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The Dissolution

of a Metis
Pointe a

etween 1870 and 1900, the small Metis settlement of
Pointe a Grouette, located approximately 70 kilometres

south of the present-day city of Winnipeg, was trans-
formed into the French-Canadian village of Sainte-Agathe. Be-
fore 1870, the Metis were unquestionably the dominant racial
group in this area, which comprised, more or less, 100 river lots

Studies in Political Economy No. 18, Autumn 1985 SPE 149



lern 10k""

C.MIAtlA ._.
- ~U..j;ttD-~TA,"TES

150 SPE
St-Onge/Dissolution of a Metis Community

on the banks of the Red River. According to the 1870 census, 1

there were only two non-Metis individuals out of a registered

population of 157, and these two French Canadians were fully
integrated into the community by bonds of marriage and blood.
By 1900, ninety-six per cent of the Sainte-Agathe parish's popu-
lation was composed of French Canadians coming either directly
from Quebec or from the State of Massachusetts. According to
the census taken by Father Elie Rocan, by 1919 there were no
bearers of Metis family names left in the parish.
What happened in Pointe a Grouette was not an isolated
event. The dispersal of the French-Catholic mixed-bloods was a
general phenomenon. In the two decades following Manitoba's
entry into confederation, thousands left for the Saskatchewan
valley - what is now Northern Manitoba - and the Dakotas.
Up to the 1970s, historians have explained the dispersal with
psychological reasons: the departure of the Metis was the result
of their character, worldview and lifestyle. 2 Their supposed
horror of sedentary living and the lack of value they placed on
landed property were advanced as explanations for their precip-
itous departure from an area in which they had predominated.
Even Marcel Giraud, 3 whose extensive work on the Metis stands
as a classic in the annals of ethnohistory, fell into a rather sim-
plistic explanation of the dispersal:
Dans la plupart des cas, les Metis furent victimes de leur attachement a leur
econornie anachronique, des conceptions desuetes qui dominaient leur exist-
ence et qui prcvcnaient en eux toute possibilited'adaptation aux methodes et a
la mentalite des Blancs. 1
Since the mid-seventies a new approach, typified by D.N.
Sprague's 1980 article, "The Manitoba Land Question, 1870-
1882," 5 has argued that the Dominion government, prompted
by Canadian merchant and finance capital, was intent on dispos-
sessing the Metis and securing their fertile landholdings.
Sprague traces and analyzes a series of amendments to the
Manitoba Act that made it increasingly difficult for the Metis to
receive the letters patent for the river lots that had been uncon-
ditionally guaranteed to them in 1870.
Sprague's research, and that of the Association of Metis and
Non-Status Indians of Saskatchewan (AMNSIS), provide insight
into the machinations of government and capital when dealing
with the Metis. What their work does not include, and what this
article addresses, is an analysis of Metis responses to changes to

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the Manitoba Act and to the activities of speculators who bene-

fited from those changes. Can their departure be linked to the
different amendments to the Manitoba Act that occurrred be-
tween 1870 and 1885? Did all the Metis react in the same way to
these pressures, and if not, why not? Through a detailed exami-
nation of the history of one Metis settlement, Pointe a Grouette,
two hypotheses related to the dispersal will be tested. The first
maintains that the Metis dispersal had more to do with the legal
transformations and economic pressures that were brought to
bear by the Canadian state on the majority of the "old settlers"
after 1870 than with psychological factors. The second hypothe-
sis maintains that the variations found in Metis responses to
these pressures resulted not solely from individual choice, but
were informed by differences in class position.

The Manitoba Act To understand fully the dispersal of the

Metis, one has to look at the Manitoba Act and how sections of it
were amended during the whole process of extinguishing the
"old settlers" land claims. Because of the organized resistance
put up by a large segment of the mixed-blood population of
Red River, a section of Rupert's Land entered the Canadian do-
minion as the province of Manitoba. Its political and administra-
tive structure was based on a document referred to as the
"Manitoba Act" - an act that had been negotiated with varying
degrees of good faith by the concerned parties in 1870.6 In this
document Canadian officials recognized the most essential of
the Metis demands without sacrificing much territory. The
Manitoba Act was officially recognized by the British Imperial
Government by means of an Imperial Statute known as the
"British North America Act of 1871." Within this statute was a
novel sixth clause that had not been part of the original docu-
ment sent by the Canadian government. This clause, which
would be conveniently ignored by Canadian officials in the years
following 1871, stated that the Parliament of Canada was not
competent to alter any of the provisions contained in the Mani-
toba Act. 7
now held by them." Subsection three of section thirty-two was
the one that had direct relevance to the residents of Pointe a
Grouette. Sprague states in reference to this subsection:
Sub-section three gave the same assurance to another class of settlers. persons
who occupied land with the sanction and under the licence and authority of

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the H.B.C. [Hudson's Bay Company] without such land having been formally
granted. This was to protect persons who settled without prior grant but
whose occupancy had not caused protest, and received tacit recognition in ac-
cordance with a provision for homesteaders adopted by the Council of
Assiniboia in 1860. 9

