St. Peter’s Settlement/Reserve

After Peguis, and his band, came to the region, they settled at Netley Creek, about 11 miles down river from St. Peter’s Church. They set up their camp and continued to live as they had done for generations, before contact with white society. They trapped and hunted animals for food, shelter, clothing, tools, and trade. Peguis’ peoples had traded with French traders at Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario) area, and formed trade relations with the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Pembina (North Dakota).

Up until 1812, the only white people the Saulteaux peoples knew were fur traders. Then between 1812 and 1815, groups of white settlers from Scotland and Ireland, known as the Selkirk Settlers, arrived. Peguis befriended them, hunting for them and guiding them to the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Pembina (North Dakota) for shelter when they first arrived. He, and his Band, protected them from hostile, and often violent, confrontations with local fur traders who did not want them there. And, he experienced a unique relationship with the settler’s leader, Lord Selkirk, with whom Peguis signed a Treaty, along with five other indigenous leaders; Le Sonnant, Le Robe Noir, L’Homme Noir, and Premier, to make room for all the people. Signed in 1817, this Treaty was know as the Selkirk Treaty. It was the first to be signed in the region. Peguis declared on the Treaty that he, and his Band, would take possession of the land from Sugar Point (Selkirk) north to Lake Winnipeg.

In 1818, French missionary Father J.N Provencher arrived in the settlement accompanied by two other Catholic clerics and settled on the east side of Red River.  Today, this area is known as St. Boniface. Father Provencher visited the Peguis people at their encampment. Two years later, a Protestant English Missionary named John West arrived, and he too spent much time at the Peguis encampment. These Christian clerics wanted to convert Peguis’ people, who were not Christians, to Christians. They did not succeed, at least not right away.

When Rev. Cockran arrived in 1825, he became the real force behind changing the Peguis people to become farmers, Christians, and to establish a settlement. Throughout the 1830 the settlement developed by building houses, cultivating the soil and planting potatoes, corn, and grains. They built a school, church, a blacksmith shop, and harvested hay land. Not everyone from Peguis’ band welcomed the change, including Peguis’ sons, two of which never converted to Christianity, nor did they take part in the settlement. They remained in the camp on Netley Creek.

The community became known as The Indian Settlement. Once the stone church was built in 1853 and called, St. Peter, the region became known as St. Peter’s Settlement. And when Rev. Abraham and Arabella Cowley built their two-storey home on the west side of the river across from the church in 1865 and called it Dynevor, the name spread throughout the community, including the post office.

Most of the homes were built on the west side of Red River with only a few on the east side where the church, school, and parsonage were built. There was a ferry that carried the people across the river during the summer months.

Peguis died in his bed in the evening of 24 September 1864.  He was buried four days later in the cemetery of St. Peter’s on a “calm, pretty day,’ wrote local stonemason Samuel Taylor. Rev. William Cockran died one year later on 1 October 1865 in Portage la Prairie. He was carried to his beloved church, St. Andrew’s, and was buried outside the front door.

As the population of the settlement expanded, the region saw many new immigrants arriving, and some purchased land in the region of St. Peter’s. The land on which St. Peter’s sat had been claimed by King Charles II of England in 1670 when he formed the Hudson’s Bay Company and claimed all lands that drained into Hudson Bay. He called the territory, Rupert’s Land. In 1869, only a few years after Peguis died, the Hudson Bay Company ceded their land to Canada. The region of which St. Peter’s was a part was brought into Canada and became part of the province of Manitoba in 1870.

Link to Wikipedia “Rupert’s Land” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert%27s_Land

Link to Wikipedia “King Charles II of England” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_England

Link to Wikipedia “Canada” at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada

With the population growing, the Dominion of Canada entered into Treaties with the indigenous peoples, making specific promises of land for every family. This created the reservation system. Peguis’ son, Henry Prince, Mis-koo-kenew (Red Eagle), had become Chief. And it was he who signed Treaty 1 on 3 August 1871 on behalf of the Peguis/St. Peter’s people officially stating the reserve belonged to them. The reserve contained a large portion of prime agricultural land

Link to Manitoba Historical Society “Henry Prince (Red Eagle)” at: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/prince_h.shtml

Peguis and his Band were traditionally trappers, hunters, and gathers, asking the land for all of their needs. They practiced their own spiritual beliefs and customs long known to their ancestors. They did not practice Christianity. However, when the missionaries came to Red River Settlement from Europe, they came to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity. The missionaries persuaded them to hunt and trap less and become farmers. Some members of the Peguis Band did become famers, cultivating their land and making it into rich and prosperous crops. In 1885, Indian Agent Alexander Muckle, said this about the people of St. Peter’s:

They compared favourable with European settlements along the Red and Assiniboine in their agricultural pursuits, implements, housing and clothing, and that St. Peter’s people were more prosperous and made more money in a year than thousands of people in the older provinces.1

Unfortunately, the success enjoyed by the people of St. Peter’s and the community they had built was short lived. Attitudes toward the success of St. Peter’s from “white” male government officials were changing. The Indian Commissioner at that time made it difficult for St. Peter’s farmers to sell their grain or acquire farming equipment. And there were land claim disputes between the people of St. Peter’s and local non-reserve residents. Meetings and discussions were held, but no agreements were made to satisfy both sides.

In 1906, Hector Howell, Chief Justice of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, was appointed to look into the land claims and report on the advisability of a land surrender. He favored the removal of the people from the reserve and reported this to the government. Through a series of discussions between the government and the people of St. Peter’s that were not always genuine or valid, the people surrendered their land and were moved to the west side of Lake Winnipeg. Today the reserve is called Peguis Reserve (Peguis First Nation). The government dissolved St. Peter’s as a reserve in 1908. The Church was used less often after the people moved away.

Link to Peguis First Nation at: http://www.peguisfirstnation.ca/

The Illegal Surrender of the St. Peter’s Reserve at: http://www.peguisfirstnation.ca/pdf/PFN_SC_Au08.pdf

In 1963, one hundred years after the church was built, it was designated a provincial heritage site by the Manitoba Historic Sites Advisory Board, a motion that was approved by the Diocese of Rupert’s Land.  It is the wish of many to see the church designated as a National Heritage Site, but the nomination has yet to be accepted.

  1. Bruce Cherney, “Land surrender obtained through duplicity of officials” Heritage Highlights (Friday, 22 November 2002), p. 4-5.
Posted in Political and Community Organizations, St. Peters Reserve.