Lord Selkirk's Colonists never had,
as have seen, a bed of roses. Adversity had dodged their steps from the
time that they put the first foot forward toward the new world—and
Stornoway, Fort Churchill, York Factory, Norway House, Pembina and Fort
Douglas start, as we speak of them, a train of bitter memories. Flood
and famine, attack and bloodshed, toil and anxiety were the constant
atmosphere, in which for a generation they existed. Higher civilization
is impossible when the struggle for shelter and bread is too strenuous.
Though the ministrations of religion were supplied within a few years of
the beginning of the Colony, yet the Colonists were not satisfied in
this respect till forty years had passed. It was a generation before the
Roman Catholic Church had a Bishop, who held the See of St. Boniface
instead of the title "in the parts of the heathen." It was not before
the year 1849 that a Church of England Bishop arrived, and it was two
years after that date when the first Presbyterian
minister came to be the spiritual head of the Selkirk Colonists. Before
this the education and elevation of the people was represented by a few
schools chiefly maintained by private or church effort. The writer
intends to bring out, from selected quotations from different sources,
the few bright spots in the gloom—the pictures of silver—on a rather
The good Father's story circles
around the first Canadian woman known to have reached Red River. This
was Marie Gaboury, wife of J. Baptiste Lajimoniere, who reached the
Forks in 1811 in the very year when the Colonists were lying at York
Factory. The Lajimonieres spent the winter in Pembina. It was the brave
husband of Marie Gaboury who made the long and lonely journey from Red
River to Montreal. The Abbe says: "J.B. Lajimoniere was engaged by the
Governor of Fort Douglas to carry letters to Lord Selkirk, who was then
in Montreal. Lajimoniere said he could go alone to Montreal, and that he
would make every effort to put the letters confided to his care into
Lord Selkirk's hands. Being alone, Madame Lajimoniere left the hut on
the banks of the Assiniboine to become an inmate of Fort Douglas.
Lajimoniere is reported to have urged upon Lord Selkirk in Montreal to
send as part
of his recompense for his long journey, a priest to be the guide of
himself and family. Father Dugas says: (See printed page 2.)
"Lord Selkirk before his departure had
made the Catholic colony on the Red River sign a petition asking the
Bishop of Quebec to send missionaries to evangelize the country. He
presented this petition himself and employed all his influence to have
"Though a Protestant Lord Selkirk knew
that to found a permanent colony on the Red River he required the
encouragement of religion. Should his application succeed the
missionaries would come with the voyageurs in the following spring and
would arrive in Red River towards the month of July. This thought alone
made Madame Lajimoniere forget her eleven years of loneliness and
"Before July the news had spread that the
missionaries were coming that very summer, but as yet the exact date of
their arrival was not known. Telegraphs had not reached this region and
moreover the voyageurs were often exposed to delays.
"After waiting patiently, one
beautiful morning on the 16th of July, the day of Our Lady of Mount
Carmel, a man came from the foot of the river to warn Fort Douglas and
the neighborhood that two canoes bringing the missionaries were coming
up the river, and that all the people
ought to be at the Fort to receive them on their arrival.
"Scarcely was the news made known when
men, women and children hurried to the Fort. Those who had never seen
the priests were anxious to contemplate these men of God of whom they
had heard so much. Madame Lajimoniere was not the last to hasten to the
place where the missionaries would land. She took all her little ones
with her, the eldest of whom was Reine, then eleven years old.
"Towards the hour of noon on a
beautiful clear day more than one hundred and fifty persons were
gathered on the river bank in front of Fort Douglas. Every eye was on
the turn of the river at the point. It was who should first see the
voyageurs. Suddenly two canoes bearing the Company's flag came in sight.
There was a general shout of joy. The trader of the Fort, Mr. A.
