OTD: Thomas Douglas pays HBC 10 schillings for 74 million acres

On today’s date in 1811, Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) stockholder Thomas Douglas paid HBC 10 shillings for 74 million acres of land in the Red River Valley.

According to HBC Heritage, Selkirk planned to use the land to settle displaced Scottish highlanders, the first of whom would arrive in 1812.

“The Selkirk settlement not only straddled the established NWC route to the Northwest, but also encompassed a number of important NWC forts such as Esperance, Dauphin, Souris, Pembina, Gibraltar and Bas-de-la-Rivière. This immediately caused friction. Adding to this was the issue of settlement itself. At the best of times the farmer and the fur trader are poor neighbours: the success of the former usually depends on clearing the forests that support the animals sought by the latter. But in Red River these tensions were exacerbated by the presence of a unique local population—the Métis.”


In 1962, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) featured Douglas, fifth Earl of Selkirk, on a five-cent commemorative stamp (Scott #397) designed by Phillips-Gutkin & Associates. The stamp depicts a portrait of Douglas alongside the Red River Settlement and recognizes the accomplishments of Canada’s western pioneers.

According to a press release issued by the department, Lord Selkirk proposed immigration of evicted crofters to British North America—specifically a colony in the Red River area.

“The first party of settlers, under the guidance of Miles Macdonald, set out by way of Hudson’s Bay in 1811, staying for the winter at the mouth of the Nelson River. In 1812, the part reached the Red River and settled near the mouth of the Assiniboine River. They were soon joined by another party which set out in 1812. Other parties reached the settlement in 1814 and 1815.

“From the first, the colony has aroused the suspicion of the North West Company which feared that it would prove a threat to the supply of pemmican for the company’s lines of communications and its posts in the far west fur bearing regions. This threat seemed to be realized when, in 1814, Macdonald prohibited the export of pemmican from the Assiniboine region. Though this difficulty was adjusted, the company decided to destroy the colony by instigating desertion among the settlers and offering free transportation to Canada. The remainder of the settlers were finally driven from the area in the Seven Oaks Massacre of 1816, which claimed the lives of Governor Robert Semple and 19 of his officers.

“In 1817, Lord Selkirk led a force of veterans recruited from former regiments from Montreal and re-established the Red River Colony. The colony continued to progress without further trouble from the North West Company and virtually all danger from this source was eliminated with the merger of the two companies in 1821. The new settlers had other difficulties to overcome to make the land propituous to agriculture: poor seeds, inadequate tools, a strange climate, grasshoppers and other pests and the lack of a market for grain and cattle. They did, however, manage to extract from this land the first “bumper” crop of wheat. The yield was some 1500 bushels. This was the beginning of economic stability and growth for the area now know as the Prairie Provinces.”

The 2012 stamp (Scott 2539) shows the various people who lived in the settlement during the 1800s.

A 2012 stamp (SC #2539) shows the various people who lived in the settlement during the 1800s.


Douglas was also featured on a 2012 61-cent Permanent stamp (SC #2539) commemorating the settlement’s 200th anniversary. Designed by Susan Mavor, the 2012 stamp depicts the various characters and ethnic groups living in the area at the time, including aboriginals, local trappers, and settlers.

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