The Canadian Frontier

We're all familiar with the old cowboys and indians movies and with films like Dances With Wolves. These movies are made to promote the mythology of the American frontier which is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, even Bush referred to Osama as being 'wanted dead or alive'.

What about the British and Canadian experience further North though?

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This map shows the territory of the Plains Indians wars (and conveniently misses out vast swathes of Canada). We're familiar with the Apaches and Comanches in Texas and New Mexico, and with Custer and the 7th Cav fighting the Lakota and Cheyenne. What about Canada though? Were there ever any big battles with the British Army versus Plains Indians in Canada? If not then why not? Do the Canadians have the same mythology of the Frontier? Settlers did eventually move further West and inevitable would have encountered First Nations peoples, why do we not have the same experience happening in Canada and why is there no Wild West equivalent?

I've had a mooch around the internet but there doesn't seem to be much written about it. Is this sort of history covered in Canadian academia? The only references I could find are these:

North-West Rebellion - Wikipedia List of conflicts in Canada - Wikipedia
 

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
We're all familiar with the old cowboys and indians movies and with films like Dances With Wolves. These movies are made to promote the mythology of the American frontier which is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, even Bush referred to Osama as being 'wanted dead or alive'.

What about the British and Canadian experience further North though?

View attachment 577634


This map shows the territory of the Plains Indians wars (and conveniently misses out vast swathes of Canada). We're familiar with the Apaches and Comanches in Texas and New Mexico, and with Custer and the 7th Cav fighting the Lakota and Cheyenne. What about Canada though? Were there ever any big battles with the British Army versus Plains Indians in Canada? If not then why not? Do the Canadians have the same mythology of the Frontier? Settlers did eventually move further West and inevitable would have encountered First Nations peoples, why do we not have the same experience happening in Canada and why is there no Wild West equivalent?

I've had a mooch around the internet but there doesn't seem to be much written about it. Is this sort of history covered in Canadian academia? The only references I could find are these:

North-West Rebellion - Wikipedia List of conflicts in Canada - Wikipedia
Mallinson's fictional works about Matthew Hervey, 6 Light Dragoons (drawing heavily from the history of 19H (on this subject)) spend a couple of books looking at the British Army in colonial Canada in the early 19th century.

I enjoyed the reads.

Coincidentally, LD Association attended the funeral of a former 15/19H officer by the name of Hervey just last week. He had been 2ic in my time, and I drove him occasionally.
 
For the Plains, there's really only the Red River Rebellion of 1870, and the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

The Prairies really only became an issue for Ottawa once Sir John A. MacDonald and his ministry got the idea to extend the Dominion of Canada west to British Columbia, and part of BC's demands to enter Confederation was a trans-continental railway. BC joined Confederation in 1873 after the Red River rebellion, which is also the year that the North-West Mounted Police were formed. They wound up policing the Prairies instead of fighting wars like the USA with their Sioux Uprising of 1876.
 
I heard this explanation a few years ago.
In the United States, the Westward migration was made by settlers before the law, in Canada, the Westward migration was made by the law before the settlers.
Simplistic I know, but there is a grain of sensibility to it.
 

old_fat_and_hairy

LE
Book Reviewer
Reviews Editor
There may well have been, but, the Sioux, for example, headed to Canada to escape the US army post Custer. However, the biggest deterrent to any battles would have been Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald. Their song 'Indian Love Call' would have frightened off the most savage of the type.
 
For the Plains, there's really only the Red River Rebellion of 1870, and the North-West Rebellion of 1885.
We should however distinguish between the Red River Rebellion of 1870 and the North-West Rebellion of 1885. The former was instigated by Metis without Indian involvement, and was more of a coup against the Hudson's Bay Company government than a war. They were trying to negotiate better terms of confederation (mainly about French language rights, retaining Scottish civil law, and disputes over property surveys). Riel and the other leaders (Gabriel Dumont, etc.) headed south of the border when General Wolseley's expedition approached.

The Prairies really only became an issue for Ottawa once Sir John A. MacDonald and his ministry got the idea to extend the Dominion of Canada west to British Columbia, and part of BC's demands to enter Confederation was a trans-continental railway. BC joined Confederation in 1873 after the Red River rebellion, which is also the year that the North-West Mounted Police were formed. They wound up policing the Prairies instead of fighting wars like the USA with their Sioux Uprising of 1876.
The plan was to develop the prairies, but Ottawa were baulking at the expense of a railway. As you said however, BC forced the issue as a transcontinental railway was part of their terms of confederation.
 
