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Memorable Manitobans: John Palliser (1817-1887)

Explorer, geographer.

Born in Dublin, Ireland on 29 January 1817, son of Wray and Anne Palliser, he was educated abroad before intermittent attendance at Trinity College, Dublin. He was fluent in three foreign languages (French, German, and Italian). He had an appointment as a captain in the Waterford Artillery Militia (1844), but was seldom on active service. In 1847 he travelled to North America to hunt big game, visiting New Orleans and Panama before returning to Ireland in 1849. This tour produced his Solitary Rambles and Adventures of a Hunter in the Prairies (1853). In 1856 he offered the Royal Geographical Society a proposal for a journey of exploration through what is now Western Canada, to explore British North America between the parallels of 49° and 50° latitude and 100° and 115° west longitude. The society upgraded the journey to a scientific expedition and obtained the support of the British government and the Hudson's Bay Company.

Palliser left for New York on 16 May 1857. He and his associates (Dr. James Hector, Eugene Bourgeau, Lieutenant Thomas Wright Blakiston, John William Sullivan) travelled to Red River by canoe through British territory, and then spent several years criss-crossing the West. The result was a series of reports appearing in 1859, 1860, and 1863, and a large map finally published in 1865. These added considerably to what was known about the southern prairies and Rocky Mountains. Particularly notable was Palliser’s insistence on a fertile belt suited for agriculture on the edge of the semi-arid land of what became known as Palliser’s Triangle. The expedition expressed concern about the future of the Native peoples. Palliser inherited the Irish estates of his family in 1862, and he made several later voyages to remote places.

He died unmarried at Comragh County, Waterford on 18 August 1887. He is commemorated by Palliser Avenue in Winnipeg.

More information:

The Papers of the Palliser Expedition, 1857-6 (1968).

The Palliser Expedition: An Account of John Palliser’s British North American Exploring Expedition 1857-1860 by Irene Spry (1963).

John Palliser, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XI, 661-64.

Sources:

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

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

Page revised: 13 April 2008

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