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The Romantic Settlement of Lord Selkirk's Colonists
Chapter 24 Pictures of Silver

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 dark background.


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 it granted.

"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 sorrow.

"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 afterwards.

"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 journey
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 efforts made.


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 common schools 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 Montreal.

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 inaugurated.

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, Toronto.

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 their fathers.


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.

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