Rupert's Land, also sometimes called "Prince Rupert's Land", was a territory in British North America, consisting of the Hudson Bay drainage basin, that was nominally owned by the Hudson's Bay Company for 200 years from 1670 to 1870, although numerous aboriginal groups lived in the same territory and disputed the sovereignty of the area. The area once known as Rupert's Land is now mainly a part of Canada, but a small portion is now in the United States of America. It was named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, a nephew of Charles I and the first Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Areas once belonging to Rupert's Land include all of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, northern parts of Ontario and Quebec, as well as parts of Minnesota and North Dakota and very small parts of Montana and South Dakota.
In 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was granted a charter by King Charles II, giving it a trading monopoly over the watershed of all rivers and streams flowing into Hudson Bay, thereby making the HBC owners of the whole of Rupert's Land (named in honour of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the king's cousin and the company's first governor). This covered an area of 3.9 million square kilometres (1.5 million sq mi), over one-third the area of Canada today.
The Hudson's Bay Company dominated trade in Rupert's Land during the 18th–19th centuries and drew on the local population for many of its employees. This necessarily meant the hiring of many indigenous and Métis workers. Fuchs (2002) discusses the activities of these workers and the changing attitudes that the company had toward them. George Simpson, one of the most noted company administrators, held a particularly dim view of mixed-blood workers and kept them from attaining positions in the company higher than postmaster. Later administrators, such as James Anderson and Donald Ross, sought avenues for the advancement of indigenous employees.
Morton (1962) reviews the pressures at work on that part of Rupert's Land where Winnipeg now stands, a decade before its incorporation into Canada. It was a region completely given over to the fur trade, divided between the Hudson's Bay Company and private traders. There was strong business and political agitation in Upper Canada for annexing the territory; in London the Company's trading license was due for review; in St. Paul there was a growing interest in the area as a field for U.S. expansion. The great commercial depression of 1857 dampened most of the outside interests in the territory, which itself remained comparatively prosperous.
Baker (1999) uses the Red River Settlement in the "District of Assiniboia" south of Lake Winnipeg, the only non-native settlement on the Canadian Prairies for most of the 19th century, as a site for critical exploration of the meaning of "law and order" on the Canadian frontier and for an investigation of the sources from which legal history might be rewritten as the history of legal culture. Previous historians have assumed that the Hudson's Bay Company's representatives designed and implemented a local legal system dedicated instrumentally to the protection of the company's fur trade monopoly and, more generally, to strict control of settlement life in the company's interests. But this view is not borne out by archival research. Examination of Assiniboia's juridical institutions in action reveals a history formed less through the imposition of authority from above than by obtaining support from below. Baker shows that the legal history of the Red River Settlement – and, by extension, of the Canadian West in general – is a story of local legal culture in formation, dependent for its viability on community notions of law, justice, and reason.
Following the forced merger of the North West Company with the HBC in 1821, British Parliament applied the laws of Upper Canada to Rupert's Land and the Columbia District and gave enforcement power to the HBC. The Hudson's Bay Company maintained peace in Rupert's Land for the benefit of the fur trade; the Plains Indians had achieved a rough balance of power between themselves; the organization of the Métis provided internal security and a degree of external protection. This stable order broke down in the 1860s with the decline of the Hudson's Bay Company, the arrival of smallpox and trade-whiskey, and the disappearance of the bison. Anarchy was prevented by the creation of the North-West Mounted Police. But the basic need was for capital to convert to a farming economy and this did not come until the railway opened the area to settlers.
In 1857, a British parliamentary select committee investigated the Hudson's Bay Company. In the course of its hearings, the committee often directed its attention to Rupert's Land's First Nations. Despite an obvious polarization between supporters and opponents of the company on many issues, a consensus emerged on the fate of Rupert's Land's indigenous citizens in what all presumed to be the inevitable European settlement of the Plains and adjacent woodlands. Hudson's Bay Company officials and their opponents shared the paternalistic assumption, based on 19th-century liberalism, that the Native peoples would be unable to cope with the onslaught of a supposedly superior, modern and educated population. Without consulting the objects of their concerns, the participants at the committee's hearings agreed that it was the task of the state and church to protect the aboriginal nations and educate them into the new order. On this point, the committee's report was an important omen for the subsequent history of western Canada's Native inhabitants.
Although it is widely assumed that the royal charter that granted the land to the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670 encompassed the entire territory, international law supports the argument that the company only had sovereignty over the relatively small portion it actually possessed and controlled. Court cases in the following centuries involving continuing aboriginal claims to the land reflected the government's view that the Indians had no sovereignty rights. Latter 20th-century rulings, however, have held that the Hudson's Bay Company never had the rightful sovereignty to return the land to the British government, which in turn gave it to Canada. The key question is whether the Crown gained sovereignty of the land in 1670 or later in a series of treaties signed between Canada and the aboriginal nations from 1871 and 1921. The problem of aboriginal claims is further complicated by the fact that the aboriginal nations that occupied the land involved in the treaties were not the same ones that occupied it in 1670 when the British initially claimed sovereignty.
Peake (1989) describes people, places, and activities that were involved in 19th-century Anglican missionary activities in the prairie areas of Rupert's Land, that huge portion of Canada controlled by the Hudson's Bay Company and inhabited by few Europeans. Early in the century, fur trade competition forced the company to expand into this interior region, and some officials saw advantages in allowing missionaries to accompany them. Officially they did not discriminate among denominations, but preference was often granted to the Anglicans of the Britain-based Church Missionary Society. The prairie missions extended from the area of 20th-century Winnipeg to the Mackenzie River delta in the north. Notable missionaries included David Anderson, the first bishop, the inept William Carpenter Bompus, and Robert McDonald, a part-native and very effective missionary.
There were also Roman Catholic missions in Rupert's Land. One notable missionary was Alexandre-Antonin Taché, who both before and after his consecration as bishop worked as a missionary in Saint-Boniface, Île-à-la-Crosse, Fort Chipewyan and Fort Smith.
On 19 November 1869 the Hudson's Bay Company sold most of Rupert's Land, pursuant to the Rupert's Land Act 1868, to the newly formed Canadian Government. The company retained its most successful trading posts, one twentieth of the best farmland in the region, and was compensated £300,000 ($1.5 million) for the remainder of the land. Control was originally planned to be transferred on 1 December of that year, but due to setbacks caused by the Red River Rebellion, the government assumed control on 15 July 1870. The North-West Territories were then formed from Rupert's Land and the former North-Western Territory, which comprised the regions northwest of Rupert's Land and to the north of the Colony of British Columbia.