The Battle of Seven Oaks: And the Violent Birth of the Red River Settlement


140 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55439-025-7
DDC 971.27'01




Reviewed by Norma Hall

Norma Hall is a historian who specializes in colonial era settlements in
Newfoundland and Manitoba.


This history is freelance writer Irene Ternier Gordon’s third
contribution to the Amazing Stories series in three years. Despite the
suggestive title, Gordon seems less concerned with detailing what
happened in 1816 at Seven Oaks (or in previous and subsequent
skirmishes) than with describing the event’s broader historical

The context covers a lengthy period, from as early as the birth of the
future Lord Selkirk in 1771, to as late as his daughter-in-law’s
unveiling of a monument commemorating Seven Oaks in 1891. Gordon deals
with the infamous 15-minute battle in approximately four pages. She
outlines the ensuing Coltman inquiry in six pages and, in additional
paragraphs, acknowledges the controversy surrounding how participants
have been portrayed. The remaining pages are devoted to describing
people associated with Red River’s early years and problems that had
to be surmounted before a contented community could be realized.

The people described are many and various. Gordon lists 18 main
characters, names an additional 72 supporting actors, and refers to
hundreds of anonymous extras. The action takes place in numerous
settings on a geographical stage that extends from Hudson Bay and the
vast interior of North America to Lower Canada, Great Britain, and
France. In contrast, the problems that the people of Red River faced
appear to reduce to one circumstance: the competition ruthlessly waged
between the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies threatened human
survival at the basic level of food. By 1816, contention revolved around
who was entitled to distribute pemmican manufactured by the Metis to
which groups of people. An interesting aspect that Gordon’s treatment
brings to light is how the familial dimension compounded conflicts—a
number of people had relatives in surprising places.

To her credit, Gordon supplies a factual reconstruction of the Seven
Oaks incident that is more even-handed than the account found in many
previous texts. As an introduction to the complexity of Red River’s
pluralistic past, her book might prove useful in inspiring secondary
students to do further research, or in generating classroom discussion.


Gordon, Irene Ternier,, “The Battle of Seven Oaks: And the Violent Birth of the Red River Settlement,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,