From Fort Douglas to the Forks
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 23, 1966-67 season
To those of us who have grown up in Winnipeg the names “Point Douglas” and “The Forks” should be familiar but to the newcomer they are for the most part unknown. “East of Main” to the average resident means, if anything, the C.P.R. and C.N.R. and in between warehouses, wholesales, small industrial plants, with here and there a very old house, and through the whole district a network of tracks, bridges, subways and overpasses.
The junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers had been known throughout the fur trade as “The Forks” for many years before the North West Company came there to build Fort Gibraltar, and the Hudson’s Bay Company their small stores depot. Point Douglas came into existence only after the arrival of the Lord Selkirk Settlers, marking as it did the first settlement in Western Canada. Although more than sixty years would pass before Winnipeg became a city, its foundation was firmly set in the growth and development of the narrow strip of land along the west bank of the Red River, north from The Forks to Point Douglas and the Scotch settlement beyond.
Some years prior to the coming of the Selkirk Settlers, the Hudson’s Bay Company had built a stores depot on the east side of the Red River in the neighborhood of to-day’s St. Boniface Hospital, and it was there that Governor Miles Macdonell landed with the men of the 1811 working party on the 30th of August, 1812. Owing to their late arrival at York Factory the previous fall this party had been forced to winter there, and reached The Forks only a few weeks ahead of the first party of actual settlers. After the formalities of taking seizing of the Selkirk Grant, the Governor chose land for the Settlement on the west side of the Red River immediately north of the long narrow point that we know as Point Douglas. The settlers’ farms, commencing some distance north of the Colony buildings, were long narrow lots of approximately one hundred acres, facing on the river, running back two miles, with another two miles beyond to be used as a “hay privilege”. On the opposite side of the river each settler was given a “wood lot” for his own use. The west side of the Red River was then more or less treeless plain; a bad fire had run through the district some years before the coming of the settlers destroying practically all the timber, and it was chiefly for this reason that the Governor chose this particular location. The Colony buildings, those used by the Governor and the Company men attached to the administration of the settlement, together with two or three of the settlers’ farms as well as the Colony farm, were located on the Point proper. Our Main Street was their “King’s Highway”, cutting through the farms in a somewhat haphazard manner which still shows in the many curves of to-day’s modern highway.
Owing to the lack of supplies which the Company was supposed to have had in readiness for the settlers, it was necessary for them to spend all but two of the next ten winters at Pembina, which was winter headquarters for the buffalo hunters, and where both the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies had forts.
The winter of 1814-15 was spent at The Forks and, although not meeting with the Governor’s approval, there was considerable going back and forth between the Settlement and Fort Gibraltar, the Norwesters using this opportunity to persuade a number of settlers that they would be much better off in Canada. Following a season of apparent good fellowship, the Norwesters under the leadership of Alexander “Yellowhead” McDonell and accompanied by Cuthbert Grant on June 25, 1815, attacked the Settlement, destroying the Colony fort, as it was still called, together with the settlers’ homes and crops. This, in spite of Duncan Cameron’s promise that if Miles Macdonell surrendered to the North West Company, to be taken to Montreal for trial, the settlement would not be molested. When the North West Company brigade was ready to leave for the east with Miles Macdonell as a prisoner, about one hundred and forty of the Settlers deserted, going to Canada under the protection of the Northwesters. Thirteen families, together with a few Hudson’s Bay Company men who remained loyal to Lord Selkirk and their contracts with him, were driven off to spend the summer at Jack River (a fore-runner of Norway House) and await the arrival from Scotland of the 1815 party under the leadership of Robert Semple, the first Governor to hold the dual title of Hudson’s Bay Governor of Assiniboia and Governor of the Colony.
During this time Colin Robertson, who had been in Montreal acting as Lord Selkirk’s agent, was on his way west with the first Hudson’s Bay brigade to go into the Athabaska District by the Norwester’s route, when he heard of the destruction of the Settlement. Leaving the brigade when he reached Lake Winnipeg, he went north to Jack River, brought the settlers back to the Forks, had some homes rebuilt and crops harvested when the Semple party arrived from the Bay on November 3rd.
When Colin Robertson and the settlers arrived at the Forks they found that a new Governor’s House had been built, crops not totally destroyed had been salvaged, hay cut and stacked, and timbers brought in for new buildings. “Young John McLeod” was the Company man in charge of the Settlement when the Norwesters attacked. As most of the fighting was around the Company buildings he was unable to save the settlers’ homes, but did manage to get to the Company’s blacksmith shop, a small building of oak logs, where with the aid of a small cannon brought from the post and shot made of cut-up chain, he and three companions, Hugh McLean, Archibald Currie and James McIntosh, held the Norwesters at bay until several days later they departed unable to any longer withstand the cannon fire. As soon as John McLeod and his friends were sure the Norwesters were gone, they started to salvage crops, and, persuading a number of friendly freemen to help, to rebuild the Colony buildings.
In his Journal, when telling of the Governor’s House, John McLeod says, “I selected for the purpose what I considered a suitable site at the Point, or sharp bend of the Red River, about two miles below the Assiniboine on a slight rise on the south side of the point ... probably I christened it, I forget.” He goes on to say that it was a substantial two-story house, with parchment in the windows in default of glass; the main timbers were oak, and it was from this house in June of the following year that Governor Semple and his party left to meet their fate at Seven Oaks. If John McLeod did not christen the Fort, someone did, as from this date it is spoken of in all records as “Fort Douglas”.