After 1870 both the hunting and non-hunting segments of

the Red River population were faced with the task of regular-
izing the title to their land holdings, as determined by the
Manitoba Act. Both groups were thus vulnerable, albeit to dif-
ferent degrees, to any changes made to Manitoba's fundamental
law. Both Sprague and AMNSIS 10 present evidence that the
federal government, prompted by representatives of merchant
and finance capital who coveted the fertile river lots for specula-
tive purposes, made ultra vires amendments to the act that had
an adverse effect on the river lot dwellers. The first important
amendment to section thirty-two, passed in 1874, gave a more
stringent definition of "peaceful possession" - a crucial criter-
ion of rightful ownership. As a result, Metis occupancy, rather
than simply having to be stated in an affidavit in front of
witnesses, had to be demonstrated by such elaborate improve-
ments as fenced-in land, planted crops, houses, barns, livestock,
etc. This was a major blow to full-time bison hunters whose cal-
endar of activities conflicted with that for agricultural pur-
suits. II They usually had only a small dwelling and a vegetable
garden on their river lots. In 1875, a second ultra vires amend-
ment to section thirty-two changed the date on which land had
had to be occupied in order to be claimed from 8 March 1869 to
15 July 1870. This again was a blow to the Metis engaged in the
hunt since the month of July was usually spent au large pursuing
bison and producing pemmican, hides and tallow. In the month
of March, on the other hand, they were normally on their river
lots. Finally, in 1882, a change entitled "an act for the final set-
tlement of claims in Manitoba by occupancy" declared that
claims not settled by that date were to be regarded as nullified
and the occupants vulnerable to eviction, regardless of the valid-
ity of any claims. Because of bureaucratic corruption and inertia
many Metis claims were affected. 12 This last amendment was
detrimental to hunters and non-hunters alike.
The Red River Metis Some of the people most affected by the
transformations of the Manitoba Act were the French-Catholic
mixed-bloods of Red River, especially the bison hunters. This

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group was characterized by some degree of economic depend-

ency on the Hudson's Bay Company (H.B.C.) and, increasingly,
by an internal process of socio-economic differentiation. Both of
these developments would affect the chances of different Metis
families to secure clear title to the land they possessed because
both directly influenced pre-1870 patterns of land occupancy
and use.
The majority of the Metis of Red River played a two-fold role
within the system of merchant capitalism, 13 embodied by the
H.B.C., which had dominated the area from 1821 to 1870.
First, they were the suppliers of the "plains provisions" - pem-
mican - on which the Company depended to feed the majority
of its employees in the North-West. Second, the Metis were a
pool of cheap labour from which the fur company drew its boat-
men, freighters, packmen and tripmen. Only a relatively small
number of families were engaged in trading or farming activities
and thus were not linked as directly to the Company as were
most of the French-Catholic mixed-bloods.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, the depend-
ence of the Red River Metis on merchant capital grew. Between
1800 and 1850 most of the French Metis were hunters and
relied (for the success of their bison expeditions) on guns, flint,
ammunition powder, knives and so on - all supplied by the
Company. In fact, the largest portion of the pemmican, tallow
and hides prepared by the hunting Metis was exchanged for fin-
ished English goods that had become vital components of their
social and economic lives. The hunting Metis production basis
was, therefore, one of exchange as opposed to one of use. This
growing economic dependence on the fur companies was similar
to that which had been developing among the Indians for nearly
three centuries. 14 As Ronald Bourgeault states:

The process of commodity production of fur was initiated by the merchant

traders who introduced through trade, tools of labour and clothing, such as
the gun, steel trap, axe, and knife, all of which served to displace the commu-
nal production of their equivalent for internal use .... Dependency upon for-
eign goods was thus created through their acquired utility and in return for
further goods - specified goods - that no longer had any use-value (such as
fur).. . The production and exchange of fur as a commodity, and the spe-
cialization of labour around it, created a social division of labour between the
Indian as a commodity producer and the merchant capitalist. Eventually, the
labour process went more and more into the production of goods as a com-
modity for exchange in excess of what was needed to live. 15

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The Metis were also becoming dependent on the H.B.C. to

sustain a transformation in their material culture. What nine-
teenth-century Metis hunters prized for dressware, what really
made them recognizable as "Metis," were largely British manu-
factured goods. Isaac Cowie, in The Company of Adventurers,
writes of small traders, contracted to the Company, who fol-
lowed the Metis to their wintering camps and enticed them with
all the goods necessary to what was fast becoming the French
mixed-blood hunters' dressware:
The end had amply justified the means, for these hunters, envious of him (the
well dressed petty trader), and desirous to eclipse him, one after another be-
gan to give up the furs and robes which they had previously refused to trade
with him, for fine blue cloth capotes with brass buttons, fine cloth trousers,
broad l'assomption belts, fine colored flannel shirts, black silk neckerchiefs,
and foxtail plumes, ann ointments of pomatum and scented hair oil, besides
silver finger rings and gilt ear rings. 16
The Company actively encouraged Metis dependency
through policies designed to increase their consumption needs.
As George Simpson wrote:
They would in time imbibe our manners and customs and imitate us in dress.
Our supplies would then become necessary to them which would increase con-
sumption of European produce and manufacture and in like measure increase
and benefit our trade as they would find it requisite to become more industri-
ous and to tum their attention more seriously to the chase in order to provide
themselves with such supplies. 17
The Metis were aware of these Company efforts and worked
towards minimizing their impact. On a political level they de-
manded the legal possessionof the land they occupied, 18 and the
waiving of restrictions imposed by the H.B.C. on trade with
American fur companies. 19 Throughout the nineteenth cen-
tury the Metis also attempted to diversify their economic base,
despite a lack of markets for alternate goods. Such efforts were
resisted by the H.B.C., which wanted to maintain a steady sup-
ply of cheap pemmican. 20
But after the 1840s, with the opening up of trade to the
south, farming and trading elites began to emerge, primarily
from the hunting Metis. 21 The development of these elites was
not a totally indigenous event. The ranks of the fur merchants
were increased by Great Lakes region Metis families, such as the
Nolins, who were slowly retreating from the American western
frontier towards the Red River settlement in the face of
advancing agrarian settlers and the depletion of the fur ani-
mals. 22 These trading families, whether from Red River or the

