Lord Selkirk

A Life

J.M. Bumsted (Author)

Thomas Douglas, the Fifth Earl of Selkirk (1770–1820), was a complex man of his times, whose passions left an indelible mark on Canadian history. A product of the Scottish Enlightenment and witness to the French Revolution, he dedicated his fortune and energy to the vision of a new colony at the centre of North America. His final legacy, the Red River Settlement, led to the eventual end of the dominance of the fur trade and began the demographic and social transformation of western Canada.

The product of three decades of research, this is the definitive biography of Lord Selkirk. Bumsted’s passionate prose and thoughtful analysis illuminate not only the man, but also the political and economic realities of the British empire at the turn of the nineteenth century. He analyzes Selkirk’s position within these realities, showing how his paternalistic attitudes informed his “social experiments” in colonization and translated into unpredictable, and often tragic, outcomes. Bumsted also provides extensive detail on the complexities of colonization, the Scottish Enlightenment, Scottish peerage, the fur trade, the Red River settlement, and early British-Canadian politics.


  • WINNER, John W. Dafoe Book Prize (2009)
  • WINNER, Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction, Manitoba Book Awards (2009)
  • WINNER, Lela Common Award for Canadian History (2009)
  • WINNER, Margaret McWilliams Scholarly Book Award, Manitoba Historical Society (2009)


“This is the work of a scholar at the top of his game. There is not going to be a better biography of Selkirk in a very long time.”

– Robin Fisher, Mount Royal College, author of Vancouver’s Voyage: Charting the Northwest Coast

“Probably the best biography of this complex, compartmentalized man that we are going to get, and that is no small achievement.”

Globe and Mail

“In taking on the biography of this complex figure, Jack Bumsted had no idea what it would mean. Indeed, he notes that he began the work on the project in 1976…He not only explains the project’s long gestation but attempts to pre-empt criticism by noting that limitation of sources made it difficult to assess Selkirk’s personality. None of this defence is necessary. The author has published actively through his career and this latest work needs no apology. It is the definitive biography of Selkirk and one that compares well to any biography in Canadian historical writing…It is a tangled story but Bumsted, as with the biography as a whole, gives the reader a readable and well-researched history of the whole affair. He can be satisfied that after such a long time he has produced a book worth the wait.”

University of Toronto Quarterly, Winter 2010

Lord Selkirk fulfills the claim on the dust jacket that it is a definitive biography of the fifth earl which supersedes earlier accounts of his life.”

Wendy Camero, H-Net Online, June 2009

“An admirable new biography … a compelling portrait of Selkirk.”

– Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 30, 2008

About the Author

J.M. Bumsted is the author of many popular and scholarly books on Canadian history, including Fur Trade Wars, The Dictionary of Manitoba Biography, and the widely used textbook The Canadian Peoples: A History. He teaches history at the University of Manitoba.

Book Details

  • Lord Selkirk: A Life
  • J.M. Bumsted (Author)
  • Published November 2008, 517 pages
  • Cloth, ISBN: 9780887551840, 6 × 9, $39.95
  • Topic(s): Biography, History

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