The Battle of Seven Oaks


In 1811, Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, began efforts to settle displaced Scottish farmers in the Red River Valley. Settlers soon attempted to restrict hunting and freighting by the Métis, many of whom worked as provisioners (mostly provisioners of pemmican) for the North West Company (NWC). The HBC and NWC were at the height of their competition during this time. In 1814, the governor of the Red River Colony issued the "Pemmican Proclamation", which prohibited the export of pemmican from the colony for the next year. A restriction on the hunting of buffalo on horseback was also imposed. The Métis, who lived along the Red River (now present-day Winnipeg) did not recognize the authority of the Red River Colony government, but the NWC, for which the Métis were loosely employed, accused the HBC of trying to monopolize the important foodstuff. Since the Métis relied heavily on the fur trade, the restrictions were also a threat to their livelihood and economic subsistence. The Red River Colony's Scottish immigration was sponsored by Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk, who also happened to be the largest shareholder in the HBC. In 1816, a group of Métis, led by Cuthbert Grant, seized a supply of pemmican which has been stolen from them, and travelled to meet North West Company traders with the intention of selling them the pemmican. They encountered Robert Semple, then governor of the Red River Colony, along the Red River at a location known as Seven Oaks (present-day Winnipeg) to the English, and La Grenouillère to the Métis. Semple was accompanied by a group of settlers from the Red River Colony. A confrontation ensued, where the Métis were victorious, Robert Semple and 19 of his men were killed. One man belonging to the NWC-Métis side also perished. The Métis refer to the victory as "La Victoire de la Grenouillère". Most of the settlers living on the Red River Colony left the area in the following days. In retaliation, Selkirk (Thomas Douglas) captured the NWC's primary base at Fort William and reoccupied Fort Douglas (which had been taken by NWC members and Métis during the conflict). Law suits and countersuits ensued. Only Selkirk's death in 1820 cleared the way for an end to the rivalry. As for the Métis, they came to see Red River as a place of permanent settlement.

Following the Battle of Seven Oaks, the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company merged. In addition, the Métis victory during the battle contributed to the development of Métis nationhood and nationalism. Seven Oaks is seen by several Métis people and historians as the even that seals the unity of the Métis as a nation. The victory resulted in the creation of cultural symbols particular to Métis nationhood, such as a flag (the white infinity sign on blue background) and an anthem - Pierre Falcon's Victory Song/ La Chanson de la Grenouillère.

Metis History