"The Forks" Becomes a City
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1944-45 season
In the days of exploration, and for several decades after settlement commenced, the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers was designated "The Forks". This name included more than the immediate vicinity.
To trace with accuracy the earliest use of the name "The Forks" and the gradual development of the historic spot from a trader's stopping place to the great metropolis of Winnipeg, makes an interesting chapter in the story of the Province of Manitoba.
Who were the first white men to gaze upon the site of Winnipeg?
Was it the party of eight Goths and twenty-two Norwegians whose brief story is recorded on the Runic Stone now a museum piece in Alexandria, Minnesota? According to this mute evidence, these Vikings came along the Valley of the Red in the year 1362. If the theory of Prof. H. R. Holand of Wisconsin is correct, then these early visitors would doubtless be the first white men to enter the domain of the nomadic Indian tribes.
At a later date there seems a possibility that Frenchmen were here about the year 1688. It is a known fact that Jacques de Noyon first discovered the Kaministiquia route in the year mentioned, and he spent the winter of 1688 with the Indians on Lake of the Woods. There were two routes leading out of Lake of the Woods - one by way of the Winnipeg river to Lake Winnipeg; the other, an Indian trail, by the Savanne Portage, following the Roseau River to its junction with the Red, near Letelier. Perhaps De Noyon visited "The Forks". We have no documented evidence to justify us in claiming his presence here.
We come to La Verendrye's day and reach more solid ground substantiated by conclusive evidence that white men, came to "The Forks".
The commonly accepted story, which has been repeated so often by writers on the subject, is that La Verendrye (Senior) was the first white man to reach "The Forks"; some even tell us that he built Fort Rouge. The evidence of the La Verendrye journals does not confirm either contention.
In the winter of 1732-33 La Verendrye "sent his nephew, La Jemeraye, and one son to Ouinipigon to put up a fort there". The two lads were unable to reach Lake Winnipeg because of ice conditions. It appears that La Jemeraye returned to Fort St. Charles while young La Verendrye (the son) remained behind with the intention of carrying out the work when weather permitted.
We read in the La Verendrye journal under date, 18th June, 1734, "[La Verendrye] has despatched three canoes and twelve men commanded by Sieur Cartier, one of his associates, to go to Red River ... [and] his son would go down at the end of the August moon".
The events of that season are amplified in a despatch written by the son, Pierre La Verendrye, dated 7th June, 1735. It reads: "I have established a fort at Lake Winnipeg, five leagues up the Red River etc." Speaking of his journey he mentions having passed thirty portages, en route. This indicates he had travelled by way of the Winnipeg River. Up to this time no mention had been made of The Forks.
We learn in a later despatch that the nephew, La Jemeraye, died at the forks of the Roseaux on 10th May, 1736. The others in his party cached their cargo at Savanne Portage. This then gives us proof that in 1736, La Jemeraye and one of La Verendrye's sons passed The Forks, if indeed they did not actually make it a stopping place on their journey from Fort Maurepas on the Red to the Roseau River.
The senior La Verendrye first set eyes on the waters of the Red in the month of February of 1737. He had gone to Fort Maurepas and his route was by the Savanne Portage. Here is the story in the explorers own words:
At the Council meeting held on 4th March, 1737, we read, "An Assiniboine chief rose next in the name of his tribe and said although the accident that had occurred last summer had prevented the transfer of the fort to their neighbourhood, namely to the fork of the Red River, which was their proper territory, [he] offered to form a village on the spot in order to reside permanently near the fort."
In his concluding talk at the council meeting La Verendrye told the chiefs that they invite them [another tribe] to come in the autumn to the fork of Red River, where they are going to build a new fort, so as to be nearer to them". Verendrye did not return to Red River in the Fall. He went where he spent the winter of 1737-38. He returned to the West arriving at Fort Maurepas, still on Red River, September 22. Left for The Forks on the 24th where he reported he found 10 cabins of Crees including two chiefs who begged him to stay awhile. He invited the chiefs to his tent for a conference and two days later he proceeded up the Assiniboine to Portage la Prairie where he was joined by M. De La Marque on October 9.
La Marque informed him that "he had brought M. de Louviere to the fork with two canoes to build a fort there".
This then was the time, the place and the identity of the man who built Fort Rouge at the forks. It was the first building erected on the site of the future City of Winnipeg. 
Fort Rouge does not seem to have been of much importance at any time and there is no evidence to show it was an active post even in La Verendrye's day. My personal opinion is that it was merely one of those stopping places, many of which were scattered throughout the country in the fur trading days, and were used in the service when convenience required them. This original post must have disappeared within a few years after its construction, because a record of 1751 tells us that Legardeur St. Pierre built a small palisaded fort at The Forks, having gone there after Fort La Reine had been burned.
So much then for the original building at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine.
