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Rare promissory note in Regina

By George Manz

An extremely rare Hudson’s Bay Company £1 1870 promissory note issued at Fort Garry during the Red River Rebellion will be on display at the Regina Coin Club Show and Sale in October.

 A rare Hudson’s Bay Company promissory note will be displayed in Canada in October at the Regina Coin Club Show and Sale.

A rare Hudson’s Bay Company promissory note will be displayed in Canada in October at the Regina Coin Club Show and Sale.

In 1869, the newly formed Government of Canada purchased Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). In one small corner of the territory was the Red River Colony, situated where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet in what is now downtown Winnipeg. Most of the people in the Red River Colony were mixed race Metis, descendants of both French and English voyageurs, fur traders and farmers.

 Louis Riel

Louis Riel

The first lieutenant governor, William McDougall, ordered surveyors to plot the land according to the square township system used in Ontario. Meanwhile, most of the Metis had previously made their farms on long, narrow lots fronting the rivers, and many did not have clear title to the land they farmed. By late 1869, Louis Riel emerged as the Metis leader and prevented the surveyors from entering the colony.

By late 1869, Riel and his Metis supporters took over the fort at Fort Garry. In January 1870, Riel gained the support of most of the English speakers in the colony, who agreed to form a provisional government to discuss terms to enter Confederation with Canada.

But not everyone in the settlement approved of the Metis demands. A small group of English-speaking Canadians in the area was opposed. These settlers organized a militia, and some were captured and imprisoned at HBC trading fort at Fort Garry for attempting an insurrection against the provisional government.

Thomas Scott, an Orangeman, was sentenced to death by firing squad. Scott’s death inflamed Ontario Protestants against the Metis, French-speakers and Catholics.

The provisional government then sent a delegation to Ottawa to negotiate. They were immediately imprisoned but soon released and entered negotiations with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, who later agreed to enshrine many of the demands of the people of Red River Colony.

Manitoba, much smaller than it now is, became Canada’s fifth province. Among the rights enshrined for the new province were a representative government, French language rights, separate Catholic schools, and land rights for the Metis.

According to George B. Winship’s manuscript, “Red River Disturbances,” Louis Riel demanded that the HBC reopen their business so the colony and its provisional government could function properly as the rebellion and the closing of the HBC fort had drastically affected the fur trade and other trade as well. Riel guaranteed to protect the HBC in exchange for a loan of $25,000.

According to Winship, the HBC “tacitly complied with the demand, but in the matter of the loan they asserted that they did not have that amount of money on hand.”

The problem was solved when it was suggested that HBC promissory notes could be printed at the New Nation newspaper.

Winship, who printed the notes, recalled in his memoir: “Some heavy weight brown paper was procured, and the body of the note was set in long primer italic type … and the denomination of the bill in large type ... A certain number of sheets of paper were counted out for me to print and I was enjoined to account for all of them, spoiled and unspoiled. About $25,000 of these notes were printed and put in circulation after being signed by the Hudson Bay Co. officials.”

After printing, the notes were signed by John Henry McTavish, the HBC clerk. They were then rubber stamped in red a few days later by William Mactavish, the governor of Rupert’s Land.

The £1 note on display is one of only a handful of promissory notes still in existence. The notes were issued in four denominations: 5 shillings, one pound, 5 pounds and 10 pounds.

Canadian Prime Minister John A. Macdonald ordered troops under the command of Col. Garnet Wolseley to take control of the new province. When the troops arrived at Fort Garry in August 1870, some of the Metis leaders, including Louis Riel, had left for exile in the United States.

While in exile, Riel was elected to Parliament three times but never took his seat, as he feared he would be either imprisoned or hanged for his role in the Red River Rebellion.

The Regina Coin Club Show and Sale takes place Oct. 20-21, 2018, at the Turvey Centre near Regina.

George Manz is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association and President of the Regina Coin Club.

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter. >> Subscribe today.

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