Manitoba Historical Society
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Pioneer Protestant Ministers at Red River [1]

by Harry Shave

MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 6, 1949-50 season

This article was published originally in MHS Transactions by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The story of Rev. John West, the first protestant minister in Western Canada, is full of interest and romance. He came to Rupert's Land under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society of England and of the Hudson's Bay Company. His role was a dual one, for he was both missionary to the settlers and Indians, and chaplain to the Hudson's Bay Company.

He made his headquarters at Red River colony, and it might be said that it was here that his most effective work was done. However, his ministrations extended to many of the company's trading posts, where he conducted church services, married couples and baptized children. Many of these couples had been married by contract in the years preceding Mr. West's arrival, but the coming of this pioneer clergyman presented to them the opportunity of having their marriages solemnized. Every marriage, baptism and burial was carefully recorded in their respective registers. [2]

After his arrival in Rupert's Land - at York Factory, August 14, 1820, West started his professional duties by preaching to the assembled Hudson's Bay Company men and their families. The first records in his church registers are the marriage at the Rock Depot, which was about fifty miles south of York Factory, of Thomas Bunn and Phoebe Sinclair, on September 9, 1820, and on the same date the baptism of their four children. This was a rather unusual occurrence according to present day customs; but it must be remembered that prior to West's arrival there were no ministers anywhere in the northern wastes of Rupert's Land. Marriage was performed by signed contract, if at all. Various forms of contract were used, but the one generally accepted was that which was used at Rupert's House in 1842. One of the original contracts is on exhibit in the Museum at the retail store of the Hudson's Bay Company in Winnipeg. [3]

Thomas Bunn was described in the register as District Master for the Hudson's Bay Company; his wife was a daughter of William Sinclair, another Hudson's Bay Company man. A year or two later the trading post at Rock Depot was discontinued, and Bunn, who had had twenty-five year's service with the Company, was retired on pension and moved to Red River. Mrs. Bunn died in 1848 and her husband in 1853. They were buried in St. John's Cemetery, where a stone of English slate marks their grave.

Upon his arrival at Norway House, Mr. West baptized four children of Alexander and Agatha Kennedy.

It was on October 25, 1820, that West conducted his first wedding ceremony at Red River. He had been provided with accommodation at Fort Douglas and at that place Thomas Halcrow, a smith in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company, was married to Mary, an Indian woman. Governor Bulger described Fort Douglas as a group of old dilapidated buildings, through the walls of which daylight could be seen. The fort was situated on the banks of Red River, at a spot now known as Point Douglas - east of the foot of Higgins Avenue.

George Harbidge was a witness at the Bunn wedding, and at many others in those days. He is the man whom Governor Simpson said was totally unfit for his position as school teacher and that the Indian boys he was supposed to be teaching could teach him. I think Simpson must have been prejudiced, for his superior, Nicholas Garry, later Deputy Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company in London, visited the school when he was at Red River in 1821 and had a different story to tell. He said the Indian boys at the school could now speak very good English. Furthermore, after less than two years in the school, West baptized two of the first scholars, Henry Budd and James Hope. He recorded the fact, June 21, 1822, that they were "taught in the Missionary School and were now capable of reading the New Testament, with repeating the Church of England catechism correctly, and of understanding the Principal truths of religion." A year later, six more of the Indian children were baptized, doubtless having to first prove that they had the same qualifications as Budd and Hope.

On January 15, 1821, West left Fort Douglas in a dog carriole, with a driver and one other carriole and driver, with luggage and provisions. Arriving at Brandon House, he solemnized the marriage of the District Master, John Richards McKay and his wife Harriett. He also baptized their two children, married two other couples and baptized a number of children. Before leaving for Qu'Appelle, on January 24, Mr. McKay provided two armed men to accompany West, fearing that the party might be attacked by a band of Stone Indians, who had been acting "in a turbulent manner at the post a few days before." After travelling some distance, they met a party of Hudson's Bay Company men returning to Brandon House. Being informed that the Indians had gone north, West permitted his two armed guards to return to Brandon. That evening, some time after West and his guide had kindled their fire, they were alarmed by hearing the Indians drumming, shouting and dancing. They immediately put their fire out and laid down with their guns handy, fully expecting a visit during the night. Fortunately, they were not disturbed, and left the spot before daybreak next morning, without being observed by the Indians.

On March 30, 1821, James Bird was married at Red River and on the same date the wedding of Thomas Thomas was also solemnized. Both men were described as principal settlers, but had been prominent in the fur trade. It was Tames Bird who accompanied Nicholas Garry north to York Factory, later in 1821. Garry remarked in his diary that he had found Mr. Bird both useful and kind all through the trip. Thomas Thomas was formerly a Governor of the Northern Department of the Company, and was at the time of his marriage and for seven years thereafter a member of the Council of Assiniboia. He was highly regarded in the community and after his death in 1828 a marble tablet to his memory was erected in the church. This tablet is now on the west wall of St. John's Cathedral.

On the day Mr. Bird and Mr. Thomas and their brides were married, another wedding was solemnized. George Saunderson and Lifset Lajumoniere were the parties. West mentioned in his journal that the Roman Catholic church missionaries had declined to marry couples who were not both of their faith. This was evidently one of such instances. On the same date their son James was baptized. Saunderson was described as a settler. [4]

William Garrioch, second trader at Swan River, and Nancy Cook had their marriage solemnized and their five children baptized on May 27, 1821. Twenty-eight years later one of these children, Peter, was one of the champions of what he considered the rights of the half-breeds to trade in furs, independently of the Hudson's Bay Company.

The signatures of Nicholas Garry and George Simpson appear in the marriage register, under date of August 12, 1821. It was the occasion of the wedding at Norway House of Thomas Isbister, clerk of Cumberland House, and Mary Kennedy. This is evidently the couple who became the parents of A. K. Isbister. I understand his Christian names were Alexander Kennedy, so named in honor of his mother's father. A. K. Isbister was educated at Red River and became famous as a lawyer in England.

