Memorable Manitobans: James S. Nisbet (1823-1874)
Born in the parish of Gorbals, Glasgow on 8 September 1823, the son of Thomas Nisbet, a Glasgow ship builder. He took an active interest in church work and city missions and at the age of fifteen was a Sabbath School superintendent. He came to Canada in 1845, intending to engage himself as a contractor, but upon arriving decided to devote himself to the ministry. He entered Knox College, Toronto, and in 1850 was ordained as the first pastor of Oakville, Canada West [now Ontario].
In 1862 he was sent to Red River to assist the Reverend James Black. Under Nisbet’s direction a new stone parish schoolhouse was built that served the educational needs of Kildonan until 1904. He managed to open an itinerant mission in Prince Albert in 1866 with the assistance of two mixed-bloods, George Flett and John McKay. The missionary party travelled overland by oxcart in the summer of 1866, to a site on the north bank of the Saskatchewan River at a place he named Prince Albert in honour of the Prince Consort who had recently passed away.
In 1864 he married Mary MacBeth, daughter of Robert MacBeth, a member of the Council of Assiniboia.
After establishing a settlement, church and school, he began his work of teaching the Indians the advantages of a settled life. The mission also attracted many white settlers and Prince Albert became a flourishing settlement. Teaching and church services were initially in both Cree and English, although English increasingly predominated. Nisbet was later criticized for this tendency, as well as for his emphasis on farming rather than evangelizing. Exhausted by his labours Nisbet and his wife returned to Kildonan in the summer of 1874 where he died on 30 September 1874.
The Archives of Manitoba has copies of his correspondence and reports, 1863-1869, and his diary, 1868-1874.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 1 February 2018