Alberta's Provincial Historic Sites, Interpretive Centres and Museums
Father Lacombe Chapel

Rupert’s Land

As soon as I heard that the Earl of Selkirk was commencing a settlement on Red River, I determined to warn the Public of the deception, and of the great misery which emigrants must experience in such a distant and inhospitable region.

Quote John Strachan, 1816, commenting on the Earl of Selkirk’s settlement at Red River (present-day Winnipeg)

Until the late nineteenth century, the vast lands of western Canada were part of Rupert’s Land, the enormous fur-trading territory administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company. For two centuries, from its establishment in 1670 until its transfer to the Dominion of Canada in 1870, Rupert’s Land was a region largely devoid of any Euro-Canadian presence. First Nations communities had inhabited the land for millennia, but only a scattering of Euro-Canadian trappers, traders, missionaries, and adventurers had established themselves in the region. Rupert’s Land was viewed by many Canadians as a howling wilderness, unfit for agricultural development and unsuited to civilization. It was thought best left as the homeland of First Nations and the heartland of the fur trade.

In the 1850s, however, the vision of Rupert’s Land began to shift dramatically. Concerns about American expansion north, fears of dwindling farmland in central and eastern British North America, and a more aggressive, colonial spirit inspired Canadian expansionists to look west with new eyes. Two scientific expeditions in the late 1850s – the Palliser Expedition and the Youle Hind Expedition– confirmed expansionists in their belief that the west was not only suitable for agriculture, but a region of almost unparalleled abundance awaiting exploitation. Expansionism gathered momentum over the 1850s and 60s and culminated in the Dominion of Canada’s purchase of Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870. The acquisition marked a seminal moment in the transformation of western Canada from a “Great Lone Land” inhabited by First Nations and fur traders to a Euro-Canadian agricultural frontier.

 

 

Last reviewed/revised: May 7, 2012
Map of the North-West

Cartographer David Thompson’s 1814 Map of the North-West.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta, PR1979.0269.0185p

First Nations

Blackfoot Indians.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A11192.