McDonald, was a Catholic, and he had everything prepared to give them a
solemn reception. Many shed tears of joy. The memory of their native
land was recalled to the old Canadians who had left their homes many
years before. These old voyageurs who had been constantly called upon to
face death had been deprived of all religious succour during the long
years, but they had not been held by a spirit of impiety. The
missionaries were to them the messengers of God.
"The canoes landed in front of Fort
Douglas, M. Provencher and his companion both invested in their cassocks
stepped on shore and were welcomed with outstretched hands by this
family, which was henceforth to be theirs.
"They were admired for their manly figures
as much as for the novelty of their costumes. M. Provencher and his
companion, M. Severe Dumoulin, were both men of great stature and both
had a majestic carriage. They stood at the top of the bank and after
making the women and children sit down around them M. Provencher
addressed some words to this multitude gathered about him. He spoke very
simply and in a fatherly manner. Madame Lajimoniere who had not listened
to the voice of a priest for twelve years could hardly contain herself
for joy. She cried with happiness and forgetting all her hardships,
fancied herself for a moment in the dear parish of Maskinongé where she
had spent such happy peaceful years.
"The missionaries arrived on Thursday,
July 16th. M. Provencher having made known to his new family the aim of
his mission wished immediately to begin teaching them the lessons of
Christianity and to bring into the fold the sheep which were outside.
"While waiting till a house could be
built for the missionaries, M. Provencher and his companion were
hospitably entertained at the Fort of
the Colony. A large room in one of the buildings of the Fort had been
set apart for them, and it was there that they held divine service. M.
Provencher invited all the mothers of families to bring their children
who were under six years of age to the Fort on the following Saturday
when they would receive the happiness of being baptised. All persons
above that age who were not Christians could not receive that sacrament
until after being instructed in the truths of Christianity.
"When M. Provencher had finished speaking
the Governor conducted him with M. Dumoulin into the Fort. Canadians,
Metis and Indians feeling very happy retired to return three days
"There were four children in the
Lajimoniere family, but only two of them could be baptised, the others
being nine and eleven years of age. On the following Saturday Madame
Lajimoniere with all the other women came to the Fort. The number of
children, including Indians and Metis, amounted to a hundred and Madame
Lajimoniere being the only Christian woman stood Godmother to them all.
For a long time all the children in the colony called her 'Marraine.'
"M. Provencher announced that from
the next day the missionaries would begin their work and that the
settlers ought to begin at thesame
time to work at the erection of a home for them.
"M. Lajimoniere was one of the first to
meet at the place selected and to commence preparing the materials for
the building. The work progressed so rapidly that the house was ready
for occupation by the end of October.
"Madame Lajimoniere rendered every
assistance in her power to the missionaries."
With a few changes we shall allow an
old friend of the writer, J.J. Hargrave, long an official of the
Hudson's Bay Company, to give the tale of the Church of England in Red
River Settlement. "As we have seen, the Rev. John West came from England
to Red River as chaplain of the Hudson's Bay Company. One of his first
works was the erection of a rude school-house, and the systematic
education of a few children. Chief among the names of the clergymen, who
came out from England in the early days of the Settlement, after Mr.
West's return, were Rev. Messrs. Jones, Cochran, Cowley, McCallum,
Smedhurst, James and Hunter. William Cochran is universally regarded in
the Colony as the founder of the English Church in Rupert's Land, and
from the date of his arrival till 1849 all the principal ecclesiastical
business done may be said to have
received its impetus from his personal energy. The church in which he
began his ministrations was replaced by the present Cathedral of St.
John's. Mr. Cochran then built the first church in St. Andrew's, at the
Rapids, and besides gathered the Indians together and erected their
church at St. Peter's."
In 1849 arrived Bishop David Anderson, an
Oxford man. He settled at St. John's, now in the City of Winnipeg, and
occupied "Bishop's Court." After occupying the See for fifteen years, he
retired, and was succeeded by Bishop Machray, whose commanding figure
was known to all early settlers in Winnipeg. He revived St. John's
College and gained fame as an educationalist.
