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Memorable Manitobans: James Bertram Mitchell (1852-1945)

Click to enlarge

James Bertram Mitchell
Click to enlarge

Policeman, architect.

Born at Gananocque, Leeds County, Ontario on 14 October 1852, son of George Mitchell and Jane Brown, he was educated at the Gananocque High School and Montreal Art School. He joined the Canadian militia as a bugler at the age of 14, rising to corporal by 1870. Upon promotion, he was assigned to guard the Welland Canal at Carlton, Ontario against a Fenian invasion of Canada, an event that never took place. During his time in the militia, he met Colonel George A. French, soon to be the head of the newly minted North West Mounted Police (NWMP). It was a defining meeting for the young Mitchell.

Click to enlarge

James Bertram Mitchell
Click to enlarge

At age 18, Mitchell returned to civilian life and studied architecture at the Montreal Institute of Art for three years. He had read newspaper accounts of the difficulties at Red River and the whisky problem in the West. Stemming from his desire to serve his country and his strong sense of adventure Mitchell enlisted and at age 21 and was assigned NWMP regimental number 50, E division with the rank of Staff Constable.

The NWMP departed Fort Dufferin on 8 July 1874. During his time with the force, Mitchell signed as witness with Governor Morris’ Treaty with the Wood and Plain Cree Indians at Fort Carleton and Fort Pitt on 23 August and 9 September 1876. Having passed through Winnipeg during his time with the NWMP, when Mitchell returned to civilian life, he remembered the opportunity he felt existed in this new prairie city. He settled in the Point Douglas area.

He was elected to the Winnipeg School Board in 1888 and in 1892 was appointed Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings and Supplies. Along with his contemporary, School Superintendent Daniel McIntyre, Mitchell designed and created what some saw as North America’s safest and most architecturally eloquent collection of schools. Together the two men oversaw the design and construction of 48 Winnipeg schools and numerous additions. During his tenure, Mitchell witnessed the value of school buildings grow from less than $350,000 to nearly $10 million.

Some of the Winnipeg schools that Mitchell designed:

School

Location

Year

Status

Somerset School

775 Sherbrook Street

1901

Demolished (2005)

Alexandra School

Edmonton Street

1902

Demolished (1969)

Pinkham School No. 2

765 Pacific Avenue

1903

Burned and rebuilt (1945)

Carlton School

Graham Avenue

1903-1904

Demolished (c1929)

Strathcona School

McGregor Street

1904

Demolished (1963-1964)

John M. King School

Ellice Avenue

1905

Demolished (1968)

Wellington School

Wellington Avenue

1906

Demolished

Luxton School

111 Polson Avenue

1907

 

King Edward School No. 1

Selkirk Avenue

1908

Demolished (1975)

Mulvey School

Maryland Street

1908

 

Riverview School No. 1

Casey Street

1908

 

Cecil Rhodes School No. 1

136 Cecil Street

1908

 

Clifton School

Clifton Street

1908

 

Lord Selkirk School No. 1

Brazier Street

1908-1909

Demolished (early 1970s)

Aberdeen School No. 2

444 Flora Avenue

1909

Demolished (c1988)

Greenway School No. 1

850 St. Matthews Avenue

1909

Demolished

La Verendrye School

290 Lilac Street

1909

 

Kelvin High School

55 Harrow Street

1910

Demolished (1965-1966)

St. John’s High School

Machray Avenue

1910

Demolished

Dufferin School No. 3

545 Alexander Avenue

circa 1910

Demolished

Lord Roberts School

Daly Street South

1910

Demolished (1970)

Principal Sparling School

1150 Sherburn Street

1912-1913

 

Laura Secord School

960 Wolseley Avenue

1912-1913

 

Isaac Brock School

1265 Barratt Avenue

1913

 

George V School

265 Grey Street

1915

 

Earl Grey School

340 Cockburn Street North

1914

 

Julia Clark School

611 Academy Road

1918

 

Anna Gibson School

77 Kelvin Street

1919

Demolished (2005)

Greenway School No. 2

465 Banning Street

1919

Demolished (1997)

Cecil Rhodes School No. 2

East Street

1920

Demolished

Montcalm School

Tecumseh Street

1920

Demolished

Ralph Brown School No. 1

Andrews Street

1920

Demolished

Florence Nightingale School

31 Shaughnessy Street

1920

Demolished

Machray School No. 3

Mountain Avenue

1921

Demolished

David Livingstone School

270 Stella Avenue

1922

 

Grosvenor School

Grosvenor Avenue

1922

 

Faraday School

405 Parr Street

1925

 

Influenced by British Board Schools, Mitchell created powerful, stately buildings that he felt nurtured the physical and intellectual potential of all children, no matter what their country of origin. British Board Schools were massive red brick buildings, usually three storeys, with similar design and layout. Hundreds of them were built between 1870 and 1900. Their style captured the imagination of the public and became the defining characteristic of enlightened education. Mitchell used the Board Schools as his basic design, enhancing the already handsome buildings with decorative details from Queen Anne, Gothic, Classical and Georgian Revival architectural styles.

Always eager to learn new techniques and designs, Mitchell traveled across Canada and the United States, touring educational facilities and discussing their design with his peers. He brought home many new ideas for his schools. But always foremost in his mind was that fundamental education would be provided, children would be enlightened and all of Canada would benefit.

He was married twice, first to Helen Richmond Brough of Gananocque, and second to Margaret Booth of Scotland. He had one son and two daughters with his first wife. His son, Ross Mitchell, was a President of the Manitoba Historical Society.

He served as president of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg from 1908 to 1909. During World War One, Mitchell served as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 100th Grenadiers from 1912 to 1920, taking them to Valcartier in August 1914 (11th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force). He raised the 78th Battalion in 1915 and the 100th Battalion which he took overseas in 1916. He saw action at St. Eloi and Vimy.

Mitchell retired in 1928, and he died on 14 November 1945. He is commemorated by J. B. Mitchell School in Winnipeg. There are papers at the Archives of Manitoba.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: J. B. Mitchell School (1720 John Brebeuf Place, Winnipeg)

Sources:

Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.

The Leading Financial, Business & Professional Men of Winnipeg, published by Edwin McCormick, Photographs by T. J. Leatherdale, Compiled and printed by Stone Limited, c1913. [copy available at the Archives of Manitoba]

Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.

“Last tributes paid to Mitchell,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 November 1945. [Manitoba Legislative Library, Biographical Scrapbook B9]

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

Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950

Winnipeg Building Index

This page was prepared by Reid Dickie and Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 3 August 2015

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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