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Our friends the Natives

Indian Activities At The Portage

The early history of Portage la Prairie has many ties to the activities of the Indian tribes, their reactions to the occasional and sporadic visits of the white traders and the recognized value of the district even to those early white pioneers, who while interested mainly in the fur trade, were not blind to the agricultural value and productive quality of its fertile soil. No doubt the returning traders talked about it in Red River, but up to the time of the Selkirk settlers very little attention was paid to agricultural development.

The Hudson Bay company had been granted title in 1690 to that tract territory which drained into Hudson Bay. When the grant was made no one had any idea of the extent of the territory thereby ceded. Gradually it became apparent that the Hudson’s Bay Company could not continue in undisputed possession of so large an area. The North-West Company was organized and threatened to absorb the trade. Bitter rivalry existed between the two companies. Goods and furs were stolen and reprisals made from time to time; bloodshed was common; pitched battles were fought and men shot down regardless, and still the merry scramble for fur went on without ceasing, and there appeared to be no authority sufficiently strong to establish and maintain law and order.

Lord Selkirk, who tried to interest the North-West in his scheme for emigrating settlers from Scotland, without success, decided that the Hudson’s Bay Company must not be allowed to hold all that valuable land. He reasoned that it was absurd, unthinkable state of affairs that for such little difference in pounds per year that so much land would be unavailable for agricultural development. Lord Selkirk was convinced that the country could support in comfort a large population which in his opinion thirty millions of people could live here. In his estimate he was including large portions of Minnesota and North Dakota which drain into the Red River. Taking advantage of the low price of the Hudson’s Bay Company stock he and his family bought enough to give him controlling interest in the company and in May 1811, compelled the Company to grant him 116,000 square miles of territory. In return Selkirk undertook with the directors of the Company to establish a settlement at his own expense.

Grim determination, dogged perseverance, high hopes, dauntless courage and abounding faith, and their arrival at Red River marks the real beginning s of agricultural and commercial activity in Manitoba and for Portage la Prairie. From 1811-1815 four parties of Selkirk settlers arrived at Red River. The establishment of the Colony was not a financial success and Lord Selkirk suffered considerable pecuniary loss and accumulated a fair amount of trouble and anxiety. The settlers underwent untold hardships, perils of hunger and floods, fire and unfriendly tribes – both Indian and Metis, but the net result viewed in historical retrospect, abundantly justifies the enterprise and lays this territory under an everlasting obligation to Lord Selkirk and his hardy pioneers. It was through them settlement for agricultural purposes was hastened.

To Archdeacon Cochrane directly belongs the honour and credit for the first settlement proper at Portage la Prairie. Indefatigable in his work, he decided after all his labours in Red River to open a mission to the Indians at Portage la Prairie. This was accomplished in 1850-1852 and with him he brought a number of settlers from Red River. He officially began his mission in 1853 and had personally looked over the ground and satisfied himself that such and enterprise was his his by right of vows of service to the Church, to his fellow man and to his God.

Although unable to speak the language of the Indian tribes, he appears to have had a remarkable influence on their lives and was given new courage and enthusiasm hen twelve or fifteen heads of families, mainly English speaking announced their intention of following him from St. Paul’s and St. Andrews to his new sphere of usefulness. Some of the original migrants who followed or came with the Archdeacon to establish the first congregation and settlement at Portage la Prairie were; Fredrick Bird, William Garrioch, John Hodges, Richard Favel, John Anderson Sr., Thomas Anderson Sr.,Peter Whitford, John Spencer, Henry House, John Garrioch, Baptiste Demarais, Charles Demarais, John Inkster, Simon Whitford and Peter Garrioch.


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