Manitoba Historical Society
     Keeping history alive for over 144 years

Manitoba History: Edward Worrell Jarvis in Western Canada

by Sam McBride
Castlegar, British Columbia

Number 78, Summer 2015

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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

Please direct all inquiries to

Help us keep
history alive!

Edward Worrell Jarvis (1846–1894) was a nephew of Col. John Hamilton Gray, and a first cousin of my great-grandmother Bertha Gray Peters (1862–1946). My relation to him is first cousin, three times removed. Until a couple of months ago, I had hardly any information on Edward Jarvis, but when I discovered his middle name, I learned that he distinguished himself in Western Canada history as an engineer, surveyor, administrator, business-man, soldier, policemanand civic leader.

As my family’s genealogist and historian, I have long treasured a studio photograph with identification on the back with the name of the Charlottetown photographer, the names Margaret Gray, Florence Gray and Edward Jarvis and the year 1868.

From family letters and other documents, I knew that Margaret Gray Lord (1845–1941) and Florence Gray Poole (1848–1923) were sisters of Bertha Gray Peters and daughters of Col. John Hamilton Gray (1810–1887), who was head of government of PEI in 1864 and served as host and chairman of the historic Charlottetown Conference that got the ball rolling on the road to Confederation. I knew that Edward’s mother was Elizabeth Gray (1803–1847), an older sister of Col. Gray, so Edward and the Gray ladies were first cousins. I knew that Edward’s father was Edward James Jarvis (1788–1852), prominent in the community as chief justice of PEI. However, all I knew of the son Edward Jarvis from family files was that he ‘‘died unmarried.’’

I learned from PEI baptismal records that his full name was Edward Worrell Jarvis, which opened up a wealth of information and stories about him from a variety of sources. His remarkable career included railway surveying and engineering in England and Canada (includingan extremely challenging Canadian Pacific Railway winter survey through the Rocky Mountains in northern B.C. and Alberta), running a successful lumber business in Winnipeg, serving as a Major in command of the Winnipeg Field Battery in the Riel Rebellion of 1885, designing three bridges in Winnipeg (including the Broadway Bridge which opened in 1882 as the first bridge to cross the Red River), being the first registrar at the University of Manitoba, a founding member of the Manitoba Historical Society, alderman in the early years of Winnipeg, and superintendent with the Northwest Mounted Police (forerunner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), theposition he held at the time of his death in 1894 at age 48. When he applied to join the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in 1874, the ICE members sponsoring his application included the distinguished engineers Sir Sandford Fleming and Marcus Smith of CPR fame. For whatever reason, details of his career were missed in Gray family letters and memorabilia, likely because he was far away and out of touch with his relations in the Maritimes, who he would not have known well as he spent much of his boyhood at private school and later university in England after he became an orphan at six years of age.

Edward Worrell Jarvis designed the Broadway Bridge, seen here circa 1880, that connected the Anglophone city of Winnipeg with its
Francophone sister of St. Boniface across the Red River.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Letourneau 3, N11901

Edward Worrell Jarvis was born in Charlottetown on 26 January 1846, and baptized 22 August 1846 at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Charlottetown. He was the first child of his father Edward James Jarvis and Elizabeth Gray, but his father had eight children in his first marriage to Anna Maria Boyd (1795–1841). Nineteen months afterEdward’s birth his mother Elizabeth died in childbirth on 6 September 1847. Edward’s father died in 1852 when he was six. Though an orphan, he had a large extended family of step-brothers, step-sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts. He and his Gray cousins were all grandchildren of Robert Gray, a Scotland-born United Empire Loyalist in Virginia who helped organize a regiment in support of the King, and was in the thick of the fighting in the Carolinas against rebel forces in the American Revolutionary War. Robert Gray’s loyalty and service were rewarded with large grants of land and government appointments in Prince Edward Island. Edward’s paternal grandfather Munson Jarvis of Connecticut was also a United Empire Loyalist, settling in New Brunswick after eviction by American rebels.

Edward Worrell Jarvis went to school in England and graduated from Cambridge University. According to the British Institute of Civil Engineers, he worked as an engineer under the tutelage of Walter M. Brydone, chief engineer for the British Great Northern Railway. Jarvis worked on the Spalding to March railway in England, east of Birmingham, between 1864 and 1867 before returning to Canada in 1868 when he was employed as an assistant engineer by the Government of Canada, under renowned engineer and surveyor Sir Sandford Fleming, on the Intercolonial Railway in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, including responsibility for construction of a 15-mile section and a 12-mile section of the track.

