Early Red River Homes
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1945-46 season
Houses Down the River
The word home was probably first used by white people at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers when Jean Baptiste Lagimoniere brought his bride Marie Anne Gaboury from Three Rivers, Quebec, in 1807. Their baby, Julie, was the first white child known by name to be born here. Her little sister, born later, became Louis Riel’s mother.
What kind of a home the Canadian runner, Lagimoniere, established is unknown, but it is certain his work took him from that shelter and left his wife and baby alone. However after the initial burning and pillaging of the settlers’ homes, roots were established. Alexander Ross came in 1825 to settle down in Red River after arduous years of fur trading. That suggests some order and comfort here to attract him. The log houses built by the first settlers from Point Douglas to Kildonan are gone—but the descendants of those houses are to be seen today, erected on the same sites. For example, the Fraser House at 160 Newton Avenue.
Meanwhile, St. Andrew’s was becoming an attractive stretch of the river. Rev. William Cochrane built his first church there in 1827. The HBC Factors and employees retired to this spot, instead of taking their accumulated savings and their half-breed families out of the country. By the middle of the 19th century substantial stone houses were built, which stand today. Home had become an established word in Red River.
Life at Red River made visitors travelling by the waterways stand and stare: stately stone homes, gentlemen driving their own carriages, with spotted English coach dogs following, a private school for young ladies who played croquet; a stone church attended by scarlet coated officers of the British garrison stationed at Lower Fort Garry. Instead of wigwams and painted Indians, here was the Old Land transplanted.
The Rectory, St. Andrew’s
Since St. Andrew’s is the oldest stone church in the west, the Rectory is likely the oldest house built for a minister. The church was under construction from 1844 to 1849. Archdeacon Cochrane lived in the rectory from about 1850 to 1853 when he went to Portage.
Fifty-four feet wide, the house has a symmetrical, dignified facade with two windows each side of the central door and five windows in the second storey. A wooden verandah hides the beauty of the lines. The archdeacon, builder of the church and without doubt a helper in the rectory too, was a huge man whose pride it was to show his strength. He was the first man on the job that morning in 1844 when the first church sod was turned, beating Thomas Truthwaite by an hour. He would shoulder his way into a group when a particularly big stone had to be lifted with a “Let me at it, men; this is where I shine.”
But the archdeacon’s wife, according to A. S. Morton’s new book on Sir George Simpson, was a woman “whose assumed Puritanism but ill conceals the vixen, who shines only when talking of elbow grease and the scouring of pots and pans”. Sir George was complaining of the lack of congenial company for himself and his English wife, brought out to replace the half-breed companions of his early years. He was writing of his stay at Red River from 1830 to 1833. That was before Mrs. Cochrane had her beautiful stone house to live in; the lack of common conveniences in her log house, not to mention the incessant need for scouring pots and pans, probably tried her disposition.
Mary Kennedy said Mrs. Cochrane taught school five days a week. She must have been one of the first married women with a career in the new settlement.
The building of the church and rectory, Rev. Mr. Cochrane describes in his diary for 29 December 1844: “Stones, lime, shingles. boards timber and labor were cheerfully contributed. The shingle makers proposed to give 10,000 each; the lime burners 400 bushels each; the masons proposed to dress the stones for one corner and lay them gratis. Boards and timber were promised in the same liberal manner.” After New Year’s celebrations the men took their sleighs to the bush to get the timber. Trees were felled for beams and rip-sawed into boards. Cedar logs were sawn into proper lengths, then split and shaved into shape with a draw knife. These shingles were put on the roof of the parsonage as well as the church.
Forty odd years later, in 1892, men had to stop and sharpen their spades with files when they tried to rip the old shingles from the roof of the rectory. They were still tough and strong. So were the hand made nails. Dean J. W. Matheson, who took his bride to the rectory in January of that year, never tires of paying tribute to the original builders with his story of the re-roofing. Under a glass case in the porch of the church a shingle, a nail and a piece of buffalo hide used in covering the stools are preserved for visitors to see.
The house with the two and a half foot thick walls and deeply recessed windows, the six-inch wide pine flooring, the stairs with the straight, handcarved balusters, was occupied during the rebellion of 1869-1870 by Rev. J. P. Gardner. He offered Dr. John Schultz, escaped from Riel’s Fort Garry prison, shelter in the attic for a night. He had arrived in an ox-drawn sled, hidden in a load of straw. He got away to the Birkenhead and with Joe Milkman made his way to Ottawa to tell the facts.
By 1877 Miss Hart-Davies came from England to teach school in the rectory, while the new diocesan girls’ college was being built where the Children’s Hospital now is. Miss Mary L. Kennedy owned a picture of the house in those days, with the young ladies grouped on the verandah under an arched trellis. The girls have upswept hair-do’s, pinched-in waists, long skirts. The dainty trellis has long since fallen off but the supporting posts are still in place. The teacher ended her teaching career by marrying Rev. A. E. Cowley.
In 1935 this writer went to a Women’s Auxiliary supper in the rectory to raise funds to pay off the repair bill: $60. Old paint had been scraped and the woodwork painted cream. The living room had cream paper and paint and simple green curtains before those old recessed windows. The scraped and varnished old pine floor reflected the piano. A sideboard carved in Red River, its back adorned with a scroll that lacked perfection but was full of love, stood in the dining room. Oil lamps flickered. Merry voices rang out as the Women’s Auxiliary members hustled in and out with dishes of corn cobs, scalloped potatoes, cold meats ... It was a happier house than it had been for many a long, disused day.
Plaster had fallen from ceiling and walls. The Old Timers’ association, with a gift of $75, and the indefatigable Women’s Auxiliary, put their shoulders to the task. A. G. Dean, an Englishman newly arrived from the Argentine, was one of the men who worked on the restoration. A wood carver, he loved the beauty of the old house and was thrilled at the sight of the great hand-hewn rafters in the loft under the roof.
