Memorable Manitobans: Henry McKenney (1826-1886)

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Henry McKenney
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He was born at Amherstburg, Upper Canada in 1826, second son of Henry McKenney and Elizabeth Reily, who had immigrated with her family from Ireland in 1823. After the father’s death his mother married William Schultz, from which union was born John Christian Schultz on 1 January 1840. Henry McKenney married Lucy Stockwell in 1845, and had at least three children. In the 1850s he and his older brother, Augustus, operated a trading store in Minnesota territory, probably somewhere between St. Paul and Pembina.

In June 1859, he arrived at Fort Garry (Winnipeg) aboard the river steamer Anson Northup, shortly afterwards buying an old building from Andrew McDermot. He converted this into the Royal Hotel, the first hostelry to open in Manitoba. Shortly afterwards he opened a general store in neighbouring premises, and began trading in pemmican and furs. In 1862 he sold the hotel to “Dutch George” Emmerling. In 1860 McKenney went into business as McKenney and Company, a general store in partnership with his half-brother John Christian Schultz at the intersection of the Portage la Prairie trail and the main road of Fort Garry (later famous as Portage and Main).

McKenney and Schultz fell out in 1864 and engaged in a series of court battles that resulted in McKenney obtaining a judgment against Schultz and having him sent to gaol. The two men were thereafter bitter enemies. In 1868, he became the first man to exploit the resources of the east shores of Lake Winnipeg when he built a sawmill on the Manigotagan River and a sailing schooner, the Jessie McKenney, to transport the timber up the Red River. Unfortunately, the vessel had too deep a draught to be practicable.

On 8 June 1861, he was appointed Petty Magistrate of the Middle District of Assiniboia. His interest in the law is made apparent by the fact that he was a compulsive litigant, appearing before the Quarterly Court of Assiniboia no less than 30 times between 1860 and 1869. In 1868 he became Sheriff of Assiniboia and Governor of the Gaol. In 1862 he built a new store at a corner of what is now Portage Avenue and Main Street, Winnipeg. McKenney and Company closed its books in 1867, after a disagreement between McKenney and Schultz over legal proceedings.

During the Red River Rebellion of 1869-1870, McKenney was the only prominent Red River resident who favoured annexation to the USA. On 10 February 1870 he was reappointed Sheriff by the Provisional Government. In April 1870, he sold his holdings at Winnipeg, shortly thereafter moving to Pembina, North Dakota. In 1871 McKenney was appointed a Sheriff at Pembina, in Dakota Territory. He returned to Winnipeg in 1874 and in January 1876 contested an election for alderman on the Winnipeg City Council in the West Ward. He was at the bottom of the poll.

By the summer of 1877 he had again left Winnipeg and died at Tacoma, Washington on 12 December 1886.

Great-grand uncle of Mary Emma Frances “Molly” Phair McLennan.

See also:

The Man Who Created the Corner of Portage and Main
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 26, 1969-70 season

Henry McKenney, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XI, 562-63.


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

“80 years ago - Dec. 12, 1886,” Winnipeg Free Press, 12 December 1966.

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

We thank Janis Wigginton for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 26 February 2024

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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