From 1871 to 1873,E. W. Jarvis was in charge of 50men exploring and surveying 360 miles of the CPR rail line, and then in 1873–1874 was in charge of an additional 180 miles through the Rocky Mountains. Details of the bone-chilling survey of the Smoky River Pass led by E. W. Jarvis in the winter of 1875 are in Sandford Fleming’s 1877 report of CPR route surveys.

In January 1875, Jarvis led a survey team in a horrific winter expedition to survey the Smoky River Pass north of the Yellowhead Pass as a possible route for the CPR line. Following instructions from Sandford Fleming (who at that time had decided on the Yellowhead Pass for the CPR, but wanted the Smoky River Pass checked out to see if it could be considered a possible route),Jarvis set off from Fort George (near current site of Prince George, British Columbia) with his assistant, C. F. Hanington, Alex Macdonald in charge of dog trains, six Indians and 20 dogs. The plan was to go through the pass, conduct the required work, and arrive at Edmonton.

In The National Dream, Pierre Berton devoted two full pages to the harrowing expedition led by E. W. Jarvis. “The party travelled light with only two blankets per man and a single piece of light cotton sheeting for a tent,” Berton said. “They moved through a land that had never been mapped. A good deal of the time they had no idea where they were. They camped out in temperatures that dropped to 53 below zero. They fell through thin ice and had to clamber out, soaked to the skin, their snowshoes still fastened to their feet.”

By March 1875, the dogs used for the Jarvis Expedition were dying daily. Berton notes that “even the Indians were in a mournful state of despair, declaring that they ... would never see their homes again, and weeping bitterly.” Somehow, the group managed to make it to Edmonton, where Jarvis found his weight had dropped to a starving 125 pounds. After a brief break, they set off again across blizzard-swept prairie for Upper Fort Garry located in modern-day Winnipeg. In total, the expedition spent 116 days on the trail, travelling 1,887 miles—932 of those miles on snowshoes and 332 of them with all their goods on their backs, as the dogs had died.

Later in 1875, Jarvis began working as a lumber merchant in Winnipeg. According to Berton, he was “doing a roaring business in lumber and starving no more.” He was later a partner in the lumber business of W. J. Macaulay and Company, and ads ran in local papers for Jarvis and Berridge, Winnipeg Lumber Co. , announcing they had ‘‘the best assorted and driest stock in town, consisting of all kinds of pine, spruce and oak, which will be sold at reasonable prices.’’ Between 1880 and 1883, Jarvis designed three bridges in Winnipeg: the Louise and Broadway Bridges over the Red River and the Main Street Bridge over the Assiniboine River.

In the Riel Rebellion of 1885, he was a Major in command of the Winnipeg Field Battery of the Canadian artillery, and was mentioned in despatches.

Among other distinctions, Jarvis was the first Registrar of the University of Manitoba, a founder of the Manitoba Historical Society, an early alderman on the Winnipeg City Council, and an officer in the Northwest Mounted Police.

Jarvis joined the NWMP in 1886 when the federal government decided to double the size of the force from 500 to 1,000 in the wake of the Riel Rebellion. Jarvis was among 29 new officers appointed in this expansion of the force. His military service was a factor in his selectionas anofficer, as wasthe fact that he was born in Prince Edward Island,because the government wanted the various regions of the country to be represented in the group of new officers. Superintendent Jarvis was one of five of the new NWMP officers to have served in the Riel Rebellion.

Jarvis’ experience with the NWMP is described in the book Red Coats on the Prairies by William Beahen and Stan Horrall. In addition to his command duties, Jarviswas tasked with reviewing NWMP regulations, and testing new ammunition proposed for the NWMP, which was manufactured by the Dominion Cartridge Co. of Montreal. He concluded that it was “impossible to shoot well with bullets supplied by the Dominion Cartridge Company.” When telephone service was introduced for the NWMP between Moose Jaw and Wood River in 1887, Jarvis designed and produced two receivers to be used with the new communication system. It was Jarvis whoput forward the idea of a musical band for NWMP headquarters as a worthwhile form of recreation for the men in the NWMP, who otherwise often turned to drinking and associated misbehaviour when they were off duty. The men would not be paid extra for being in the band, but would be excused from tedious duties. According to Beahen and Horrall, Jarvis was surprised when NWMP commissioner Lawrence Herchmer approved his suggestion of a band. As it turned out, Inspector W.G. Matthews, who was appointed conductor of the band, was largely responsible for the first Mounted Police Musical Rides, which became an institution with the force that continues to the present day. The authors note that C. W. Dwight, an NWMP constable from a well-to-do family in Toronto, said in a letter that his Commanding Officer in “A” Division (Supt. Jarvis) was “a thorough gentleman and his treatment of men at all times considerate and impartial.”