From the time Fort Rouge was abandoned until the coming of the N. W. Company we have sparse and very scant information regarding the men who visited The Forks. Undoubtedly there were some who passed this way but we have no record of their stop-over at the historic spot. Let us examine briefly a few individuals who can be included among the probables.
Near the site of Fort Maurepas, below Selkirk, Joseph Frobisher is said to have built a fort and spent the winter of 1770-71 there. Then Peter Pond wintered at Fort Dauphin located on Lake Dauphin in 1775-76.
A few years later, in 1781, we are told by Alexander Henry, the Indians made an attempt to pillage the traders, Bruce and Boyer, at Fort des Trembles or Poplar Fort, and in the scuffle that ensued three Frenchmen and fifteen Indians were killed on the spot. Owing to this affair, the traders were obliged, for fear of being cut off, to re-embark their canoes and return to winter at The Forks.
Sometime about 1793 a free trader named Maurice Blondeau built what is usually referred to as "Blondish's Fort" on the north bank of the Assiniboine, near the present village of Headingly.
All these men doubtless passed The Forks but only Bruce and Boyer appear to have rested their caravan.
The N.W. Company was organized in 1784 and in that year Robert Grant built Fort Esperance on the Qu'Appelle river. This was the first trading establishment opened by the new organization. Fort Esperance became the headquarters of the N.W. Co. operations in the West for several years.
It is apparent from the references I have quoted and those which will immediately follow, the site of Winnipeg, the metropolis of the West, held little, in fact no particular attraction for the fur trader. This conclusion is amply justified by an examination of the diary entries of John Macdonell. Here follows his comments.
Under date September 6, 1793, he wrote:
Next day (September 7). "Rainbound till Sunday late in afternoon so we may only be said to have shifted our camp."
Macdonell made a return trip in the following spring and here are his entries:
May 20, 1791. "Arrived at The Forks, Red River about noon where we found Frederick Schutz and Des Marais from Pembina River. Slept at The Forks.
May 23. "Started from The Forks with nineteen canoes and two boats manned by nearly 100 men and masters. Slept a few points below Frobisher's Fort." He makes no mention whatever of The Forks when he returned from Fort William in the fall of that year, nor yet on his two-way trip in 1795.
In his account of Red River, written in 1797, he said: - "The Forks - At The Forks the remains of several old posts [he does not call them forts] are still to be seen, some of which were built as far back as the time of the French Government. This place is a favorite Indian encampment."
The N. W. Company built their first fort on Red River at Pembina in 1797-98. Up to this time in our story I have found no information to suggest any activity on Red River by The Hudson's Bay Company. The earliest record to come to my notice appears in the journal of Alexander Henry dated 19th August, 1800, which reads (He had reached The Forks the day previous to his diary entry):
A little more than a year later; on September 13, 1801, Henry's diary at Pembina reads: "On 13th, Thomas Miller with eight Orkney-men of the H. B. Co. arrived from Albany Factory and began to build below me on the east side of Red River. They have one boat and one canoe."
These references indicate the earliest post of the Hudson's Bay Company men at Red River was built at Pembina.
Alexander Henry (N. W. Co.) went to Park River in 1799 and transferred to Pembina in 1801. He remained in charge of the Lower Red River Department until August 8, 1808.
When we examine his extensive journal covering this period we find numerous references to his occasional visits to The Forks. None of these items suggest that the spot was of any particular consequence beyond that of being a divisional point for the transfer of men and goods passing up and down the two rivers.
Let us read a few entries. On August 18, 1800: "In a short time we arrived at The Forks where the Assiniboine joins the Red River, the former coming in from the west while the latter keeps its direct course from the south. I found about forty Salteurs awaiting my arrival; they were provided with a plentiful stock of dried buffalo meat, and anxious for a dram. I accordingly gave liquor in return for their provisions; they fell to and kept drinking all night, during which we were plagued with mosquitoes, and prevented from sleeping by the howling the Indians and their dogs kept up."
August 2, 1801, (a year later). "We arrived at The Forks of the Assiniboine; sent on the canoes; took the horse myself, and with two men proceeded by land up the Assiniboine three leagues to Grand Passage, where we crossed, having water up to our saddles. Came on and slept at the passage on Sale River."
September 4, 1802."We arrived at The Forks of the Assiniboine. Delivered to Mr. Chaboillez the Upper Red River, or rather the Assiniboine brigade in charge, he having remained inland during the summer ... I sent off my canoes for Panbina River, and proceeded on horseback to Portage La Prairie."
September 20, 1803. "After a long tedious passage we arrived at The Forks." On this occasion he mentions for the first and only time during his eight years stay, that he was leaving one man (Louis Dorion) there.
January 21, 1804. "We got to The Forks. Mr. Dorion was starving and making no packs."
Henry made a quick trip to Netley Creek, then to Portage La Prairie, and Lake Manitoba, arriving back at The Forks on February 12 when he writes - "A terrible snowstorm, and a gale in our teeth, however, we go to the Forks. All hands starving here also." On February 15: "I set off with my two men and Mr. Dorion, found Indians at entrance of Riviere la Sale."
