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John Halkett, William Kempt, & the Red River Settlement

John Halkett’s visit to British North America came just a decade after his brother-in-law, Lord Selkirk, initiated the Red River resettlement scheme – and the bicentenary of the arrival of the Selkirk settlers is being commemorated in many ways in 2012.  There is a variety of objects in the HBC Museum Collection that relate to these formative years of the Red River Settlement, starting with the Halkett collection.  Another important group in the HBC Collection relating to this place and time was assembled by William Kempt.

The fine collection of First Nations objects assembled by William Kempt in the 1820s.

From 1822-1824 Kempt was engaged as a surveyor for the Red River Settlement, also serving as the settlement’s sheriff, and acting as the interim governor in 1823.  As well as some wonderful First Nations objects, Kempt collected six watercolours attributed to Peter Rindisbacher (1806-1834), a young artist who was among a contingent of 170 Swiss immigrants who arrived in the Red River Settlement in 1821.  Rindisbacher’s paintings are considered important documents showing life in the settlement, although they also may represent a rather romanticized and exotic view of Aboriginal populations, consistent with the demands of his market.

Untitled (Scene on River Bank), Peter Rindisbacher, 1822-24, watercolour. This is one of the paintings collected by William Kempt, now in the HBC Museum Collection. TMM HBC 83-23-F.

He had a keen eye for material culture, and it is fascinating to compare objects collected by individuals like Halkett and Kempt with Rindisbacher’s portrayals of the objects being worn or used by the people of Red River in the 1820s.

Detail of TMM HBC 83-23-F. This portrays some of the material culture of the Red River population in the 1820s. Objects represented by Rindisbacher such as the woolen and hide leggings, woolen hood, iron cooking pot, trade gun, and bow and arrows are found in the HBC Collection at The Manitoba Museum.

One of the things that makes the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection so fascinating is these sorts of stories and connections that exist between the collectors, the collections, and the objects.  Added to the stories of the objects and their creators, this means that the HBC Collection symbolizes and evokes broad historical themes, in a way that may be unique among Canadian museum collections.

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Amelia Fay

Curator of HBC Collection

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Amelia Fay joined The Manitoba Museum in September 2013. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba, an MA in Archaeology from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), and is currently finishing her Doctoral degree from MUN. Amelia’s research has focused on Inuit-European contact along the Labrador coast, and her interests are continually expanding to explore Aboriginal-European contact throughout Canada during the fur trade era.

Amelia’s job as Curator of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection involves building the collection, responding to public inquiries, preparing exhibits, and conducting her own research. Her research interests centre on the interactions between Europeans (including HBC employees) and Aboriginal peoples as they negotiated space, material culture, and their daily activities. Amelia’s goal is to showcase this amazing collection, and highlight the important role that Aboriginal people played in the establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company.