As an idea-oriented engineer with wide-ranging knowledge and capabilities, Jarvis was asked to make recommendations for improving the NWMP facilities and operations. In his first annual report as a superintendent submitted 30 November 1886,he put forward suggestions for practical improvements to the uniform. “The Police uniform fits too well for a man actively engaged in rough prairie work, and is soon spoiled by duties (that) required a camp fire,” Jarvis wrote, adding “I would suggest the issue of a ‘prairie dress’which would consist of dark brown cord or velveteen britches, long boots and spurs, a heavy blue flannel shirt (over which the stable jacket could be worn when required) and a broad-brimmed hat of soft felt to complete the outfit. By adopting this, personal comfort and a uniform appearance would be gained, while the regular uniform would be saved for parade and duty in settled districts. The forage cap is no use at all on the prairie.”

Tragically, Superintendent Jarvis diedin Calgary on 24 November 1894 of cellulitis, a type of skin infection that can be fatal. Because of his popularity, NWMP men from other divisions were allowed time to come to his funeral. This ended badly, as many of the men gathered for the funeral in the company of old friends got drunk and made a public exhibition of themselves, according to Beahen and Horrall. One officer was found to be completely drunk in uniform in the lobby of the hotel the next morning at 9 am.

Jarvis is buried in the St. Mary’s Pioneer Cemetery in Calgary. His tombstone says: “Erected by the officers, non-commissioned officers and men of E. Division N.W.M. Police in memory of their commanding officer Supt. E. W. Jarvis who died in Calgary November 26th 1894 Aged 49 years.”

Jarvis Avenue in Winnipeg is named after him, as are Jarvis Creek in Alberta, Jarvis Creek in British Columbia, Jarvis Lake in Alberta, Jarvis Lake in British Columbia, Mount Jarvis in British Columbia, Jarvis Pass in British Columbia and Jarvis Street in Hinton, Alberta. A collection of his journals are held by the Archives of Manitoba.

At the time the photo on the next page was taken in 1868, Col. John Hamilton Gray was retired from politics and in charge of the Prince Edward Island militia. Four years earlier, on 3 September 1864, Col. Gray invited delegates at the Charlottetown Conference to his residence known as Inkerman House for an after dinner party. His wife Susan Ellen Bartley Pennefather, who died in 1866, was in failing health at the time, so daughters Margaret and Florence served as hostesses to the partying Fathers of Confederation.

Edward Worrell Jarvis at age 22 in 1868 in Charlottetown, PrinceEdward Island with his cousins Margaret Pennefather Stukeley
Gray (sitting) and Florence Hope Gibson Gray.
Source: S. McBride

Margaret Gray Lord accompanied her father to the Quebec Conference in October 1864 where proposals for confederation were solidified and carried forward. By the 1930s, she was the last surviving participant of the Quebec Conference. As such, she was presented to the King and Queen when the Royal Tour came to Charlottetown in 1939. Margaret married Charlottetown shipbuilder Artemus Lord in 1869 and resided in Charlottetown for the rest of her life. Through most of her adult life she kept a personal diary, which was the basis for the book “One Woman’s Charlottetown: the 1863, 1876 and 1890 Diaries of Margaret Gray Lord” published in 1987. Margaret was active in the Womens Temperance Movement in the early 1900s (perhaps related to her experience dealing with inebriated Fathers of Confederation years before at Inkerman House). She enjoyed excellent health until her death in Charlottetown at age 96 on 31 December 1941.

Florence Gray Poole was keen on family history, and conducted substantialresearch and associated correspondence regarding the ancestry of both her parents. Florence married mining engineer Henry Skeffington Poole in 1876 and they settled in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, and after about 1900 resided in England. Tragically, her son Eric Skeffington Poole, a second lieutenant with the British Army,was court martialled for desertion in the fall of 1916 after he was found to have wandered away in a daze from his assigned position in a front line trench. Despite testimony from medical staff that he was experiencing the lingering effects of shell shock from the Battle of the Somme a couple of months earlier, Eric was convicted and shot at dawn in Poperinghe, Belgium on 16 December 1916. At the time, Florence’s husband Henry was very ill, and she worried that hearing of Eric’s fate would kill him. She reached an agreement with authorities that she would not contest the execution andthey would not publicize it. Ironically, one of her other sons, Henry Raynaulde Poole, won a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) medal for valour in the Great War, and was an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and the French Legion of Honour. Florence died at age 75 in 1923 in Guildford, England, six years after the death of husband Henry.

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 15 April 2020

MHS YouTube Channel

Back to top of page

For queries on the above page, please contact the MHS Webmaster.

Home  |  Terms & Conditions  |  FAQ  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy  |  Donations

© 1998-2023 Manitoba Historical Society. All rights reserved.