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Memorable Manitobans: John Wills [Wells/Wils] (c1777-1815)

Fur trader.

Born in England around 1777, he became a partner of the XY Company shortly after 1798. A stout man nicknamed “the sail” because of his resemblance to a sailcloth under wind, Wills was one of the six wintering partners of the Company who became partners of the North West Company in 1804. Shortly afterward, he built Fort Gibraltar at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, and remained in charge of Red River District until 1806 when he was transferred to Rat Portage. In 1807, he was elected to the Beaver Club of Montreal. He returned to Red River in 1809 and remained in charge of this department until he was relieved because of ill health in 1814. He had at least one child, daughter Emilie Wells (1810-1894, wife of Alexandre Breland) with Josephete Grant (1793-1854). Wills died at Fort Gibraltar on 6 January 1815 and was buried near its gates but the exact location has been lost.


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

We thank Carolyn Crossley for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 23 October 2020

Memorable Manitobans

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