April 11, 1804. "I sent two men in a small canoe with goods to supply the Forks."
May 21, 1804. "Arrived at The Forks. Clothed five Indians and gave liquor in proportion." May 25 - "Sent Mr. Dorion to summer at Portage La Prairie."
The result of having a trader (Dorion) at The Forks is reflected in the return for 1803-04 where it shows he assembled fourteen packs of furs (ninety lbs. each). In this collection the bulk consisted of 356 beaver pelts and seventy-six wolves.
August 19, 1804. "Arrived at The Forks. Our Indians have been at war all summer toward the Scioux country, but always unsuccessful."
July 31, 1805. "Embarked with a fair wind, which blew a gale from the north but kept under sail, about three feet hoisted."
May 29, 1806. "Arrived at The Forks. Upper Red River brigade had passed. Went to Portage La Prairie." (He returned to the Forks on 3rd June.)
When Henry returned from his annual trip to headquarters (Kaministiquia) on August 31, 1807, he had this to say. "The increasing number of freemen from Canada, in all forty-five on Red River; more worthless fellows could not be found in the North West."
September 12, 1807. "Two H. B. Co. boats arrived from Albany Factory: Hugh Heney, Master."
June 2, 1808. "Embarked in my own canoe at Riviere an Gratias, [Morris] and in the evening arrived at The Forks. Despatched the brigade for Fort William and returned to spend the summer at Pembina."
Early in the month of August, 1808, Henry received instructions to proceed to Fort Vermillion to take charge there. On August 8 he embarked in his small boat, bidding adieu to Pembina. On the 10th - "At sunset we arrived at The Forks where I found a camp of Indians, and Delorme, a freeman." He was on his way to the far West.
Henry was succeeded in the Lower Red River by one of the many Mackenzies connected with N.W.Co., but he only remained in charge for a very short time. His successor was John Wells - the man who later built Fort Gibraltar.
Tanner, in his narrative, makes mention of this period. He tells us that Henry had for ten years managed the trade for the N. W. Co. Then came Mackenzie, to be followed by Wills (Wells) whom the Indians called Gah se moan, (meaning a sail, from the roundness of his person). "He [Wills] built a strong fort on Red River near the mouth of the Assiniboine."
We find in the evidence at the trial of Colin Robertson (Montreal, 1818) some very definite facts concerning Fort Gibraltar.
Jean Baptiste Roi, testified thus: "I know the forks of Red River and a fort built thereby by a man of the name of Wills; he was a bourgeois [partner] of the North West Company at the time the said fort was built. It was a wooden picketing, made of oak trees split in two, which formed its enclosure. Within the said enclosure were built the house of the partner, two houses for the men, a store, two hangards or stores, a blacksmith's shop and a stable; there was also an icehouse with a watch tower over it; these houses were good log houses, large and inhabited.
The deposition of another witness, Jean Baptiste Mennie, also gives a few additional facts about the old fort.
Tanner makes this additional comment: "Wills died about 3 years after building his fort."
We have ample evidence that Wills was the man in charge in 1814. In May of that year Miles MacDonell of the Selkirk Colony wrote him thus: "I am happy to have in my power to contribute to your relief, by the attendance of the colonial surgeon and beg you will fully avail yourself of all the assistance he can render you."
From the fact that Duncan Cameron took charge of the fort in the fall of 1814, it would seem that John Wills succumbed to his ailment.
Fort Gibraltar was standing when the first party of Selkirk settlers arrived in 1812; it was not in existence when Henry left Red River in 1808. My opinion, based on the facts which have been stated, is that its construction was started in 1809 and completed in 1810. I realize that John McDonald of Garth wrote thus: "I established a fort at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers (1807) and called it Gibraltar." However, he did not write his notes until 1859 at which time he was 89 years old. This item I fear has been the basis of the generally accepted story of the building of Fort Gibraltar.
It is not without interest that we should make reference at this point to the two memorial tablets which are affixed to the wall of Old Fort Garry gateway. One intimates that Fort Gibraltar was built in 1806; the other gives the year of its construction as 1804. Then we find still another tablet on the Bridge of the Old Forts on Main Street and it is stated here that Fort Gibraltar was built in 1807. Three different historic markers, none of them in agreement. The visitor can take his choice; needless to say not one of them is correct.
Between the years 1809 to 1811, the Earl of Selkirk was busily engaged in the Highlands of Scotland, organizing his projected scheme of settlement for Red River. A few years before this, as I have already pointed out, the Hudson's Bay Company had extended their operations and opened a trading post at Pembina on the Red River. These activities caused consternation among the partners of the N. W. Company, and consequently with the two-fold purpose of discouraging settlement and destroying their opposition, Fort Gibraltar was built at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine.