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We're all familiar with the old cowboys and indians movies and with films like Dances With Wolves. These movies are made to promote the mythology of the American frontier which is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, even Bush referred to Osama as being 'wanted dead or alive'.

What about the British and Canadian experience further North though?

View attachment 577634


This map shows the territory of the Plains Indians wars (and conveniently misses out vast swathes of Canada). We're familiar with the Apaches and Comanches in Texas and New Mexico, and with Custer and the 7th Cav fighting the Lakota and Cheyenne. What about Canada though? Were there ever any big battles with the British Army versus Plains Indians in Canada? If not then why not? Do the Canadians have the same mythology of the Frontier? Settlers did eventually move further West and inevitable would have encountered First Nations peoples, why do we not have the same experience happening in Canada and why is there no Wild West equivalent?

I've had a mooch around the internet but there doesn't seem to be much written about it. Is this sort of history covered in Canadian academia? The only references I could find are these:

North-West Rebellion - Wikipedia List of conflicts in Canada - Wikipedia
Other than the North-West Rebellion, no, there were no major wars on the Canadian prairies. Furthermore, the North-West Rebellion was not like the Indian Wars the Americans pursued. Rather it was started by Metis again, with Louis Riel as the leader (having returned from exile in the US).

First I should explain a bit about the Metis, for those who are not familiar. They are the descendents of European fur traders and their Indian wives. They lived a life which was somewhere in between that of Europeans and the Indians. They had farms, but also hunted buffalo (bison). Many of them worked as employees of or contractors to the Hudson's Bay Company. The latter had both numerous trading posts and required a correspondingly large logistical operation across a vast territory. The Hudson's Bay Company were the government of much of what is now Canada, much like the East India Company were for British India.

There were both French Metis and English Metis. The French Metis were better organised and more cohesive and were backed by the Catholic Church, who had considerable political power in Canada. Louis Riel had been selected by the church to become a community leader and had been sent to Montreal where he had received a comprehensive university education before being dispatched back to the prairies. Riel turned out to be mentally unstable, but he was by all accounts brilliant and was not an "ignorant savage".

The Indians were allies of the Metis in the rebellion, and they continued on with the war after the Metis more or less dropped out.


Riel issued a "Revolutionary Bill of Rights". Here's what it said (the Northwest Territories included most of the prairies at that time). I have copied it below and would suggest that you read it fully and ask yourself to what extent this fits in with Hollywood style American Indian Wars.
“Riel’s Revolutionary Bill of Rights (1885)”

  1. That the half-breeds of the Northwest Territories be given grants similar to those accorded to the half-breeds of Manitoba by the Act of 1870.
  2. That patents be issued to all half-breed and white settlers who have fairly earned the right of possession of their farms.
  3. That provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan be forthwith organized with legislatures of their own, so that the people may be no longer subjected to the despotism of Mr. Dewdney.
  4. That in these new provincial legislatures, while representation according to population shall be the supreme principle, the Métis shall have a fair and reasonable share of representation.
  5. That the offices of trust throughout these provinces be given to the residents of the country, as far as practicable, and that we denounce the appointment of disreputable outsiders and repudiate their authority.
  6. That this region be administered for the benefit of the actual settler, and not for the advantage of the alien speculator.
  7. That better provision be made for the Indians, the parliamentary grant to be increased and lands set apart as an endowment for the establishment of hospitals and schools for the use of whites, half-breeds, and Indians, at such places as the provincial legislatures may determine.
  8. That all lawful customs and usages which obtain among the Métis be respected.
  9. That the Land Department of the Dominion Government be administered as far as practicable from Winnipeg, so that the settlers may not be compelled as heretofore to go to Ottawa for the settlement of questions in dispute between them and the land commissioner.
  10. That the timber regulations be made more liberal, and that the settlers be treated as having rights in this country.

The American Indian Wars in their western territories were a continuation of the wars which had been taking place since the Americans began expansion westwards across the Appalachian Mountains. It wasn't a new phenomenon for them or unique to their western territories.

I'll end with stating that the geography and history of Canada is very, very, different from that of the US, and while it may be tempting to extrapolate what you know about the US to Canada, you have to be very wary about doing that because of the differences between the two.
 

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