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United States, eventually formed a relativelyaffluent petty bour-

geoisie living in the Saint-Boniface area. 23
Vocal members of this trading elite were integrated in the
1850s and 1860s into the paternalistic government set up by the
H.B.C. After the 1849 illicit free trade crisis, these influential
Metis, who now sat on the Assiniboia council and occupied sev-
eral of the available public positions, never made more than
passing attempts to reflect the aspirations and fears of the larger
and poorer hunting Metis group. 24 The Company had cor-
rectly perceived that this class had interests similar to its own.
These Metis for the most part maintained an attitude of good-
will towards the Company and were usually mindful of the
Catholic Church, whose interests often coincided with those of
the H.B.C. and the trading Metis. Because of their many con-
flicting social and economic interests, the majority of this mixed-
blood elite remained neutral or were even hostile to Riel during
les Evenements of 1869-70. 25
The Metis farming element was made up of a growing num-
ber of hunters who, between 1850 and 1870, because of
thinning bison herds and the emergence of a market for agricul-
tural goods, were slowlyturning away from the chase to take up
full-time farming. Several of the hunters who were determined
to keep their current occupation moved to the Dakotas to be
nearer the bisons' last grazing areas. 26 However, up to the
1870s there remained in the Red River area Metis families
whose primary occupation was still the chase.

Pointe it Grouette (Ste-Agathe du Manitoba) 27 Two of these

three socio-economic sub-groupings within the French-Catholic
mixed-blood populations were represented in Pointe it Grouette.
A farming elite based along kinship lines emerged rapidly out
of the more traditional bison hunting group in the 1850s and
1860s. By the late 1860s it was the most affluent group in Pointe
it Grouette. As indicated by table and figure 1, there was a core
group of seven Metis farmers and their families, representing
four large kin groupings, that controlled the greater part of the
wealth in the settlement. Together, in 1867, this group har-
vested 1,150 bushels of wheat and 670 bushels of potatoes. On
average, each of these seven families had a minimum of 6.1
acres sown in wheat, compared to less than one acre for each of
the remaining twelve families. These affluent families also

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St-Onge/Dissolution of a Metis Community

owned forty-five per cent of all the livestock. Farmers and their
extended families comprised about fifty-five per cent of the set-
tlement in 1870.
The balance of Pointe a Grouette's population (forty-five per
cent) was composed of the poorer Metis bison hunters who be-
longed to smaller kin groups, were not as committed to agricul-
ture, and were outside the circles of local political and religious
authority. As table 1 illustrates, in 1867 this group cultivated less
than one acre of wheat per family, grew fewer potatoes, and
owned proportionally less livestock than their farming counter-
parts. Though of a common racial origin, using the same lan-
guage, and practising the same religion as the more settled Me-
tis, these hunters and their families had few ties through blood
or marriage with the four farming clans. By the late 1860s two
increasingly distinct groups having a common past but differing
along economic and occupational lines were evolving side-by-
side in the settlement of Pointe a Grouette.
In the early 1870s both the farmers and the hunters showed
an active interest in securing clear titles to the land they pos-
sessed. Several heads of families of both groups filed land
claims. By 1871, sixty per cent of all the river lots were claimed.
All the families registered as living in the area (1870 census)
were claiming at least one lot each, regardless of their socio-
economic group. Metis in general seem to have had a very keen
appreciation of the potential value of land and from the 1830s
had been demanding title to the land they occupied. It is clear that
they understood the concept of private property; both groups
were aware that the bison herds were dwindling and that farm-
ing would fast become the dominant occupation in Red River. 28
For the Pointe a Grouette families engaged in full-time farm-
ing, the early 1870s looked good. They had been promised a
clear, unquestioned title to the land they occupied and worked.
The beginnings of a migration to Manitoba and the ever-
growing commerce with the United States were enlarging the
market for their produce. Through the efforts of such commu-
nity leaders as Georges Klyne, Joseph Berthelet sen., and Louis
Morin sen., religious and educational facilities had been set up
in the community. In fact, for the year 1871 Pointe a Grouette
kept one of the best school attendance records for Manitoba. 29
Finally, these farming Metis had also secured all the political ap-