On August 12, 1812, Miles MacDonell, in charge of the first party of Selkirk Settlers, reached The Forks and camped on the east side of Red River (St. Boniface), opposite Fort Gibraltar. Five days later he read the patent of the grant of land made to Lord Selkirk at a spot, "facing the N.W. Company, delivery and seizin formally taken in presence of a11 our people, a number of free Canadians, Indians, etc., three of the N.W. Company gentlemen (John Wills, Alexander Macdonell and Benjamin Frobisher) attended, but they did not allow their people to cross. Mr. Haney translated some part of the patent into French, which was read for the information of the Canadians. We had an officers' guard under arms, colors flying - after reading, all our artillery, along with Mr. Hillier's, consisting of six swivels were discharged. After the conclusion of the business the gentlemen met at my tent and a keg of spirits was turned out for the people."
Miles MacDonell selected a spot at which to make a start and this location afterwards became known as Point Douglas. A few hands were kept at The Forks and a hut was built. This was the building program for the first winter of the Selkirk operations.
Included in the original party was a man from the Island of Lewis - John McLeod - who transferred from the Colony party to the service of the Hudson's Bay Company.
In May 1813, nine months after his arrival at the Forks, John McLeod writes in his diary, "As the Hudson's Bay Company had no house at this place (The Forks) prior to this, I immediately on Mr. Haney's departure began to build and had a good snug house erected before the return of the Fall crops." This was evidently the first building erected at The Forks by the Hudson's Bay Company.
From the report of Thomas Thomas, Governor of the Southern Dept., Hudson's Bay Company, we quote this reference to the original Fort Douglas. The document is dated September, 1815:
These specific references give us the details of Fort Gibraltar built by John Wills; of the snug Hudson's Bay Company house built by John McLeod, and the group of buildings, which at a later date were designated Fort Douglas, built by Peter Fidler. This was the foundation of the City of Winnipeg.
We come now to June 28, 1815; when this scene of devastation met the eye - "All the colonial buildings were burned down, consisting of four houses, forming what was called the fort, and five farm houses standing near the barn and stables; these last were also burned at the same time together with the mill."
This was the time of the first dispersion of the Selkirk Settlers and seems to be the result anticipated a few months before when Alexander Macdonell of the N. W. Company wrote to John McDonald of Garth: "You see myself and our mutual friend Cameron, so far on our way to commence open hostilities against the enemy at Red River; much is expected of us, if we believe some; perhaps too much; one thing certain, that we will do our best to defend what we consider our rights in the interior. Something serious will undoubtedly take place. Nothing but the complete downfall of the colony will satisfy some, by fair or foul means. A most desirable object, if it can be accomplished, so here is at them with all my heart and energy."
As the story of the settlers, who were sent to Upper Canada and of the few loyalists to the Selkirk cause who went to the north end of Lake Winnipeg, forms another chapter in Manitoba history, outside the present review, we pass it by at this time.
During the forced absence of the people belonging to the Colony as well as the men in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, John McLeod with three others - Archibald Currie, Hugh McLean and James McIntosh - remained at The Forks and took charge of the Colonial and H. B. Co. affairs, such as they were. Writing to Lord Selkirk, August 5, 1815, McLeod had this to say:
Up to this time the locality had been called "The Forks"; "Red River Settlement" or "Colony Gardens". We find all three names used on documents written at the time. We learn from John Pritchard that in 1816 at Red River there was but one house - the Governor's, which had been called "Fort Douglas" by the settlers after their return to the Settlement in 1815.
As we have already noted, the colony buildings or fort had been destroyed by the N.W. Company in 1815. In September of that year, upon the return of the loyal settlers and Hudson's Bay Company servants, Colin Robertson reported thus: "On 21st September, in the forenoon, the foundation logs were laid for a new house at which three men are at present employed."
The pride of victory on the part of the N.W. Company was short-lived. In November, 1815, another party of settlers from Scotland under Governor Robert Semple reached The Forks. In company with Colin Robertson he immediately began to match destruction with destruction. On March 17, 1816, Fort Gibraltar was seized. On April 10 all the N. W. Company clerks and servants quit Red River and on June 10 Semple issued orders to dismantle Fort Gibraltar. These instructions were carried into immediate execution. All the best of the timber was rafted down to Fort Douglas, then being rebuilt, and one bastion and everything considered useless was burned. Thus passed into memory the original Fort Gibraltar, never to be re-erected.
The victory of Semple over his N.W. opposition was only a calm before a dreadful storm. Nine days later, on June 19, 1816, the unfortunate affair at Seven Oaks took place. The Governor, Robert Semple and about twenty of his officers and men lost their lives. Three days later, on the 22nd, the Colony was dispersed for the second time in two years. The settlers fled once more to the north end of Lake Winnipeg. The North Westers took possession of Fort Douglas and a few days after, on June 25, there was a grand gathering of the top ranking men of the N.W. Company held at the recently vacated fort.
