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Manitoba History: Hard Times for the Hardimans

by Frances Welwood
Nelson, British Columbia

Number 48, Autumn/Winter 2004-2005

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

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A simple obituary notice in the Winnipeg Daily Times on 5 June 1882, along with the Registers of Burials and Deceased of Winnipeg’s St. John’s Anglican Cathedral cemetery, give quiet evidence of a painful and tragic family tale. In April 1882, Theophilus and Mary Theresa Hardiman left Bournemouth, England, for Canada and the booming, blustery new city of Winnipeg. Rosella (noted also as Prisella), age 7, Alice Maude, age 4, and Horace, age 2, accompanied their parents. Within a few short days of the family’s arrival, little Rosella and her brother perished from typhoid fever, the dreaded disease known locally as Red River fever. Red River fever, which was to reach near-epidemic proportions in the months and years to come, was attributed to inadequate or non-existent sewer and water provision systems. Newcomers and the young were particularly susceptible to this often-fatal disease. So prevalent was the fever that it was featured in a popular 1895 Winnipeg novel. Mary Markwell’s Prairie Pot-Pourri described how “Red River fever lurks among prairie hollows and picks out for its victims, pilgrims and strangers”.

The Hardiman children were laid to rest in the churchyard of the rustic St. John’s Church. This rectangular stone building was the first Anglican Cathedral in Western Canada and was located in the north-eastern sector of the rapidly-expanding city, overlooking (ironically) the Red River.

Theophilus Richard Hardiman, proprietor of the Pioneer Art Gallery in Vancouver, circa 1890, and his family: wife Mary Theresa, Mabel (Queenie) age 3, Maude, age 12 and ringlet curled Percy, age 7. Hardiman commenced his business career in Winnipeg as a keeper of a book stationary and art supply store on Portage Avenue, 1882-87.
Source: Barbara Pope.

Following quickly upon the tragic death of two of his three grand children, Richard Henry Hardiman, 59 years old, appeared in Winnipeg to offer what assistance he could or (as family lore contends) to encourage his only son and family to return to England. On 14 October 1882, Hardiman Sr. “late of Bournemouth Hampshire” was also struck down by Red River fever and interred with the little ones in their eternal Canadian resting place.

Just one week before this tragic death, in a plot seemingly taken from a Victorian drama, on 8 October 8, Mary Theresa gave birth to Percy. The Hardiman lineage was thus established in Canada.

Theophilus (TRH), the son of a long-established coach-builder in Holdenhurst (Bournemouth) Hampshire, had immigrated to Winnipeg not to speculate on burgeoning prairie land sales or to exploit the opportunities offered by the recent railroad and steamer traffic. Rather, he sought to further his artistic talents and interests, and to develop entrepreneurial skills in markets related to a ‘civilized’ life in a promising part of the decidedly British Empire. Alexander Begg’s Practical Handbook and Guide to Manitoba and the North West, published in 1877, could be found in 768 public libraries in Britain. This volume was an early, mild version of ‘literary boosterism,’ a press genre that extolled the positive and promotional attributes of new horizons, encouraging investment and immigration. TRH would have been an avid and intelligent reader.

However, Hardiman made his move to the ‘gateway city’ of 8,000 plus souls just a little too late. By late 1882 the general global economic downturn was felt in the Canadian West. Winnipeg, in spite of massive concessions to the CPR, could not cope with overcrowding, demand and distribution of goods and services, and regular flooding on the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

In March 1882, just prior to the arrival of the Hardimans, Winnipeg City Council reacted to the newcomer dilemma and agreed to erect “temporary buildings for the accommodation of the large number of emigrants expected to arrive here during the present month.” (Winnipeg Daily Times, 2 March 1882) These basic, barrack-like units, located near the train station were known as ‘the Immigration Sheds’. Newspapers, although still laden with railroad transport ads for settlers and goods travelling via the United States, continued to comment on the serious lack of accommodation for the droves of newcomers throughout 1883. The City Immigration Sheds were crowded and unsanitary, and although immigration was essentially a federal government concern, the City operated the Sheds until 1884. The Sheds were a bargaining matter between the City and the federal government, with the City forcing the Canadian government to accept its federal responsibility for accommodation for immigrants. Alan Artibise, Winnipeg historian, in his Winnipeg: A Social History of Urban Growth 1874-1914 (1974), likewise contends that it was not the mortal fear of disease and purity of the water supply that precipitated demands for a new sewer system. The perennial fear of fire in the mushrooming city propelled City managers to acknowledge the severity of the water supply situation.

