Three sisters live far away in Texas and New Zealand, but 200 years ago their ancestors settled the land to help found Winnipeg.
Dawn Uyehara, Carol Bailey and Elaine Purdum can follow their family tree a few generations back to the Sutherland family, who came with the Selkirk Settlers from Scotland through Hudson’s Bay in 1811 to arrive in what is now Winnipeg in August 1812.
The three, who came to Winnipeg to be part of the week-long festivities connected with the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Selkirk Treaty, the first signed in the West before Canada was formed, admit their ancestors and the rest of the settlers had a tough life here.
"They (the Sutherlands) stayed until 1838," Uyehara said on Sunday shortly after the welcoming of the current Lord Selkirk at the former site of Fort Douglas in downtown Winnipeg, which was built by the Selkirk Settlers.
"Then some went to Iowa and others to New Zealand. It was very difficult here. They faced the floods, the locusts, the fight with the Northwest Company.
"By that time, they wanted to move."
Bailey said the settlers had it tough even before they reached to the Red River Colony.
"They got off the boat at Churchill and walked 150 miles to York Factory," she said. "It’s shocking how good our life is compared to (theirs)."
Almost 200 years after their ancestors met and signed a treaty, the current Lord Selkirk met with Chief Jim Bear of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation at the site where it was inked.
Thomas Douglas — the fifth Earl of Selkirk, and the founder of the Red River Colony — signed a treaty with Chief Peguis and four other chiefs in 1817, which gifted land two miles back on either side of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers to the Selkirk Settlers with the rest staying in the hands of Indigenous people.
On Sunday, the current Lord Selkirk, born James Alexander Douglas-Hamilton in 1942, shook hands with Bear at a park along Waterfront Drive that has the Scots Monument, which honours all the Scots and their descendants who settled here, along with a stone and plaque to commemorate Fort Douglas.
Lord Selkirk said the treaty and the help given by Chief Peguis were "tremendously important" to the settlement in its infancy.
"It meant in the long term there would be a place for farming," he said.
"Lord Selkirk paid for the land, but the farmers had to farm it — that was the deal. But it was difficult.
"Chief Peguis had their life and death in his hands. He helped them... he made the difference between life and death for them."
Bear said he still values the friendship of Lord Selkirk and his descendants.
"We maintain the relationship that started 200 years ago," he said.
"The treaty was to coexist. Despite the dark history which came later, our people honour the spirit and the treaty of our ancestors."