Manitoba History: Cool Things in the Collection: Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, 1870

by Kathleen Epp and Joan Sinclair
Archives of Manitoba

Number 65, Winter 2011

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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On 15 November 2010, Manitoba’s Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson announced the creation of a new provincial Métis policy that would mark an important step towards recognizing the contributions of the Métis in the creation of Manitoba. One archival record held by the Archives of Manitoba was featured as a key document in rewriting Manitoba history: the Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. In light of this attention, the Archives has digitized the journal and created a transcript, both now available on the Archives website.

The 1870 Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia is an innocuous tan-colored, leather-bound volume.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough


The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia sat from 9 March 1870 to 24 June 1870 with Louis Riel as its president and a council with councillors representing the French and English communities equally. The Legislative Assembly met to consider matters of governance for the region known as Assiniboia. This region encompassed roughly the area which would soon become the “postage-stamp” province of Manitoba. The meetings were held at Upper Fort Garry. The Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia concluded with the passing of the Manitoba Act and the entry of Manitoba as a province into Confederation.

The Journal

The “Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia” (AM, Red River Disturbance collection MG3 A1-15) contains a record of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, from the first meeting of the First Session on 9 March 1870 until the last meeting of the Third Session on 24 June 1870.

The Sessional Journal begins with the session held on 23 March 1870—the date on which William Coldwell was appointed Clerk of the Assembly. Earlier sessions were entered on pages 11 through 15 of the journal, following the entry for 26 March and the listing of the bills passed in the First Session. The earlier sessions are documented largely through clippings from The New Nation that were glued into the journal.

The way in which the journal was kept leaves some questions as to its creation:

When was the journal written? Was it written at the time of the sitting, beginning with the 23 March session? Was it written at some point after the existence of the Assembly?

Who wrote the journal? The journal is not signed or inscribed in any way to identify its author. Was it William Coldwell, clerk of the Assembly, whose wife’s descendants sold the journal to the Library?

Record of a New Nation. The Sessional Journal contains handwritten minutes of the meetings of the 1870 Legislative Assembly, along with pasted-in transcripts of the dialogue published in The New Nation newspaper. This sample from pages 11 and 12 shows the proceedings of the first session on 9 March 1870.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough

How did the Journal Come to the Archives of Manitoba?

The Archives of Manitoba holds a variety of records documenting the Red River Settlement, the Red River Resistance and the establishment of the province of Manitoba. These records have come to the Archives from various individuals and from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Records from private citizens take different routes to come to the Archives and often pass through many hands before being offered to an archival institution. Information about the provenance of records acquired from private sources is often incomplete. The Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia falls into this category.

This journal was purchased by the Legislative Library, then also responsible for archival records, in 1939, along with copies of the newspaper The New Nation. The journal was purchased for $40 from Mr. E. R. James, of Rosser, Manitoba.

The purchase of the journal, along with the newspapers, was noted in the annual report of the Legislative Library for 1939. At that time, the journal was noted as having been “kept by William Coldwell”.

William Coldwell came from London, England to Toronto in 1854 and then to the Red River Settlement in 1859. Coldwell was the publisher of the first newspaper in the settlement, The Nor’-Wester. He was married to Jemima Ross, daughter of Alexander Ross, and subsequently to Jemima Mackenzie Ross, widow of William Ross. Coldwell and his second wife lived in Ross House at the end of Market Street, overlooking the Red River in Winnipeg. On 23 March 1870, Coldwell was named clerk of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia. William Coldwell eventually moved to Victoria, BC and died there in 1907. His wife, Jemima Mackenzie Ross, moved back to Manitoba to live with her daughter’s family in Rosser, Manitoba. In 1912, she passed away at the home of her grandson, Edward Ross James. His son, E. Renouard James, is presumably the E. R. James from whom the Legislative Library bought the journal.

William Coldwell (1834-1907) is thought to be the author of the Sessional Journal, in his capacity as Clerk to the Legislative Assembly of 1870.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Mrs. John Black Fonds C44/2, #3.

The Sessional Journal of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia demonstrates some important aspects of archival research. An archival record is always more than what is on the page. Understanding the “story” behind the record—the context of its creation, the history of its custody, how it got to the Archives, and the construction of the record itself—can provide important clues to interpreting the record and might just lead to brave new interpretations of history.

Do you have original records related to the Red River Settlement, the Red River Resistance or Manitoba history in general? The Archives of Manitoba continues to acquire records which document the history of Manitoba. To find out more about donating records, visit the Archives website.


[page 11]

Assembly Chamber
Upper Fort Garry
March 9, 1870

The first meeting of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was held in Upper Fort Garry today. There were present:

French Councillors—Hon. Messrs. W. B. O’Donoghue, Jno. Bruce, Ambrose Lepine, Louis Schmidt, A. Beauchemin, Bte. Touron, Bte. Beauchemier, Pierre Parenteau, Louis Lascerte.

English Councillors—Hon. Messrs. A. G. B. Bannatyne, W. Fraser, Thos. Bunn, W. Garrioch, Geo. Gunn, Jno. Norquay, E. Hays, A. H. Scott, H. F. Olone, W. Tait.

The President having taken his seat at 3 o’c[lock], p.m., addressed the House as follows, in French & English:

Gentlemen, we have been assembled in this Chamber on several occasions, having been sent here by the people to deliberate on the political state of the country and to adapt such measures as would secure the prosperity of the present and future generations. But that all has been done so far has resulted only in what we have to-day. Yet that only is a very comprehensive word. It includes your work during that period—the work of the people in fact (cheers). We have worked here in the past in anxiety and fear. But we have worked conscientiously. That the majority, at least, have done so, I fully believe. One result of our labours is that the people generally now have, for the first time in the history of this land, a voice in the direction of public affairs. They have here a full representation. Herein, we may congratulate ourselves that our work has been a good one; and, indeed, it may almost be said to be the only result we have arrived at as yet. At present, we are not, perhaps, in a position to proceed to business. But at the same time we have arrived at that stage, when there is some public security (cheers). Let us, then, see to it that the public are no more allowed to rush together, on one side or the other, in such a manner as they have gathered of late. Let us be friends—and let our friendship be hearty and sincere (cheers). On many occasions, since last fall, I have heard professions of friendship in this Chamber; and I must say I was sorry to hear such professions, for I knew they were—as they afterwards proved to be, insincere. There was too much of fear and estrangement to allow that friendship being hearty. But now that we have come together once more, I believe we are actuated by such feelings as will lead to a thorough union (cheers.)

[page 51]

Assembly Chamber
June 24/70

The President [Louis Riel] took the chair at 4 o’c[lock] p.m. Rev. Mr. Richot [sic] occupied a seat in the Chamber by invitation.

The President expressed the pleasure he felt at seeing present Rev. Mr. Richot [sic], one of the delegates to Canada—congratulated him personally on the courage, perseverance & wisdom displayed in his mission—and asked the rev. gentleman to address the House in reporting the results of his mission.

Rev. Mr. Richot [sic] then addressed the House in French, which was translated into English by the President.

Hon. Mr. Bunn seconded by Hon. Mr. Bannatyne proposed a vote of thanks to Rev. Mr. Richot [sic], as one of the delegates to Canada.

The resolution passed amid cheers.

Hon. Mr. Schmidt seconded by Hon. Mr. Poitras moved that the Legislative Assembly of this country do now in the name of the people accept the Manitoba Act & decide on entering the Dominion of Canada, on the terms proposed in the Confederation Act—carried amid loud cheers.

Page revised: 17 August 2016