Two days following the Isbister-Kennedy wedding, Garry was present at the marriage of Peter Fidler. Garry records this event in his diary, stating that Mr. Fidler married an Indian woman. Fidler was the first surveyor at Red River and laid out the lots for the Selkirk settlers in 1814. He was an Englishman who had been in the fur trade with the Hudson's Bay Company since the year 1790. He died in 1822.

At this time Garry was on a trip of inspection to the various posts of the Hudson's Bay Company and the former North-West Company in connection with the amalgamation of these two companies. He mentioned in his diary his association with West and of the formation of a branch of the Auxiliary Bible Society. In aid of this branch he added £50 in the name of the company, to the contributions made by the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company. [5]

While at York Factory, Garry attended at the marriage of three Swiss couples who had recently arrived as members of a party of Swiss colonists. They could not speak English so Garry interpreted the ceremony in German. Walther De Husa also witnessed these weddings. De Husa, a Swiss nobleman, was in charge of the party of colonists. Garry's diary tells us he was "related to William Tell's family, whose costume he wears, which is most becoming." Garry also mentions Divine Service by West when "all the Swiss settlers, who are (with the exception of seven) Calvinists, attended, and all the officers and servants of the company, nearly 200 people in all." He states further, "Mr. de Husser, though a Catholic, was present, showing a tolerant Mind and excellent Judgment." [6]

Simon McGillivray, formerly of the North West Company, also has his signature in the register as a witness to one of the weddings. 'He had accompanied Garry to all the posts that had been visited. One would judge from Garry's remarks that the character and personality of the two men were directly opposite. Garry has been spoken of as a kind and courteous Christian gentleman, while McGillivray was typical of many of the men of the North-West Company with very few humane traits.

The signatures of William Williams, Alex MacDonell and Wm. Todd also appear in the August, 1821, marriage register. Williams was a company Governor, appointed to that position in 1818. He was a pugnacious individual, but apparently the proper type to combat the North-Westers. MacDonell had been a North-Wester, and only three years earlier had been arrested, along with a number of others of his Company, by this same Governor Williams. William Todd was a physician and company officer.

Upon John West's return to Red River in 1821 one of his first duties was the baptism, on August 1, of the child who in later years became the mother of the late Archbishop S. P. Matheson. The name given the child was Catherine. She was the infant daughter of John and Catherine Pritchard. Eleven days later that famous old pioneer Andrew McDermott got his name in the records by having three children baptized. At the time of this ceremony McDermott was a clerk at Norway House. He later operated the first individually owned merchandise house in what is now Winnipeg. He lived to see Winnipeg become a city, and is buried in St. John's Cemetery.

Mr. West continued to hold services at old Fort Douglas until mid-November, 1821, when he was given better accommodation at Fort Gibraltar, the former North-West Company fort at the confluence of'the Red and Assiniboine rivers. The name of this fort was changed by Governor Simpson to Fort Garry, on or about April 18, 1822. Mr. West made a note of this in his marriage register. The reason for the change is obvious.

With the exception of a brief visit to Pembina early in 1822, West had remained at Red River from November, 1821, until the autumn of 1822. He had been busy getting an addition to the school built and the erection of a church under way. Garry visited the site for the new church in August, 1821, and noted in his diary: "The site of the church is a beautiful situation near the banks of the river. Excellent soil, most luxuriant meadows, the verdure not finer even in England." The exact location of this first church was a few yards from the south-east corner of the present St. John's Cemetery. Its dimensions were twenty feet by seventy feet, built of hewn logs, covered with rough lumber. The cemetery superintendent located the foundations a few years ago. They consisted of large stones about six feet below the surface and oak logs set on top of the stones.

In August, 1822, West was again at York Factory. The aristocracy of the fur trade were assembled, and took advantage of West's presence to have their children baptized. The fathers of these children were George Simpson, Governor of the Southern Factory; Colin Robertson and Donald McKenzie, Chief Factors of Norway House; J. G. McTavish, Chief Factor of York Factory; John Spencer, Chief Trader of the same place, and Joseph McGillivray, Chief Factor of Norway House. Captain (later Sir) John Franklin was also there and signed as a witness to the marriage on August 25 of James Kirkness and Jessie Sinclair. John Halkett was the other witness. Halkett was a brother-in-law of Lord Selkirk, and one of the executors of his estate. He was also a large stock-holder in the Hudson's Bay Company. He had visited Red River Colony and was now meeting with the officers of the Company on matters pertaining to the welfare of the Colony and of the Company's discharged servants and their families.

The name of Peter Rindisbacher, a Swiss colonist, has gone down in history for his water colours made along the route from Norway House to Red River in 1821. The archives at Ottawa have thirty-eight of these original sketches. A copy of his sketch of the Rock Depot appeared in the issue of the Beaver magazine for September, 1949. Another, of the parsonage at Red River, hangs in the Minister's room of St. John's Cathedral. On October 30, 1822, the rite of baptism was administered to Frederic, son of Peter and Barbara Rindisbacher. West has spelled the name Rendisberger, but this is evidently a mistake, caused by the fact that Rindisbacher could not speak English. This was the second baptism in the new church. The first was Angus Polson, son of Selkirk settlers Alex and Catherine Polson.

On November 10, 1822, Catherine, daughter of Thomas and Sarah Thomas, was baptized. In later years she became the wife of Dr. John Bunn, son of Thomas and Phoebe Bunn, previously mentioned. There is a marble tablet in St. John's Cathedral to the memory of Catherine Bunn.

The first wedding in the new church took place October 18, 1822, between George Harbidge and Elizabeth Baden. They were described as school master and school mistress of the Church Missionary Society. The record states they were married by banns and with the consent of the Missionary Society. Miss Baden had arrived here from England a few months previously. The witnesses were Andrew Bulger, Governor of Red River Settlement, and William Garrioch.