Winnipeg Immigration Sheds, circa 1880s.
Source: Archives of Manitoba.

It is doubtful that the Hardiman family was housed in ‘the Sheds’, but the death of the children and grandfather indicates that some of the miseries of late-Victorian cities had emigrated to the new world of promise and opportunity.

Unfortunately, the young family’s fortune in Winnipeg was never secure. The Hardimans moved from residence to residence within the City’s core. TRH’s business ventures can be tracked only through the City Directories and minor references in the Winnipeg Times. He was listed initially as ‘artist’, although there is no record of his works in Manitoba gallery files. By 1884, T. R. Hardiman Book Store (located in the Fortune Block at 7 Portage Avenue, near Main Street) appeared to be the early family home, as well as an outlet for stationery, books, newspapers and most likely artists’ supplies.

Theophilus was not a member of the Board of Trade and did not appear to advertise in local newspapers. His final business venture in Winnipeg was that of “registery and collector “ at 57 Portage Avenue. What did he register and what did he collect?

Later, when the family home was at 201 Smith Street, the gentle-spirited and hardworking Mary Theresa ran the family home and also dealt in ‘fancy goods’. These bleak years in Winnipeg included the brief life of yet another Hardiman child. George Miles Hardiman lived two months in 1885 and was interred with his siblings and grandfather at St. John’s cemetery. Thankfully Mabel Amelia (Queenie), born in 1886, lived to the fine age of 86. (As the wife of John Benjamin Bright, a railroad engineer of national and CPR stature, Queenie became a figure in Vancouver society.)

Twice in his Winnipeg career, Hardiman faced possible legal action. According to the Winnipeg Daily Times (23 August 1883), a “non-suit” was declared in favour of TRH in an undefined, possible civil suit. In a more serious incident (Winnipeg Daily Times, 29 December 1884) a newsboy in Hardiman’s employ threatened a complaint of heartless treatment against Hardiman.

It is not surprising then that a discouraged and disgruntled TRH decided to leave Winnipeg. It was time to again look west. As the story of his future years would reveal, TRH made some lasting personal contacts among new Canadians who, like himself, spent several years in Winnipeg before moving on.

Main Street, Winnipeg, 1880, a few years before the arrival of the Hardimans in Winnipeg.
Source: E. Hall, Early Canada, Geological Survey of Canada, 1967, page 68.

In May 1887, the family boarded the Canadian Pacific Railway to Port Moody, British Columbia, detraining less than two weeks prior to the arrival of the first trans-continental train at the Vancouver terminus. Vancouver was a city of less than 8,000. This time Hardiman was in-tune and in time for the frontier city’s boom. Vancouver was rapidly rebuilding after a devastating fire in 1886.

There is no record of how the family fared that first year. Yet, it became quickly evident to TRH that an ‘Art’ or literary atmosphere at some primal stage existed in the newly incorporated City. By 1889, the newcomer had opened a shop that dealt in all manner of art, framing and decorative works and supplies. Hardiman’s Pioneer Art Gallery was Vancouver’s first commercial Art Gallery and its proprietor was a representative for the Art Union of London and a founding member of the City’s first Art, Historical and Scientific Association.

The Vancouver chapter of Hardiman’s story is a fascinating one—but not without questions and curiosities. And then there are also the Klondike and Canford, Nicola Valley chapters! (See “The Creator of Canford” BC Historical News, 2004).

Page revised: 8 September 2010

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