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Memorable Manitobans: George Barnston (c1800-1883)

Fur trader, naturalist.

Born at Edinburgh, Scotland, he was educated as a surveyor and army engineer. He entered the service of the North West Company in 1820 and after the 1821 amalgamation was retained as anapprentice clerk in the Hudson’s Bay Company. His first station was at York Factory, and in 1824 he helped outfit two forts—Fort Garry and Bas de la Rivière at the mouth of the Winnipeg River. From 1826-1832 he was stationed at various posts on the Pacific coast and, later, on the Albany for a number of years.

In 1840 he was appointed to the rank of Chief Trader and given charge of Albany Factory. In 1846 he was moved to Tadoussac where he was given charge of the King’s Posts and remained there until 1849. After a furlough he was put in charge of the post at Norway House in 1851, and remained there until 1858. During those years he helped to outfit various northern expeditions under Rae, Anderson and Stewart. When he retired in 1862, he settled in Montreal.

Barnston was a diligent student of the natural history of the areas in which he served and his specimens are in the Smithsonian Institute, the British Museum and the Redpath Museum at McGill. He was a regular contributor to the Canadian Naturalist (see list of articles in Bibliotheca Canadensis), and wrote for the Ibis as well. His special interest was mosses of the Canadian North and their molluscs. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1882. He was author of The Oregon Treaty and the Hudson’s Bay Company (1865).

Father of James Barnston.

He died at Montreal on 14 March 1883.

More information:

Science in the Subarctic: Trappers, Traders, and the Smithsonian Institution by Debra Lindsay (1993).

George Barnston, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online


A Political Manual of the Province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories by J. P. Robertson, Winnipeg: Call Printing Company, 1887.

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Page revised: 17 July 2010

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society.

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