HL Deb 13 February 1860 vol 156 cc902-7

rose, to inquire what is the Intention of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the Administration of the Red River Settlement, and those parts of the Saskatchewan Districts recommended by the Committee of the House of Commons in 1857, to be withdrawn from the Jurisdiction of the Hudson's Bay Company? In referring to this question the noble Earl said, he would not enter on the larger topic connected with the validity of the charter of the Hudson's Bay Company and the other questions which arise out of it. He had then called the attention of their Lordships to this subject last Session, to the recent expiry of the exclusive licence to trade of the Hudson's Bay Company, and had drawn attention to the influence which the expiry of that licence might indirectly produce upon those territories lying between the United States on the south, and the Indian territories on the north, which, though claimed under the charter, were affected for good or evil by the particular form and system of government adopted in the other parts of the continent. He then suggested that if an early decision were not come to, difficulties and embarrassments likely to grow out of it must be enhanced—difficulties that might arise with regard to the maintenance of law and territory, the introduction of spirits and articles of trade, and the probability of feud3 springing up between the Indian tribes and the white men, and between the white men among themselves. On the 31st of May the exclusive licence expired, as the Hudson's Bay Company accepted the serious responsibility of declining to renew it on the terms proposed by his right hon. Friend Sir E. Lytton. The Government then at the close of last Session, took, and wisely so, powers under an Act for the appointment of magistrates in the Red River Settlements and parts of the Saskatchewan districts, and for securing a more effectual system of criminal administration, He wished to know whether any steps had been taken, and if any what, with reference to that Act, whether any advantage had been taken of it— whether any form of Government had practically replaced that which was swept away when the licensing trade was revoked, and if not, what was the cause of the delay? Communications that had come to him from various quarters left little room to doubt that the present state of affairs in that part of the British North American continent was one calculated to cause some anxiety. There were certain difficulties that pressed at present with reference to the Red River Settlement. In the first place, there was a feeling of very strong dissatisfaction on the part of the colonists themselves, and while at the Colonial Office he received two petitions praying for an extensive alteration in the form of government and general system of administration. In the next place, he understood that a large number of persons who had come to the settlement from Canada refused to pay the duties on the ground that they were not levy-able from them, and were raising questions of great legal nicety connected with adjoining territories which, though it was important that they should be determined, ought not to be settled in a hasty or irregular manner. Moreover, since the expiry of the licence last year American citizens had crossed the border and had established an unlicensed and irregular trade, had introduced spirits among the Indian tribes, contributing thereby to the further demoralization of that unhappy people, and were practically under no sort of control or authority whatever. He was not, speaking generally, afraid of American colonization in that part of the world, for he believed that the vast districts south of the 49th degree of latitude offered for many years and generations an ample field for their energy and industry. He had no wish or belief that the stream of colonization could be permanently diverted from its natural course, or be forced into channels which were unnatural and repugnant to it; but he looked at the Red River Settlement as an exceptional case, and he considered it would be an oversight which could never be sufficiently deplored or atoned for on the part of the Government, or of the local authorities, if the sympathies of the Settlement were alienated from the Crown, or that, cut off as they were from the other settled parts of British North America, those sympathies should be drawn to the United States rather than to Canada. There were three roads that connected the Red River Settlement with our other possessions in North America. One connected it on the north with the shores of Hudson's Bay; but owing to the severity of the climate it was only open for two months in the year; a second, that connected it with the westernmost part of Canada, passable at some periods, but at others impracticable, and requiring a certain outlay; and a third leading southwards by the Red River, and in direct communication with the United States. The last route following the course of stream led to St. Paul, in Minnesota, which now was in possession, as he believed, of railway communication, and it was by this route that the greatest amount of the traffic and the chief supply of the necessaries of life for the settlement now passed. Last summer, trade to the value of not less than 1,500,000 dollars passed over this route, into the Red River Settlement from the United States. It was a significant fact that last summer, for the first time, a small steamer made her way up the river into the settlement, and he had read a communication from one of the leading residents of the colony stating that this circumstance had done more to Americanize them than anything else, and that if ever any improvement takes place, it must be from a connection with the United States route. The only alternative or remedy to meet this was to open up communication between Lake Superior and the Red River, and thus to bring the settlement into relation with the other parts of British North America. Again, it was not less worthy of attention that in the Chamber of Commerce at St. Paul, and by a public subscription, an expedition was organized by the Americans to explore, or "prospect," as they termed it, all that part of British North America that was the scene of Captain Palliser's labour last year. These were important questions, and the time in the history of the settlement was critical. Much of the ultimate destiny of the colony, and not only of the colony, but of the British possessions in North America, would depend on the conduct of the Colonial Minister on this question, and on the course taken by the Government within the next few years. Steps ought to be taken for bringing the scattered portions of that great continent into closer connection, all legitimate facilities and encouragement should be given to open up some communication between the Red River Settlement and Canada, and in that settlement at the earliest possible day the administration of the Hudson's Bay should be ex- changed for the more satisfactory agency of the Crown. It was more a question of policy than expenditure, as far as this Government was concerned, and he thought there was no necessity for the outlay of any sum of money from the Imperial exchequer for the purpose, although the recent Report of Mr. Dawson showed that it was a colony possessed of great capabilities. The noble Earl concluded by putting his Question.


