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Memorable Manitobans: John Harrison O’Donnell (1838-1912)

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John Harrison O’Donnell
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Physician, politician, pioneer.

Born in Simcoe, Upper Canada in 1838, son of John O’Donnell, in 1862 he received an MD degree from Victoria University College then spent two years in medical practice in St. Catharines before moving to Montreal, where he was appointed army surgeon.

In 1869 he received an invitation from John Christian Schultz to join his medical practice at Red River Settlement. He and his family left Montreal in September and arrived at Fort Garry on 3 November, just in time to become caught up in the Red River Rebellion. He and his wife were in Schultz’s fortified house when its inhabitants were forced to surrender to Louis Riel’s Métis in December, and they spent ten weeks imprisoned in Upper Fort Garry. As a justice of the peace, he signed the arrest warrant for Louis Riel and Ambroise Lépine in 1873, by which the latter was brought to trial for the murder of Thomas Scott. He served as President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba until 1877 and in 1891 he was elected President of the Manitoba Medical Association. In 1877, he was a member of the First Convocation of the University of Manitoba.

When Manitoba became a province he was called to the Legislative Council and later acted as Speaker. He drafted the first medical act. He was a candidate for the St. Pauls constituency in the 1878 general election. For several years he was professor of sanitary science at the Medical College. In 1871 he had been appointed provincial Justice of the Peace and in that office he signed Louis Riel’s arrest warrant. At the time of the Rebellion he had been taken prisoner by Riel and remained in custody for ten weeks.

In 1861, he married Hannah Routledge (1841-?) and they had four children, including Florida Grattan O’Donnell (1862-1926, wife of Henry Thomson Champion). He wrote Manitoba As I Saw It: From 1869 to Date, With Flash-Lights on the First Riel Rebellion (1909).

He died at his Winnipeg residence, Maryland Street, on 26 October 1912 and was buried in the St. Boniface Cemetery. Some papers are at the Archives of Manitoba.


A History of Manitoba: Its Resources and People by Prof. George Bryce, Toronto: The Canadian History Company, 1906.

“Dr. O’Donnell passes away,” Winnipeg Tribune, 26 October 1912, page 1.

“Historical link was Dr. O’Donnell,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 October 1912, page 8.

The Story of Manitoba by F. H. Schofield, Winnipeg: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1913.

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 26 March 2020

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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