One is interested in “young John McLeod” and his companions; how they accomplished so much in so short a time makes one marvel, and one is sorry that shortly after the arrival of the Governor Semple party he was sent to one of the western posts and officially fades from the Red River picture. However, we do know that he was in and out of the Settlement while posted at English River, Oxford House, Norway House and Fort Carlton; that he married Charlotte Pruden, daughter of Chief Factor John Peter Pruden, that his older children attended school at the Red River Settlement, and that at the Union of the Companies he is listed as a Chief Trader in the Deed Poll of 1821. Some years later he was in the northwest as one of the Company’s explorers and became well known through his discovery of Dease Lake, the east branch of the Liard River, the Pelly River. He narrowly missed finding the source of the Yukon River and the Rocky Mountain Pass, the credit for these going to Robert Campbell, who carried on from where John McLeod was forced to leave off. He then went to Eastern Canada and eventually retired to Montreal, where he died in 1849, and where some of his descendants still reside. His son, Malcolm, who started school at Red River, graduated from McGill, studied law, and became a judge in Montreal. We are fortunate to have in our Provincial Archives a photostat copy of John McLeod’s all too brief diary (1811-14) together with excerpts from his later diaries with added notes by his son Malcolm. Unfortunately we do not know the whole Red River story of this fascinating “young John McLeod” who, after driving off the Norwesters, built and named Fort Douglas.
Early in 1816, by order of Governor Semple, Colin Robertson and twenty men attacked Fort Gibraltar, arrested Duncan Cameron, and demolished the fort, rafting downstream to Fort Douglas the best of the timbers to be used there in buildings and a stockade. The Norwesters later rebuilt their Fort and occupied it until the Union of the Companies, when, following Governor Nicholas Garry’s visit to the Settlement, it was renamed Fort Garry and used by the Hudson’s Bay Company until the new Fort Garry was built on the Assiniboine. Unfortunately we do not know the exact location of Fort Gibraltar, but it is thought to have been a short distance north of the junction of the rivers, facing on the Red River on what was later called “the Hudson’s Bay flats”.
On June 19th, 1816, the Norwesters, under Cuthbert Grant, again attacked the Settlement, burning the settlers’ homes, destroying crops, and once more the settlers were forced to leave their homes with what few possessions they could carry. We know the story of Seven Oaks Massacre and will not repeat it here. After spending the summer and winter at Jack River, short of supplies and not knowing whether they would ever return to the Forks, early in March (1817) word reached them that their old Governor Miles Macdonell with an advance party of the DeMeurons had retaken Fort Douglas, and that Lord Selkirk was at Fort William on his way to visit them. The settlers immediately started planning for their return, some of the younger men returning to the Settlement with the Company men who had brought the good news, coming in over the frozen lake in order to get crops in and houses built in readiness for the balance of the Settlers who followed as soon as lake and river were free of ice.
Lord Selkirk arrived at The Forks in mid-June and stayed until mid September. During this visit he made further plans for the improvement of the Settlement, set aside land for church and school, arranged for the construction of mills, bridges, and roads, and calling the settlers together granted to twenty-four of them their lands free of all further charges in lieu of the improvements they had made before Seven Oaks. The other settlers purchased their land at the original price of 5s. per acre; if so desired payment could be made in produce as arranged with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
These grants are in accordance with Peter Fidler’s survey of 1816-17, (map published 1818), Lot No. 1 being one mile north of the Colony headquarters, now called Fort Douglas, and Lot 24 at Frog Plain, where Kildonan Presbyterian Church now stands, with an additional five lots on the Point. From this time on, as requested by Lord Selkirk, the settlement was to be called Kildonan for the parish in Scotland from which many of the settlers had come.
Lord Selkirk returned to Montreal by way of the United States, and there spent the next two years in and out of the Canadian courts, returning to England in the fall of 1819, and shortly afterwards going to the South of France where he died in April, 1820.
It was still some years before the settlers could be said to be “settled in”, but with the union of the companies in 1821 they were free of fur trade wars and never again driven from their homes by the Norwesters. They were to face short rations, floods, fires, frosts, grass-hoppers and drought, and being “only just” tolerated by the majority of the Company men, who after the Union were, in the West, mostly Norwesters. This, while unfortunate for the settlers, was understandable as far as the Company was concerned as the “wintering partners” of the North West Company had lived in the west, knew the country and to some extent the people, but it was hard on the settlers and was the cause of many of them going to Iowa after the Selkirk Estate sold the Selkirk Grant back to the Hudson’s Bay Company and Rupert’s Land as a whole came under the jurisdiction of the Company. However, Kildonan, as it must now be called, consisted for the most part of hardy Scots, determined in spite of all they had gone through to make homes for themselves in this new land, and it may truly be said that from this time on it was an established settlement, and as such the beginning of the development not only of Winnipeg but of all western Canada.
When in Canada before coming to the Settlement in 1817, Lord Selkirk had arranged for a party of recently disbanded foreign mercenaries, several officers and one hundred and forty other ranks of the DeMeuron and Watteville Regiments, to come to Red River as settlers, each to receive a grant of land, in return for which they would serve as a military force should the need arise. Since it was desirable to have the DeMeurons, as they were called, located close to Fort Douglas, the Colony Farm was done away with and the Point surveyed into plots of twenty acres each, with a road down the centre of the Point, thus giving each lot river frontage and a common road to the Highway. Those not settled on the Point were given land across the Red River along the Seine River. So came into being the first settlement on the Point, other than the Selkirk Settlers.
