Canada and the Métis, 1869-1885


From the Author's Preface (ix-x):

"The author's central purpose is to explain how the Red River Settlement, one of the most persistent populations of North America from 1820 to 1869, dispersed almost entirely in the 1870s and failed to secure a new homeland by migration to the Canadian North West in the early 1880s. While students of other migrations are certain that push factors are as important as pulls in any mass exodus, in the case of the Red River Metis, the dispersal is usually attributed to some fatal flaw in the Metis character rather than to external pressures arising after 1870. The present study is an inquiry into the discouragements, formal and informal, that forced most of the Red River Metis from Manitoba to Saskatchewan and culminated in the [resistance] of 1885.  Informal discouragements included intimidation of the original population by hundreds, then thousands of ultra-Protestants from Ontario who intended to establish new homes for themselves and to become a new majority transforming the Quebec of the West into a new Ontario. Newcomers appropriated Metis land and made [them] feel like strangers in a new land.

The Metis might have mounted an effective defence against such informal pressure had they not faced overwhelming formal discouragement from the acts of a colonial establishment created by the Government of Canada. Ottawa witheld self-government from Manitoba until a preferred majority was established. Facilitating the process were numerous Orders in Council and Statutes of Canada, which shifted the administration of insecure land titles from a legislature of the old settlers to a federal department whose primary mission was guaranteeing the security of the newcomers. 

Since the formal process of discouragement was the more irresistable one, the operations of the Canadian bureaucreacy are the main focus of the study. The important evidence is communication between officials in the field and policy-makers in Ottawa. The highest level of consideration was frequently the office of the Prime Minister, occasionally operating independently of Cabinet or Parliament. And since Sir John A. Macdonald was the individual who occupied the prime ministerial position for eleven of the years between 1869 and 1885, his decisions are central to the story of formal discouragement. Yet Macdonald was only one of many unsympathetic actors in the drama. Given the pressure from the informal side, opportunities for accommodation of the Metis were easily missed by all operators of the apparatus of formal control. Whether such moments passed by mere carelessness or by deliberate inaction cannot be known with certainty in every instance, but one overall conclusion is inescapably obvious: the Government of Canada conceded a legal framework for the permanence of the Red River Settlement as a province in response to force in 1870, and subsequently presided over the dissolution of the terms of the Manitoba Act with approximately the same regret as would be exhibited by an unwilling victim escaping from a sales contract negotiated under duress." (ix-x).

The Manitoba Histoical Society published a detailed review of Canada and the Métis

Publication Information

Sprague, D. N. Canada and the Métis, 1869-1885. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1988.

Sprague, D.N.
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