Historic Sites of Manitoba: Betsey Ramsay Gravesite (Municipality of Bifrost-Riverton)
John Ramsay, a prominent member of a Saulteaux Aboriginal band in the Lake Winnipeg region, and his family, were instrumental in assisting the first Icelandic immigrants who arrived in Manitoba in 1875. The Ramsays provided the settlers with meat and instructed them in local survival skills: the building of warm log cabins and local fishing and hunting techniques. A smallpox epidemic that struck the settlement in 1876-1877 also affected local Aboriginals, including the Ramsay family. John lost his wife Betsey and four of his five children. They were buried here at Sandy Bar. In 1880 he went to Lower Fort Garry where he traded furs and purchased a marble gravestone for Betsey’s grave. He hauled the stone back to this site (which is now in the Municipality of Bifrost-Riverton), set it on the grave, and built a fence around it.
Local lore holds that, in 1908, settler Trausti Vigfusson had an unusually vivid dream in which a tall stranger, who identified himself as John Ramsay, emerged from the woods near Vigfusson’s home (now preserved at the Arborg and District Multicultural Heritage Village) and asked him to repair the fence around the Ramsay grave, which was in deteriorated condition. Vigfusson, a skilled carpenter, carried out the work. In 1998, the fence was rebuilt again by local residents Elizabeth and Joan Hibbert, and a plaque commemorating John Ramsay was added by Ruth Christie, a great-granddaughter of John Ramsay.
The grave is municipally-designated heritage site (1989). It underwent restoration during the winter of 2022-2023.
A list of burials in this cemetery is available from the Manitoba Genealogical Society, including a searchable online database available to members at the MGS Manitoba Name Index (MANI). Some additional information is contained in the 1996 MGS publication Carved in Stone: Manitoba Cemeteries and Burial Sites, revised edition, Special Projects Publication, 106 pages.
Betsey Ramsay’s Grave, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch.
We thank Elizabeth Hibbert, Ruth Christie, Rose Kuzina, and Greg Petzold for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 29 April 2023