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Memorable Manitobans: George Bryce (1844-1931)

Cleric, educator, historian.

Born on a farm near Mount Pleasant, Ontario, on 22 April 1844, a year after his parents had immigrated to Canada from Scotland. He received what was, for the times, a good education, at the high school in nearby Brantford, the University of Toronto, and Knox College, where his success as a student was marked with medals and scholarships. He was an athlete, playing on the college football team. He had served as a militia volunteer during the Fenian troubles of 1866 and was present at the disastrous Canadian defeat at Ridgeway.

Click to enlargeAs a young Presbyterian minister, Bryce was part of the influx of Ontario immigrants who came to Manitoba after the collapse of Riel’s Provisional Government in 1870. He was selected in 1871 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to come west to Red River to organize a Presbyterian college and a new church. He set up Manitoba College in the same year and taught there until 1909. In 1872 he founded Knox Church, the first Presbyterian church in Winnipeg. He was also one of the founders of the University of Manitoba, and taught science on the University faculty and served on the University Council until his retirement in 1904.

Bryce was one of the founders and he served two terms as President of the Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society - once from 1884 to 1887, and again from 1905 to 1913. He was a prolific author, who wrote nine books and forty or fifty pamphlets as well as numerous sermons and speeches. He delivered 30 papers before the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba alone, on topics as diverse as geology, archaeology, and Red River history. In 1902 his scholarship gained national recognition when he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada. In 1910 he served as the Royal Society’s President and he was also a member of many other learned societies. In 1920 he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Manitoba.

In his later years, after the death of his wife Marion Bryce, he grew frail and moved back to Ontario to live with his brother, Dr. P. H. Bryce, in Ottawa. He died there, largely forgotten, on 5 August 1931 and was buried in Winnipeg's Kildonan Cemetery.

He is commemorated by Bryce Avenue in Winnipeg, and Bryce Hall (with a commemorative plaque) at the University of Winnipeg. There are extensive papers at the University of Winnipeg.

See also:

“George Bryce” by Catherine Logan Macdonald (MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1983).

George Bryce - Person of National Historic Significance

His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:

Winnipeg Country: its Discovery and the Great Consequences Resulting
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 4, Read 1883

In Memoriam: Late A. K. Isbister, M.A., LL.B., Honorary Member
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 8, Read 1883

Notes and Comments on Harmons Journal 1800-1820
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 9, Read 13 December 1883

The Mound Builders
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 18, Read 1885

The Old Settlers of Red River
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 19,Read 26 November 1885

The Souris Country: its Monuments, Mounds, Forts and Rivers
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 24, Read 1887

Sketch of the Life of John Tanner, a Famous Manitoba Scout: a Border Type
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 30, Read 26 April 1888

Original Letters and Other Documents Relating to the Selkirk Settlement
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 33, Read 17 January 1889

Two Provisional Governments in Manitoba Containing an Interesting Discussion of the Riel Rebellion with an Appendix Embodying the Four Bills of Rights Verbatim
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 38, Read 9 January1890

The First Recorder of Ruperts Land
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 40, Read 4 May 1890

Surface Geology of the Red River and Assiniboine Valleys
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 41, Read 22 January 1891

Older Geology of the Red River and Assiniboine Valleys
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 42, Read 26 November 1891

Seven Oaks: An Account of the Affair of Seven Oaks; the Circumstances which led up to it; a description of the contestants; the events of the conflict, including the death of Governor Semple and his followers; and a report of proceedings of the gathering for the unveiling of the Seven Oaks Monument, June 19th, 1891
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 43, Read 1891

Early Days in Winnipeg
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 46, Read 18 February 1894

Worthies of Old Red River
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 48, Read 11 February 1896

The Lake of the Woods: its History, Geology, Mining and Manufacturing
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 49, Read 23 February 1897

Sketch of the Life and Discoveries of Robert Campbell, Chief Factor of the Hudsons Bay Company
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 52, Read 14 April 1898

Letters of a Pioneer, Alexander Ross
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 63, Read 10 February 1903

Treasures of Our Library
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 64, Read 9 February 1904

Among the Mound Builders Remains
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 66, Read 9 February 1904

A Great City Library
MHS Transaction, Series 1, No. 70, Read 8 March 1906

A Sketch of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
MHS Transactions, Series 1, No. 72, Read 1906


Sources:

A History of Manitoba: Its Resources and People by Prof. George Bryce, Toronto: The Canadian History Company, 1906.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Parts of this profile were written by Jim Blanchard.

Page revised: 13 March 2011

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