On December 19, 1822, West performed the marriage service for James Fraser and Ann Bannerman. They had been married by contract January 18, 1818. As they were Scottish settlers, it is just possible that James Sutherland completed the marriage contract, before he was forced to go to Canada by the North-West Company men. Thirty years after this wedding Fraser became one of the first Elders of Kildonan Presbyterian church. He died in 1862 and a stone marks his grave in St. John's Cemetery. At the head of the inscription on the stone are the words "James Fraser, Elder."

In the summer of 1823 Mr. West started north again, this time to return to England. At Norway House he joined in marriage William Sinclair and Mary McKay. The witnesses were D. McKenzie, Roderick McKenzie and Peter Skene Ogden, all men prominent in the fur trade of those days. West's final marriage ceremony in Rupert's Land was on July 10, 1823, at York Factory, between William Taite and Mary Auld, both of that place. Joseph Spence and John Charles signed as witnesses.

When West met John Franklin in 1822, he was asked to visit the Eskimos at Churchill. West promised he would do so in 1823. He left York Factory on July 11 to walk the 180 miles to Churchill. Franklin had advised against travel by canoe, owing to the danger and delay that would be caused by the vast quantities of floating ice in the bay. He engaged a company servant and an Indian guide. Two other Indians who were returning to Churchill joined the party. During the first few days they passed through swamps, ankle deep in water, and were tortured incessantly by mosquitoes. After that the going was more pleasant, owing to a cool breeze off the bay, which cleared the air of the myriads of these insects. They arrived at Churchill ten days after starting. His purpose in visiting the Eskimos was to obtain information as to the practicability of sending a schoolmaster amongst them, or forming a school for the education of their children. After holding divine worship and having several conversations with the Eskimos, he returned to York Factory on August 19. Upon his return he found his successor, Rev. D. T. Jones, had arrived. They had many conferences before West set sail for England on September 11, 1823.

For reasons which I think will be obvious to you as I proceed with this narrative, I have chosen the title "The Evangelist of Red River Colony" for Rev. David Thomas Jones.

A memorandum in Mr. Jones' handwriting in his marriage register states that he arrived at York Factory August 12, Norway House October 1, and at Fort Douglas October 14, 1823.

During the absence of a minister at the church mission house, social prayer meetings were held pending Mr. Jones' arrival. George Harbidge, the school-master, baptized several children, noting in the baptismal register "it being a case of necessity and owing to the absence of the minister."

However, a few days after Mr. Jones' arrival at Red River (on October 19 to be exact) he baptized Elizabeth, infant daughter of George and Elizabeth Harbidge.

The baptismal rite was not new at Red River. In the front of the church Mission House register is a memorandum which reads: "The following entries were found in Fort Douglas by Governor Pelly and were, at his request, entered in the register this 12th November 1823 by

(signed) David Jones
Assistant chaplain."

Red River Parsonage
November the 14, 1823.

Then follows a list of thirteen names, the children of Abel Edwards, surgeon of Assiniboia, Hector McDonald of Fort Deer, Miles and Donald Livingstone, Hector and Alex McLean, Hector McEachem, William Sutherland, Angus McKay, Martin Jordan and John Cooper, all of Red River Colony. These baptisms were performed between May 3, 1813 and April 16, 1815, apparently by Miles McDonnell and Archibald MacDonald.

It was not long after Mr. Jones' arrival that he found that he would have to co-operate with the Scottish settlers, if he were to perform his duty to all the Protestants at Red River. Alexander Ross, in his book The Red River Settlement, says:

"... he became extremely kind and indulgent to them, and among other things laid aside such parts of the Liturgy and formula of the Episcopalian Church as he knew were offensive to his Presbyterian hearers. He also held prayer-meetings among them, after the manner of their own church, without using the prayer-book at all, which raised him higher than ever in their estimation, especially as they understood that he could only do so at the hazard of forfeiting his gown. His own words were: 'I know I am doing good; and as long as I can do good to souls, the technical forms of this or that church will not prevent me.' Mr. Jones was a fine and eloquent preacher; tender-hearted, kind, and liberal to a fault. And so popular was he on account of the last-mentioned trait in his character that he was all but idolized in Red River." [7]

It is worthy of note that this glowing tribute was paid by a Scottish gentle-man, a leader during his residence here in the negotiations that were carried on intermittently for forty years for a Presbyterian minister. When these negotiations finally bore fruit, Mr. Ross became an elder in the Church he had worked so hard to establish.

Not long after his arrival at Red River Mr. Jones was appointed a member of the council of Assiniboia, the governing body of Red River settlement. He was selected to act on the Committee of Economy. The principal concern of this committee was the welfare of the populace. Among the crimes dealt with by the council at their quarterly court were the occasional boisterous times at weddings, the crying out of oxen at church doors, and the regulation of the buffalo hunt.

By the end of Mr. Jones' first winter at Red River the little church built in 1822 was over-crowded. The settlers were coming to service by ox cart, on horseback, or on foot, from as far as ten miles or more. He, therefore, decided to build another church at Image Plain (Middlechurch). This was opened on January 30, 1825, and pending the arrival of another missionary, he conducted services in both churches ever Sunday as well as in mid-week.

In the building of the new church he was materially assisted by Governor Simpson and by the settlers. Later Mr. Jones, in a letter to the Church Missionary Society, said: "I had often looked on this church as a child of my own rearing. I had worked at it many a day with my own hands; and with the aid of the settlers had brought it to a tolerable degree of perfection."

In the autumn of the year 1825, Mr. Jones had the great joy of welcoming Rev. William and Mrs. Cockran to the settlement. The services at the two churches were now divided.