In 1826 the worst flood in the history of the country struck without warning: an unknown occurrence to the white settlers although Indians told of an even greater flood some twenty years before. Rising nine feet on the first night the Red River swept away houses, farm buildings and live stock; huge sections of the river bank went into the river, buildings at Fort Garry and Fort Douglas were carried away, and the settlers, taking what supplies could be hurriedly gathered, went to high ground around Stony Mountain, to St. James on the Assiniboine, and east of the river to Bird’s Hill. Another disastrous flood hit the Settlement in 1852 and while not as high as that of 1826 there was, naturally, more property damage.
The DeMeurons, together with the Swiss settlers brought to Red River in 1821 and settled on the St. Boniface side, were not as a whole popular with the other settlers, and we are told that the Scotch folk and the Company were happy to see them go to the United States after the 1826 flood, the Company even giving them supplies to see them on their way.
From 1812 to 1820 the Hudson’s Bay Company had gradually built up their trade at The Forks, and by the time of the Union this had become their principal inland post. It was there that district meetings were held, cargoes trans-shipped, and brigades organized for long trips to western posts or out to the Bay. During these years Fort Garry had grown from the original small depot on the east side of the Red River and the building known as Hudson’s Bay House on the west side to “a collection of dilapidated buildings”, according to contemporary reports. After the union of the companies it was thought advisable by the London Board of Governors to carry out a complete inspection of all posts in Rupert’s Land, and Governor Nicholas Garry, of London, England, was chosen to represent the Hudson’s Bay Company, and, as mentioned, it was following his visit to The Forks that old Fort Gibraltar was re-named Fort Garry.
In 1831 Governor George Simpson decided to move headquarters from The Forks to a location below the St. Andrew’s Rapids, where it was thought there would be less danger of floods as well as more convenience for the handling of the brigades coming up the Red River. Work was commenced immediately and continued at a leisurely pace into the forties. As soon as “The Big House” was completed, the Simpsons moved from The Forks to the new post, which was to be called Fort Garry, but they were there less than two years before leaving to reside in Lachine. It was soon found that the bulk of the trade was still around The Forks, that the move had not been advantageous; in 1835 Chief Factor Alexander Christie commenced the building of a new Fort Garry, on slightly higher land than the old fort, a short distance from The Forks on the north bank of the Assiniboine River. This was the Fort Garry that was to stand until the Company sold the property to the City of Winnipeg in 1880, it is said in order to straighten Main Street for the approach to the new Main Street Bridge. At this time, unfortunately for posterity, the fort was demolished with the exception of the north gate, which still stands on Main Street South.
When in 1817 the Colony farm on Point Douglas was done away with to make room for the Meurons, the first of three experimental farms (and they were truly experimental) was started about half-way to Fort Garry, under the management of William Laidlaw, who had been brought from Scotland. No expense was spared for equipment and stock, but in 1824 it was closed out and William Laidlaw left for the United States to join the American Fur Co. The next farm was in St. James, on the north bank of the Assiniboine River, opposite the present Fort Osborne Barracks. This time, Chief Factor James MacMillan, a Scotch Canadian from Glengarry, Ontario, was brought in from the fur trade to try his hand at managing a farm, but after six years this farm was closed out and Chief Factor MacMillan returned to the fur trade. This property was later sold to John Palmer Bourke, one of the Company men wounded and taken prisoner at Seven Oaks. Part of the property is still the residence of his great-grandson.
Again in 1836, Capt. George Marcus Carey was brought out from England to establish the third and last of the farms. This one was not far from Fort Garry on the flats along the Red River, but after ten years it too was abandoned and the Captain returned to England. In each case equipment, stock and the farmers-to-be, with their families in some cases, were brought from the Old Country; everything was done to make a success of the farms except for one all important thing, that of having a manager who knew something about farming in the Red River Valley. The only lasting benefits to the Settlement were a number of new settlers, as in most cases the farm hands imported to work on the farms remained and took up land of their own; also a marked increase and improvement in the Settlement’s livestock.
Four men were foremost in the early development of Winnipeg: Andrew McDermot, Alexander Ross, A. G. B. Bannatyne and Robert Logan, and, although somewhat later in arriving at The Forks, one might add a fifth, William Gomez Fonseca. These were the men who first took up land between Fort Garry and the Kildonan Settlement; they were the real pioneers of Winnipeg.
Andrew McDermot (1790-1881) was undoubtedly Winnipeg’s first resident. Born in Ireland, he came to Red River in 1812 with the working party for the Selkirk Settlement under Governor Miles Macdonell; after some years with the Company he retired to the Settlement about 1819. He took up land, twelve chains facing on the Red River, a short distance north of the Portage Trail, today’s McDermot Avenue being the northern boundary, and until joined in business by his son-in-law, A. G. B. Bannatyne, he was the Settlement’s only store-keeper and free-trader. Most of you will be familiar with Paul Kane’s painting of the McDermot farm, showing the old bridge in the foreground, the windmill, and Fort Garry on the horizon. Familiar too is the story of the dug-out kept at the store door in readiness for the next flood. Keenly interested in all public matters and always willing to help, Mr. McDermot lived out his life on this property, and saw the city grow from a single farm and free-trader post to the bustling Winnipeg of the boom days of the ’80s.
Alexander Ross (1781-1856) was born in Scotland, and after some time in Eastern Canada joined the Astor Fur Company in New York, later sailing around The Horn to Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. He spent a number of years in the Columbia District and the Kootenay, first with the Astor Fur Co., then with the North West Company until the Union, and with the Hudson’s Bay Company till 1824 when he asked to be retired to the Red River. On arrival here in 1825 he was given a part of the old Colony Gardens, the last stretch of river frontage before the river swings east to round Point Douglas. Even to-day, bordered as it is with warehouses and transfer tracks, this is one of the loveliest stretches along the river. While stationed in the Okanagan district Alexander Ross had married an Okanagan Indian girl, and she and her four children joined him at Red River in 1826, the youngest member of the party being William who grew up to build our “Ross House”. Alexander Ross was active in all public affairs, one of the settlers who fought long and hard to obtain a minister of the Presbyterian faith, and although living in Point Douglas he and his family author of several books, among them his well known “Red River Settlement.”
