Andrew Graham Ballenden Bannatyne (1829-1889): First Citizen of Winnipeg

by Dr. Ross Mitchell

Manitoba Pageant, Autumn 1965, Volume 11, Number 1

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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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At the time of incorporation of the City of Winnipeg in 1873, A. G. B. Bannatyne was its leading citizen. He was possibly the wealthiest, probably the most influential, certainly the most highly esteemed man in the Red River community.

When the first Legislature of Manitoba sought a place of meeting Bannatyne offered four large rooms in his home “the best and most commodious building in Winnipeg” according to The Manitoban newspaper of that time, “Mr. Bannatyne yields so much of his house room at very considerable personal inconvenience”. These words give a hint of his generosity and unselfishness.

Bannatyne was born in South Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands, on 31 October 1829, of a long line of Hudson’s Bay Company officials. His great grandfather was Governor of a Company district in Rupert’s Land and is buried at Severn. His grandfather was Governor of York Factory near the mouth of the Nelson River, in its day the chief port on Hudson Bay, and his uncle Ballenden was a Chief Factor of the Company. James B. Bannatyne, Andrew’s father, was government inspector of Fisheries but he died when his son was three years old.

Andrew was educated at Stromness, in the Orkneys, but owing to his mother’s straitened circumstances he entered the Company’s service at the age of fourteen and set sail for Canada. He arrived at Quebec after a voyage of 32 days. As his uncle was in the Company’s service at Sault Ste. Marie he was assigned there and remained for two years until he was transferred to Fort Garry.

Later he was stationed at Norway House under Chief Factor Andrew McDermot who had come from Ireland in 1812 as a Company employee in the first expedition organized by Lord Selkirk. After a period of service McDermot became an independent trader and the wealthiest man in the Red River Settlement. His Fort Garry warehouse and store were between the Red River and Main Street near the corner of Portage Avenue.

On 22 May 1851, Eden Colvile, Governor of Assiniboia wrote to Sir George Simpson: “Andrew Bannatyne informed me the other day that his contract expired on June 1st next and that he had received a very good offer from McDermot to take charge of a shop and his watermill at Sturgeon Creek. I understand that he is to marry one of McDermot’s daughters. I told him that as he had not given the year’s notice I did not think I could allow him to leave for another year; but if he be not released I do not think it desirable that he should remain in the Settlement”.

On 24 August 1851, Governor Collvile reported again to his superior: “McDermott has taken as his partner young Bannatyne, Ballenden’s nephew, who has married one of McDermott’s daughters, (Annie). I do not think this youth will be a formidable opponent”. A poor prophecy!

Bannatyne did not enter into partnership with his father in law but opened his own store on Post Office (Lombard) Street. In doing this he opposed the power of the Hudson’s Bay Company which claimed monopoly of trade in Rupert’s Land under the terms of their charter of 1670. He got his first stock of goods direct from England via York Factory and York boats to the Red River.

When Bannatyne was trading on his own account at Norway House he was arrested by the Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company there, George Barnston, on a charge of illicit trading. A test case was instituted and was carried to the floor of the House of Commons in London when Henry Labouchere was Secretary of the Colonies. The decision was against the Company which paid all the expenses of the case and withdrew further opposition to Bannatyne.

After fifteen years, Bannatyne sold his retail business in Winnipeg but continued as a wholesale merchant under the firm name of Bannatyne and Company.

His energy, confidence in the country, sound judgment and fearlessness in business were recognized, and gained for him positions of honor and responsibility. In 1868, he was appointed a member of the Council of Assiniboia, the legislative body under the Hudson’s Bay Company prior to the sale of Ruperts’ Land to Canada in 1869.

Previous to this appointment he had been Petty Magistrate of the Middle District, 1861; Petty Judge of the Third Section, 1862; Postmaster, 25 November 1862; and President of the Petty Court, Middle District with a salary of per annum.

In the troubled times of 1869 70, Bannatyne took a moderate position. When Louis Riel, leader of the Métis, seized Fort Garry in 1869, and proceeded to form a Provisional Government, he urged Bannatyne to join his government. Bannatyne became Postmaster General of Manitoba and endeavored to smooth out difficulties. In the words of a Free Press editorial of 20 May 1889, “he always lent his influence against harsh conduct on the part of the Provincial Government.” When Colonel Wolseley’s expedition reached Fort Garry on 24 August 1870, order was restored and when the first Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, Adams G. Archibald, arrived in Winnipeg by canoe on 2 September 1870, a new regime was instituted. Manitoba then took its place in the Confederation of Canada.

