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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 4

A Brief History of Lower Fort Garry

by Dale Miquelon

The Queen's Men in Rupert's Land

As the free-trade movement gained strength, Company authority began to crumble, but the increasing tension between Great Britain and the United States afforded Simpson the opportunity to re-enforce the trade monopoly largely at the expense of the British taxpayer. From 1844, he had directed memorials to Whitehall through the London Committee or Governor-General Metcalfe in Canada, describing the danger of American invasion and the necessity for the establishment of regular troops in Red River as a deterrent. The election of President Polk in the United States and the Oregon boundary dispute combined to lend credence to his arguments. The free-trade movement was, in fact, so closely linked with American traders in Minnesota that Simpson could raise the cry of loyalty and monopoly in one breath without raising a questioning eyebrow in London. The state of the colony by 1846 is best read at first hand from the discerning pen of the governor himself.

This settlement was the scene of much excitement during the past winter, ensuing from a mischevious system of agitation which has been kept up by McDermott, Sinclair, Kittson [an American trader] and other designing persons who expect their ingenuity to mislead the ignorant and half savage population by whom we are here surrounded, with a view to promoting their own private interests. These disaffected people have been very successful in inducing a belief in the public mind, especially of the half-caste races, that the charter affords no exclusive right of trade to the Company as against themselves, the natives of the soil, and they now claim as a birthright, the liberty to hunt and trade throughout the Company's Territories, and either to convey their furs out of the country or to dispose of them to whom they please.... Kittson, gaining confidence by the protection afforded him by the half-breeds, will, it is expected, move from Pembina next winter and seat himself down as a trader within the settlement, amongst the numerous French half-breed population situated above the Forks. Could we with safety attempt to arrest this man and remove him from the country we should have no hesitation in doing so, but it would be madness to attempt it in the present state of public feeling: in that event therefore, of his coming, we can only protest against any improper interference with the trade and patiently wait till the means may be afforded of enforcing the laws, which at present, are little more than a dead letter. ...

If the Military force proposed to be sent out by Government come to York this year, we shall be prepared to convey them to Red River.1

The government finally agreed to send the requested military force. That they were entirely ignorant of the intended use of these forces seems unlikely, for the regiment selected was the Sixth Regiment of Foot, a small body altogether incapable of the type of duty necessitated by border defence.2 However, they were admirably suited for Simpson's purpose, to quash disaffection in the settlement.

The Hudson's Bay Company was very much alive to the importance of the venture and went to considerable inconvenience to accommodate the troops. At Lower Fort Garry the Company removed its operations to a distillery and malting house recently built near the fort. Adam Thom vacated the Big House. Work was pushed ahead on the walls and bastions of the fort, notwithstanding the fact that the labour shortage was aggravated by an epidemic.3 Assured that troops were forthcoming, Simpson left for England to consider the important business of devising a new government for the fur trade colony; one that would appease the colonists and yet not be inimical to the Company's interests.

On 25 June 1846, the Sixth, or Royal Warwickshire Regiment of Foot, embarked at Cork in the Blenheim and Crocodile which arrived at York Factory on 8 and 13 August. The commander of the expedition, Major (later Colonel) John Ffolliott Crofton, arrived at the lower fort on 10 September. His first comment on the settlers was, "The tone of the inhabitants is disaffected and I fancy they prefer American to British rule."4 Thereafter his opinion of them deteriorated rapidly. Crofton himself took half of the men to the upper fort where he established his headquarters. The lower fort garrison commanded by Captain Sullivan comprised some 150 members of the Sixth together with the Sappers.

Army routine was established at the two forts. At ten in the morning the troops paraded, the guard mounted and officers inspected the barracks. At four o'clock there was roll call. An event of some importance occurred on 4 June 1847, when Crofton met the Indian chief Peguis at the lower fort. This was the first meeting of an Indian chief with an officer of the Crown in the western Canadian interior. "I had a grand dress on, tell your father, and had great state," wrote Crofton to his wife. He gave the chief a present selected by Hudson's Bay clerk John Black valued at £7.10s.0d.

Crofton was not happy at Red River and pressed for relief. When this arrived, he departed for England, leaving the Stone Fort on Wednesday, 30 June 1847. By September it was known that the regiment would leave the following summer. They had pacified the colony as much with their purchasing power as with law enforcement. "What will be thought in the settlement when it is announced that the troops are to be withdrawn?" wrote John Black from Lower Fort Garry. "The settlers have prospered exceedingly in trade with the soldiers. Their golden dreams of universal prosperity are to be nipped in the bud."5

The projected withdrawal of the Sixth from Red River threw the management of the Company into a panic and the Committee convinced the British government of the necessity for replacement. Archibald Barclay, Secretary to the Governor and Committee in London, reported that "The case was put as strongly as it could well be without disclosing the fact that the protection required was not so much against the Americans as against the settlers themselves."6

In August and September, 1848, all the troops were embarked at York Factory. At the same time a body of 56 Chelsea Pensioners, the first of a larger force, was coming down the Hayes with their commander, Major Caldwell. The new garrison was quartered briefly in Upper Fort Garry and then settled along the Assiniboine.7 Meanwhile, the Company men began to shift their stores back to the Stone Fort.

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