as a Tory in 1835, dying of consumption while attending the assembly meeting. He served as sheriff of the Ottawa District from 1822 to his death.

Sources:

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 5 April 2008

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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