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The Selkirk Settlers in Real Life
Chapter I - Introductary


HISTORIES of Manitoba and the North-West exist in plenty, and the number is being constantly added to as the growing importance of the country attracts the attention of the world. The work of recording the leading historical facts concerning the West has been so ably and so exhaustively done by such men as Ross, Gunn, Hargrave, Bryce, Begg and others, that the present writer would not, under ordinary circumstances, attempt to add anything in the same line to what has been already written. But it has for years seemed to him, as the son of a Selkirk settler, born and brought up amid the primitive life and the simple surroundings of this "Western Acadia," that very little, if anything, has been made public of the altogether unique and peculiar life and customs characteristic of those who for nearly half a century, apart from the rest of the world, fought and conquered the difficulties of settlement in a wilderness wild. More than once has he resolved to essay this unwritten chapter in the history of his birthplace, and more than once have friends, old and new, urged the task upon him; but the fear of failing to do adequate justice to the work has up to this date laid an arresting fiand upon his pen. He feels that this lost chapter should have been written years ago by some one to whom the life to be depicted was less than a memory and more of an actual experience than it has been to him. But alas! no one undertook the work, and as the time goes by, the fear that it may never be touched at all becomes more real and painful. Hence, though his actual experience in the life related was not many years in duration before that unique life began to undergo a change with the advent of new conditions, yet those few years, together with tales told by prominent actors in the drama, lead the writer to hope that he may furnish some facts and sketch some characters of note and interest. He feels the more encouraged to take up the task, because amongst those who urged him to undertake it was one who, up to the time of his death, took the deepest interest in the country in whose earlier and later history he himself was so outstanding and forceful a figure. The reference is to the late Sir John Schultz, who took such an active part in the tumultuous troubles attending our entry into Confederation, and who, when escaping from Louis Riel and hard hunted by enemies, found asylum in my father’s house at Kildonan. On New Year’s eve of 1893, Sir John forwarded to the writer an excellent engraving of old Fort Garry, inscribed by his own hand (trembling with sickness) as follows: "For my esteemed friend of many years, Rev. R. G. MacBeth, of Augustine Church, from Lieutenant-Governor Schultz, Government House, Winnipeg, in grateful memory of my brave old friend, the Hon. Robert MacBeth, and as a souvenir of stirring events in other days." Accompanying this was a letter in which the following sentences occur in reference to a lecture or paper on the subject of the early days: "I am entirely at one with the wish that you may undertake this work—. no one more capable—and I only hope that I may be granted life and leave to preside at a meeting when you give the first-fruits of this most interesting subject. The people, the circumstances of their coming and their surroundings were altogether unique and should be recorded. There is too much of a desire nowadays to ignore the past and the services in it that men like the Selkirk settlers rendered; so by all means carry out your half-formed design." Besides this, some time ago the Rev. W. D. Ballantyne, Editor of the Canada Presbyterian, requested an article for the semi-jubilee number of his paper, and having received one (somewhat hurriedly written) wrote suggesting a series in the same line. After making the suggestion Mr. Ballantvne says, "It is very important, you will agree with me, that those early days, and the men who lived in them, should not be forgotten; and you ought as far as possible, in justice to the brave men who toiled and bore so much and so nobly kept the faith, to help rescue their names from oblivion."

With this view then before him, and with the hope of writing some chapters on the inner life of the old settlers and a few character sketches that may be of interest, the writer essays the agreeable but perhaps too ambitious task which the necessities of the case, the requests of friends, and his own desire to be of service in preserving some record of a vanished life seem to lay before his hand.

After writing this chapter and outlining the others, it occurred to me that it would immeasurably increase the interest and value of the volume if a Preface could be secured from Sir Donald A. Smith, High Commissioner for Canada, who has been so long and honorably connected with the history of this country, and who, moreover, was a personal friend of my father, from whom I have had much of the letter and the spirit of the book. I accordingly wrote to the worthy knight (who, it is needless to say, has not seen this paragraph), and take this opportunity of acknowledging the gracious and courtly kindness of his consent to write "a few words of preface." From one of Sir Donald’s letters the following extract is made:

"Your father . . . was one of my most esteemed friends, and it is indeed well that his life-work and that of other Kildonan men, who so materially aided in the opening up of the great North-West, should be given to the public, and it is certainly appropriate this should be done by one so fully conversant with the whole subject as yourself."


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