Memorable Manitobans: Louis Olivier Armstrong (1850-1937)
Cleric, immigration agent, film maker.
Born in Quebec on 8 May 1850, he studied at Huron College in Kingston, Ontario from 1870 to 1873 then was ordained a minister in the Anglican faith. His first assignment was to the parish of Lakeview northwest of Montreal. In November 1878, fifty families from his parish took up homesteads in western Canada, in an area near the present site of Rapid City, Manitoba. Armstrong was unable to accompany the colonists due to a broken leg, so his brother-in-law George Lindsay led the party and later became a prominent merchant at Rapid City. Armstrong offered his clerical services to Robert Machray and, in June 1879, was appointed to the burgeoning prairie town of Emerson, Manitoba, succeeding Mark Jukes.
In 1874, he had married Mary Agnes Lindsay (1854-?), daughter of Rev. Robert Lindsay of Montreal. They had three daughters: Ethel Armstrong (1875-1957, wife of John E. Botterell), May Armstrong (b 1878), and Margaret Armstrong (b 1890).
On the family’s arrival at Emerson in July 1879, Armstrong prepared a series of lectures extolling the virtues of western Canada to potential immigrants in Britain. A letter he wrote to a cleric in Liverpool was reprinted in several London newspapers. He also began advocating the construction of a railway westward from Emerson to the Turtle Mountain district of southwest Manitoba. In January 1880, he joined a party heading out in a small shack on a sleigh, towed by a team of horses, to explore the area. His notes from the trip became the basis of a widely distributed pamphlet, entitled Southern Manitoba and Turtle Mountain Country, published later that year. In it, he offered “eight solid reasons why a man should settle in the Nor-West of the Dominion of Canada rather than anywhere else”.
In March 1880, a health problem forced Armstrong to relinquish his ministry but not his interest in promoting immigration to western Canada. Three months later, he became a Dominion Land Commissioner and accompanied A. R. C. Selwyn, Director of the Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada, on an inspection tour of coal fields near the present site of Bienfait, Saskatchewan.
He purchased land himself in the vicinity of the Manitoba City, resigning his position with the federal government in June 1881 to become a land commissioner and agent for the South Western Colonization line of the Canadian Pacific Railway being constructed from Winnipeg into the region. He was also associated with the British and North West Colonization Company, and the private banking firm of McEwan, Dunsford and Company at Nelsonville. He sold his property at Emerson in November 1881 and moved his family to Winnipeg, renting for a time the former residence of J. C. Schultz. In December 1883, they moved again, to Montreal where he continued working as a CPR colonization agent. He spent the rest of his working life travelling widely in Canada and the USA giving public lectures on the benefits of settlement in western Canada.
In the course of his publicity work, Armstrong was a pioneer in the use of the new medium of film. In 1902 and 1903, he helped to produce a series of views aimed at British immigrants. He also filmed pageants staged by Ojibwa and Mohawk people of eastern Ontario. He worked as a screenwriter for the British American Film Manufacturing Company at Montreal.
He died at Toronto, Ontario in 1937, at the home of his grandson, Dr. E. Harry Botterell, and was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.
Marriage registration, Ancestry.
1901 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.
“Rev. Louis Olivier Armstrong, A Biographical Note” by Felix G. Kuehn, in Meet You On The Trail or West Before The Railroad [Annotated reprint of Southern Manitoba and Turtle Mountain Country], Winnipeg: Boundary Commission – North West Mounted Police Association, March 1991. [Archives of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land]
Southern Manitoba and Turtle Mountain Country, pamphlet written 1880 by L. O. Armstrong. [University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections]
L. O. Armstrong, Silent Cinema in Quebec, 1896-1930.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 26 June 2015
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