NOVEMBER 29, 1833


Son of an English father & English Métis mother and born in Manitoba, James was fluent in English, Gaelic, Cree, Chipewyan & Michif (a Cree-French hybrid).  He began work for Hudson Bay Company in 1853, rising from laborer to clerk by 1868.  In 1862, he and his wife established a farm on the North Saskatchewan River; however, after the Red River Rebellion of 1869–70, Métis there lost their land.  Dispossessed, land ownership was a central issue.  When the federal government was to conduct surveys, English & French Métis overcame ethnic & religious differences and united.  Isbister, in 1883, led the Settlers’ Union drive for redress of grievances.  By spring 1884, both communities called for Louis Riel’s return from exile in Montana.  Isbister worked with Riel to achieve redress through “constitutional agitation.”  However, as violence erupted in March 1885, Isbister and most English Métis did not follow Riel.  Nonetheless, he was imprisoned.  He died on October 16, 1915 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Source:  David Smyth, “Isbister, James,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography.  Retrieved 8/17/2020,
Photo:   Author and date unknown. Item No. NA-4043-4.  Courtesy of the Glenbow Western Research Centre, University of Calgary.

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