Beautiful, admired and historic though it was, the stone rectory had become a kind of white elephant. Rev. J. H. Tomkins opened a Brotherhood of the Cross home there, himself trudging long miles in the snow as an itinerant missionary. It folded up, as the schools and rectors’ residences had. Two years ago it was sold for $2,100 to J. S. McDonald who hopes some day to live in it. It will take a lot of money to make it comfortable; there is no plumbing and only inadequate heating a hole for a furnace was dug under the house back in the middle ’90s. Meanwhile, the house sits, gaunt and broken, brooding on the days when it was the centre of a thriving area.
Miss Davis’ School
This second big stone house built at St. Andrew’s was erected about 1858, a half mile south of the church. Here Miss Matilda Davis opened her boarding and day school for girls.
Up to this time the HBC families had sent their children home to England to be educated. They were packed off on the annual ship, to pine for home while they learned deportment and an English accent. Now parents thought the time had come for a change. Dr. John Bunn mounted his horse and rode all over the settlement soliciting support for a school at home. The company promised a yearly grant; officers subscribed money. Miss Matilda Davis, herself educated in England, was secured as teacher.
Her father was George Davis of York Factory. Her brother, employed at the Lower Fort, had a frame house at St. Andrew’s. In this she began her school. The stone building, when finished, was a dormitory for the girls and living quarters for the staff. The classroom was in a wooden building to the rear.
On cold wintry mornings, Miss Davis would come round to the dormitory doors in her dressing-gown and night cap, candle in hand, calling out: “Are you all up, young ladies? Get up, all of you!” The bell had already sounded; getting up in the morning has always been hard for school children, apparently. And how cold it must have been with only Carron stoves! Perhaps they had a buffalo rug to put their feet on. The windows would have looked as frosty as the cold stone walls. No wonder they had to be urged up.
The housekeeping was done by Miss Davis’ sister, Nancy, who had one assistant, Sarah Atkinson. This worthy woman rose at 4 a.m. and once, at least, was so tired that she fell asleep milking. Providing for forty girls was no small problem eighty years ago.
Mary Kennedy has left an account of the menus: “Breakfast was invariably potatoes mashed with milk, bread and butter, tea with milk-but no sugar. Sometimes barley soup was served for lunch or supper. The girls always knew it was coming to the table by the pounding of the barley the night before.”
In the autumn the beef carcasses were hung in the ice house. When there was no fresh meat, pemmican was served in hash or stew. Fish was plentiful - perch, goldeyes, catfish and sturgeon. In ’68, the year of the grasshopper plague, bread disappeared from the school table. Soap and candles were made on the premises; before coal oil came to the settlement, fish oil was used for lamps.
Prayers came every morning before classes in the school room. Walks were taken back from the river, away from the inhabitants. In summer, on a Saturday afternoon the girls made a pretty sight sitting under the trees sewing and darning, doing fancy work or reading. Winter nights they would dance reels and listen to vivacious Lydia Christie sing “Money Musk” and “Soldiers’ Joy”. (Lydia married Donald McTavish, chief factor at Norway House.)
Miss Matilda died in 1873 and her sister in 1893. School days in the old stone house petered out. The rectory took up schooling, as we have seen. The girls, walking two by two to their five pews in the church, had a shorter walk on cold mornings.
The Davis family no longer owned the house. It was let to farmers. By 1912 a florist, Richard Alliston, was owner. The stands of young ash, elm and maple to thee north of the house today were planted by him. It’s naturally an oak ground, seventeen acres of oak on the highway. Miss Davis called her home Oakfield for a large oak west of the house. Without knowing that, J. C. H. Edy, who bought the house in 1936 and has been restoring it to beauty ever since, called it Twin Oaks, for the two slim trees in front.
The house has beautiful Georgian lines, perfect symmetry. The front is unbroken by porch or dormer but each end has a small dormer. The gently pitched roof gathers up its four slanting surfaces in two chimneys, adding again to the nice balance. The house, says the restorer, was not only well but expensively built. Window catches are brass and hand made; so are the locks. The lath is hand made. The flooring is eight or nine inches wide, unlike anything obtainable nowadays.
The property is seven and a half chains wide, 495 feet, and a half mile deep though it once went back two miles. The river road cuts a swath through it. Mr. Edy has built stone posts, of simple pointed design in keeping with the house, to mark the boundaries. Completely new inside, the old stone house has all the amenities of a city dwelling.
Dun Allister, St. Andrew’s
This is another of the beautiful stone houses of the old colony, boarded up today like the rectory. A “For Sale” sign stands near the picket fence, and looks hopefully up the hill toward the church, whence come motorists and possible new owners.
Built in the early 1870s by Capt. William Kennedy, Mary Kennedy’s father, it was a centre of hospitality and merriment. Mrs. Kennedy was a Londoner, “a born musician and singer of great power and beauty.” She had the second piano in the settlement, bought from Bishop Anderson for 990. She organized the first concert in the school house. She taught music at Miss Davis’s boarding school. When misfortune came, she was ready and eager to help the family with a store, selling ribbons and lace and importing hats and kid gloves from Paris before she was through. Her husband was an invalid for eight years. “The Duchess”, as the tall woman was called for her regal bearing, became the family supporter. When Lord Dufferin visited the colony in 1877 it was she whom he took in on his arm to lunch.
After the captain’s death in 1890 the house was owned by Mr. Reid of the HBC. In 1908 Mr. and Mrs. J. E. McAllister bought it, naming it Dun Allister, the Gaelic for “home of.” Mrs. McAllister, Premier John Norquay’s daughter, remembered visiting the house as a child and sitting with her hands under her to keep warm while she listened to Mrs. Kennedy play the piano. In 1922, the McAllister’s re-built the house, adding modern plumbing and heating and hardwood floors. French doors led to the garden from several downstairs rooms. Mrs. McAllister says the same type of double door, with small panes of glass, was in the original house. In those days the rapids rolled diagonally across the river; great boulders lined the shore and made a natural bridge across the narrow, quick river. This native stone was quarried and cut by stone masons for the house.
