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The Incorporation of Winnipeg

by Jeff Gee (aka J. F. Galbraith)

Manitoba Pageant, April 1960, Volume 5, 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 following excerpt from A Sketch of Both Sides of Manitoba by Jeff Gee, published in 1881, tells of an incident in the incorporation of the City of Winnipeg. The Bill of Incorporation was passed by the legislature on November 8, 1873.

As previously stated, the Provincial Legislature was in session at the time of my arrival, and, among other measures before the House was a “Bill to incorporate the City of Winnipeg.” As it was well known that the bill would meet considerable opposition in several important particulars, a good deal of interest was manifested by citizens generally. In the Upper Chamber certain amendments were made and the bill returned to the Assembly, which body objected to the amendments as interfering with the revenue, a matter beyond the jurisdiction of the Legislative Council, and, accordingly, dispatched a message requesting that the obnoxious amendments be withdrawn. The Council refused to accede, and, on the ruling of the Speaker, the bill was thrown out. Thus, for the present, Winnipeg remained unincorporated.

Don’t imagine, however, that Winnipeg accepted this misfortune without protest. Kawin! (This word is Chippewyan for “No.” It was very fashionable when I first landed in Winnipeg, but has since fallen into disuse). The citizens formed into a committee of the whole, and waited in a body on the Legislature. But the noble legislators could not be found — they were dispersed in the various hardware stores, purchasing revolvers. It was at this period that I could profitably have disposed of my double-barrel Derringer.

Rightly or wrongly, the failure of the bill to pass, was generally attributed to the unpopular leader of the Government, Hon. H. J. Clarke, then Attorney-General, and after the failure of the committee to interview the House, certain unknown individuals waited on that gentleman with materials wherewith to transform him into a sort of Satanic fowl — tar and feathers. Mr. Clarke, however, had made himself exceedingly scarce.

And now I have to chronicle a disreputable piece of business. Foiled in their endeavor to find the Attorney-General, these unknown individuals directed their attention to Hon. Dr. Bird, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a gentleman highly esteemed and not at all censured for his official action. Late at night a horse and cutter dashed up to the Doctor’s medical dispensary. A stranger leaped out and hastily informed the honorable gentleman that a dying patient in Kildonan urgently required his professional attendance. After a wearisome day of turmoil and excitement, a drive of seven miles on a bitter cold night was no light matter, but, true to his sense of duty, the Doctor hastily donned his great-coat and took his seat with the messenger. When opposite the Point Douglas House, at the northern limit of the city, several rowdies rushed forward and upset their victim out of the cutter. While one daubed his head with tar, another stuck on a handful of feathers, the ruffians then quickly dispersed, and the Doctor was allowed to find his way home as best he might.

Dr. C. J. Bird
Source: Archives of Manitoba

When this outrage became known, a howl of indignation ascended. The Legislature offered a reward of $1,000 for such information as would lead to the conviction of the guilty parties, and in the public estimation, the perpetrators were branded as cowardly ruffians. There is no doubt, however, but that, had the Attorney-General been in Dr. Bird’s place, the perpetrators would just as emphatically have been lauded as heroes.

Such is the history, in brief, of the first incorporation bill. What was Winnipeg’s loss, however, was the country’s gain, for to the defeat of this bill may be directly traced the abolition of the Legislative Council two years later. At the following session, the incorporation bill passed its several stages without difficulty, and Winnipeg became a duly appointed city.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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