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pointments available in the parish. Georges Klyne was elected

member of the provincial legislature in 1870. He and Alexandre
Morin also became Justices of the Peace a few years later.
Alexandre Morin was named representative for Sainte~Agathe at
the Provencher Agricultural Society in the mid-1870s. Baptiste
Dubois served as a government land appraiser. Joseph Berthelet
sen. was named tax collector for the parish of Sainte-Agathe.
Louis Morin became a road inspector. Joseph Berthelet jun. was
the pound keeper; Antoine Berthelet became a constable. No-
tices of governmental appointments published in the weekly
French newspaper of Saint-Boniface, Le Metis, show that the im-
portance of these families in public life was great until about
1877. After that, these positions were filled by French Canadi-
ans who often possessed a higher degree of education and mat-
erial wealth.
In short, the farming claimants believed with good reason
that they were in a position to profit from the changing political
and economic circumstances. Metis engaged in farming did not
perceive the Dominion government's takeover of the territory as
a threat. In fact, Pointe a Grouette's Georges Klyne, 30 the sec-
ond most productive farmer in the settlement in 1867, was one
of three French Metis delegates to the Red River rally of Sep-
tember 1869 opposed to Riel's provisional government. In its 2
February 1874 editorial, Le Metis termed Pointe a Grouette a
"nest of vipers" because the farmers there openly opposed the
re-election of Louis Riel to Parliament. The paper went on to
comment that "it is in this parish that the nucleus of those who
opposed Riel in 1869-1870 is to be found." 3\ On the other
hand, Metis who had been engaged primarily in the hunt dur-
ing the 1860s still supported the Metis leader in 1874, as they
had during les Evenements of 1869-70. In this parish, at least,
the cleavage developing between the hunters and farmers took
on political overtones as early as 1869.
The first amendment of the Manitoba Act (1874) affected
only some of the land claims of the affiuent Metis. Both the
farmers and hunters in Pointe a Grouette tended to claim two
lots - one for living and agricultural purposes on the west side
of the Red River, and another one as a hay and wood reserve on
the east bank. Since the east-side lots were "unimproved," the
Metis for the most part gave them up in 1874, selling the claims

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for a pittance to speculators. The only documented exceptions

in the settlement were the Catholic mission's lands. In the early
1880s the Church received, without serious difficulties, letters
patent for both of its lots even though its east-side lot remained
unimproved. The claims by farming Metis to their west-bank
lots were usually quite strong. They had been working the land
since before the transfer and had made visible "improvements"
to the farm houses, fences and cultivated fields, which surveyor
Roger Goulet had duly noted in the 1860s. Also, there are no
documented cases in Pointe it Grouette of farming Metis being
adversely influenced by the second ultra vires amendment (1875)
which changed the date for which occupancy had to be proved.
Many of the affluent Metis left only after 1878. The majority
of these people's claims were still unsettled at the time of their
departures. Of the sixteen claims made by the seven most afflu-
ent men in the area, that is, the seven who would have had the
best chances of securing land titles, the history of fourteen lots
may be documented. As table 2 illustrates, only one was
patented and delivered to the original claimant, Joseph Berthe-
let jun. Two others were patented but never delivered to Justice
of the Peace Alexandre Morin. Furthermore, Morin, one of the
"affluent" Metis, was unable to pay back seed grain mortgages
and did not know that he had signed over his rights to lot 575
some time prior to 1877. In 1885 a clerk in the Land Titles Of-
fice answered his request for information on the progress of his
claim: the patent had been sent eight years ago to "T.A. Bernier
who appears to be your assignee." 32
Six unpatented lots were sold in 1879 and 1880, nearly a
decade after the Metis had been promised the prompt delivery
of clear titles to the land they possessed. Only one lot claimed by
a farming family was sold prior to the first amendment of the
Manitoba Act. But the buyers, both lay and clerical, seem to
have had little trouble in acquiring the coveted letters patent.
It is not clear why these Metis sold their lands after having
waited ten years. That their claims were still not settled was
probably a factor. AMNSIS has argued that in several cases
speculators convinced the claimants that the land would never
be granted to them by the government. 33 Considering the
obstacles (alterations to the Manitoba Act) the federal govern-
ment was putting up, along with the delays due to an inept cen-

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tralized claim-processing system, this probably sounded plausi-

ble to the long-suffering farming Metis. And, in the event that
"some small portion be granted," 34 the speculators gave the
Metis small amounts of money in exchange for surrender of ti-
tles. Not one of the lots sold by these Metis was bought up by
farmers intent on working the land. They were all purchased by
middlemen interested in landed property as a commodity to be
bought and sold.
Five of these lots, or thirty-five per cent of all the land
claimed by the affluent Metis of Pointe a Grouette, ended up in
the hands of the Church. Indeed, in the history of Sainte-
Agathe parish the clergy seldom activelyhelped the Metis: only
one letter of support could be found in the files. The clergy had
a strong influence over the farming Metis group, coupled with a
low opinion of their farming capabilities. 35 But the Church may
also have been trying to secure its socio-economicbase in this
parish by reselling these lots to devout, moneyed French-
Canadian Catholic farmers at a handsome profit. For example,
Sainte-Agathe's secular founding priest, Reverend Cyrille
Samoissette, bought lot 576 for $325.00 in 1880. One year later
he sold this lot and the adjoining lot, 598, both patented by
then, for $1,350.00.
By 1880 the farming Metis were no longer an elite in Mani-
toba. The high rate of immigration of non-Metis to Manitoba
caused them to lose most of their political clout and they rapidly
became a powerless minority within the province and within the
French-Catholic group. 36 Even in Sainte-Agathe, most of the
public positions held by the Metis in the early 1870s were, by
1880, in the hands of the generally better-educated and more-
affluent French Canadians. This growing marginalization, cou-
pled with the dislocation of extended families through loss of
land claims, may have convinced some of the more-affluent Me-
tis to sell their claims and follow their destitute relations west-
ward. Several Metis, whether farmers or hunters, also had cash
flow problems because of outstanding debts and seed grain
mortgages contracted in the early 1870s and coming due in
1877 and 1878 - hence the sale of claims and high rate of mi-
gration between 1879 and 1882.
The bison-hunting group of Pointe a Grouette wasjust as dil-
igent and as vocal in filing land claims and demanding the legal