The year 1826 was one of severe trial for the missionaries, and the settlers. It was in the spring of that year that a disastrous flood occurred. The ice held firm until the end of April. Two days later the water rose and lifted the ice in a solid mass nine feet above its previous level. It continued to rise. The settlers fled to higher ground, leaving their belongings behind. Some of the men obtained boats and removed some of their grain, furniture and cooking utensils. At Fort Garry, the Governor and his family fled to the upper story of their residence, the water having risen to a depth of ten feet in the buildings. They were later taken by boat to a place of refuge. The parsonage and upper church were flooded, and like the settlers, Mr. Jones, his staff and school boarders fled to higher ground. Many of the log houses were dashed to pieces and floated away. The places of refuge were Little and Big Stony Mountain, Bird's Hill and Silver Heights. In the early days of the flood the temperature was 5 degrees below freezing and rain, snow and sleet fell intermittently. The missionaries and settlers lived in tents on the various promontories during this state of confusion.

Before leaving the church and parsonage, Mr. Jones and his staff had built a platform under the roof of the church, where they placed some of their furniture and other valuables. Another platform was erected above the water level in the church and on Sunday, May 14, the people went to Divine Service by boat.

When, on June 12, the water had subsided to the extent that the people could return to their homes, they found a scene of desolation. Only three houses in the whole settlement were left standing. One of these was the parsonage, but the partitions between the rooms, the doors, windows and furniture had all been swept away. The upper church building suffered little, but the lower was a shambles.

After the flood had subsided, the settlers busied themselves with the re-building of their homes and with seeding.

Although the settlers suffered severe losses, they seem to have taken the catastrophe philosophically and soon became re-established. Repairs were made to the churches and parsonage, and in a short time evidences of the flood had disappeared.

On December 4, 1827, that great historian and humanitarian, Alexander Ross, had six children baptized by Mr. Jones. One of these, William, years later became the first postmaster at what is now Winnipeg.

About the beginning of July, 1828, Mr. Jones left the colony for a visit to England. En route north, he stopped at Jack River House for a short time, where he conducted religious services, including the solemnization of matrimony between John McLeod, chief trader, Hudson's Bay Company and Charlotte Pruden. He arrived at Oxford House, August 25, and there united in marriage Chief Factor Colin Robertson and Theresa Chalifoux. It was Colin Robertson who met the Selkirk settlers at Jack River (Norway House) in 1815, when they had been driven from the settlement by the half-breeds employed by the North-West Company.

Mr. Jones' next services were held at York Factory, where he married three couples on September 15 and 16. It is evident that he did not return to Red River until the autumn of 1829, for there are no entries over his signature in any of the church registers from September 16, 1828, until November 19, 1829. During his absence, services at all churches (there were four by that time) had been conducted by Rev. Wm. Cockran.

When Jones returned from England he brought his wife and family with him. Sarah Tucker says, "Mrs. Jones also laid herself out in every way for the temporal and spiritual benefit of all around her; and soon after her arrival established a boarding-school for the daughters of the higher classes of the Company's agents, who had hitherto been without any opportunity of education. [8] The new educational centre, a little log building, was given the dignified name of Red River Academy. By this time Mr. Jones was conducting classes in higher education for boys also. Both institutions seem to have been highly successful. A letter written by Thomas Simpson, the noted explorer, to Donald Ross, York Factory, in 1833, is of interest. He said: "Mr. Jones' boarding school is full, there cannot be less than forty children this fall. When all the young ladies don their new leghorns, they cut a dash that would take captive a whole troop of dragoons. Their improvement in manner and appearance is really amazing. I cannot speak too highly of that seminary and the recent acquisitions. Mrs. Lowman & Mr. McAllum seem admirably qualified to teach the twenty lads and twenty lasses. The establishment will accelerate the progress of morality throughout Rupert's Land." [9] In the minutes of Council of the Hudson's Bay Company, June 8, 1833, Governor George Simpson presiding, the work in the educational and religious field was highly praised. A resolution stated that the amount of money paid out by Mr. Jones would call for an increased charge for board and education, which would be prejudicial to the school in its infant state. The Council, therefore, voted the sum of £100 per annum to Mr. Jones "in aid of this highly promising establishment." [10] The following resolution was also passed: "That a vote of thanks be presented to Mr. and Mrs. Jones for the readiness with which they entered into the views and wishes of the Gentlemen of the Country, when requested to undertake the formation of such an establishment, for the deep and lively interest they take in the improvement, and for the unremitting attention they pay to the health and comfort of the young folk entrusted to their care." [11]

The minutes of the meetings of the Hudson's Bay Company council prove to us that the generous gifts made for the building of churches and schools, and their up-keep, were not by any means restricted to one religious denomination. The Roman Catholic and other church bodies were also recipients of substantial sums of money and other assistance from the Company. They were indeed anxious that religion in one form or another be brought to as many people as possible. Where no church mission was in existence, the Factor or Trader in charge was assigned this responsibility, and I now quote from the council minutes of June 24, 1836, "that every Sunday Divine Service be publicly read with becoming solemnity once or twice a day," and "that every man, woman and child be required to attend." [12]

Now, here is an extract from Thomas Simpson's letter to Donald Ross of December 13, 1833: "Mr. Jones has had his hands full of business this season. Through Mr. Le Blanc's activity he has got his new church well roofed in, and the inside work all contracted for, at very low prices. Yet, with all due economy the building will cost nearly £900." [13]

I have been unable to find any record of the Church Missionary Society contributing to the cost of building this church and I think it quite reasonable to assume that it was completely an undertaking of the settlers, assisted by the Hudson's Bay Company and the devoted missionaries Mr. Jones and Mr. Cockran. The corner stone was laid on May 15, 1833, and deposited therein was a metal plate on which was inscribed the following:

The cornerstone
of this
Protest[an]t church
was laid by
Henry H. Berens
May 1st, 1833
William IV 4 year

George Simpson
D. T. Jones
W. Cockran
Second Chaplain

It is not difficult to visualize the hardy settlers, the Hudson's Bay men, and their families, gathered around Mr. Berens, Governor Simpson and the missionaries, in what is now St. John's Cemetery. How thrilling it must have been to them to have a part in the building of the first stone church ever erected in Western Canada. It was built on the very spot where Lord Selkirk and his settlers stood in 1817, when his Lordship was in the settlement.