Andrew Bannatyne was appointed in 1872, as a member of the Council of the North West Territory, and in the Federal election of 1874 he opposed Donald A. Smith, Hudson’s Bay Company’s Commissioner, for the constituency of Selkirk but was narrowly defeated. In that election Louis Riel was elected MP for Provencher constituency and went to Ottawa but was not permitted to sit in the house. A new election was called and Provencher returned Riel by acclamation. Parliament then unseated him and banished him from Canada. In the ensuing election Bannatyne was elected by acclamation on 31 March 1875, and he continued to represent Provencher until he withdrew from politics in 1878.

He continued to be the moving force in community enterprises. He was the first President of the Board of Trade founded in 1873, first President of the Manitoba Club, 1874 1879, first President of the Board of Trustees of Manitoba College, President of the St. Andrew’s Society of Winnipeg, and Vice Patron of the Selkirk Rifle Association. It should be noted that Winnipeg formed part of the County and Federal Constituency of Selkirk.

Possibly the institution which most appealed to him was the Winnipeg General Hospital. He occupied the chair at the organization meeting on 18 December 1872 and on 14 May 1875, he was named as one of the incorporators of the hospital. Andrew McDermot and he gave a plot of land as a site for a 20 bed hospital erected in 1882 but when a rush of settlers followed railway construction the small building was soon outgrown. McDermot and Bannatyne exchanged the lot on which it stood for two city blocks west of Nena, now Sherbrook Street, between McDermot and Bannatyne Avenues. On this was erected in 1884 85 one of the most modern hospitals of its time. Old timers will remember the fine curved stairway that led from Ward A to Ward B. Bannatyne was elected President of the Board of Trustees and he held office from 1877 until his death in 1889.

By 1882 he had gained a considerable fortune but he fell a victim, as so many, to the crash of that year. When the bubble burst he was left with many debts and to a man of his sturdy and honest independence these debts were a heavy burden though like Sir Walter Scott he labored to discharge every obligation. Like Sir Walter the struggle affected his health. In the days of his affluence Bannatyne had built a noble mansion, Ravenscourt, in the Scottish baronial style on the banks of the Assiniboine River but he had little opportunity to enjoy Ravenscourt. Ill health compelled him to spend the winters in the south but he was never happier than when he was able to return in the spring to his beloved home. The winter of 1888-1889 was spent in Texas and he was returning home by easy stages when death overtook him in St. Paul on 18 May 1889. The funeral service was at his home conducted by Rev. Professor Thomas Hart and that at the graveside in Old Kildonan cemetery by Principal John M. King of Manitoba College.

In the obituary which appeared in the Free Press of 20 May 1889, the editor spoke of Andrew Bannatyne’s noble quality of unselfishness and predicted that he would live in the hearts of thousands. Twenty years later a writer in the Winnipeg Sun declared that he had never heard one unkind word spoken against A. G. B. Bannatyne.

His widow, Annie McDermot Bannatyne, survived him till 1908 and was buried beside him in Old Kildonan Cemetery.

The writer has no recollection of seeing either of them but he has vivid memories of the easy grace of their son, William, playing cricket at The Winnipeg Cricket Club on the grounds situated where now Memorial Park points a welcome to the Legislative Building.

Andrew Bannatyne’s memory is perpetuated through two bronze tablets in the proximity of his first home near the Red River. One affixed to the Banque Canadienne Nationale, 432 Main Street, Winnipeg bears this inscription; “Nearby in the home of the Hon. A. G. B. Bannatyne the first Legislature of Manitoba met on the 15th March, 1871”. This tablet was unveiled by Hon. R. F. McWilliams, K.C., Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba on 14 October 1950.

This was not the only occasion the Bannatyne home served the community. In 1883 it was rented by the Christian Women’s Union to serve first as a hostel for young women working in the city and next as Winnipeg’s first maternity hospital.

The second memorial tablet is on the Lombard Street wall of the Bank of Nova Scotia building, Main and Lombard, near the site of the first Bannatyne store. It was placed there by the Masonic Grand Lodge of Manitoba to commemorate the first Masonic Lodge in Manitoba and contains the names of the three principal officers. John Christian Schultz Master, Andrew Graham Ballenden Bannatyne Senior Warden, William Inkster Junior Warden.

Page revised: 2 November 2009