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ownership of its river lots. Twelve of the sixteen Metis heads of

families who registered their claims with the Council of Assini-
boia in the 1860s were members of the families engaged pri-
marily in the bison hunt: clearly they were interested in the land
even though they did not engage in farming extensively.
Most of these Metis were, however, not able to hold on to
their claims for long. By the early 1870s the bison-hunting Me-
tis were more or less a fringe group within Pointe a Grouette.
According to evidence from Le Metis, they were not involved in
the setting up of religious or educational facilities. In fact, the
priest constantly complained about their lack of interest in edu-
cation and their poor understanding and practice of Catholic re-
ligious laws. Not one head of these families was involved in poli-
tics or received a government appointment in the 1870s.
Documents from the Sainte-Agathe river lot files indicate that
these Metis were somewhat isolated from their farming counter-
parts; there are few affidavits signed by the farmers for the sup-
port of claims forwarded by the hunters. In short, by 1870 these
Metis were poor and politically-isolated, even from other Metis.
Despite these rather adverse circumstances, before 1874 the
great majority of the twenty Metis adult men coming from six-
teen bison-hunting families did claim their land and did stay on
to tryout farming. Twelve bison-hunting Metis heads of fami-
lies registered their claims, but only three kept some of their
landholdings until the 1880s. As indicated by table 3, only five
of the twenty-three fully documented lots were patented in the
names of the original claimants. Two of these letters patent
went to assignees; for the three others the situation is unclear.
Six lots were sold prior to the first amendment of 1874. Five of
them went to affluent Metis from Saint-Boniface, Saint-Norbert
or Pointe a Grouette. The farming Metis sold only one lot be-
fore 1874. The hunting Metis sold two lots in 1874 and another
four lots between 1875 and 1878. Therefore, only five lots, or
20 per cent of the total, were sold after 1878, compared to the
farming Metis, who sold six, or 43 per cent of their total, after
that. Hunting Metis began to sell, or were dispossessed from,
their lots earlier than the farming Metis, who only began selling
their lots in quantity after the mid-1870s. The hunting Metis
with lands that had been surveyed by Goulet were selling or lost
their lots at a constant rate throughout the decade. When we

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take into account the hunting Metis who had used Goulet, we
see that these hunters as a group sold or lost the bulk of their
land prior to 1875.
A much smaller percentage of lots first claimed by hunting
Metis were bought by the Roman Catholic Church - only four
lots, or 17 per cent of the total, compared to 35 per cent of all
the lands claimed by the farming group. This may reflect either
a lack of influence by the clergy over the hunters or caution
against involving Church funds in potentially weak land claims.
Only three of the hunting Metis who had registered claims
with Goulet sold all their land before the end of 1875 (see table
3). Usually they would sell only portions of what they claimed
(normally east-side lots). Even hunters who had not registered
their claims tended to stay in the area, at least until 1874. But
starting in that year, a high rate of departure can be traced -
one peaking in 1875 and 1876. 37 These Metis clearly left be-
cause of changes in the Manitoba Act which they were unable to
circumvent. According to comments in the land files, made by
surveyors and land inspectors, among others, the 1874 amend-
ment was the biggest blow. For most of the families which had
been engaged primarily in the hunt occupied lots that govern-
ment officials assessed as "unimproved." They had few ties to
the bureaucracy, unlike some of the more affluent Metis, and
could not, therefore, effectively challenge any adverse decision
made on their claims. The 1874 and the 1875 amendments to
the Manitoba Act seriously weakened these hunters' claims.
They sold, abandoned, or were swindled out of their claims for
small amounts of money. Very few of the claim buyers were
farmers: the majority seem to have been speculators, both Metis
and French.
That Metis speculators were involved in these land "transac-
tions" reveals that the dispersal relates to class rather than
ethnicity. The Saint-Boniface petty bourgeois traders did not
suffer greatly from the 1870 transfer; indeed, many enriched
themselves through the speculation on fringe Metis land. They
adapted well to the integration of the Red River area into the
Canadian political and economic system.
Had the hunting Metis left for the "psychological" reasons
advanced by traditional historians they would have left earlier,
probably prior to 1870, and would have continued to pursue the

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bison herds. 38 However, those Pointe a Grouette Metis whose

destination could be determined did not go to the remaining bi-
son hunting grounds at all. Instead they went north and west to
the agricultural, ranching and fishing settlements of Sainte-Rose
du Lac, Saint-Lazare and Sainte-Amelie, or to the Saskatchewan
missions which were then opening up. Salomon Venne, for ex-
ample, became a trader and farmer in the 1880s, working out of
These hunting Metis were up against the activities of the
speculators and changes within the Manitoba Act. But they were
also especially hard pressed financially in the early 1870s. As
Wright pointed out, 40 the years 1867 and 1868 saw both the
complete failure of the wheat, barley and potato crops in the
Red River area and poor fishing and hunting seasons. Like
their farming counterparts, hunting Metis were plagued with
debts and serious cash flow problems. But, unlike the farmers,
they were unable to secure aid from the religious and political
authorities or generate enough cash in the early 1870s to repay
their debts.