When the locks were opened in 1910, the river backed up and became wider and fuller. To protect the shore, stone shelving had to be put in. It makes the perfect touch for the house, like the right frame to a picture, that one thousand feet of stone banking. The best view of the house is from a boat.
When the McAllisters still lived in the house, in the ’30s (they live now on River Avenue and recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary), life there was as gracious as in the old days of the HBC colony. A blue flowered rug lay on the drawing room floor, wing chairs invited conversation, those French doors glimpsed the brilliant garden, Mrs. Norquay at 91 looked down from a smiling photograph. The bread and butter were still home made. On festive occasions the table was extended from the dining room right into the drawing room, bright with damask and silver.
One last word about this seventy year-old house: it has something all modern women would like in their homes, a sewing room. Up under the gables of the third storey the roof was raised to make a spacious sewing room with long, builtin tables. Here quilts were made for the Indians in hospital. There was no need to roll up your work, tuck the sewing machine in the cupboard and make the living room presentable for the family; the sewing could stay put.
Scott House, St. Andrew’s [See Updates]
The small house with the double front gable, about a mile south of the church, just where the river road bends to give the first good view of the steeple, is the home of Clifford Scott. He is the descendant on his mother’s side of Andrew Setter, born in 1777 in the Orkneys, who came out in 1800 to the northwest in the service of the Company.
The first part of the house was built in 1849 or 1850, says the family. The lot was received by letters patent from the Company. Today the stone is hidden under a light coating of cement. The doors are solid slabs of wood, the windows deep-set. A massive timber serves as lintel for the front door and is an important part of the whole structure.
Treasures indoors have stories galore; the upright, toy-like sad irons, primitive little lamps, hatchets hammered into shape at white heat, were brought from the Orkneys. Hand-made chairs have hand-made pegs to replace the nails that were lacking. A tall-backed rocker in the kitchen has grace carved into its wooden arms, low and gently sloping.
But the family that lived in the house has more to tell than the roof tree; Andrew Setter married Margaret Bates. About 1820 they came to live at Park’s Creek, where they farmed. Not long after, they had a church wedding, performed by Rev. John West, first Protestant minister to the settlement. They had been married previously by the HBC Factor. The day they were church-wed their four children were also christened. Finally they had ten children. The one who married William Scott was Anne—christened 30 May 1824 by Rev. David T. Jones, successor to West—and married 22 August 1842, by Archdeacon Cochrane himself. William Scott had come from the Orkneys, arriving in this country about 1833.
Anne and William had several children; one, Archdeacon Malcolm Scott, of Athabaska, was the father of Osborne Scott, CNR passenger traffic manager.
The Heights, Lockport
Behind the screen of tall firs on the “hill” at Lockport stands an old stone house with a brown boarded front and a wooden porch. Miss Helen Hay and her brother William have lived here since 1900 when their father E. H. G. G. Hay, bought the house. He was a member of Manitoba’s first legislature in 1871.
Miss Hay serves tea and also takes in the occasional week-end visitor-they are all treated to a taste of Manitoba history. They can’t help but ask questions - the curios in the den provoke curiosity. Here is a water colour by Bessie Hay of the first St. Andrew’s grist mill-with logs heaped up outside to tell you a sawmill was run there too. The painting is signed, 1879. Mr. Hay operated that mill.
On 7 November 1876, a few sample loaves of bread were handed around to prominent Winnipeg folk-bread made of Manitoba wheat, ground into flour by a Manitoba miller, and baked by a Winnipeg baker, James Lauder. Sixty-nine years ago.
The five little Hay children learned to skate on Red River wearing home made hoop skates-wood with an iron hoop clamped on that curled up in front.
Entertainment flows naturally from The Heights. Last summer when the centenary of Bishop Mountain’s arrival was being marked, the garden party was held appropriately on the lawn fringed with firs. 24 May 1878, Queen Victoria’s 59th birthday, was celebrated there with foot races, horse races and square dances. In 1877, the year before, Lady Dufferin was entertained by Mrs. Hay and other ladies from the St. Andrew’s community. The plates used that day are still used by her daughter on state occasions.
The house is filled with lovely things-satin smooth old walnut, a black dresser with open shelves holding blue willow plates, whatnots stand demurely in corners holding pretty things for your admiring, four-poster beds the children used to play hide and seek in. This pink china shaded lamp calls up a picture of her father and mother for Miss Hay; “I can see them, one each side of the round oak table, mother in her old walnut rocker sewing, and father reading, both by the light of that lamp.” The table is gone now but the flower pot stand and flower box were made out of it. This Currier and Ives print, “The Old Homestead,” the children loved. They thought it was father driving in his cutter. And, indeed, says Miss Hay, he did come a-jingling home from parliament, fur robes flying from his cutter and a treat for the children tucked inside: barley sugar or rosy checked apples.
Such are the memories treasured in the house built some ninety years ago by Thomas Firth of the HBC. The Hays were married in St. Andrew’s in 1864. Their first home was a log house.
The Truthwaite House, Lockport
Five generations of Truthwaites have lived in this house. The three now within the stone walls carefully preserve a faded piece of paper that declares Jacob Truthwaite to be the owner of one hundred acres of land on Red River. The faded brown inked document, dated 1831, is in the handwriting of Sir George Simpson, governor-in-chief of Rupert’s Land.
Mrs. H. M. Ross, Mrs. William H. Hart and Dorothea Hart combined to tell the story of the document. “See, the place is described as two miles below the Rev. William Cochrane’s, so he was the best known person along the river.” Jacob purchased seventy-five acres from his employers, the HBC, at seven shillings and sixpence an acre - $140, and was given twenty-five more acres free of charge.
