The Murals of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Murals
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1812 Main Street (3)    Location Map
  

Scene of 1816.


Location: SW corner Main & Semple; East Face

Occupant: Manitoba Hydro substation

District: West Kildonan

Neighbourhood: Jefferson

Artist(s): Jill Sellers (Jill Sellers Design)

Year: 2001

Sponsors: Manitoba Hydro

 

The third scene, set in 1816, is a representation of the Battle of Seven Oaks. For this scene, Sellers used more red tones than on the other walls to signify conflict: it's present in the sunset (which is the time of day the battle actually happened) and on all the images of horses and the people. The use of red also helped to make Robert Semple a focal point of the scene. The portraiture of him was from a photo reference Jill got from Robert Semple School. Cuthbert Grant is on horseback at the extreme left. His portrait, though smaller than Semple's, is just as striking. The two figures in the center are from opposing sides: the Mtis on the horseback was Franois Bouchard, from the North West Company; Robert Semple of course was from Hudson's Bay Company. It is said that these two figures scuffled, and Robert Semple grabbed the reins of the horse; and one called the other a scoundrel. Tempers flared, one of Semple's men fired a shot, and a Battle quickly ensued. Fifteen minutes later Semple and 21 of his men lay dead.

Historical backstory: Cuthbert Grant was born in 1793, at Fort de la Rivire Tremblante. Cuthbert's father was a partner and trader with the North West Company (NWC); his mother was a Mtis Cree woman. When Cuthbert's father died in 1799, in accordance with his father's will, William McGillivray, Director of the NWC, became Cuthbert's guardian.

In an attempt to heighten antagonism towards the Selkirk Settlers, McGillivray played on the sediments of a nation and territory that had begun to develop among the Mtis. He warned the Mtis that the influx of settlers into the territory would spell the end of the lifestyle, freedom and individuality. Fearing this to be true, the people appointed Cuthbert Grant as 'Captain General of all half-breeds in the country' in 1816; he was already on the NWC payroll. Under his leadership, the French and English Half-breeds began to assert their claim to an Aboriginal title to the land.

The Nor'Westers saw the colonists as a threat to the fur trade and supply of pemmican. They were reeling from the Pemmican Proclamation. The NWC needed pemmican as food supply for the voyageurs. The Mtis depended on the sale of pemmican to the Nor'Westers to support their families. A second proclamation ordered the stop of "running buffalo" at the Red River Settlement. The Mtis felt that they were the true owners of the North West and need not obey these laws. The Nor'Westers were, after all the "New Nation".

Over the winter, while Macdonell was away, the NWC and Mtis harassed Selkirk's colony and actually convinced the poor farmers to head east, and they then burned down Fort Douglas. Colin Robertson (the man who originally suggested that location for the colonists to settle) arrived and found nobody; so Robertson caught up with the refugees and brought them back, and Fort Douglas was then rebuilt.

In 1815 Robert Semple arrived as the New Governor of Assiniboia (replacing Miles Macdonell) with 84 more highlanders and a few reinforcements in tow. Colonists now totalled 140.

In 1816, Governor Semple cut off the pemmican supply routes of the NWC and seized Fort Gibraltar on March 17. Cuthbert Grant planned to reopen those routes and set out with a large party of Mtis towards the colony. Grant had already seized a supply of HBC pemmican leaving from Qu'Appelle and was intending to sell it to NWC traders. Late in the afternoon of June 19th, 1816, a lookout at Fort Douglas spotted a party of 15- 30 men headed their way. Semple and 27 of his men left to intercept them, and met them at a creek or ravine known as "Seven Oaks" As Semple and company approached, it became apparent that 70 more men were in the grove- they were horribly outnumbered. Within minutes, Semple and 21 of his men were dead. Only one Mtis was killed. The Mtis were superior at at hand-to-hand combat and were well-trained marksmen due to years of running the buffalo.

Grant and the Mtis then took Fort Douglas and burned it down the second time.. Grant offered protection for settlers who wanted to leave the Red River Settlement He was later to face charges in Montreal arising from the fight but never actually went to trial. While Grant was away his wife Elizabeth McKay and their son disappeared and were never heard from again.

In reprisal for The Battle of Seven Oaks, Lord Selkirk hired 100 Swiss mercenaries. They captured Fort William, the North West Company headquarters, and arrested William McGillivray, then proceeded back to Assiniboia to restore the settlement. The refugee settlers were brought back from Lake Winnipeg, this time for good. The two companies, NWC and HBC eventually merged in 1821.