It is rather significant that no mention is made of it being an Anglican church, also that in the church registers Mr. Jones gives it the simple name of "Red River Church." And why not? It was strictly a community church in every sense of the word - neither Anglican, Presbyterian or Methodist, but simply a house of God where the people could worship as one great fellowship. And Mr. Jones was the evangelist of the settlement.

The church was not ready for public worship until some time in 1834 and it was on November 27 of that year that the first weddings took place in the new building. On that date Mr. Jones married two couples.

The Scottish people who helped with the building of this house of worship could not possibly have foreseen that twenty years later it would be consecrated as the first St. John's Cathedral, just two years after the coming to Red River of a minister of their own faith, and the building of their own beloved "Kirk."

George Simpson proved his fatherly interest in the welfare of some of his former commissioned officers by attending the weddings of three of them, and signing as a witness, in 1835. On January 22 James Bird, at that time retired from the Company and living at Red River, was married to Mary Lomman, the school teacher, formerly of England. John Charles, another former Chief Factor, married Jane Auld, a native of Rupert's Land, on February 2. He had previously been in charge of Churchill and had also been in the Athabaska country. The third former Hudson's Bay Company officer, Alexander Christie, was married February 10 to Anne Thomas, formerly of Moose Factory, James Bay. Christie was now Governor of Assiniboia, which office he filled with distinction for two terms, 1833-39 and 1844-48.

The second witness was J. D. Cameron, another Company officer.

It was in the Red River Church on February 16, 1836, that Mr. Jones joined together in Holy Matrimony, John MacAllum of Fortrose, County of Ross, Scotland, and Elizabeth Charles, a native of Rupert's Land, N.W. America. Mr. MacAllum won considerable fame in later years, as head of Red River Academy, and in 1844, during Bishop G. J. Mountain's visit to Red River, was ordained in the Anglican Church. The witnesses who signed the register were Alexander Christie, Governor; Thomas Simpson, the explorer, and John Ballenden, Hudson's Bay Company officer.

It was in this same year that Mr. Jones and the settlers were subjected to severe trials. The crops were damaged by early frosts, and Mr. Jones' health was none too good, but when in October of that year the sudden death of Mrs. Jones occurred, Mr. Jones and his people were heart broken. She was spoken of as gentle, unassuming, and full of peace and love to God and man. Never did any missionary's wife leave a greater blank in the sphere she occupied, nor had there ever been a deeper or more affectionate sorrow manifested, than by the people of Red River. To Mr. Jones, left without the one who had been his greatest inspiration, the loss was overwhelming. For now, in addition to his ministerial and school duties, he had the total responsibility of his five young children.

Mrs. Jones was buried in the little cemetery (now St. John's) beside her little son, David Lloyd Jones, who had died six years earlier. A tomb of Red River stone was erected over her grave, on which is a copper plate, inscribed with the names of her son and herself, together with the date of death. The burial register records the sad event very simply: "Mary Jones, died at Parsonage House, Red River Settlement, October 15, 1836, aged 31 years (signed) William Cockran, second chaplain to the Hon. Hudson's Bay Company." On the wall of the church there was erected a marble tablet as a testimony of affection by the pupils of Red River Academy. This tablet has been transferred to the walls of the two succeeding St. John's Cathedral buildings and now adorns the south wall of the present edifice.

Mr. Jones continued under this severe handicap, both church duties and supervision of Red River Academy, until June 17, 1837. On the latter date he wrote the Hudson's Bay Company giving notice of his intention to discontinue the management of the boarding school. The Company, with sympathetic understanding, purchased the buildings for £500 and rented them to Mr. John MacAllum on a lease for five years at a rent of ten percent per annum of the purchase price. The amount was largely written off in the form of gratuities to Mr. MacAllum in subsequent years.

One of the last wedding services taken by Mr. Jones in 1838 was between Thomas Lawson, an Englishman, now of Red River Settlement, and Mary Beck, of the same place. James Franks and Jane Emons were the witnesses and it is somewhat significant that none of the wedding party could write their own names. They signed with an "X". But the only significance this entry in the marriage register had for me, was the fact that James Franks was evidently the father of Lucy Jane Franks whose grave in St. John's Cemetery is the oldest with a stone, the inscription on which can be deciphered. The inscription reads "Lucy Jane Franks, daughter of James Franks. Died May 17, 1817. Aged 11 years."

In the autumn of 1838, Mr. Jones and his children bade farewell to their friends at Red River, and returned to England. Before leaving the settlement he visited the Indian Church of St. Peters where he had often taken services. Chief Peguis was there and handed him a letter addressed to the Church Missionary Society asking for additional missionaries. Services were conducted en route north at Berens River House, Norway House and York Factory, prior to leaving the shores of Rupert's Land.

Thus ended the ministry at Red River of one of the most devoted clergyman the West has ever known.

It would seem appropriate, before reviewing the story of the apostle of Red River, to consider some of the events that occurred during the thirty years prior to his arrival.

