Memorable Manitobans: John Stoughton Dennis (1820-1885)
Born at Kingston, Ontario on 19 October 1820, son of Joseph Dennis and Mary Stoughton, known to his family as Stoughton, he was educated at Victoria College. He then qualified as a land surveyor. In 1869 he was instructed by the Canadian federal government to go to the Red River Settlement to report on a system of surveys for the western interior. He met with considerable resistance from the Métis under Louis Riel and disbanded his survey on 9 December. He fled the colony two days later with Governor William McDougall, having failed to raise much interest among “volunteers” to fight against the Métis on behalf of the Canadian government.
In 1871 he became Canada’s first Surveyor General and head of the Dominion Lands Branch, and in 1878 Deputy Minister of the Interior under Sir John A. Macdonald. He succeeded in establishing the 160-acre unit for homesteads rather than the 80-acre unit preferred by Macdonald. He resigned in 1881 and was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1882.
He married Sarah Maria Oliver (?-1915) on 12 September 1848 at St. George’s Church in Kingston, Ontario. They had nine children: four who died in infancy, Christina Maria Sadler (c1852-1885), John Stoughton Dennis Jr (1856-1938), Hugh Cochrane Dennis (c1859-?), Harriet Jane (1862-?) and Henry Joseph (1864-?). His Winnipeg home was designed in 1880 by architect B. C. Kenway. Dennis was a second cousin of Robert D. Richardson.
He died near Ottawa, Ontario on 7 July 1885 and was buried in Kingston.
A Political Manual of the Province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories by J. P. Robertson, Winnipeg: Call Printing Company, 1887.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950 by Robert G. Hill, Toronto.
We thank Holly Adams for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 15 September 2013