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.


“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


John W. Dafoe Book Prize (2009)
Margaret McWilliams Award (2008)
Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction (2009)
Lela Common Award for Canadian History (2009)

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.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Dunbar
Chapter 2: Apprenticing
Chapter 3: Paris, the Continent, and the Shadow of Daer
Chapter 4: Finding a Role in Life
Chapter 5: Towards Prince Edward Island
Chapter 6: Selkirk and the Island
Chapter 7: Touring North America
Chapter 8: Observations on the Present State of the Highlands
Chapter 9: Joining the Establishment
Chapter 10: Settling Down
Chapter 11: Taking Over the Hudson’s Bay Company
Chapter 12: Starting up the Red River
Chapter 13: The Highland Regiment and the Kildonan Immigrants
Chapter 14: The Pemmican Proclamation
Chapter 15: The Settlement Dispersed
Chapter 16: Trying to Gain Control
Chapter 17: Seven Oaks and Fort William, 1816
Chapter 18: More Overstepping of Legality
Chapter 19: On the Defensive, 1817
Chapter 20: Campaigning at Law, January to June 1818
Chapter 21: Further Campaigning at Law, June to November 1818
Chapter 22: Returning to Europe: 1818 to 1820
Chapter 23: To the Death
Chapter 24: Coda