The story of the beginnings of Red River Settlement is fairly well known. It was in the year 1812 that the first contingent of settlers from the Highlands of Scotland arrived at Red River. They came under the patronage of Lord Selkirk. His lordship had promised them a minister of their own church. Rev. Mr. Sage was to have arrived during the following year, but did not. With the colonists who came out in 1815, an Elder was sent. He was authorized to marry and baptize. This Elder of the church, Mr. James Sutherland, was forty-seven years of age. He was accompanied by his wife and four children. Sutherland, according to Alexander Ross, was "as unlearned and simple as the apostles of old," but "a man of superior endowments." [14] Ross says "of all men, clergymen or others that ever entered this country, none stood higher in the estimation of the settlers, both for sterling piety and Christian conduct, than Mr. Sutherland. By his arrival with the Scotch emigrants in Hudson's Bay, the gospel was planted in Red River. It was the sunrise of Christianity in this benighted country." [15]

Sutherland remained with his people through the years of great tribulation, 1815 to 1818. During these years the North-West Company twice burned their homes, destroyed their effects and drove them from the settlement. Each time they returned, and with true Scottish courage and determination, made a new start. In 1817 Lord Selkirk visited the settlement. He met his settlers on a spot a few yards south of the present St. John's Cathedral. Here he discussed their problems and here he set aside the lot, where St. John's Cathedral now stands, for their church, and the lot immediately south, where St. John's Park is now located, for their school. At this meeting his Lordship informed the settlers that but for the troubles at Red River, Mr. Sage would have come out to minister to their religious needs, but he promised that they would have their minister without fail. Alexander Ross, speaking of Mr. Sutherland says that "he was forcibly taken by the North-West Company to Canada." [16] This was in 1818.

The Selkirk settlers continued their negotiations for a minister of their own church, but in the absence of such minister, they attended services of the Church of England. The Anglican Ministers who followed Mr. West met the wishes of their Presbyterian hearers by eliminating some of the ritual. This innovation was appreciated by the Scottish people, but it did not entirely fulfill their desires.

From the year 1825 onward, Alexander Ross, the early historian of Red River, was a leader of the Scottish people in their appeals to the authorities in England and Scotland for a minister of their own faith, appeals that went unheeded over a period of thirty years. Finally, they appealed to Rev. Robert Burns, Minister of Knox Church, Toronto. In due course, arrangements were made to send Rev. John Black to Red River. Dr. Burns wrote Mr. Black on June 28, 1851: "You are called upon at an early period of your life to a most important duty, and on the manner in which you shall discharge it will depend, under God, the position which we as a church may be called upon to occupy in regard to the progress of Christ's Kingdom in these Western regions." ... "Our prayers will accompany you, and our most fervent desires that your way may be prospered before you, and that you may be hailed by the settlers as a messenger of good tidings and a pioneer of salvation." [17]

On July 31, 1851, Mr. Black was ordained and at 7.30 next morning he started for Red River. On the day of his ordination he wrote his brother: "I have been forced into it against my will. It is a very important mission, but I leave one important also, and what grieves me much is that I go without seeing friends - yourself and family at home. Nobody else would go and so I am called on to do so. I shall not be able to return before next spring - be a good boy until I come back. Write frequently home and comfort them. I doubt somewhat if I am in the way of duty in leaving father and mother now in their old age." [18]

Mr. Black's trip to St. Paul in Minnesota was comparatively uneventful. Upon his arrival there, he found that a deputation from Red River had been to St. Paul to meet and escort him to his new home. As he had not arrived, they started on their return journey to Red River on the very day he left Toronto, August 1. They were fearful lest winter might set in before they could complete the long trek by Red River cart. By good fortune, Governor Ramsay of Minnesota was about to go north to Pembina, and invited Mr. Black to go with him. The purpose of the Governor's trip was to make a treaty with the Chippewa Indians. His escort consisted of twenty-five dragoons under command of an officer from Fort Snelling and their six two-horse baggage wagons. The baggage and provisions of the settlers were carried in light Red River carts with eight French-Canadian and half-breed drivers. In all there were about fifty people in the party. En route Mr. Black and Mr. J. W. Bond, each mounted on an Indian pony, became close friends. Mr. Bond wrote some very interesting sketches concerning this trip, and it was these sketches which later inspired the poet Whittier to write the famous poem, "The Red River Voyager.

The journey from Pembina to Red River was by birch bark canoe, with two half-breed voyagers doing the paddling. The canoe was fifteen feet long and three feet wide and was fairly loaded with the four men, the bedding, baggage and provisions. A few miles up the river from Fort Garry, Mr. Black and Mr. Bond disembarked and travelled the remaining distance on foot. At 3 p.m., September 19, 1851, they arrived at the home of Narcisse Marion, father-in-law of Mr. Kittson who had given them such a hearty welcome to his home at Pembina. Mr. Bond states that an hour later their canoe arrived and they then proceeded to the residence of Mr. Alex Ross, on the west side of the river and about a mile below. He states further, "The old gementlemen met us on the bank, welcomed us to Selkirk, and escorted us up to his house; a white rough cast two story stone, which stands upon a wide bend of the river, and commands a view both ways; and that view is the finest I have seen for a long, long time." [19] The home of Mr. Ross was called "Colony Gardens," and was situated at what is now the foot of Pacific Avenue, a district now almost completely filled up with factories and warehouses.

Mr. Bond states that they stayed the night with Mr. Ross. On the following day Bond visited some of the settlers. He was questioned as to the arrival of their new minister. Upon being informed of his arrival, Bond was told that a house had been built for Mr. Black, thirty by forty feet, of hewn logs, with shingle roof, which would be used as a church until the following year. Mr. Bond states "they intend building him a stone church; made many enquiries concerning him" and "were all much disappointed at finding he did not speak the Gaelic. That he was a gentleman and Christian, a good French scholar and spoke the English fluently, did not make amends altogether for his deficiency in not understanding Gaelic, which is the tongue they use." [20]

Mr. Black was born on July 8, 1818, in the lowlands of Scotland where he received his early education. When he was twenty-three years of age, his family moved to the United States and settled in New York state. Here John Black taught school until he could accumulate funds with which to pay for his further education. When Knox College, Toronto, first opened its doors, November 5, 1844, Black was one of its first students. When called by the church to Red River he was Secretary of the French-Canadian Missionary Society and was occupying various pulpits in Montreal and other points in Quebec.