The first house was replaced about 1878 by the present one. Much of the material was used again, the doors, for instance, and stock locks, the white painted kitchen cupboards and table, all in use well over a hundred years now.
There’s a grandfather clock that has been in the family over two hundred years and has crossed the ocean twice as it was left to a new owner. There are McDermot relics, too, because Grandmother Ross’s mother, Mrs. Thomas Truthwaite, was Catherine, third daughter of Andrew McDermot. Her McDermot teapot, a squat old silver one with four curved legs, and her chair, with an adjustable back, are shown to visitors. The armchair has grooves worn in the arms “where great grandma sat and cracked nuts,” said Dorothea. Andrew McDermot’s writing case, a heavy wooden affair, doubtless saw the composition of some of the first letters to leave Red River for the outside world. Now the Truthwaite house is the post office for the district, despatching letters in a fraction of the time.
The red plush family album, that looks like a box, was taken from the chilly splendour of the parlour with its stuffed furniture and whatnot, to the comfortable dining room with its heater.
The McDermot silver teapot was brought out, and “Miss Truthwaite’s” wine-and-gold-rimmed white china cups. Over the tea, the family album was turned, page by page. Here was Andrew McDermot, his wife, his daughter Catherine. Here was Mrs. Ross when she was little Harriet in her first polonaise, standing very erect beside a tufted horsehair chair. This was Alex Logan, a mayor of Winnipeg; there were Norquays and Lillies. This was A. G. B. Bannatyne and his wife, who was Annie McDermot. Archbishop Machray and Lady Dufferin, though not relatives, were included in the family album because they were as familiar as the family. The home made bread and butter, the tea, the fine cups, the polished pot, and the history, all combined to make a pleasant house-story on a wintry afternoon.
Hawthorne Lodge, Little Britain
When J. H. Harriott, a retired chief factor of the HBC, looked round for a home in Red River, he was first attracted by Seven Oaks. But the Inksters wouldn’t sell. Then he found this spot, high on the banks of the river just below the stone fort. He built his house of stone in the Georgian period familiar to him, an Englishman. A picture of the old house in 1918, after it had stood thirty years empty, is hung in the white dining room; it is very like Miss Davis’s school except for a central dormer in the front roof. Mr. Harriott built round it a stockade and also planted prickly hawthorne, a protection that together would keep out most trespassers. So the house got its name.
An unnamed writer of 1859 left this account: “He was a true gentleman of the old school. That we were within his walls was sufficient reason why he should treat us like princes. The house was built of limestone quarried from the native rock, the material used in the better class of dwelling in the Selkirk settlement. Building his house, he left in his spacious dining room an arching alcove for a sideboard. But the cabinet maker went hunting and farming and nothing came of it.”
“A few well selected books, house-plants in the windows, choice engravings on the walls, riding whips and guns in the hall, tobacco jars and pipes on the side table, the melodeon and accordeon and music box in the room which New Englanders call the parlour, tell the story of how the pleasant summer days and long winter nights were whiled away, and how a life of exposure, adversity and toil is rounded out with rest and calm and domestic peace.
“One pleasant afternoon our host ordered his carriage to the door and drove us to the Stone Fort. The horses were a gay pair and whirled their load down the graveled walk and over the bridge and along the road at a pace that needed a strong hand on the reins. The carryall was of a soberer sort, imported from England by way of Hudson’s Bay and York Factory, and of a pattern not now in use-low heavy wheels, thick substantial whiffie trees, high dashboard, and a body like that of the carriages of well-to-do English squires half a century ago.”
Dr. David Young wrote from Selkirk, 25 September 1904, to Ross Sutherland, Winnipeg, these facts about the house: “It was built by Harriot in 1854, who occupied it till his death; it was sold to judge Black who occupied it till he went to England; Hon. Alfred Boyd had it next. I bought it from him in 1872 and it was our home till 1889. Each time it was sold the sale included the furniture, bedding, linen and provisions that were in it at the time, so that the new occupier had nothing to do but move in and begin housekeeping at once. Fashions have changed since those good old times.”
(The doctor married in September 1872 that would be the reason for his purchase of the house. He died 16 October 1931, and was buried in Little Britain churchyard. Mrs. J. L. Doupe, Winnipeg, is a daughter.)
It was not Mr. Sutherland who was to revive the glories of Hawthorne Lodge-that waited fifteen years to be done by Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar Hudson. Henry Bird wrote to Mr. Sutherland 23 August 1904, “I have found the walls in a dangerous condition, owing to the creek bank having given way. The walls are two and a half feet thick. I find 15,000 feet of lumber good for re-use and forty cords of stone; the window and door frames are in good condition.”
Mr. Sutherland never lived in Hawthorne lodge; nor did the sixth owner, Robert Jacob. But the seventh and lucky owners, who bought it in 1918, re-built the house into a modern home and went to live there in April 1919. On 2 May 1920, they raised the flag from a tall white flagpole, marking the 250th anniversary of the HBC, one of whose chief factors built the first Hawthorne Lodge.
The Hudsons filled the house with comfort and beauty. There are white arches framing views of period furniture, firescreens and chair seats worked in needlepoint, chintz with a flower design to match the tea set.
In the Indian parish of St. Peter’s, just below Selkirk, stands this fine old stone house built by Archdeacon Abraham Cowley when he was secretary of the Church Missionary Society in 1860. It was his residence. He had twelve children, six boys and six girls. “They never all saw each other,” says Mrs. J. W. Garton, who was married by the Archdeacon in 1885. “Some had gone to England to school before the others were born. His wife was a little bit of a thing. He was a little old man in his eighties with a grey beard when I first saw him. But they told me it had been red once.”