Conclusion The amendments to the Manitoba Act and the ac-

tivities of the speculators had much greater roles to play in the
Metis dispersal from Manitoba than the Metis' psychological dis-
position. However, the impact was not uniform throughout the
population. Since the 1850s, socio-economic differences increas-
ingly divided the Metis population of Red River. Traders, farm-
ers and hunters differed with each other in their ability to mobi-
lize economic, political and cultural resources for their fight to
secure land titles. We have established, through research on the
Sainte-Agathe river lot files, that there is a correlation between
the socio-economic class to which a Metis family belonged prior
to 1870 and the number of years that it managed to retain
property after Manitoba's entry into Confederation.
Not only has the complexity of the dispersal process emerged
from this study, but this analysis of nineteenth-century Metis so-
cial relations suggests that the concept of "nation" as used, for
example, by Auguste-Henri de Tremauden,41 or "society" as
used by George H. Sprenger,42 may not be applicable to
nineteenth-century French-Catholic mixed-bloods. Both authors
ascribe to all Metis, characteristics found within only one seg-

SPE 163
Studies in Political Economy

ment of the population - one with a very specific socio-

economic position within the British colonial-capitalist social sys-
tem established in the North-West. These hunting Metis, the
largest component of the population until at least 1860, were an
integral part of a fur trade economy premised on the steady
supply of pemmican, which the Metis provided. A more accu-
rate term than "nation" or "society" for these hunting Metis
would be "people-class" as used by Abram Leon in his study of
the Jews. 43 Leon states:
Above all the Jews constitute historically a social group with a specific economic
function. They are a class or more precisely a people-class .... The concept of
class does not at all contradict the concept of people. It is because the Jews
have preserved themselves as a social class that they have likewise retained cer-
tain religious, ethnic and linguistic traits. 14

As the population grew from the mid-nineteenth century on-

ward, Metis traders and farmers came to identify more with in-
coming French Canadians who had similar occupations and in-
terests; that they were of mixed-blood ancestry was secondary to
the reality of their class position. Their generally negative atti-
tude towards Riel's activities, at least in the Pointe a Grouette
area, illustrates this fact. By the 1860s and 1870s only the hunt-
ing segment of the Metis population had the strong group feel-
ings, internal cohesion, political awareness, sense of independ-
ence, characteristic dress, etc., which have been used
erroneously to characterize the descendants of the French
(Quebecois) voyageurs and their Indian wives.
In the last analysis, the emerging class relations of a devel-
oping state transformed and supplanted the original colonial so-
ciety of Red River. Capitalist economic and legal mechanisms
pressed many of the weaker Metis - especially the hunters, but
eventually also the farmers - out of the Red River area alto-
gether. Only some of the French, mixed-blood trading families
were able to remain and (to some extent) prosper. Pointe a
Grouette, a Metis settlement of farmers and hunters until 1870,
quickly became Sainte-Agathe du Manitoba, a French-Canadian
village. Today the vast majority of its inhabitants are still able to
trace their ancestors to turn-of-the-century Francophone set-

164 SPE
Figure 1
Ties of Kinship between Pointe a Grouette's Most Affluent Men

Angelique LaFERTY
Joseph BERTHELET sen. 1
Marie Louis LAROCQUE 4

1__ ----:--1 I_I

Louis MORIN 3

1 I I
Alexandre 7 Elice Joseph jun. 5

CI.... I_in_e IKL


NOTE: The numbers beside the names indicate their degree of relative affiuence, with Joseph Berthelet sen. (no. 1) being the richest of the
group. J. Bte Dubois (no. 6) does not appear on this chart since he does not seem to have been related in any way to Point II Grouette's
other affluent men.
...c:n Table I
Agricultural Production Estimates for
c:n Pointe it Grouette's' Heads of Families in 1867 ~
"t1 ;:j'
t>1 No. of People No. of Bushels of
Head of Family in Family Horses, Oxen, Cows, Calves Wheat, Potatoes <:>
I. Charles Houle 4 2 I I 0 8 10 ~
2. Louis Houle 4 I 3 I I 42 50
3. J. Bte Cheore 4 I 2 I I 0 0 "
4. Pierre Yandal 8 4 I I I 0 0
* 5. Louis Morin sen. 5 2 3 3 2 150 125 ~
6. Louis Morin jun. 5 2 2 I 0 30 50
* 7. Alexandre Morin 5 5 2 2 I 110 65
8. Gabriel Houle 3 0 0 0 0 0 0
9. Paschal Gion (Dionne) 5 2 3 4 4 60 8
*10. Louis Larocque 8 4 0 2 4 150 90
*I I. J. Bte Dubois 10 3 I 2 3 110 120
*12. jos. Berthelet sen. 6 I 8 3 8 320 130
*I 3. Jos. Berthelet jun. 8 3 0 2 2 130 80
14. Antoine Berthelet 2 I 2 2 0 70 0
15. Francois Laberge 6 3 0 I I 45 70
16. Andre Morin 2 0 0 2 3 0 0
17. Boniface Laplante 6 I 0 2 I 60 40
18. Olivier Laferte 7 I 2 I 0 0
*19. Georges Klyne 5 4 0 5 3 180 60