After arrangements had been completed for a minister of their own faith, the Scottish settlers had laid claim to the church and burying ground which had been occupied by the Anglicans for almost thirty years - the land which Lord Selkirk had set apart for a church for the settlers, and which had been occupied apparently with the consent of the Hudson's Bay Company and the settlers. A dispute arose, but was finally settled, more or less amicably, by the Hudson's Bay Company giving the Presbyterian congregation a glebe of land in Kildonan, together with one hundred and fifty pounds sterling to assist in the cost of building a church.

On the Sunday following Mr. Black's arrival at Red River he attended service at St. John's Cathedral. On the following Sunday, September 28, 1851, the first Presbyterian service ever conducted in Western Canada by an ordained minister was held in the manse in Kildonan by Mr. Black, when a congregation of about three hundred were in attendance.

Rev. John C. Walker says: "These people left the Anglican Communion with great regret and the parting was made with the kindliest feelings on both sides. It was a very difficult break for all, but more especially for the younger generation who had known no other church than the Anglican. Not all of the Scotch did leave, as a matter of fact, and some of those who remained Anglican became leaders in their chosen Communion. Those who left and those who remained continued to be the best of friends and neighbors, and in future years many of the Presbyterians who lived in the vicinity of St. John's were accustomed to attend the evening service there." [21]

The disastrous flood of 1852 delayed the building of the new stone church. The stone had been quarried at Stony Mountain and lime obtained from the same place. The church was modelled after the Kildonan parish church in Scotland and is almost an exact replica, except for the tower. There was no tower on the Scottish church. The new edifice was dedicated December 6, 1853, and opened for Divine Service January 5, 1854. According to Alexander Ross, it is seated for five hundred and ten persons and is always well filled. Its cost was £1,050 sterling. The manse is also completed; and it is pleasing to add that, when finished, there was not a shilling due on either church or manse." [22]

Rev. Dr. Bryce, writing of Black, says it was a common sight to see Mr. Black in moccasined feet, staff in hand, and a checked plaid thrown over his shoulder, tripping along the banks of Red River, visiting his parishioners, first on the west side, then on the east side of the river. He would announce from the pulpit that next week he would visit from the house of Mr. Harper to Mr. Gunn's, and the like. Dr. Bryce says: "These visits were very thorough. All the children expected the minister; all the housewives had their houses swept and garnished; even the men, on the day of the expected visit, laid aside their working garb ..." and, says Bryce, "In cases of severe illness his visits were daily and unremitting." [23]

It was on December 21, 1853, that Mr. Black was married to Henrietta Ross, daughter of Alex Ross. When recently looking over an old marriage register of St. Andrew's on the Red, I quite unexpectedly came across the record of this event. This is the wording of that record: "Rev. John Black, minister of the Free Church of Scotland, Red River Settlement to Henrietta Ross, daughter of A. Ross Esquire, married at the Colony Gardens by licence with consent of parents and parties, this 21st day of December, one thousand eight hundred and fifty three, by

(signed) William Cockran, Missionary
" John Black
" Henrietta Ross

(signed) Alexander Ross
Adam McBeath
Adam Thom
Jemima Ross

Those who do research work in history will appreciate the thrill the finding of this record gave me; the thrill not only of seeing the record, but of observing the signatures of pioneer people, and of reflecting on their role in our early history.

In considering Mr. Cockran's role in this wedding, I thought of the great friend' ship between the Ross family and himself. I thought of Mr. Ross' remarks concerning him and at once looked up the following item regarding Cockran, which appears in Ross' Red River Settlement. This is what Cockran said:

"We must make ourselves useful; we must be guided by circumstances if we would do good. I have preached to the Presbyterians these many years now; I have done everything in my power, in every possible way, to gain them over to the simple and beautiful forms of our church service; but all in vain. These people brought their religion to the country along with them, and are conscientiously wedded to the rites and discipline of the Presbyterian form of worship; and nothing will make them forsake the church of their forefathers. Fourteen years experience convinces me that any further attempt is utterly useless, utterly hopeless; for not one of them, either young or old, up to this hour, will use our prayer book. They are obstinate in the extreme; yet as soon as I was made sensible that their obstinancy arose from conscientious motives, I did sympathise with them; I was constrained to relax a little in the outward forms of our church and I have never regretted it; for ever since all has gone on admirably well, and I hope I have done good by so doing." [24]

Mr. Bryce says Mrs. Black was tall, attractive, accomplished, and having the advantages of an education in the excellent MacAllum School in St. John's, and that she was distinguished for her Christian character and worth.

The discipline in the new church was quite severe. Dr. Walker says: "Those who outraged the moral code were certain to be sternly rebuked and suspended from the privileges of the church, that is to say, if they were women. The age old injustice is all too evident. In almost every case it seems to have been the woman and not the man who suffered the discipline and bore the shame."

The communions were celebrated with great solemnity and after the Highland fashion. They had Thursday as fast day, or day of humiliation and prayer; Saturday as preparation day for the Sunday communion; Monday as a day of thanksgiving. The Sunday morning church service started at ten o'clock and usually lasted until twelve. The congregation stood for (extempore) prayer, and sat for the psalms. There were no hymns and no choir; a precentor read the psalms and lead the singing. The sermon took the better part of an hour. The Sunday School met after morning service and there was another service at three in the afternoon. It was a thoroughly Scotch service.

Dr. Walker mentions that Mr. Black learned to speak Gaelic and while he could read the chapter and offer the prayer in Gaelic, he always preached in English.

In the year 1868 Mr. Black established a mission of his church in what is now the City of Winnipeg. He preached there on alternate Sundays in a building owned by the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Garry. The Anglicans had services there on the intervening Sundays. He later established Knox Church. He also formed missions at Little Britain, Headingly and other places.

Dr. George Bryce's book tells us that in the manse there grew to manhood and womanhood three sons and three daughters, that the bountiful table at the manse was rarely without visitors, and that the kind-hearted hospitality of Mrs. Black was well remembered by him a quarter of a century later, when writing his book.

