PIERRE GUILLAUME SAYER
THE MAN WHO BROKE THE
TRADING MONOPOLY OF THE HUDSON BAY COMPANY
by George Siamandas
On July 30 1849 Pierre Guillaume Sayer was found guilty of trading in Red River. But he received no penalty and was freed. This decision which was the first trial by jury in Manitoba ended the HBC monopoly over trading at Red River.
Sayer was the son of James Sayer a businessman from Philadelphia who traded in the west Lake Superior area. His mother was Obemau unoqua a native woman. Sayer was born in 1796 and as was typical for country born children was left with his mother's people and was assimilated by the Metis. He learned to speak French and became a Catholic moving to Grantown in 1824. He farmed there and participated in the buffalo hunt.
Sayer was one of those many free traders who ignored the HBC monopoly and traded in furs. The HBC factor John Bellenden brought him to trial on May 17 1849 to test the legality of their monopoly. Sayer's case was backed by Louis Riel Senior and by Reverend Bellecourt who had organized the Metis against the monopoly and the Metis lack of representation on the Council of Assiniboia the area's judicial body.
Sayer admitted to trading in furs but maintained that it was a an ancient Indian tradition of exchanging presents with relatives. The jury found him guilty but recommended mercy because they felt Sayer had genuinely believed the Metis were permitted to trade freely.
Three hundred Metis awaited the outcome of the trial. Louis Riel Senior asserted that this was tantamount to the ending the HBC monopoly and in fact the HBC abandoned its efforts to continue to enforce its ban on other traders.
Sayer's trial became a landmark case in the development of Canadian west. It also marked the first time that the defendant's French language was used during the proceedings. Louis Riel Sr known as the "Miller of the Seine." fought for the right of Guillaume Sayer to trade freely and to be heard in French. French interpreters were introduced into the quarterly Court of Assiniboia after this.