Was this auspicious meeting of important personages pre-arranged or merely an incidental happening?
Did Archibald Norman McLeod, Alexander McKenzie, John Thomson, James Leith, John McDonald, Hugh McGillis, John McLaughlin, Simon Fraser, Robert Henry, Archibald McLennan, John Duncan Campbell, John Haldane, Thomas McMurray and Alexander Macdonell foregather at The Forks without some carefully prepared plan?
These questions naturally arise from a study of the occurrences but the answers will be left to someone else who may be disposed to turn the limelight of research upon Seven Oaks.
A few months pass by and Fort Douglas is destined to a change of occupancy once more. In the dead of winter, on January 10, 1817, the fort was recaptured by Capt. D'Orsonnens, at the head of twenty-five or twenty-six men. Later, in the month of June, the dispersed settlers and Hudson's Bay servants returned from their forced absence spent on Lake Winnipeg. Almost simultaneously, Lord Selkirk, in person, arrived upon the scene.
His Lordship remained about three months, re-established the settlement - made a treaty with the Indians - and from that day in the year 1817 until the present time the country has prospered and progressed.
This is an appropriate time to review the different parties, five in all, who had come to The Forks under the auspices of Lord Selkirk.
In the year 1816 the De Meurons came to Red River. The arrival of this party made it necessary to subdivide a part of Point Douglas lying on the north of Fort Douglas. This land became known as Point Douglas and the record says it was "Surveyed into a number of lots, each containing a few acres, and bordering on the river, a wide street running from the open to the highway being set apart for their common use, affording access to the common which lay beyond the road, on which the settlers on the point had a right of pasturage and hay making. After Point Douglas had been appropriated a number of his Lordships troops were still without land. These had to take land on the east side of Red River opposite to Point Douglas."
The wide street referred to is now the roadbed of the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In 1818 a third class of settler arrived on July 18th, the French Canadians from Lower Canada. There were a few families under the care of Rev. Joseph Norbert Provencher. These Canadians must not be confounded with the relatively large Roman Catholic nomadic half-breeds who were then scattered throughout the country. The correspondence of the Reverand Father does not sound very enthusiastic about The Forks. As a matter of fact he sent his followers without delay on to Pembina, in the meantime deciding to build a house 60 x 30 feet, but was refraining from building a chapel for the time being.
He carried on his early work not at The Forks where a large grant of land had been given by Lord Selkirk, but at distant Pembina. We read under date 1823, that little advance had been made at St. Boniface. Bishop Plessis of Quebec wrote to Provencher, 6th April, 1823, quoting the remarks of one of the executors of the Selkirk Estate as follows:
At this time (1822-23) the various parties of settlers who had centered around "The Forks" were located thus:
Two years after the arrival of the Roman Catholic missionaries the first Protestant clergyman to come to Red River reached The Forks. Rev. John West was sent by the Hudson's Bay Company and he arrived in the month of October, 1820. He belonged to the Church of England. The primary purpose of his appointment was to organize suitable establishments for the care and education of half breed orphans and the children of the retired Hudson's Bay Company servants. The spot selected for the projected undertaking was Image Plains (Middlechurch). There is little evidence that this social effort ever developed. Mr. West returned to England after a residence of thirty-two months at Red River.
Much as I would like to discuss the forms of government under which law and order was maintained at The Forks in the early days, I feel this subject must be left to someone else as a future project of the Historical Society.
The characteristics of the people and the observations made by visitors and others are usually interesting contributions to the life and work of a community. I have selected a few such items and I believe they will be of value in our present study.
We have a pen picture of a few important individuals who lived here in Red River Settlement days and this delineation is the work of George Simpson, dated 1824.
So much then for our local governing authority in 1824.
The year 1826 was long remembered as the year of the flood. It was a year of calamity. Early in May the water of the river rose above the banks. Houses filled rapidly with water. The inhabitants were compelled to take refuge on the nearest hills and were unable to return until June 12 when a scene of desolation met their gaze. Only three houses in the whole settlement were left standing.
Donald McKenzie of the Hudson's Bay Company reporting in August, 1826, from The Forks had this to say:
Andrew McDermott came to Red River in 1812. He was born in Roscommon, Ireland, in 1779. After serving the Hudson's Bay Company for a few years he retired in 1819, and opened a small general trading business on the out skirts of Fort Garry. His first business venture was said to have consisted of a chest of tea which he carried on his back through the settlement sewed in a calfskin.
Despite the exclusive privileges claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company, McDermott seems to have eluded the vigilance of the Company's servants and carried on his independent transactions regardless of the monopoly. His was the only semblance of a store at Red River until 1851 when his son-in-law, A. G. B. Bannatyne, commenced a similar establishment next door to McDermott. The properties of both men adjoined one another and were situated immediately north of Portage Avenue near Main Street.