When Cowley died in 1889 his house was deeded to the diocese of Rupert’s Land for the benefit of the Indians. So it became a hospital for the Indians, maintained today by the department of Indian affairs, but still organized and operated by the church. The man who loved the Saulteaux was laid to rest among them, in the churchyard across the river by St. Peter’s church. His spirit can look across at his old home which has become a home for them.
Another Englishman who came out to work for the Church Missionary Society and found his satisfaction among the Indians of St. Peter’s was Rev. John Smithurst, the Archdeacon’s predecessor. If Florence Nightingale had thrown convention to the winds and married her cousin, she might have been the mistress of the stone house. In that case the Cowleys would have been located in another parish.
Archdeacon Cowley named his rough cut stone house “Dynevor”, after Lord Dynevor on whose estate he had lived in England, and whose generosity helped the clergyman carry the Gospel to the Indians.
The house is built on the central plan, with a big hall and even the chimney in the middle. A lych-gate style of porch adds a pleasing appearance to the front of the house-though the effect is somewhat marred by that circular rail fence outlining the drive.
The dining room with its two-foot-thick walls and twenty-four-paned windows to keep clean and shiny, was also the Cowley’s dining room. But the flooring is new. This narrow oak was laid first in Bishop’s Court, St. John’s. When that house was demolished in 1934, the flooring went to another Anglican institution. Once it was trod by some of the most eminent visitors in the land; today soft mocassined feet shuffle over it.
The old and the new continue side by side at Dynevor. An old iron handled mangle, a modern steam laundry; piles of cordwood, for the enormous kitchen range, an up-to-date furnace and water works. The quilts are still personal and home made by the church women, many with cheery red binding and a great Red Winchester cross, - for the Women’s Auxiliary, appliqued in the centre. Little Indian boys work out jigsaw puzzles with a stolid patience born in their blood; old Tom, quite blind, leans with the same patience against a wall waiting for someone to speak a word; Old Maggie, in from the north, settles to hospital life with remarkable ease. The matron knows them all by name, regards them as a family.
The stone house became an Indian hospital in 1896. The deed of sale, dated 14 April 1894, showed $1,000.01 was paid for the 320 acres and the house.
Chief William Asham, head of St. Peter’s reserve, said at the annual meeting in 1899: “Nearly forty years ago Dynevor was erected for a missionary’s residence. When only a boy I had the pleasure of having the advantage of seeing the building frequently while under construction. I remember standing, looking at the men working, and never imagined it would one day be a hospital for my people. Truly the Lord has done great things for us,” said the old chief who could quote the Bible with the best of ecclesiastics though he got a bit mixed in his English.
The Fraser House
A log house built in 1839 by the son of an original Selkirk Settler is still being lived in. John Fraser and his bride, Jean Matheson, were the first couple married in Red River who were born here. Their marriage took place in 1827. Their log house was built on what is now Bannerman Avenue. When it was twenty-one years old, and they had eight children, the Frasers moved their home log by log and set it up again on the William Fraser homestead. Today it has a street and a number to locate it. “The Fraser Place” was enough in 1860.
The moving was done to put the family nearer to the new Scottish church, Old Kildonan Presbyterian. There are stories about John in Women of Red River; that he was precentor for fourteen years, leading the singing of the congregation. He mounted a high box, sounded his pitch pipe or tuning fork, and the people were away to a tuneful start. His home was the scene of many evenings of practice. Mr. Fraser always conducted family worship in his own home, night and morning, reading the Bible and singing the psalms. On Sundays the children all took turns reading a verse.
Getting the men folk ready to go to the bush to cut wood - for the church and any other building that had to be done-was a favorite story the Fraser children loved to hear. The youngsters would wake up in the small hours to peep at the bannocks, fried eggs and beefsteak, pork and cheese, butter and tea, ready for the early start breakfast. Buffalo robes and blankets, dry socks and moccasins would be taken as well as food. Sometimes seven sleighs, all drawn by oxen, would start off together.
The Fraser household treasured an iron used for pressing the frills on the white cotton mutches the women wore. The iron had a case in which it was put to keep it clean in the fire.
Another great treasure in this family was—and still is—the fluted Queen Anne silver teapot presented by “Cecely, Countess of Selkirk, to Mr. and Mrs. Fraser on the anniversary of their 50th wedding day.” Today the teapot is at 342 Redwood Avenue, the home of a granddaughter, Miss Margaret Fraser.
The log house, covered with siding now, has a quaint little lych-gate porch. The low ceilinged living room is beautiful with oak beams and a tiny staircase hugging the wall. Once little more than a ladder, the stairs have been rebuilt, with polished spindles and bannister. When a lean-to was pulled down, the logs were admired again by a new generation. The doorway into this addition has been filled in with attractive shelves for books. T. J. Watts, 164 Newton, owns the house; George Foy is his tenant.
The walls have been reinforced with boarding till they are a foot and a half thick. One small recessed window shows the thickness particularly well; it is smaller than the other windows. It was made to pass the mail through when the post office was housed here.
The newest Fraser house will soon have a story to tell; it is across the river in East Kildonan on Neil Place. It is being built by Neil Campbell, grandson of the Mrs. Neil Campbell who told her recollections of her father, James Fraser, in the Red River book. Young Neil’s new home will incorporate the old cottage in which his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher Campbell, lived when they were first married.
Seven Oaks House
The oldest house on the Inkster Estate stands nearer the river than Bleak House, where the Sheriff ended his days. It stands straight east of the Seven Oaks monument that gives it its name. It was built in ’51. Mary Inkster, the sheriff’s sister, gave it to the city for a park but the property is still just a house and its grounds - and a pretty spot too.
Serene and quiet, the log house is plastered and whitewashed, looking out from beneath a wide verandah running like a frill round two sides of it. The windows each have twenty-four panes. When this house-writer visited Seven Oaks, young Ronald Ford, twelve, had done a lot of calculating about those panes: “That’s 600 panes in the whole house, 1,200 when you wash both sides, as we do.” Scratched on the glass were the names of bygone McMurrays and Inksters.