The peculiarly situated nature of the
Settlement, extending in a long line of isolated houses along the banks
of the river, and in no place stretching back any distance on the
prairies, render a succession of churches necessary to bring the
opportunity of attending within the reach of the people. Ten Church of
England places of worship exist (1870) on the bank of the river. Of
these, eight are within the legally defined limits of the Colony.
About the middle of December, 1866,
Archdeacon John McLean commenced the celebration of the Church of
England service in the village of Winnipeg. The services were for a time
held in the Court House at Fort Garry, and in the autumn of 1868 Holy
Trinity Church was opened in Winnipeg.
After many disappointments the cry of the
Selkirk Colonists for a minister of their own faith reached Scotland,
and their case was referred to Dr. Robert Burns, of Toronto, who was
further urged to action by Governor Ballenden, of Fort Garry. In August,
1851, the Rev. John Black, then newly ordained, was sent on by Dr. Burns
to Red River. He was fortunate in becoming attached to a military
expedition led by Governor Ramsey, of Minnesota, going northwest for
nearly four hundred miles, from St. Paul to Pembina.
Leaving the military escort behind, in
company with Mr. Bond, who wrote an account of the trip, Mr. Black
floated down Red River in a birch canoe, and in a three-days' journey
they reached the Marion's House in St. Boniface. It is said that it was
from Bond's description of this voyage that the Poet Whittier obtained
the information for the well-known poem.
The Red River Voyageur.
Out and in the river is winding
The banks of its long red chain,
Through belts of dusky pine land
And gusty leagues of plain.
Only at times a smoky wreath
With the drifting cloud-rack joins—
The smoke of the hunting lodges
Of the wild Assiniboines.
Drearily blows the north wind,
From the land of ice and snow;
The eyes that look are uneasy,
And heavy the hands that row.
And with one foot on the water,
And one upon the shore,
The Angel's shadow gives warning—
That day shall be no more.
Is it the clang of wild geese?
Is it the Indians' yell,
That lends to the voice of the North wind
The tones of a far-off bell?
The Voyageur smiles as he listens
To the sound that grows apace;
Well he knows the vesper ringing
Of the bells of St. Boniface.
The bells of the Roman Mission
That call from their turrets twain;
To the boatmen on the river,
To the hunter on the plain.
Even so on our mortal
The bitter north winds blow;
And thus upon Life's Red River
Our hearts, as oarsmen, row.
Happy is he who heareth
The signal of his release
In the bells of the Holy City—
The chimes of Eternal peace.
In the afternoon of the day of their
arrival the party crossed from St. Boniface to Fort Garry, and the
missionary well known as Rev. Dr. Black, went to the hospitable shelter
of Alexander Ross, whose daughter he afterward married. Three hundred of
the Selkirk Colonists and their children immediately gathered around Mr.
Black, and though interrupted for a year by the great flood which we
have described, erected in the following year, the stone Church of
Kildonan, on the highway some five miles from Winnipeg. With the help of
a small grant from the Hudson's Bay Company, the Selkirk Colonists
erected, free from debt, their church which still remains. Two other
churches were erected by the Presbyterians, and beside each a school.
For several years before the old Colony ceased Mr. Black conducted
service in the Court House near Fort Garry, and in 1868, with the
assistance of Canadian
friends, erected the small Knox Church on Portage Avenue, in Winnipeg.
This building, though used, was not completed till after the arrival of
the Canadian troops in 1870.
Strange as it may seem, the isolated Red
River Colony was far from being an illiterate community. The presence of
the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, the coming of the clergy of
the different churches, who established schools, and the leisure for
reading books supplied by the Red River Library produced a people whose
speech was generally correct, and whose diction was largely modeled on
standard books of literature. Mrs. Marion Bryce has made a sympathetic
study of this subject, and we quote a number of her passages:
The duty laid upon the Hudson's Bay
Company officers and clerks of keeping for the benefit of their
employers a diary recording everything at their posts that might make
one day differ from another, or indeed that often made every day alike,
cultivated among the officers of the fur trade the powers of observation
that were frequently turned to scientific account, and we find some of
them acting as corresponding members of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Valuable collections in natural history have been forwarded to the
institution by such observers as the late Hon. Donald Gunn, the late Mr.