A long-lost-sight-of creek originally bi-sected the Ross property and it was south of this creek that in 1853-54 young William Ross and his wife, Jemima MacKenzie, built the house that we know as “Ross House Museum”. This was the first official post office in Western Canada, William’s appointment being dated February 28, 1855. William died in 1856 and some years later his widow married William Coldwell, of The Norwester, whose first wife had been William Ross’s sister Jemima. The Coldwells lived in Ross House until the early 1900s when they moved to British Columbia.
The house, which originally faced the river at the foot of James Street, changed hands many times, eventually becoming the yard office for the Broad bent Lumber Company. In 1947 word went out that it was to be demolished to make room for a new warehouse building (which has not yet been built) and how your Society worked to save the house and get it moved to its present location on Higgins Ave. is a story that would make excellent reading.
Andrew G. B. Bannatyne (1829-1889), born in Scotland, came to Rupert’s Land in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1846. He retired to the Red River Settlement a few years later, and in 1851 joined his father-in-law, Andrew McDermot, in his trading business; after four or five years he opened his own store. His land was north of the McDermot property, the usual twelve chains running back two miles. Always active in the affairs of the community, he was a member of the Council of Assiniboia, the North West Territories Council, and of the Legislature. It was in a house owned by him and situated just east of Main Street between McDermot and Bannatyne Avenues, that the Provincial Legislature met during 1871 and 1872 until the house was destroyed by fire. (Some years ago the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada placed a bronze plaque on the Banque Canadienne Nationale Building to mark this location.) Always public-spirited and generous, Mr. Bannatyne gave the north-east corner of McDermot Ave. and Main Street to the Federal Government to be used for a post office and customs building, with the rider that if it was not so used the property would revert to the Bannatyne Estate. It may be remembered that in 1908 when the new post office was built on Portage Avenue the old building on Main Street was used by the Customs office and the Bank of Canada. Now that the Canadian Wheat Board has taken it over, one wonders how Federal postal and excise departments have been organized to include the sale of wheat. May we yet see the property revert to the Bannatynes?
Robert Logan (1775-1866) came to Canada from London, England, in 1801, served with the North West Company in Eastern Canada until 1814 when he joined the Hudson’s Bay Company, coming west to the Red River district. A few years later he retired to the Settlement, where in 1825 he purchased from the Selkirk Estate for £400 sterling one hundred acres on Point Douglas, including a grist-mill under construction, it being agreed that he would complete the mill and grind any grain brought in by the Selkirk Settlers, his charge to be 10%.
William Gomez Fonseca (1824-1905) was born in Santa Croix, Portuguese West Indies. After spending some time in the United States he came to the Red River in 1859, and shortly after married a daughter of Robert Logan. He purchased a considerable block of land near the present C.P.R. station and Royal Alexandra Hotel, as well as along the north side of the Point. He was from all reports a kindly man, well liked, always ready to help in anything for the good of the community. Keenly interested in church and school, he was active in the formation of both Holy Trinity and Christ Church Anglican parishes giving the parish property west of Main Street for Christ Church and holding the Sunday school in his home until the building was completed. The small log house he first lived in after his arrival was given to the City rentfree for the first school (1871), and he was a member of the first school board.
Like many men of this period he freighted between the Settlement and St. Paul and during these trips had many interesting and sometimes hair-raising experiences. Our Society is fortunate in having a paper telling of one of his trips, prepared by him and presented before the Society on January 25, 1900. (Transaction # 56) My father as a little lad coming up from Kildonan with his mother to shop at Fort Garry remembered stopping at Mr. Fonseca’s store on Main Street in Point Douglas, and being lifted up to sit on the counter while Mr. Fonseca gave him “a hard candy out of a wooden pail”, this being something entirely new, as to date all “sweeties” had been the English mints brought in by the Company.
Following the union of the companies, in fact until the mid-sixties, only a few people came into the Settlement from the Old Country, Canada or the United States. It was during these years that there grew up three distinct centres of population, apart from the original Scotch Settlement in Kildonan: that of Fort Garry, the village, as it was called, and Point Douglas.
One can readily understand Fort Garry being a busy place. Until 1870 it was the official headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company for the western and northern country; senior officers and staff were stationed there, and until the Company built a small trading store in “the Village” most of the trading from Kildonan and the settlements beyond was done there. Stationed there were the several military detachments sent to the Settlement for varying terms of service during these early years, in all cases returning from whence they had come, having in the meantime acted as a deterrent to any schemes the Americans might have had for taking over the British Northwest. From all reports “the military” added greatly to the social life in and around the Fort.
The pensioners, brought out from England in 1848 and 1849 to do military service if the need arose, were settled on small plots of land along the north bank of the Assiniboine west of Fort Garry. A number of these returned to England, while others remained on their small farms or found work in and around the Settlement.
Company officers stayed at the Fort on their way to and from furlough or new postings, some from the far-out posts spent their furloughs there. Also, this was the period when it was the fashion for rich young men from the Old Land to travel in the so-called wilds of America, and a number of these parties, as well as engineers and surveyors on more or less official business, were entertained at the Fort while awaiting final arrangements for their western journey: Prof. H. Y. Hind, the Earl of Southesk, Lord Milton and Dr. Cheadle, Capt. Palliser, Capt. Blakistan, Dr. James Hector and Capt. Lefroy, to name but a few, and we are grateful to them for leaving us such interesting accounts of their Western trips. We can easily understand how welcome these travellers would be, bringing as they would the latest news from abroad.