In the pioneer days five hundred acres lying outside the walls of Fort Garry were reserved for the plains traders as a camping place when they arrived from the west.
The property of Andrew McDermott bordering this common, consisted of a river lot, twelve chains fronting on Red River and extending back for two miles. McDermott Avenue marks the northern boundary of his property while immediately north of McDermott's land A. G. B. Bannatyne owned a lot of similar area, i.e. twelve chains wide, two miles deep.
Travelling north on the main highway we next reach the Ross property. Alexander Ross was a native of Scotland. He served in the fur trade on the Pacific coast for some years and arrived at The Forks in July, 1825. He had received an allotment of land through the kind offices of George Simpson. The property in question had been the Colony farm in the first days of Fort Douglas and it lay immediately to the south of the Fort.
When Alexander Ross arrived at Red River this was his comment: -"Instead of a place walled and fortified, as I had expected, I saw nothing but a few wooden houses huddled together without palisades or any regard to taste and comfort. To this cluster of huts were, however, appended two long bastions in the same style as the other buildings. These buildings according to the custom of the country, were used as dwellings and warehouses for carrying on the trade of the place. Nor is the Governor's House anything more in its outward appearance than the cottage of a humble farmer who might be able to spend fifty pounds a year. These, however, were evidences of the settled and tranquil state of the country."
The comments I have just quoted referred to Fort Garry because in the same year (1825) the land and buildings comprising Fort Douglas had been sold to Robert Logan.
The Logan property is the next one we arrive at going northward. Robert Logan entered the service of the N.W. Co. when he came to Canada in 1806. He remained with this concern until 1814 at which time he transferred his allegiance to the Hudson's Bay Company and came to the West. In 1818-19 he was appointed to look after the affairs of Lord Selkirk Lit Red River.
One of the few documents of the Selkirk regime was in the possession of a descendant of Logan a few years ago. It is a rather crude agreement of sale between Governor Pelly, for the executors, and Robert Logan, Sheriff and Counciller of Assiniboia, by which the latter purchased the historic spot - Fort Douglas. The document reads: "An agreement made this eleventh day of June, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five, between Robert Logan, of Red River settlement, of the one part, and the executors of the late Thomas, Earl of Selkirk, by Governor Pelly, their agent, of the other part, as follows: "The said Robert Logan hereby agrees to purchase from the said executors of the late Thomas, Earl of Selkirk, the wind grist-mill now being erected, with the old establishment of Fort Douglas, comprising one hundred acres of land for the sum of four hundred pounds sterling, payable as follows, viz.; one hundred and fifty pounds on or before the 1st June, 1826; one hundred and fifty pounds on or before the 1st June, 1827; and one hundred pounds on or before 1st June, 1828: "And the said Robert Logan further agrees to grind any grain or pulse that may be brought to the said mill from settlers or others at a moulter not exceeding that which is established in Canada, to be determined by the gentlemen of the Catholic Mission. It being understood that the said mill shall be put into the possession of the said Robert Logan in a complete and finished state.
The physical condition of Fort Garry which had been commented upon by Alexander Ross in 1825, apparently got worse as the years passed. The urgent necessity to reconstruct the fort was realized by the Company for in the minutes of the Northern Department, 3rd July, 1830, we read:
George Simpson presided at the meeting, when this resolution was passed. From a report he subsequently made in 1831, it is quite evident he had definitely decided to close the Hudson's Bay Company establishment at Upper Fort Carry for good. The report said:
His remarks about the site at The Forks being inconvenient to navigation is probably explained by the fact that decked vessels were used between Norway House and Red River and these boats could not ascend St. Andrews Rapids. Another explanation given was the chief fort of the Company should not be exposed to hostile attacks.
The construction work at the Lower Fort proceeded very slowly. We learn that when Alexander Christie took over the command at Red River instead of abandoning the commanding site at The Forks he commenced the construction of a stone fort in addition to the one under way at the Rapids. He it was who continued Fort Garry near its original site. According to Alexander Ross, the new establishment at The Forks had a frontage of 280 feet on the Assiniboine river and a depth of 240 feet, with high bastions at each corner. Later on he added a square of about equal size at the rear of the stone part, the walls being squared logs laid horizontally and pinned together. Unfortunately and fortunately the only remaining part of Old Fort Garry now in existence is the old stone back gate.
It is of some interest to include the minute of the Council of Assiniboia dated February 12, 1835, where reference is made to the new fort being erected at The Forks.
The new building referred to in the foregoing minute would seem to have been well advanced in the month of June, 1836, at least one would so surmise from the Council minute of 21st June in that year: "that tradesmen and labourers be employed in erecting and completing the necessary building of the new establishment of Fort Garry, and that a sufficient quantity of stone be quarried and hauled in the winter [1836-37] for the bastions and surrounding walls."
