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A Famous Winnipeg Creek

by Harry Shave

Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1964, Volume 10, Number 1

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.

One hundred and forty years ago the deep ravine north of St. John's Park, Winnipeg, was named Parsonage Creek, There were two bridges across the creek, one at Main St. for vehicle traffic and one near the river for pedestrians. The fame of Parsonage Creek is intensified by the fact that many men mentioned prominently in our early history, used one or other of these bridges. Some of these men of early history crossed the creek in the years preceding the year in which it was named "Parsonage".

The creek's title was decided upon because there was a church minister's house close by. It was a humble place of abode, built of logs on the north bank of the creek, near the Red River. The contract for the erection of the house was a very simple document, as compared with present day building contracts. The following is an exact copy of it:

May 30, 1823

"It is hereby agreed between Robert Sanderson, Captain Bulger and Rev. John West that the said Robert Sanderson will put up the parsonage house, raising the side walls, with upper and lower floors grooved and planed; put on the roof, and find what boards may be wanted, with making the doors and window frames and partitions, so as to form four rooms; mud the walls, make the chimney and finish the whole building by the middle of October next ensuing, for the sum of sixty pounds.

The mark X of
Robert Sanderson
John West
A. Bulger

It is further agreed that the colony shall find nails, glass, locks, and any iron work that may be wanted, without extra charge to the said Robert Sanderson, for the building of the said parsonage house."

John West was the Anglican Missionary, the first ever to come to Western Canada. Andrew Bulger was the Governor of Red River settlement. Robert Sanderson, the contractor, although unable to sign his name, had both brawn and brain, because it can be assumed that after the contract had been signed he asked important questions, which resulted in the final paragraph being added.

Many years ago Parsonage Creek had its source near Aikins St., close to the corner of what later became Machray Ave. - west of Main St. It was about twenty feet deep and before a proper road was built between Church Ave. and Cathedral Ave. there were a number of little ditches which drained the spring run off from the prairie to the big creek. This series of little ditches were ready-made trenches where the boys of the district played at soldiering during the Boer War of 1899 to 1902. The rifles and swords used by the boys were made of sticks, broom-handles or whatever was available.

When the big creek reached Main St. it cut a path on the west side of Main St. to Church Ave., then took a south-easterly direction below a bridge to the river. All that is now past history and the only semblance of a creek today is east of Fowler St. in St. John's Park to the river. There have been many bridges spanning Parsonage Creek in years gone by. One is still maintained near the river.

Who were the men famous in Red River history who crossed Parsonage Creek either as pedestrians or by vehicle? Robert Semple and his followers, as they walked from Fort Douglas to Seven Oaks in 1816; Lord Selkirk, when he met his settlers in 1817 in what is now St. John's Cathedral Cemetery; Nicholas Garry of the Hudson's Bay Company, when in the Colony in 1821 to arrange the amalgamation of his Company and the Northwest Company; Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Honorable Company, as he went to service in the little log church and later the first stone church in western Canada, - both of which were built not far north of Parsonage Creek.

My own memory takes me back about sixty years when a wide wooden bridge spanned the creek at Main St., and another where Fowler St. is now. I have happy boyhood memories of the sound of horses hooves on the Main St. bridge and the rhythmic hum of rubber tired buggy wheels, or the clatter of iron clad wagon wheels. In winter when these sounds were deadened by a blanket of snow, the jingle of sleigh bells replaced them. These were heart warming sounds, especially for the younger generation. Such memories live on in the hearts of men and can never be erased while life continues.

Photo: St. John's Park, 1910.
Source: Archives of Manitoba

Page revised: 18 July 2009

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