In 1862 Henry McKenney built the first house away from the river at the northwest corner of the Highway and the Portage Trail, or the Edmonton Trail depending on how far you were going; we are told he was laughed at for choosing such a location; it was a wet spot sure to flood with the first heavy rain. But laugh as they might it was around this corner, our Portage and Main, that over the next two or three decades “the village” grew, and before long buildings were going up along Main Street, west along Portage Ave., east of Main towards the River; “the Village” was really on the move and where for so many years the McDermots. Log.,-ins, Rosses and Bannatynes had made up the settlement between Fort Garry and Kildonan there was a steadily growing soon-to-be-incorporated city. Henry McKenney had the last laugh as it is reported that he sold his “wet and muddy corner” in 1876 for $15,000.
While the Village was forging ahead, so too was Point Douglas. Since the days of the first survey a few Selkirk Settlers had been located on the Point; then in 1825 Robert Logan purchased his 100 acres, and some years later William G. Fonseca bought property there. To meet the needs of the ever growing settlement, streets or trails were laid out and houses built along the river east of Main and down into the Point. On the Highway (Main Street) stores and other business blocks appeared, business there being carried on as quite distinct from the Fort or the Village. The eastern tip of the Point was always more or less industrial. Here along the river were the lumber mills, the flour mills and the small factories, Brown and Rutherford, the Sprague Lumber Co., Turnbull and McManus, City Flour Mills, Ogilvies, McLean Flour Mills, Vulcan Iron Works, and the Winnipeg Brick and Tile Company. Most of these old firms have long since disappeared but to many the names are reminders of “the good old days.” So with the eastern tip of the Point becoming more and more industrial and the western end building up as the principal residential district of the settlement, the three districts continued to grow each in its own sphere until after 1870 when with the influx of settlers and the later coming of the railway, they became one.
Many of the men arriving during these early years spent the rest of their lives in Winnipeg. Along, with those who came in 1870 and immediately after, they formed a nucleus of business and professional men who with a staunch faith in the city, and in Western Canada, gave generously of their time and money to make it the kind of city they thought it should be.
John Higgins came in 1857, and for some time after his arrival was known as “a pedlar”, driving over the whole Settlement with trade goods, and noted, we are told, for his fine horses. He later entered into partnership with David Young, and their store became one of the finest and most popular in the community. Higgins Avenue is named for him.
W. H. Lyon came in 1859, carried on trade with the Indians around the Fort, and later went into the wholesale business. After a time he returned to the States.
Dr. Schultz arrived in 1860, worked with his half-brother, Henry McKenney in his hotel-boarding house, was part-time newspaper man, a fur-trader and general store keeper, and always a very keen politician. His story has been told to our Society by Dr. Murray Campbell. (Transactions Series III, No. 20)
Alfred Boyd reached Red River from England in 1860, and although later he lived in St. John’s, his first store and residence was on Main Street in the Point Douglas area. Interested in politics he was a member of the first Legislature and Provincial Secretary. He returned to England after a number of years.
William Drever also came in 1860 on retirement from the fur-trade, building on the south-west corner of Main Street and the Portage Trail. Stories are told of his almost continual argument with Henry McKenney. Each time it rained the freighters in order to miss the latest and worst mudhole, would drive on either McKenney or Drever land, and the question of boundaries became a tender point. Mr. Drever was active in local affairs and was one of the founders, and for many years a warden of Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
Another 1860 arrival was E. L. Barber, an American from Minnesota, who settled in the Point Douglas district and was active in the sale and development of the Point. He married a daughter of Robert Logan, and in 1865 built the well known Barber House at 99 Euclid Street.
Alexander Begg came in 1867, took a lively interest in the affairs of the Village, leaving us his very valuable and entertaining records of the ten years he spent here. He returned to Eastern Canada.
Some of the 1866 arrivals were Dr. Walter Sown, the Settlement’s first dentist, also a part-time newspaper man; James Stewart, a retired Hudson’s Bay man and a chemist who later moved to Selkirk where he and his family for many years published the Selkirk Record; William Chambers, storekeeper, who later opened the Hingston-Smith Arms Co., Winnipeg’s leading sporting goods store. Andrew Strang, at first with Bannatyne and Begg, later a wholesale merchant, and still later Collector of Customs. James H. Ashdown, from London, England, via Eastern Canada, opened his first business in 1868, and in 1870 bought the site of the present store. He was a member of the original council and later mayor of Winnipeg.
In 1869 Dr. J. H. O’Donnell and his wife arrived, escorted from St. Paul by W. G. Fonseca. One could go on adding to this list: Duncan McArthur, Gilbert McMicken, Robert Patterson, N. W. Kittson, Alex Dunlop, Herbert Swinford, W. N. Kennedy, W. F. Alloway, H. T. Champion, W. F. Luxton, Frank E. Cornish, Winnipeg’s first mayor; A. M. Brown, for many years the City Clerk, Archibald F. Wright, harness-maker and founder of Winnipeg Saddlery Co.