* Heads of families having harvested over 100 bushels of wheat (considered "affluent").
Table I (Cont'd)

Averages per family: horses: 2.10

oxen: 1.52
cows: 1.94
calves: 1.87
wheat (bushels): 77.10
potatoes: 47.20

SOURCE: P.A.M., (derived from) Executive Relief Committee Report, 11/12/1868.

NOTE: "By the 1860s the Company had what was certainly the largest and most efficiently run farm in the whole settlement atta-
ched to the lower fort. They had 150 acres under wheat there in 1860 which was expected to yield 4000 bushels." (See B.
Kaye, "Some Aspects of the Historical Geography of the Red River Settlement" [M.A. Thesis, University of Manitoba, 1967],
272.) Therefore, 1 acre on the most efficient farm yielded 26.6 bushels of wheat in the 1860s.
Table 2
River Lots of Farming Metis

Names Lot Number Year of Sale Amount of Sale Buyer

1- Joseph Berthelet sen. 579 1873 $800.00 Donald A. Smith

582 1879 $325.00 Roman Catholic Church
584 1879 $350.00 Roman Catholic Church
2- Joseph Berthelet jun. 583 1874 25 Louis sterling Joseph Royal
585 patent issued 1877
3- Louis Larocque 568 unknown
570 late 1870s Dr. John Schultz
571 1879 Roman Catholic Church
4- Alexandre Morin 574 patent withheld be-
cause of mortgages
575 patent sent to
assignee T.A.
Bernier in 1877
5- Louis Morin 556 1877 $200.00 John Wilton
557 1877 $200.00 John Wilton
576 1880 $325.00 Roman Catholic Church
577 unknown
6- Jean Baptiste Dubois 580 late 1870s Roman Catholic Church
581 1874 $700.00 George Stephen

NOTE: Georges Klyne did not own land on the edge of the Red River. His landholdings were situated in the "interior" directly be-
hind the river lots on the west side.

SOURCE: Derived from P.A.M., RG 17 D2, river lot files, Parish of Sainte-Agathe.
St-OngelDissolution of a Metis Community

Table 3
River Lots of Metis Bison Hunters

Metis Occupant Lot Year of Sale Amount of Buyer

Number Sale

1- Charles Houle 560 "cancelled"

561 1875 46 Louis Joseph Hamelin
2- Louis Houle 558 ? ? J. Wilton
559 patented to
Louis Houle in
3- Pierre Vandal 545 1873
547 1873
542 1879 $500.00 Pierre Gauthier
544 1879 $500.00 Pierre Gauthier
4- Marcel Roy 538 1881 $ 50.00 Roman Catholic
539 1872 Prosper Ducharme
5- Francois Roy 536 1891 $ 50.00 Roman Catholic
dit Comtois Church
537 .sold prior to 1876 Joseph St. Germain
6- Paschal Dionne 563 patented to
Dionne, no date
564 1883 $2,000.00 Roman Catholic
569 1871 Louis Larocque
565 incomplete
7- Cyrille Dumas 534 patented to Dumas
533 1870 Louis Riel jun.
8- Salomon Venne 540 incomplete
541 1878 Alex Christie
9- Michel Venne 543 1878 Napoleon Bonneau
10- Louis Lacerte 590 patent sent to
assignee W.
591 patent sent to
assignee W.
11- Alex Wencell 594 1871
595 1874 $145.00 Roman Catholic
12- Jean Baptiste Cheare 548 sold prior to 1875 Baron de Villier

SOURCE: Derived from P.A.M., RGI7 D2, river lot files, Parish of Sainte-Agathe,

SPE 169
Studies in Political Economy

I. P.A.M., MG2 B3 M158, District of Assiniboia, Parish of Sainte-Agathe.

2. Five authors are representative of this school of thought: M. Zazlow, The

Opening of the Canadian North, 1870-1914 (Toronto, 1971),20; R. Painchaud,
"Une analyse des Canadiens francais irnigres au Manitoba, 1870-1890" (M.A.
thesis, Universityof Ottawa, 1969), 163; M. McAlduff,'Joseph Dubuc; Role and
Viewsof a French Canadian in early Manitoba, 1870-1890" (M.A. thesis, Uni-
versity of Ottawa, 1977), 33; A.S. Morton, History of Prairie Settlement
(Toronto 1938), 63; G. Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada (Toronto 1960),
178; C. Martin, Dominion Land Policy (Toronto 1938), 238

3. M. Giraud, Le Metis Canadien (Institut d'Ethnologie, Musee de l'Homrne,

Palais de Chaillot, Paris, 1945), 1127

4. Ibid., 1124

5. D.N. Sprague, "The Manitoba Land Question, 1870-1882," Journal of Cana-

dian Studies 15:3 (Fall 1980).