The old post office, one of the outhouses on the estate, shows its logs plainly where the siding has come off. The square headed handwrought nails are plainly seen too. It used to be the only post office between the two forts. A buffalo robe, a fat ball of an iron stove, a sewing machine so tiny it looked like a toy, these were the treasures the post office yielded now. Two old leather hat boxes, for travelling silk hats, had lock and key, and were veritable trunks in themselves. The trunk stored near by was wooden, with brass bands humped over its rounded top.
This is the second house; it was begun in 1851. The next year, when the flood came, the waters rose to its second storey but the family hadn’t yet moved in. The sheriff was a little boy of eight when he went to live in the fine new house.
There were Inksters at Kildonan before that June day in 1816 when Governor Semple and twenty of his men lost their lives in the battle of Seven Oaks. The battle got its name from seven oak trees that rimmed the creek. The creek has dried up and the oak trees rotted away, but the name of Seven Oaks lives on in a firm old house that rubs a little Red River history into anyone who enters in.
Lord Selkirk Place, Lot 39, Henderson Highway
This little boarded house deep in snow and trees is well and truly named after the man who granted the lot to the original owners. Flora Livingstone was a child of nine when she arrived at Red River in the second party of Selkirk settlers. She grew up to marry Samuel Henderson. They reared ten children in the log house that was the predecessor to this one, which was built seventy-two years ago.
Mr. and Mrs. Henderson had a happy life until a mysterious thing occurred one hot day in July 1864. Sam got up from the kitchen table and went out to call the cows. His wife and ten children never saw him again. A tombstone to his memory stands today in the family plot in the shadow of Old Kildonan church which he help build. What happened to Sam has been speculated upon many times. He disappeared as completely as though the earth had opened and swallowed him.
His gun, an old muzzle loader, is stored in the attic of his grandson’s home, Samuel Henderson, 606 Henderson Highway. When firearms were ordered registered during the war the police scratched off the dirt but looked in vain for a number. His wife Flora’s round topped little wooden trunk and her spinning wheel keep the gun company.
The ten children were all christened by Archdeacon Cochrane. A letter written by him about this ceremony is still legible: “Sir, I have examined the records for the christening dates of your children.” He appended the list, naming the children in order of their birth and christening. They died in the same order. The youngest son and the ninth child, John, born in 1841, was the father of Sam, Margaret and Flora Henderson who now own the letter.
The red brick house these three live in was built by their father in 1905. He planted the fir trees too. Some of the furniture for the new house came from the old house and had originally been purchased in St. Paul and freighted north by ox-train.
“Father freighted supplies from St. Paul for the Fort Garry merchants, making two trips a year for five years, beginning in 1866. That’s a picture of the oxen resting beside a river during the journey,” the sisters and brother showed the faint scene hanging in the dining room. The walnut chairs and sofa, carted over the bumpy plains, originally had red plush upholstery; they have new covers of tapestry now.
All this is the story Lord Selkirk Place helped to unearth. The living room in this little historic house still wears its one-inch boarded ceiling and wainscoting around the walls, waist high. An old partition has been removed to make more room and a curved arch put in its place.
99 Euclid Avenue
This house is as old as the Dominion. Built in 1867, Confederation year, it looks as though it has turned a cold shoulder on the city, set cornerwise on the lot. “But it isn’t really aloof. It was built at this angle to face Fort Douglas, which was part of the Logan estate and my mother’s home,” says Mrs. Lily Barber Sparrow. She was born in the house and has lived in it all her long life.
There was no CPR property or tracks in 1867. The Barber house had an uninterrupted view of Fort Douglas. It is the oldest house in Winnipeg still lived in, says the family. There are two rooms in it that ante-date Confederation—two rooms that grew into it from the original thatched shack that Edmund Lorenzo Barber and his wife moved into as newlyweds in 1862, The Scotsman they bought it from called it Thistle Cottage.
Mr. Barber came to Fort Garry that spring from Connecticut where he was born his ancestors came to America on the Mayflower.
He married Barbara Logan, daughter of Robert Logan. It was Robert Logan who in 1825 purchased for £400 the site of Fort Douglas with all the buildings on it, including the mill.
The young couple built their two room shack bigger with oak logs. “What has preserved the house was the rough cast plaster coating,” says their daughter, Mrs. Sparrow. “With natural repairs done, like keeping the roof from leaking, I think the house will be as firm in another hundred years as now. There’s no stir to the house. We don’t feel storms here ... After the last war we put stucco on the top of the plaster.” On the verandah, where the smooth plaster was to be seen, Mrs. Sparrow knocked the wall; it gave out a resonant sound like iron. The locks, windows and doors are the originals.
An interesting feature of the old house is the small Carron stove that is built through the wall, each side bricked in, making a kind of fireplace in two rooms. It came out from Scotland, brought by Robert Logan, who came to Red River in 1819. Over the living room side is a motto, “Two hours from worry.” That means you’ll never catch up with your worrying. The old house has found it a good motto to live by.
Colony Gardens, The Ross House
This house, in process of being saved by the Manitoba Historical Society, was for years in danger of being run over by the railway and buried in a lumber yard on the banks of Red River at the foot of Market St. As the office of the Broadbent Lumber Co. for twenty-three years it surprised customers who went to buy millwork. Built in 1851 as the residence of William Ross, it was some 200 yards from the home of his father, Alexander Ross, who came to Red River in 1825. Alexander came to settle down after strenuous years of fur trading with the Pacific Fur Co., the Nor’ Westers and HBC. After the amalgamation of the two Canadian companies in 1821, Alexander Ross was given a lot by Governor Simpson. On that lot stands today the city hall and market square. But Alexander’s house is gone, and so is his son, William’s.