From 1859 there were newspapers, sometimes only one, sometimes several. The Nor’Wester was Western Canada’s first newspaper and its story has been admirably told to our Society by Dr. Aileen Garland on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the paper. (1959 Transactions) Briefly, it was founded by two young men from Ontario, William Coldwell and William Buckingham, in what William Coldwell called “a little shack” near the corner of Main and Water Streets. A year later, William Buckingham returned to Ontario and James Ross, son of Alexander Ross of Colony Gardens, a native of Red River and a graduate of Toronto University, joined William Coldwell. In 1864 William Coldwell, who had married Jemima Ross, returned to Toronto, and Dr. Schultz became editor of The Nor’Wester until it was seized by Louis Riel, the last issue appearing on November 24, 1869. About this time, William Coldwell returned to Red River with a complete new press, prepared to start another paper. On arrival he decided it was impossible to go ahead with his plans so he sold the outfit to Louis Riel, who, it is reported, looted the Hudson’s Bay treasury to pay for it, merged the two lots of equipment and commenced publication of his party’s official organ The New Nation, which came to an abrupt end in August, 1870.
During the next few years several other papers came and went. Among these were The Manitoba, The Newsletter, The Manitoba Liberal, The Trade Review, The Daily Herald and The Standard. In most cases their life was short. The Free Press was the sole survivor, first published in 1872 as a weekly and in 1874 as an evening daily with W. F. Luxton as editor. William Coldwell was on the Free Press staff for some years until forced by ill-health to retire. The Daily Tribune started in 1878 with George H. Ham as editor.
From the earliest days settlers’ and the Company’s supplies arrived annually from England by Company ships making one trip a year; in some years only one ship was sent out during the season; supplies were then freighted inland by the Hayes River route to Norway House, thence down Lake Winnipeg and up the Red River to Fort Garry. This meant that orders sent one year were received the next year, always provided that the ship or ships arrived safely at the Bay, that supplies were not lost while unloading there, or left behind at one of the numerous portages between the Bay and The Forks. Until Andrew McDermot opened his trading post, this was the Settlers’ sole source of supply. During the struggle of free traders to break the Hudson’s Bay Company monopoly, Andrew McDermot and John Inkster, in Kildonan, brought their trade goods yearly from England on Company ships and from the Bay by Company brigades. Once freighting to and from St. Paul was established, supplies were more easily obtained and in greater variety.
The docking in 1859 of the Anson Northup, first steamboat at Fort Garry, brought more varied supplies as well as new settlers. (See Steamboating on the Red, Molly McFadden, Series III, No. 7.) Until the corning of the railway, river boats did a thriving business though settlers and free traders were dissatisfied when the Hudson’s Bay Company bought controlling interest in several river boats, limited cargoes to Company goods, and reduced passenger space. This also forced independent boat owners to dock at the foot of Lombard Street instead of at the river gate of Fort Garry. Of necessity the free traders had to continue their freighting to and from St. Paul to market their furs and obtain trade goods as well as settlers’ supplies.
After “the transfer”, as the settlers called Manitoba’s 1870 entrance into Confederation, changes occurred rapidly in this leisurely frontier settlement so remote from the outside world.
The story of the Riel Rebellion has been told elsewhere; undoubtedly one of the few good things to come out of it was the sudden interest in the Red River Settlement, bringing as it did a number of young energetic men, some with the Wolseley Expedition, some as the result of publicity in eastern papers during the Rebellion, some because they had heard of land free for the asking. Whatever the reasons, come they did and brought about the first large increase in population.
The Wolseley Expedition of 350 men of the 60th Rifles, Artillery and Engineers, under command of Colonel Garnet Wolseley, (later to become a Field Marshall and Commander-in-Chief of the British Army), together with 650 volunteers, arrived at Fort Garry in August, 1870, to find that Riel and the few followers who had remained with him, had fled. After only a few days in the Settlement, Colonel Wolseley and his regulars returned to Eastern Canada, the Volunteers remaining for the winter, some stationed at the Lower Fort, some at the Upper Fort. In the spring of 1871 those wishing to remain were permitted to take their discharge, while the others returned to Eastern Canada.
A short time after this, a small permanent force arrived and was stationed at the Upper Fort under command of Colonel Osborne Smith where they remained until their barracks, named Fort Osborne to honor their colonel, was built. Some will remember Fort Osborne Barracks which stood on the present Legislative Building grounds until the property was required for the new Legislative Building when the barracks were moved to the old Agricultural College site in Tuxedo. Incidentally, it is of interest that their artillery park is to-day known as the Selkirk Lines.
There was considerable agitation during 1871-72 over the naming of the city. In November, 1872 the Provincial House met to consider the incorporation and choose a name. “Assiniboine” and “Garry” were thrown aside and “Selkirk” eventually passed the first reading of the Bill, but it was held over until the next session for final reading; apparently this was a time honored custom even in the ’70s. In November, 1873, the Bill was hurriedly passed: “Winnipeg” was the chosen name, “Selkirk” having disappeared somewhere along the line. After the closing of the House in the previous year an enterprising printer, not to be outdone, printed and circulated a map of the “City of Selkirk” with our Main Street shown as Garry Street ... it is a most confusing map for a Winnipegger to look at!
At the time of incorporation (1873) Winnipeg was a very small place. The eastern boundary, as might be expected, was the Red River, north to Aberdeen Avenue, west on Aberdeen to Main Street, south on Main to Burrows Avenue, west on Burrows on McPhillips Street, south on McPhillips to Notre Dame Avenue, east on Notre Dame to Maryland Street, south on Maryland to the Assiniboine River, thence to The Forks. In 1882 the northern boundary was extended to include Luxton Avenue, and in 1906 boundaries became roughly the present limits. Slowly but surely the city was spreading out. In 1870 there were approximately thirty-three buildings and between two hundred and fifty and three hundred people; by 1880 the population reached eight thousand. In 1871 the Hudson’s Bay Company opened for public sale the block of land west from Fort Garry along the Assiniboine River to Colony Creek ... our Colony Street ... and although houses were built on “the Hudson’s Bay Reserve”, as the old timers called it, and on new streets springing up west of Main Street both north and south of Portage Avenue, Point Douglas was still the popular residential district. Many of the so-called founders of Winnipeg had homes there, among them - Hon. John Norquay, George Galt, John McKechnie, Robert Stewart, Robert and Stewart Mulvey, James H. Ashdown, Alfred Boyd, A. M. Brown, E. L. Barber, Dr. J. H. O’Donnell, W. W. Banning, John Dick, A. W. Ross, H. T. Champion, R. D. Patterson, Dr. R. C. Howden, E. G. and R. S. Conklin; the four Benson brothers, Jim, Joe, Jack and Dr. Edward; Dr. Schultz, Peter McArthur, A. H. Brown, Dr. Pennefather.
