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Pioneers of the West

by Harry Shave

Manitoba Pageant, April 1959, Volume 4, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

The Dominion Archives in Ottawa have an excellent sketch of five sailing ships anchored in the bay at York Factory. It was done by a Swiss colonist in the year 1821. One of the men who "worked" his passage on one of these ships from Britain that year was a young Orkneyman named William Drever. He had left his home in Kirkwall to work for the Hudson's Bay Company in Rupert's Land. The work was hard, but young Drever was big and strong, and he became quite proficient in the handling of a York boat and all the arduous duties that went with it.

Some years later a young Scottish lass, Helen Rothnie, having heard of the romantic settlement at Red River, decided, if possible, to go there. While reading a newspaper one evening, she saw a notice that Dr. Adam Thom was going to Red River as the Settlement's first Recorder and Judge. Dr. Thom was anxious to secure the services of a young lady to go out as companion to his wife, and to assist with the care of their children. Miss Rothnie lost no time in applying for the position. She was accepted and "set sail" from London with the Thom family in the year 1839.

The first place of residence for Dr. Thom was at Lower Fort Garry, where some buildings had been erected and masons were at work building the three or four foot thick wall around the buildings, with embrasures for small arms in it at regular distances of fifteen feet fom each other.

Some two years after her arrival, Miss Rothnie, with a lady friend, was standing at the water's edge, watching the arrival of a brigade of York boats from the North. Tall, broad-shouldered William Drever, his face covered with jet-black whiskers was among the men unloading the boats. "There is the man for you to marry!" said Miss Rothnie's friend. Helen scoffed at the idea and did not like the whiskers. Nevertheless, after meeting him her sentiments changed, for on March 30, 1843, they were married. The ceremony was held at the "Upper" church (now St. John's). The ceremony was conducted by that great missionary and builder of churches, Rev. William Cockran.

The newly married couple had a small log cabin at the Lower Fort, and here four of their six children were born. A capable half-breed woman acted as nurse, as there were no qualified nurses at Red River in those days. One of the children, born at Lower Fort Garry, Jean Anne, was one of the few pioneers who have written stories of their early lives.

About eight years were spent in these rather primitive surroundings. But the brave and thrifty nature of Mrs. Drever and her determination to help her husband to independence as soon as possible, allowed no obstacle to stand in her way.

About the year 1851, Mr. Drever was transferred to the Upper Fort. Here again they were assigned to a log house. Jean Anne tells us in her story that the children ate their breakfast standing around the table. Bannocks and pemmican (dried buffalo meat) and porridge were the principle items of food, but what was served to them was well-cooked and nourishing.

About eight years after their arrival at the Upper Fort, the Drevers had about attained their objective. From A. S. Morton's History of the Canadian West we learn that in 1859 "McKinney & Schultz opened a store at the junction of the Portage la Prairie trail with the Red River trail, (Portage & Main St.). Mr. William Drever built a house and store alongside, other buildings followed, and thus the nucleus of the village, now the city of Winnipeg, was formed.

The Drevers were Presbyterians, but as there was no church of that faith in the settlement until 1853, they became staunch supporters and adherents of the Anglican church. Mr. Drever was a member of the Vestry of St. John's Cathedral from 1860 until 1867. In 1868 when the first little Holy Trinity Church was built at the corner of Fort Street and Portage Avenue, he became one of the first wardens. His son William was one of the first Vestrymen, and his daughter Jean Anne was the first organist. But instead of an organ she played an American melodian, which was brought from the Drever home for the purpose. It was at the opening of this church that Jean Anne Drever met a young clergyman, Rev. W. C. Pinkham, and they were married in December, 1868.

It is interesting to note that at the time of the Pinkham-Drever wedding, Mr. Pinkham was unable to purchase a gold wedding ring at Red River. But he obtained a $5.00 American gold piece and had a local tinsmith fashion a wedding ring out of it. Mrs. Pinkham wore it for the rest of her long and useful life.

As Helen Drever had helped her husband to a place of independence, so her daughter Jean Anne took no small part in her husband's rise from a Parish priest to chairman of the Board of Education in Winnipeg, advancement in the honours of his church, and finally to the appointment as the first bishop of Calgary.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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