John Black's home was filled with intense sorrow in 1873. It was on March 21 of that year that Mrs. Black passed away. Dr. Bryce tells us that it was a long time before "the desolated hearts of the husband and children recovered from the terrible stroke." [25]

It was in the year 1876 that the Mr. Black's children found new consolation in a lady whom Bryce says "was a mother indeed to the motherless children." [26] It was in that year that Mr. Black married Laurenda G. Bannatyne, sister of Hon. A. G. B. Bannatyne.

John Black's work for his church was phenomenal, but he also found time for the exercise of his great talents in the field of education. It was in the year 1871 that he, with the assistance of Dr. Bryce, established Manitoba College. First Masses commenced on November 10, 1871, in a two storey log building, covered with siding. It was located about a hundred yards from the church in Kildonan. When the general assembly decided, about two years later, to remove it to the growing city of Winnipeg, Mr. Black and his Kildonan parishioners were greatly disappointed. However, once the decision had been made, they gave their unqualified support to the change. In the year 1877, together with the Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic colleges, it became part of the University of Manitoba.

In 1876 Queen's College, Kingston, Ontario, conferred on Mr. Black the degree of Doctor of Divinity, in recognition of his devoted service to the Presbyterian cause in Western Canada.

In April, 1881, Dr. Black visited Ontario and his old home in New York state in search of health. He returned some months later, but after a few Sunday's ministrations, had to seek relief. It was in this year that he found it necessary to decline, due to failing health, the Moderatorship of the General Assembly - the highest honour in the gift of his church. On January 19, 1882, he wrote his brother, Rev. James Black, "I am probably writing on my death bed. Well If so, God's with me." [27]

As a new Sabbath day was dawning, February 12, 1882, Dr. Black passed on to his great reward, at the age of sixty-four years. He had suffered no disease, his death having been caused by hard work and severe strain. The Manitoba Free Press in paying tribute to Dr. Black, in their issue of February 13, 1882, said: "His name has long been a household word among the older residents of the country, by whom he was regarded as a father." The Toronto Globe said: "The life of Dr. Black in Manitoba was one of constant activity and hard labour, but he won for himself an honourable fame in his Christian work."

Dr. Black's grave in Kildonan Cemetery is marked by a granite monument, and a tablet in the church is dedicated to his memory. Surely the memory of this devoted Christian minister will live on as long as there are descendants of those pioneer Scottish settlers in this fair land.


1. At the outset, I wish to express my very sincere appreciation to those who have so graciously and willingly assisted me in my search for information regarding the people and events I am to discuss this evening. Especially would I thank Messrs. Clifford Wilson of the Beaver, J. L. Johnston, Provincial Librarian; J. A. Jackson, Provincial Archivist; R. H. Pook, Secretary o the Synod and Rev. T. C. Boon, Archivist of the Diocese of Rupertaland.

2. These priceless and extremely interesting records have been carefully preserved by the Anglican Church authorities and I feel greatly honored in having been permitted to bring them here tonight.

3. I, George Rose, Native Indian of Albany District but now of Rupert's House, Hudson's Bay, personally appearing before Robt. Miles, chief trader at Rupert's House, do hereby form a marriage contract and expressly agree to take unto myself as my lawful wife, by the same laws as if I had been legally married by a Clergyman of the Church of England, Sally, daughter of Commutchaupai deceased (now a widow having survived her two former husbands Eschocoupo and Coapoun) whom by these presents I hereby declare and acknowledge in every respect, from the date herein expressed to be my legal and lawful married wife, as if I had passed through the ceremony of the Church - and hereafter bind and oblige myself to support her so long as the Almighty may be pleased to sustain me in life.

Sworn and signed by my mark, not being able to write, in the presence of the subscribing witness at Rupert's House, Rupert's River District, Hudson's Bay, Rupert's Land, this twenty-sixth day of February year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty two.

George Rose x his mark
Sally x her mark

Jacob Corrigal witness
William Couston witness
Peter x Moor

Rupert's House
Feby. 26, 1842
Sworn and attested before
me this date
Robert Miles chief trader
Hudson's Bay Co. service.

4. Rev. Father Picton of the St. Boniface Historical Society is of the opinion that Lifset Lajumoniere was probably a daughter of the notable Jean Baptiste Lajimoniere and an Indian woman, whom he had lived with prior to his marriage to Marie Anne Gaboury.

5. Bibles printed in various languages were later distributed in Rupert's Land, and I know of one in Gaelic still in Winnipeg, owned by a direct descendant of a Selkirk settler. The names of Rev. John West and of the original owner are on the fly leaf of the book.

6. Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1900, Diary of Nicholas Garry, p. 157.

7. Alex. Ross, The Red River Settlement (London, 1856) p. 131.

8. Sarah Tucker, The Rainbow of the North (London, 1858) pp. 67-68.

9. Archives of British Columbia, Donald Ross Papers.

10. E. H. Oliver, The Canadian North-West (Ottawa, 1914) p. 722.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid. p. 755.

13. Archives of B.C., Donald Ross Papers.

14. Rosa, Red River Settlement, p. 31.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid. p. 47.

17. Geo. Bryce, John Black, The Apostle of Red River (Toronto, 1898) p.32.

18. Ibid. pp. 33-34.

19. J. W. Bond, Minnesota and its Resources (Chicago, 1856) p. 287.

20. Ibid. p. 326.

21. J. C. Walker, The Early History of the Presbyterian Church in Western Canada (unpublished D.D. Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1928.)

22. Ross, Red River Settlement, p. 360.

23. Bryce, John Black, p. 81.

24. Ross, Red River Settlement, p. 182.

25. Bryce, John Black, p. 86.

26. Ibid. p. 87.

27. Quoted by G. B. King, Church History Resources of Manitoba, Papers read before The Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, 1944-45, p. 44.

Page revised: 22 May 2010

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