said, his noble Friend inquired first, what had been done in consequence of an Act passed last Session in reference to the government of what had hitherto been called the licensed territory of the Hudson's Bay Company? Their Lordships would recollect that on the second reading of the Bill he (the Duke of Newcastle) said that it was not his intention to avail himself of its powers unless he found it necessary to do so. He was anxious to disturb as little as possible what existed in the territory, and not to appoint magistrates under the Act unless there was some necessity for them. The noble Earl spoke as if the power of the Hudson's Bay Company was entirely swept away when their licence expired in May last; but though legally swept away, it practically remained in force. The posts of the Company continued in existence, and as the jurisdiction of the Company was primitive and patriarchal, rather than established in exact legal form, it had survived the expiry of the licence, and was sufficient to preserve peace and order among the natives of the district. That power, such as it was, still existed, and until there was a greater population in British Columbia and the colony was more settled, he thought it would be better to postpone bringing the Act into operation. He admitted at once that if, in consequence of the expiration of the licence of the Hudson's Bay Company, traders had introduced spirits among the natives, and thus led to a state of things which ought to be repressed, Her Majesty's Government would deem it incumbent upon them to interfere. Many gentlemen had offered him their services to act as magistrates in that district; but he had not yet exercised the power of appointment which was conferred upon him by the Act of last Session; nor should be do so, unless the introduction of spirits among the Indians or other irregularities and disorders should render it necessary. The noble Earl next asked what steps had been taken with regard to the administration of the Red River Settlement and the Saskatchewan Districts. The noble Earl must be mistaken as to the present state of things there, as the Colonial Office was not in possession of any information of such serious events as he had described. That Canadians and citizens of the United States had wandered across the boundaries of their country and entered those territories there could be no doubt; but he had no knowledge of any proceedings on the part of those persons tending to create an apprehension of evil consequences. As regards practical measures nothing definite had yet been done, but no time had been lost. Until within a very recent period he possessed really little information as to the land available for colonization. It was only three or four weeks ago that he received the concluding portion of Captain Palliser's Report, which bore very importantly upon the subject; but they had now also the valuable document prepared by Mr. Dawson, of Toronto, a native of Canada and a Member of its Legislature, who had devoted much attention to it. At present the Bed River Settlement was exceedingly small, being confined to a radius of about 50 miles from Fort Garry, and he apprehended that whenever the Crown took upon itself the responsibility of governing it, it would be desirable to extend the existing boundaries to a considerable degree. An important reason why there should be no hurry in dealing with this question was to be found in the fact that plans for opening up communications between the different settlements had to be considered. There were only three modes of access—one from the north; one from the south, through the territory of the United States; and one from the East, through Canada. It was of great importance that these territories should be colonized by British subjects, and that every facility should be given for the fullest access to them. The scheme advocated by Mr. Dawson in his Report was, he thought, the most likely to tend to the colonization and settlement of these districts that had hitherto been devised, and he entertained sanguine hopes that it might be carried out. It had already met with great encouragement in Canada, and he believed it would be worthy the approval of the Imperial Government. With respect to what was to be done for the future settlement of those districts, his noble Friend must be aware that the first step must be an arrangement with the Hudson's Bay Company, which under its charter exercised a power and jurisdiction over them. He could assure the House it was his earnest desire to arrive at that settlement with the Hudson's Bay Company by amicable means; and he had every hope that such means would prove successful. In the course of the last Session papers were laid on the table in which were certain communications which had taken place between the Governor of the district and the Colonial Secretary, and among them was a letter either to Mr. Labouchere or to Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton—but he thought the latter—in which the Company professed their willingness to give up their jurisdiction over the country with a view of promoting the settlement of the Red River and the Saskatchewan district under Imperial auspices on equitable terms. It would be necessary, in the first place, to ascertain what these equitable terms would be. Having now before them as much information upon the subject as they were likely to obtain, he hoped the result of the amicable arrangement which he was desirous of concluding with the Hudson's Bay Company would accomplish this very desirable object without litigation. If so, the next step would be to devise some simple and inexpensive form of government, and should legislation be necessary for this purpose, it was of course most desirable that it should take place this Session.