Joseph Fortescue, and Mr. Roderick Ross Macfarlane.
Mr. William Barnston, a son of the Mr.
Barnston, already mentioned, and a chief factor at Norway House, about
1854, was very fond of the cultivation of flowers and the study of
botany, and some very valuable specimens of natural history in the
British museum are said to have been of his procuring.
Collections of books were a great means of
providing knowledge and contributing to amusement in the isolated
northern trading posts.
The Red River library had its
headquarters in St. Andrew's parish, and was for circulation in the Red
River Settlement. It seems to have been chiefly maintained by donations
of books by retired Hudson's Bay Company officers and other settlers.
The Council of Assiniboia once gave a donation of £50 sterling for the
purchase of books to be added to the library. There was one
characteristic of this library that it contained in its catalogue very
few works of fiction.
In addition to libraries we find that at a
later date in the history of the Settlement, literary clubs were formed.
Bishop Anderson and his sister, who arrived in Red River in 1849, were
instrumental in forming a reading club for mutual improvement, for which
the leading magazines were ordered.
But we must now speak of more decided
organization for the promotion of culture in Red River. The Selkirk
settlers had now (1821) gained a footing in the land and the banks of
the Red River had become the paradise of retired officers of the
fur-trading companies. Happy families were growing up in the homes of
the Settlement and education was necessary. A settled community made it
possible for the churches and church societies in the homeland to do
Christian work, both among the Indians and the white people, and to
these institutions the Settlement was indebted for the first educational
The Rev. John West, the first
Episcopal missionary who arrived, in 1820, and his successors, the Rev.
David Jones and Archdeacon Cochrane, as far as they could, organized
on the parochial system. A visitor to the Settlement in 1854, John
Ryerson, says that there were then eight common schools in the
country—five of them wholly, or in part, supported by the Church
Missionary Society, two of them depending on the bishop's individual
bounty, and one only, that attached to the Presbyterian congregation,
depending on the fees of the pupils for support. The Governor and
Council of Assiniboia had, a few years before made an appropriation of
£130 sterling in aid of public schools. The Hudson's Bay Company may be
said to have given aid to these schools indirectly by making an annual
grant to each missionary of an amount varying according to circumstances
from £150 to £50 sterling. The Catholics had similar schools for the
French population along the banks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, and
the writer already quoted says that there were seminaries at St.
Boniface, one for boys and one for girls, under the Grey Nuns from
Bishop Anderson, the first bishop of
Rupert's Land, was not specially an educationalist. He turned his
attention more to the evangelical work of the church. Bishop Machray,
who came to the country in 1865, has, on the contrary, whilst not
neglecting the duties of a bishop of the church of Christ, always given
great attention to education, and the country is greatly indebted
to him for the foundations laid. It was his endeavor after entering on
his bishopric to have a parish school wherever there was a missionary of
the Church of England, and in the year 1869 there were 16 schools of
this kind in the different parishes of Rupert's Land. This is bringing
us very near the time of the transfer when our public school system was
Mrs. Jones, the wife of Rev. David Jones,
the missionary of Red River, joined her husband in 1829. She very soon
saw the need there was for a boarding and day school for the sons and
daughters of Hudson's Bay Company factors and other settlers in the
Northwest. A school of this kind was opened and in addition to the
mission work in which she assisted her husband, Mrs. Jones devoted
herself to the training of the young people committed to her charge
until her death, which occurred somewhat suddenly in 1836. Mr. and Mrs.
Jones were assisted by a governess and tutor from England and the Church
Missionary Society gave financial assistance.
