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Ross House

by F. Hughes

Manitoba Pageant, January 1964, Volume 9, Number 2

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.

Built in 1853-54 Ross House originally stood at the foot of James Street, about half-a-mile south of its present location. It was on a beautiful stretch of land facing the river, with Point Douglas to the north, the Forks and Fort Garry to the south, and St. Boniface across the river. The House is constructed of squared oak logs. The outer siding was removed when the house was renovated. Inside, the walls are finished with hand-cut square lathes and mud plaster of the Red River variety. In the front bedroom a corner of the plaster has been cut away so that the construction may be examined. The chimney is the original one and was moved with the house and not re-constructed.

Originally, the house stood on a rubble-filled trench in place of the cement foundation. In 1949, the property on which the house stood was required for a new warehouse, and the Manitoba Historical Society, with the assistance of the City and the C.P.R., had the house moved. to its present site, which is a part of Point Douglas, not far from the site of the Selkirk Settlers' Fort Douglas.

The house was built by William Ross, son of Chief Trader Alexander Ross, who was for many years with the Astor Fur Company and the Hudson's Bay Company on the Pacific Coast and in the Okanagan District. While in the latter post, he married an Indian girl and, as the children grew older, he was anxious that they should have the advantages of church and school. He therefore retired from the H.B.C. and, in 1825, came to Red River where he obtained from the H.B.C. a grant of land for services rendered. The following year, his wife and four children came overland from the Okanagan; William was only a baby in arms. William grew up here and eventually married Jemima MacKenzie, daughter and grand-daughter of H.B.C. factors. Born in the Saguenay district of Quebec, she lived there for twelve years until her mother's death when her father sent her back to live with her mother's father, retired Factor James Sutherland, who had settled in St. Andrew's on retirement. It has always interested me that this house was built by two young people, in the centre of Canada, the one born in the Okanagan, the other on the Saguenay. Material had been gathered in 1851 but like those of quite a few Red River folks, their plans fell foul of the 1852 flood, when all the materials were carried away, and it wasn't until 1854 that the house was completed.

William Ross only lived a few years to enjoy the new house before he died on May 4, 1856, but members of the family, including his wife, lived in it until 1904. Some years after William Ross's death, Mrs. Ross married William Coldwell, who with her brother-in-law, James Ross, was co-editor of our first paper, The Nor'Wester. William Coldwell's first wife had been Jemima Ross, William's sister.

In February, 1855, William Ross was appointed the first official postmaster at Red River, the mail being carried by runner to and from Pembina. By permission of the Government it is still possible to mail letters and cards from Ross House. A special cachet is used which indicates that mail has been posted at Manitoba's first post office.

The Manitoba Historical Society has endeavoured to keep the furnishings strictly within the 1850 period. Ross House fortunately has the desk, a couple of chairs, the letter scales and the sorting wicket used originally by William Ross. There are also photos of Alexander Ross and his two sons, William and James. Other articles are those which would have been found in any Red River home of that period, although many of the articles in the kitchen date from even earlier days. The stove is a real Carron, similar to those brought out from Scotland by the H.B.C. These stoves can be taken apart and the six pieces packed flat for shipping. In the kitchen is a ladder-stairway on pulleys which can be lowered at will.

Just outside the front door there is a plaque to the memory of Alexander Ross, and just inside the front entry is a large plaque commemorating the pioneer women of Red River, placed there by the Women's Canadian Club. The large cairn in the front of the house commemorates Fort Douglas and the first wheat grown for shipment to Ontario.

Page revised: 19 July 2009

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