HE WAS Canadian born but a Scot by descent and attitude.
Now the legendary feats of Cuthbert Grant are to be immortalised for the first time in a movie to be filmed later this year.
In the early 1800s, when a fierce, long-running fur trade war raged, Grant became the first leader of the Metis Nation, a powerful tribe of so-called “half-breed” offspring of white incomers and Native Americans.
His story is now being brought to life by independent production company Scotsfilms, whose director Bill Little was an actor and stunts co-ordinator on Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. An earlier project to dramatise Grant’s life in a production starring Sean Connery at the height of his Bond fame in the 1960s, never went ahead.
Little, a 58-year-old Glaswegian, said: “I was approached by Sandra Horyski, a descendent of Cuthbert Grant, asking if I would be interested in doing a film on him.
“After reading up, it is a remarkable story and has everything in it; big battles, romance and buffalo hunts.
“I agreed, as I think it would be a big hit at the box office and would do wonders for the Scottish and Canadian economies.”
Grant’s father, who came from Cromdale in Strathspey, moved to Canada in the 18th century and was a founding member of the North West Company (NWC), trading in buffalo fur.
He married a native from the Cree tribe, and their son, Cuthbert, was born in 1793 at Fort Tremblant, a NWC trading post. The term for such children at the time was Metis – “halfbreeds” produced mainly by Scottish or Breton fathers wed to tribal mothers.
Sent back to the Highlands for his education at the age of eight, on his return a major fur trade war was breaking out between the NWC and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) partly run by a Scottish peer Lord Selkirk.
When Selkirk and the HBC tried to muscle the NWC out of an area called Red River Valley, which was largely occupied by Metis loyal to his father’s company, Grant, then 19 and a clerk, took up arms against his rivals.
Several battles ensued and Grant became known as Captain General of the Halfbreeds, defending the rights and land of his “nation”.
He led his people to a number of victories, including the bloody Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816 against Selkirk’s men, who tried to drive the Metis off the land. Around 60 Metis overcame a force of HBC men in which 22 were killed.
After hostilities ceased, the two companies merged in 1821 and the HBC governor of the area, Sir George Simpson, requested that Grant head a Metis settlement of some 2,000 people.
The settlement was to be known as Grantown – sharing its name with the Highland village – for many years, but was later named St Francois Xavier after the patron saint of the town.
Grant – who was also a magistrate and built the first water-powered flour mill in Winnipeg – was then charged with keeping order on the prairies before he died 1854 from injuries sustained from falling from his horse.
Horyski, who lives in Winnipeg, became enthralled in the story of her relations and approached Little on a visit to Scotland last year.
Now an executive producer of Cuthbert Grant – Warden Of The Plains, she is seeking funding to finance the movie.
She said: “I think the movie we are making is important for Scotland and Canada and is a fascinating piece of lost history. It will educate many on the Scots who left their homes to become key players in the Canadian fur trade.”
Little added: “It is a fascinating tale with everything a movie needs. There are still a lot of ex-pats in Canada, so it will have interest over there and in Scotland.”
The film is scheduled to start shooting in Canada in late July before moving to Scotland, and there are hopes of a worldwide release date next year.
Grant’s story has inspired other film-makers before. In the 1960s, Canadian-born James Bond producer Harry Saltzman was set to cast an up-and-coming Connery, the first 007 in Dr No, in the leading role. But the project stalled.
Grant’s legacy is marked in Canada by Grant Avenue in Winnipeg and the Cuthbert Grant rose, developed by Agriculture Canada and introduced in 1967. The proposed movie comes just a year after Grant was finally made a member of Clan Grant. Sir James Grant, Lord Strathspey, in his role as the 33rd chief of the clan, visited Winnipeg last July to conduct a ceremony that recognised him as an official clan member. The honour means his descendents – he married three times and had more than a dozen children – are eligible to belong to the Grant clan.
Horyski said: “I am the sept’s newly appointed steward and I am proud of my Strathspey roots.”