But William’s house is not far away-just a block north, on an empty lot, mounted on trestles and moving timbers. So far it has cost $1,800 to move, and its permanent home is still undecided.
One September day in 1851 Rev. John Black spent a night at Colony Gardens, as William named his home. The Rosses had worked hard to get a Scottish minister for the settlement. He later married one of the Ross girls.
The writing of the poem by John Greenleaf Whitter on the “bells of the turrets twain,” in St. Boniface cathedral, came about because another visitor was given hospitality at Colony Gardens. This was Dr. J. Wesley Bond, Philadelphia journalist, who went back home so thrilled with his visit to the wilds of the northwest, and with such a good account in his diary, that his poet friend immortalized the jaunt.
The Countess of Selkirk entertained there the four surviving original Selkirk settlers—Archbishop Matheson’s father was one.
The Nor’Wester, Manitoba’s first newspaper, was printed there. William Coldwell, who married the widow of William Ross, operated the handpress.
Mrs. W. R. Hamilton, East St. Paul, was Nellie Ross, granddaughter of William. She has some of the hand made furniture that went into the house in the early 1850s. One chair says underneath, “Made by John Flett, 1856.” Perhaps he was a brother of the William Flett whose tombstone was dug up when the lumber office excavated a hole to hold its weighing scales?
Portage Avenue’s Last Log Hotel
Just east of United College, on the north side of Portage Avenue, is a two, storey white painted wooden building with stores below and unequal gables above. Some of the windows are boarded up; those left have the old-fashioned twelve panes. It stands slightly to one side as though the weight of its years made its shoulders stoop. This is the old Avenue Hotel, made of logs seventy-five to eighty years ago, and since boarded over.
The caretaker said an old gentleman had come around once and “got to talking.” He had helped haul logs from across Colony creek for the building of the Avenue Hotel when he was a lad.
Had famous people stayed there? “Oh yes,” said the enthusiastic caretaker, “King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. He was on his way out to Deer Lodge to hunt buffalo.” But alas, the royal visitor never went west of Toronto. Perhaps it was the Governor General, Lord Dufferin, who was the famous visitor on his way to Silver Heights, where he did see buffalo.
The Dufferin journal gave a description of the Portage road, on which at least the Avenue Hotel stood: “The road is a sort of track on the prairie and we soon found we were off it ... Captain Smith had to jump down every now and then and see if we were on the road, and the driver kept wishing he was at home ... We decided to dine at the hotel, and not drive out to Silver Heights, The hotel keeper insisted upon giving us our dinner free.” But alas again, newspaper files said the dinner was at the Canada Pacific hotel. However, the newspaper accounts of the Dufferins’ visit said: “At the Avenue Hotel an arch was erected.”
The files for September, 1877, carried this ad: “To rent: The Avenue Hotel, near the old Prairie Saloon on the Portage road. The lease, fixtures and good, will of the above named hotel will be sold at a bargain, the present proprietor going to leave the business. Inquire on the premises, Richard Farrell.”
Mrs. J. R. Lyons, Walker Ave., who lived on James St. when she came to the city in 1886, said: “The first Sunday we went out to see the sights. We went as far out as the Bay Horse and the Avenue Hotel, the end of Portage Avenue then.” The Bay Horse, with hitching post and water trough, stood about opposite, on the southside. It burned down ten or twelve years ago.
One of the stores in the old Avenue today is a bookstore, full of old tales, including ghosts. Surely the ghosts of weary travelers who stopped for night’s rest before they went further on that muddy cart trail, do sometimes haunt the place.
The Archeveche, St. Boniface
This really looks like a Quebec house, substantial, made of great blocks of stone, with a hipped roof and flanking chimneys. It was built by Archbishop A. A. Tache in 1862, just after the fire and after he himself had travelled to Europe to raise $6,000 to start the rebuilding.
The fire had started in the house, which was then to the rear of the cathedral and “overshadowed by its walls,” as the Bishop wrote in 1859. Spreading to the cathedral, the famous building of the turrets twain celebrated in Whittier’s poem, the fire destroyed valuable records of the settlement. Dr. Wesley Bond, who traveled through the northwest, gave his friend, the New England poet, such a description of the church reflected in the waters of the Red, that he, who had never heard its bells as the voyageurs did, was able to make all the world hear. The dome painted by Sister Valade was gone, too, with the fire. In fact, the finest building in Rupert’s Land“ in 1860 was no more.
But grieving because the cathedral and his bishop’s house was gone was not Tache’s nature. Father Provencher’s house, which he occupied in 1818 when he came to minister to the French Canadian settlers, was built only of logs. So Tache built a Dutch Colonial house of fine proportions, set back from Tache Ave. and the river by an iron fence and ornamental gates. Its most imposing room is the reception hall with faded all-over carpet, walnut Victorian chairs with tapestry seats lining the walls. They’re needed when the Archbishop is at home, on New Year’s day to the men, and on Epiphany to the women of the parish. Two historic chairs are the one Provencher used in the cathedral, and one from the Council of Assiniboia, the governing body set up in 1835. Furnished in the middle years of Victoria’s reign, the room is a sample of that period: painted green velvet drapes, drawn thread curtains, and best of all, the covered mantel. Nothing was allowed to be naked; ruby red worsted edged with ball fringe was drawn over the mantel when the fire was not lit. Full length portraits of the archbishops and also busts of them on pedestals adorn the room.
Across the hall is Tache’s old suite of rooms with faded green carpet and an iron bedstead with a white counterpane. Caribou skins cover the threadbare parts of the carpet.
The side door of the house looks really ancient: slabs of wood painted white and a great black iron latch reaching nearly across, not to mention a huge stocklock.