During the boom days of 1880-82, streets spread far to the west and north, and south across the Assiniboine River into present day Fort Rouge and Crescentwood. These new subdivisions drew a certain number of residents from the older districts but as late as 1905, in the Free Press, June 15, reporting a census just completed, it is stated that the population had reached 100,000; there were 14,000 houses; Ross Avenue was the most populous street; 5,000 persons were living in Fort Rouge, and Point Douglas was still the most densely populated section of the City.
The arrival of the C.P.R. changed Point Douglas. Coming in from the east through Whitemouth, Tyndall and East Selkirk, it crossed the Red River on Louise Bridge and continued up the Point to just east of Main Street, the first station being close to the present one. Gone was the old centre road, dating from the days of the DeMeurons, to be replaced by streets on either side of the railway, Higgins Avenue to the south, Sutherland Avenue to the north, these two joining as they still do near Louise Bridge. In 1908-9 the CPR straightened their main line east of the City, bringing the new line in from Whitemouth through Molson to the river crossing on the eastern tip of the Point where a new railway bridge was built, and Louise Bridge was remodelled to a traffic bridge as we know it to-day. As previously mentioned the eastern tip of Point Douglas was mostly industrial, in fact at no time did the residential section go much beyond the sharp turn of Higgins Avenue near Louise Bridge. When the C.P.R. came in, the Robert Logan Estate and W. G. Fonseca were still large landowners, and they with John Sutherland, Manitoba’s first senator (1870) who as a boy and young man had lived on the Point, were largely responsible for the subdivision and sale of property. In spite of being cut in two by the CPR right-of-way, Point Douglas remained for many years a residential area until gradually homes gave way to industry and as we know it there are very few houses south of the C.P.R., while from Sutherland Avenue to Selkirk Avenue, along the north side of the Point east to the Disraeli Freeway there is a triangle of short streets which are still mostly residential although even here, especially along Sutherland Ave., industry is creeping in.
Another event that gradually drew residents of Point Douglas to newer districts was the introduction of public transportation. In 1880 an enterprising young man, Albert W. Austin, arrived from Toronto, and two years later he started the horse cars running on Main Street from the CPR tracks to the Assiniboine River. By another two years the service extended west on Portage Ave. to Kennedy Street, and north along Main Street to St. John’s College, the passengers having to change cars, walking across the railway tracks, frequently between trains. Some time later, Mr. Austin asked Council for permission to run electric cars, but the City Fathers did not like the idea of electrically charged wires hanging over their heads, and refused a franchise. They did, however, give him permission to “try it out” in Fort Rouge, part of which was then outside the city limits, and in January of 1891 the first electric car ran along River Avenue. Later, to have a destination for his passengers it has been said, he developed Elm Park as a picnic ground, running the tracks out Osborne Street through the bush. And after all this he did not get the franchise when in 1892 it was decided to run electric cars in the city. The first electric car ran on Main Street on July 26, 1892, and for nearly two years the two companies had their own tracks, side by side, and competed for passengers. In May, 1894, Mr. Austin sold out to the Winnipeg Electric Street Railway Company and returned to Toronto. Many amusing stories have been told about Mr. Austin and his horse cars, how the cars would jump the tracks, and passengers, with perhaps a helpful passerby, would hoist them back to the tracks, and regularly it is said he complained to Council of truckers using his tracks to avoid driving in the muddy roadway ... those of us who can remember Winnipeg gumbo can hardly blame the truckers!
With the growth of the city came the first churches and schools. From shortly after the arrival of Dr. John Black (1851) until the original Knox Church was built in 1868, services were held at the Fort, in the old Court House. In 1867 the Parish of Holy Trinity (Anglican) was organized by Archdeacon McLean (later first bishop of Saskatchewan) services being held at the Fort or in Red River Hall until the building of the first Trinity at the corner of Garry and Portage. Rev. George Young came to the settlement in 1868 to lead the original Grace Methodist congregation which later built Grace church at Water Street and Main.
The original public school in the old Fonseca home opened October 31, 1871, with W. F. Luxton as teacher. Before long a school was built in the north ward, and another in the south; in 1876 St. Mary’s Academy opened on Notre Dame Avenue East. In 1880 the Central School was built west on Bannatyne Avenue on property bought from A. G. B. Bannatyne for $3,000; this became the Victoria-Albert schools of downtown Winnipeg, which to the pioneer mothers was too far out on the prairie.
The first classes of Manitoba College were held in the home of Hon. Donald Murray, north of the Kildonan Presbyterian Church (1871), until a college building was erected nearby. In 1873 the college moved to Winnipeg and from then until 1882 when the college building at Kennedy St. and Ellice Avenue was completed, the College was housed in a building at Main Street and Henry Ave., the present site of the Bell Hotel.
St. John’s was, during these years, at its original site in St. John’s, across Main Street from the Cathedral, and although for some years outside the City it was attended by many young men residing in Winnipeg.