6. Idem, "Metis Land Claims" (Unpublished paper, University of Manitoba,


7. Idem, "The Manitoba Land Question, 1870-1882," 77. (See n. 5 above.)

8. Idem, "Government Lawlessness in the Administration of Manitoba Land

Claims, 1870-1887," Manitoba Law Journal 10:10 (October 1980),434

9. Ibid., 422

10. AMNSIS, "Speculation in Half-Breed Land and Scrip" (Unpublished paper,

Gabriel Dumont Center, 1979).

II. B. Kaye, "Some Aspects of the Historical Geography of the Red River Settle-
ment" (M.A. thesis, University of Manitoba, 1967), 225

12. Please consult P.A.C., RGI5, volume 232, file 247. In this file one can find
documents relating to the matter of the Robert Land (government official)
conspiracy to defraud Manitoba river lot claimants.

13. For a short discussion of the concept of "merchant capital," consult John
Weeks's entry in T. Bottomore's A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Blackwell
1983), 232-3. I would go further than Weeks, however, and argue that mer-
chant capital does affect the essential character of the societies it penetrates
even if it is not directly involved in the sphere of production. The vast major-
ity of Metis were enmeshed in a socio-economic system in which a goodly
portion of their time was spent producing commodities, for example pemmi-
can, destined for exchange. Merchant capital, as embodied by the H.B.C., was
strong enough to control indirectly a variety of productive processes in North
America and in Europe. Producers were dependent on the occurrence of
these exchanges for their material well-being.

170 SPE
St-Onge/Dissolution of a Metis Community

14. For an excellent discussion of the development of native dependency in the

H.B.C.'s sphere of influence see "Producer Dependency Upon Merchant Cap-
ital" in Russell G. Rothney, "Mercantile Capital and the Livelihood of Resi-
dents of the Hudson Bay Company: A Marxist Interpretation" (M.A. thesis,
University of Manitoba, 1975), 62-113

15. Ron Bourgeault, "The Indian, the Metis and the Fur Trade," Studies in Politi-
cal Economy 12 (Fall 1984),51

16. Isaac Cowie, The Company of Adventurers (Toronto 1913),352

17. Rothney, "Mercantile Capital," 106. (See n. 14 above.)

18. See for example, H.B.C., P.A.M., Simpson's Report, D41102, 1835, 45-6

19. H.B.C., P.A.M.. Simpson's Report, D4170, 1849, 518-21

20. H.B.C., P.A.M., Simpson's Report, D4/64, 1844, 39

21. Kaye, "Some Aspects of the Historical Geography of the Red River Settle-
ment," 28. (See n. 11 above.)

22. J. Peterson, "Prelude to Red River: A Social Portrait of the Great Lakes Me-
tis," Ethnohistory 25:1 (Winter 1978),59-61

23. This group is seen as being "relativelyaffiuent" because of its greater ability to
buy fancier and more sophisticated products and a larger quantity of con-
sumer goods. For a discussion of the Metis' purchasing power, see R.
Gosman, "The Riel and Lagimodiere Families in Metis Society, 1840-1860"
(Unpublished paper, Parks Canada, 1978), 35-59

24. Ibid., 1-28

25. N. St-Onge, "Metis and Merchant Capital in Red River: The Declineof Pointe
a Grouette, 1860-1885" (M.A. thesis, University of Manitoba, 1983), 129-34
26. H.B.C., P.A.M., Simpson's Report, D4170, 1849, 518-21

27. Information for this section was mostly gathered in P.A.M., RG17 D2, river
lot files (boxes 15, 16, 17), Parish of Sainte-Agathe.

28. Le Metis, 26 June 1871.

29. Le Metis, 12 June 1872.

30. A. Morice, Dictionnaire des Canadiens et des Metis Francais de l'ouest (Saint-
Boniface 1908), 137

31. Le Metis, 2 February 1874.

32. P.A.M., RG17 D2, river lot files (lot 575), Parish of Sainte-Agathe.

33. AMNSIS, "Speculation in Half-Breed Land and Scrip." (See n. 10 above.)

SPE 171
Studies in Political Economy

34. Sprague, "The Manitoba Land Question, 1870-1882," 79

35. R. Painchaud, "The Catholic Church and French Speaking Colonization in

Western Canada, 1885-1915" (Ph.D. diss. University of Ottawa, 1977), 15

36. Idem, "Une analyse des Canadiens francais imigres au Manitoba, 1870-1890,"
135. (See n. 2 above.)

37. N. St-Onge, "Metis and Merchant Capital in Red River," 119-28. (See n. 25

38. G. Stanley, The Birth of Western Canada (Toronto 1960), 178

39. D. Payment, Batoche (1870-1910) (Saint-Boniface 1983), 43

40. N.E. Wright, "Historical Survey of South-Western Manitoba to 1899" (M.A.

thesis, University of Manitoba. 1949), 49

41. Auguste-Henri de Tremauden, Histoire de La Nation Metisse dans l'Ouest

Canadien (Montreal 1935).

42. George H. Sprenger, "An Analysis of Selected Aspects of Metis Society,

1810-1870" (M.A. thesis, University of Manitoba, 1972).

43. Abram Leon, The]ewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation (New York 1974).

44. Ibid., 74

172 SPE