The Grey Nuns’ Home, St. Boniface
The little statue of the Virgin covered in gold and mounted on a round wooden base was fondled lovingly by the four sisters on their long and frightening journey from Montreal in the summer of 1844. Doubtless the little statue heard their whispered prayers many times in those fifty-seven days of portage and canoe travel. A century and one year have gone by and still the little Virgin is the companion of the Grey Nuns, other sisters who carried on the work the four began. It lives in the Grey Nuns’ house, the oldest house in St. Boniface.
Sister Valade, Sister Lafrance, Sister Coutlee and Sister Lagrave, lived for the first three years in Father Provencher’s house. Then a log house was prepared for them which they occupied early in 1847. This same house has stretched itself and grown into a long, white wooden building with dormers in the third storey. But the original logs were seen not long ago when they renovated their old dining room into a new recreation room.
Entrance halls and corridors are box-like, empty and echoing. The old five-inch boarded ceiling tells the age of the place. Passages lead to “our most famous relic, the clock of 1844,” said the gliding Sisters. The golden oak grandfather clock has a plaque saying it is the Horloge de Mere Valade, sent for from France and brought to Red River. It still goes, too, brass hands wind their unceasing way round the little porcelain face and every quarter hour busy little chimes remind you to be up and doing. Over the organ in this recreation room hangs a Cross within the wreath of thorns, carved in wood, a promise of the hardships life would hold. The journey to Red River saw the fulfilment of the promise heat, cold, mosquitoes, mud, accidents, water. But the journey saw also the fulfilment of the legend that is carved under it: In Hoc Signo Vince.
The power behind those words led the Soeurs Grises to establish the hospital, the old folks’ home, the tuberculosis sanitarium, the infectious diseases hospital, the convent at St. Norbert and St. Joseph’s Vocational School.
Narrow little stairs lead their humble way to that last room in the house the sisters occupy, the infirmary. Sister St. Lucie rested here during the centenary, looking through the windows at the chapel - a thoughtful arrangement in the building. It was Sister Lucie who closed the eyes of Sister Coutlee when she died in 1896, the last of the four. The four sleep in a row in the sisters’ enclosure in the churchyard, within sight of their house. One of them, Sister Valade, painted the interior of the cathedral that was destroyed by fire in 1860. But one piece of her artistry remains to this day, the winsome papier mache statue of the Virgin. It is in the Old Folks’ home. It is young and full of tenderness, casting down soft looks on the ill and crippled, on the hurrying serving people and on the tireless, gliding Sisters.
Two Houses with a Louis Riel Connection
Lot 39 St. Vital Road is approached by double gates from the highway. Two houses live down the curving drive, an old weathered log house boarded over but never painted, and a new white one where Mrs. Alexander Tod and her family now live. Peter Tod, father of Alexander, built the old one when he came from Ayton, Scotland, in 1878. The Tods were for a long time the only English speaking family on the French side of the river.
“Louis Riel was quite a hero to my father,” says Jean, one of Alexander’s twelve children. “Father was twelve when Grandpa sent home to Scotland for him in 1882. He often told us about Riel when we begged for stories about the meetings held in the old house. He was sworn to secrecy, he would say mysteriously. When he grew to be a man he would never plow up that path down the middle of the garden: Louis Riel, he said, used to walk on it.”
The story of those secret meetings in which presumably Riel took part raises the question of his doings after he left Red River in 1870. He lived first in St. Joseph, Minn. There he married Marguerite Bellehumeur and had two children who were raised by their grandmother, Julie Lagimoniere, in St. Vital. Riel went to St. Pierre, Montana, in 1879 and taught school there till 1884 when he was called to Saskatchewan by the Metis there. He might have returned to Manitoba on secret missions; he may personally have brought his children here; otherwise the story of the ’82 meetings can’t be true.
The second house with a Riel connection is the post office near the St. Boniface Sanatorium. It is run by Honore Riel, son of Joseph, a brother of Louis. Built in 1867 or 1868, it was once lived in by Louis Riel. The front room has a narrow boarded ceiling and waisthigh wainscot. Old-fashioned bulky walnut chairs with castors back to the wall as though trying to get as far away as possible from something. But there was nothing to be seen except the bare linoleum, waxed and clean.
Off to one side is a white painted cupboard, made of narrow boards like the ceiling. Here the Riels used to keep some quaint old family treasures Marie Anne Gaboury’s little flat iron, weighing three pounds; a sword, given by Lord Selkirk to Lagimoniere; and—strangest of all—a coffin.
“It was the coffin,” explained Honore Riel, “in which the body of Louis Riel was placed when he was hanged in Regina and brought to St. Boniface for burial in 1885. There was a rumour ’they’ would try to steal the body. Feeling ran high after the two rebellions. To prevent violence to the corpse, a second coffin was ready. Into this Riel was secretly transferred and the old coffin went to the family house.”
A few years ago, however, Honore Riel presented these three heirlooms for safekeeping to the museum of the St. Boniface Historical Society.
Scott House (30 September 2016) - Donald Scott Norquay, a descendant of William Scott Sr., reports: “Andrew Setter’s wife was not Margaret Bates (correct name was Batt). He married Margaret (Peggy) Spence, who was Margaret Batt’s daughter by James Spence. Margaret (Nestichio) Batt, born 1757, was the half breed daughter of Isaac Batt (born 1725) and a Cree woman. Andrew Setter was born in 1777. He was much older than his young wife Peggy, not 20 years younger. Also, the article describes Scott house as the home of Clifford Scott, which was true, but more could be mentioned of his grandfather, William Scott Sr, who built the home of limestone, completing it in 1858. All four of William Scott, Andrew Setter, James Spence and Isaac Batt have interesting histories, but Isaac’s is particularly so. See http://www.redriverancestry.ca/SCOTT-WILLIAM-1815.php, http://www.redriverancestry.ca/SETTER-ANDREW-1777.php, http://www.redriverancestry.ca/SPENCE-JAMES-1753.php, and http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/batt_isaac_4E.html.“
Page revised: 30 September 2016Back to top of page