A quarter of a century had passed since4 the first group of Selkirk Settlers landed at The Forks. During this period the several groups who had come to Red River had taken up residence in the different communities along the banks of both rivers. In close proximity to The Forks, however, only three families were located, the McDermotts, the Rosses and the Logans.
In 1835, the land grant to Selkirk was bought back by the Hudson's Bay Company from the estate. During the next quarter century there does not appear to have been any special effort exerted to bring a population to the site of the future City of Winnipeg. Let me relate a few events which happened during the period, i.e. from 1835 to 1860.
On June 25, 1841, the Council of Assiniboia adopted this resolution:
This is one of the earliest declarations as to the boundaries of the territory coming under control of the Council.
In addition to the five classes of settlers already in possession of their homesteads which have been considered previously, there came a sixth and final group under the auspices of the Hudson's Bay Company.
In 1848 several companies of the 6th Regiment of Foot, a detachment of engineers, and of artillery, numbering 18 officers and 329 men, that had been sent to Red River in 1846 for the protection and defence of the Colony when trouble was anticipated with the United States Government over the Oregon dispute, were recalled.
These soldiers were replaced in the autumn of 1848 by a body of out-pensioners of Chelsea Hospital. According to Ross, these latter came out in two squads of seventy each, the second of which arrived in 1850, under the command of Major William B. Caldwell. J. J. Hargrave in his Red River says they numbered only fifty-six.
The pensioners had been brought out under specific conditions, particulars of which were contained in a circular printed by the War Office, 5th April, 1848. Included in the terms was a stipulation entitling the new settlers, "to grants of land not exceeding twenty acres to a private; thirty acres to a corporal; forty acres to a sergeant. The ground to be of a description fit for cultivation and within two miles of the Fort."
It was found impossible to carry out the arrangement in its entirety, there being unsufficient available land within the designated area. The allotments which were made commenced where the west side of Fort Street is today and ran west as far as Armstrong's Point.
At the time of the transfer to Canada in 1870, a number of these pensioners or their descendants were still in possession of the original allotments.
A few years later in our history (September 19, 1851) John Wesley Bond in company with Rev. John Black, the long expected Presbyterian minister, arrived at The Forks. They had travelled together from Pembina in a canoe and we repeat the story as written by Bond.
Bond gives an extensive description in the narrative he has left us and I include a part which gives an excellent view of Winnipeg (The Forks) as he found it in 1851.
We now move forward and come to February 28, 1855. On this date the Governor and Council of Assiniboia decided to open a post office and give to the residents for the first time an official in charge of postal matters. William Ross, son of Alexander Ross, was appointed postmaster at an annual salary of five pounds sterling. Twelve months later - February 27, 1856, Mr. Ross submitted his balance sheet for the year and this document is of sufficient historic interest and value to be included here:
I now include an item on Winnipeg as it was in 1860 but unfortunately have mislaid the source of the article. Here again is a picture of the place thro' the eyes of a visitor:
No person is apparently troubled with the modern maladies, "Cheap for Cash"- "Small Profits and Quick Returns" - "Selling out at 20% below cost" - "Fall and Winter Stock just received" - "No Credit-Positively Cash." There is no fear of stumbling over goods on the roadside, and no window decorated with "Ayers Ague Cure" - "R. R. R." - or the thousand and one ornaments of our cousin Jonathan.
We have now a full description of the settlers pemmican, and a vivid picture of a general store in the days of our pioneers.
Between 1857 and the end of 1869 - a period of twelve years, there arrived at Fort Garry, at different times, a few young men, and to this ambitious group much of the credit for the subsequent development of The Forks as a rising city is due.
We read in a contemporary publication that in the fall of 1869 there were eighteen places of business in the embryo village. I have endeavoured to select the possibles who formed this group - the royal family of pioneer business men of Winnipeg.
Some reference has already been made to Andrew McDermott and A. G. B. Bannatyne.
In 1857, John Higgins arrived. For some years he was engaged in the arduous duties of pedlar, roaming up and down the settlement with his wares. He drove a fine team which was the admiration of the whole countryside and through this advertising medium he built up a wide and growing patronage. Later, when shops and stores and warehouses became the order of the day in commercial circles he entered into partnership with David Young and in a few years this store was one of the best known in the village.
Two years later - in 1859 - four more stalwart pioneers joined the rising community near The Forks - Henry McKenny, William Coldwell, W. G. Fonseca, and W. H. Lyon.
Henry McKenny's first venture in the business world was a small hotel or boarding house. In 1861 he ventured in another direction and sought a dry location some distance from the muddy river bank. Here he built his general store. Hargrave says that "McKenny and Co. are entitled to be considered the practical founders of Winnipeg." He states further, "In 1862 they erected, in a perfectly isolated spot where the Assiniboine and Red River tracks meet, a building 80 x 24 feet with a 22 foot wall." The so-called isolated spot was the place we know as the corner of Portage and Main and his building stood at or near the site of the Canadian National Railway offices.