Mr. John Macallum, who was
afterwards ordained at Red River, arrived from England in 1836, as
assistant to Mr. Jones. He took charge of the school for young ladies
and also the classical school for the sons of Hudson's Bay factors and
traders. He was assisted by Mrs. Macallum and also had teachers brought
out from England.
He had two daughters who were pupils in the school, one of whom still
survives in British Columbia.
One of the Red River ladies who attended
that school when a very little girl says that the building occupied by
it stood near the site of Dean O'Meara's present residence. The
enclosure took in the pretty ravine formed by a creek in the
neighborhood—the ravine that is now bridged by one of our public
streets. It consisted of two large wings, one for the boys and one for
the girls, joined together by a dining hall used by the boys. There were
also two pretty gardens in which the boys and girls could disport
themselves separately. The large trees that surrounded the building have
long since disappeared. The young girl spoken of as a pupil seems to
have had her youthful mind captivated by the beauty of the site, and
indeed nowhere could the love of nature be better cultivated than along
the bends of the Red River near St. John's, where groves of majestic
trees succeed each other, where the wild flowers flourish in the
sheltered nooks and the fire-flies glance among the greenery at the
close of day and where for sound we have the whip-poor-will lashing the
woods as if impatient of the silence.
Among other schools was one
commenced in the early thirties by Mr. John Pritchard, at one time
agent of Lord Selkirk, at a place called "The Elms," on the east side of
Red River, opposite Kildonan Church. Mr. Pritchard was entrusted with
the education of the sons of gentlemen sent all the way from British
Columbia and from Washington and Oregon territories, besides a number
belonging to prominent families of Red River and the Northwest. The
Governor and Council of the Hudson's Bay Company granted to Mr.
Pritchard a life annuity of £20 on account of his services in the
interests of religion and education.
On coming to the diocese in 1865 Bishop
Machray reorganized the boys' classical school, and it was opened as a
high school in 1866. The bishop gave instruction in a number of branches
himself, paying special attention to mathematics. Archdeacon McLean had
charge of classics and the Rev. Samuel Pritchard conducted the English
branches in what was now called St. John's College.
In connection with the parish school of
Kildonan the Rev. John Black, who was, as we all know, a scholarly man,
gave instructions in classics to a number of young men, who were thus
enabled to take their places in Toronto University and in Knox College,
In addition to these schools, Mr.
Gunn, of St. Andrew's, afterwards Hon. Donald Gunn, had for a time a
commercial school at hishome
for the sons of Hudson's Bay Company factors and traders, so that they
might be fitted for the company's business in which they were to succeed
From the death of Mr. Macallum,
1849, there was a vacancy in the school for girls until 1851, when Mrs.
Mills and her two daughters came from England to assume its charge. A
new building was erected for this school a little further down the river
to which was given the name of St. Cross. This was the same building
enlarged with which we were familiar a few years ago as St. John's Boys'
College, and which has lately been taken down. Mrs. Mills is said to
have been very thorough in her instruction and management. The young
ladies were trained in all the social etiquette of the day in addition
to the more solid education imparted. Miss Mills assisted her mother
with the music and modern languages. Miss Harriet Mills, being younger,
was more of a companion to the girls, and accompanied them on walks, in
winter on the frozen river, in summer towards the plain, and unless her
maturer years belie the record of her girlhood we may imagine she was a
very lively and agreeable companion. In addition to her regular school
duties Mrs. Mills had a class for girls who were beyond school age.
She also gave assistance in Sunday school work.
The pianos used in these school had to be
brought by sea, river and portage by way of Hudson Bay; one of them is
still in possession of Miss Lewis, St. James. The teachers from England
had to traverse the same somewhat discouraging route in coming into the
Settlement. Miss Mills, who came alone a little later than her mother
and sister, traveled from York Factory under the care of Mr. Thomas
Sinclair. She always manifested the highest appreciation of his kindness
to her during the way, making his men cut down and pile up branches
around her to protect her from the cold when his party had to camp out
for the night.