In 1876 the University was formed by the existing colleges, St. John’s, Manitoba and St. Boniface, with Bishop Machray, of St. John’s as Chancellor, and until after the turn of the century was a degree conferring body only, the church colleges continuing to teach all subjects.
Winnipeg can be proud of its early doctors, men interested not only in their profession but in the welfare of their adopted city, and active in all matters pertaining to its welfare and development. One of the first Acts of the Legislature in 1871 was to incorporate the Provincial Medical Health Board of Manitoba. The doctors in the incorporation were Dr. J. H. O’Donnell, Dr. Curtis J. Bird, Dr. J. C. Schultz, Dr. Henry Beddome and Dr. J. B. Campbell. In 1877 an Act was passed changing the Board to The Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons, with Dr. J. S. Lynch the first President.
The Manitoba Medical College was founded in 1882, classes being held in Central School until the first College building was erected at McDermot Ave. and Kate Street. The first building at the present site was built in 1905.
In 1872 a public meeting had planned the opening of a hospital; on the first Board elected at that meeting were Gilbert McMicken, Thomas Lusted, George Bryce, Stuart Mulvey, Joseph Royal, W. G. Fonseca, A. G. B. Bannatyne, George Young, W. N. Kennedy, G. B. Spencer, J. H. Ashdown, Dr. A. G. Jackes and J. B. McTavish. In the following ten years the hospital was moved six times before arriving at a permanent site. It started out on Albert Street, moved to four different locations east of Main Street and south of Lombard, and eventually ended in the Immigration Hall in Point Douglas. In 1882 Andrew McDermot and A. G. B. Bannatyne gave property to the City for the hospital, and the first building of the Winnipeg General Hospital was erected on the present site.
The original medical staff consisted of three consultants, Drs. William Cowan, A. G. Jackes and J. H. O’Donnell, with six attending physicians, Dr. J. S. Lynch, Dr. J. W. Good, Dr. James Kerr, Dr. J. W. Whiteford, Dr. R. B. Ferguson and Dr. Alfred Codd. Again and again it was the same men, doctors and business men, who worked together to bring into being hospitals, colleges and public health organizations, not only for Winnipeg but eventually for all Manitoba.
An event of 1876 that was of great importance to the City, and it might be modestly said to the whole world, was the first shipment of grain from the Red River Valley. The sale of 412 sacks, 857 bushels, at 85c a bushel, was made by Higgins & Young to Steel Bros. of Toronto, to be shipped via Duluth and the Great Lakes to Toronto. The freight charge was 35¢ per bushel. The grain was then distributed among Ontario farmers to be grown for seed in order to build up a supply of bard wheat; the Eastern millers were already saying that “Manitoba Hard” was the best wheat they could obtain.
As a follow-up, and in a way just as important for Winnipeg, was the organization of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange at a meeting in November, 1887, in the basement of the City Hall. D. H. McMillan, later Sir Daniel and Lieut. Governor of Manitoba, was elected president; George F. Galt, vice-president; and Charles N. Bell, secretary-treasurer. In 1891 Nicholas Bawlf, already an active member of the Exchange, erected a building on Princess Street on the west side of Market Square which ooused the Grain Exchange until they built the first unit of the present building on Lombard Street in 1908.
As the coming of the CPR altered the face of Point Douglas, so south on Main Street and east to the Red River the coming of the railways at a slightly later date again changed the city. When the Northern Pacific terminal moved from St. Boniface, they built their station and freight sheds on Water Street just east of Main Street, and their famous hotel, the Manitoba, eight storeys high and valued at $800,000 when it burned in 1899, was on the corner of Main Street where the Federal Building now stands. These inroads by the railway pushed out homes as well as places of business. Later, Canadian National Railways took a ninety-nine year lease on all Northern Pacific Railway lines operating in the province, and commenced building western branch lines. The Grand Trunk Pacific built their Transcontinental line to the Pacific Coast, and with the CNR built the Union Station (1906). Thus practically all residential and most of the business property east of Main Street from Water Street to the Assiniboine River, with the exception of some Main Street frontage, became railway property, and the Hudson’s Bay flats vanished. Today when someone mentions “the Hudson Bay flats”, the “Hudson’s Bay Reserve” or even “Broadway Bridge” you may know you are listening to an old timer.
Today it is nearly one hundred and fifty-five years since Miles Macdonell and his working party arrived at The Forks. The district east of Main from James Street south to the Assiniboine River has now lost its residential character; railways and their accompanying wholesales, storage warehouses and light industry have gradually taken over the district, and private homes are rare. North of James Street and down into Point Douglas a few houses remain, even some of the originals, but here again industry is slowly but surely creeping in and one old house after another has given way to warehouse or factory. On the north side of the Point, as mentioned, there remains a small triangle that is still residential, but throughout the whole district from Point Douglas to The Forks the old families have long since disappeared, leaving to tell the story only such street names as: McDermot, Bannatyne, William, James, Rupert, Alexander, Logan, Henry, Higgins, Sutherland, Selkirk, Fonseca, Austen, Barber, Gomez, Schultz, Hallett, Euclid, Lusted.
With such current building as the Civic Centre, the James Richardson and Sons, Limited complex, the newly proposed overpass and bridge to St. Boniface, and the prospect of the removal of most of the railway tracks in the not too distant future, is it too much to hope that one day there may be a driveway along the Red River from the Forks to Point Douglas, with perhaps a small park at either end? At least we can hope, and whatever does happen let us who know what the district once was never forget the part played in the history of our city by the men who laid its foundation in that narrow strip of land “east of Main Street between Point Douglas and The Forks.”
Page revised: 16 January 2014