William Coldwell is the second on our list. He, along with William Buckingham, instituted the first newspaper in Western Canada. The paper was called The Nor'Wester and the first issue was published on December 28, 1859, There is a very interesting story connected with this pioneer newspaper; how the enterprising owners bought second hand material in St. Paul while en route to The Forks. An equally interesting story also concerns another printing press which they found unexpectedly in Red River Settlement and which was utilized when the original press and printing plant was destroyed by fire.
W. G. Fonseca comes next. His property lay north of the Logan farm (Fort Douglas) and included much of the land now occupied by the Canadian Pacific depot and Royal Alexandra Hotel. This district was then known as Point Douglas and the people residing there, prior to the incorporation of the City of Winnipeg, always considered they lived in a separate and distinct village. The columns of the Nor'Wester in 1862 announced to the inhabitants that at Fonseca and Logan's store, near the old mill at Point Douglas, were on sale "a large and cheap assortment of goods, including hoop skirts, popguns, dressed dolls, fresh figs, smoked herring, frying pans and mugs."
The fourth man of the 1859 group was W. H. Lyon. He commenced business under his own name in 1862 and in the beginning centred his trade mostly among the Indians scattered around Fort Garry. Subsequently this concern developed into the largest wholesale grocery in the City.
The arrivals at The Forks in 1860 included Dr. John C. Schultz and Alfred Boyd. Dr. Schultz was a half brother of Henry McKenny. The doctor had a very colorful career not only in his professional capacity which he does not appear to have practised to any great extent, but in several ventures including newspaper publishing, fur-trading, general store business and latterly politics.
He became Lieut. Governor of Manitoba in 1888 and held that office until 1895, and was knighted in 1894. At the time of his death, the Free Press said, "Manitoba never possessed a better friend, Canada a more devoted son, nor the Empire a more loyal subject than Sir John Schultz."
Alfred Boyd carried on a commercial establishment in the St. John's District, which at the time was considered a separate village. He was one of the delegates who met on January 25th, 1870 to draft a Bill of Rights and on the formation of the first local legislature for Manitoba he represented St. Andrews North and became the first Provincial Secretary.
E.L. Barber arrived sometime prior to 1862. He was a son-in-law of Robert Logan and occupied business premises on Point Douglas. He built on Euclid Avenue in 1865.
Another important individual of the time was William Drever who followed McKenny & Co. to the corner of Portage and Main. He erected a large store 50 x 30 feet, with walls 22 feet high; solid oak uprights eight inches square and filled with sawn logs four inches thick. This building stood where the Canadian Pacific ticket office is today. A heated controversy between Drever and McKenny enlivened the usually peaceful life of the community. They quarrelled over the boundaries of the trail which as may be imagined changed from time to time because the trail usually followed the land that had the least mud.
Alexander Begg, whose writings are valuable contributions to the early history of Manitoba, came in 1867; Dr. Walter B. Bown, the first dentist, in 1866; Jas. H. Ashdown, James Stewart the pioneer druggist and Wm. Chambers who established the sporting goods house known in later years as Kingston Smith Store; these three citizens arrived in 1868.
These men were among those who took an active part in the movement that resulted in the formation of the City of Winnipeg and also the creation of Manitoba as a Province. Might we not with justifiable pride rank them as the founders of our great city?
In the year 1868, the Imperial Government passed the Rupert's Land Act to provide for the surrender of Rupert's Land to the Crown, and negotiations for the transfer of the rights claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company began in 1869.
Locally, in the territory adjacent to The Forks there was general dissatisfaction over the agreement. The suspicion of a large number of settlers towards the surveyors who laid their lines over the farms accentuated the trouble to such an extent that a memorial and petition to His Excellency U. S. Grant, President of the United States, was forwarded to Washington. This document urged intercession on behalf of the residents to secure "a government of our own choice or a union with a people with whom we may think we can enjoy these blessings."
The story of Louis Riel and his occupancy of Fort Garry from November, 1869, until the month of August, 18'70; the William McDougall episode; the Wolseley expedition, the Provisional Government; are a11 too involved to include in our consideration at this time. These matters rightfully belong to an address on the civil government and its development.
We might, however, take time to quote Section 8 of the Manitoba Act, 1870, because it is linked up with our story of The Forks.
Doubtless this explains the location of our Parliament Buildings on Broadway.
Early in January, 1872, an agitation to obtain the incorporation of Winnipeg was started. Among the citizens of the day was a group who were fearful lest some other aggressive individuals might obtain the necessary powers to form a municipality in another location. The movement at the beginning did not enjoy popularity. Fear of taxation; personal greed; ambition; real estate manipulations; boom conditions; were the doubts expressed by the opponents to the scheme. A few openly ridiculed the idea and one editorial writer told his readers, "in the matter of incorporation, some people seem to be getting almost crazy. They seem to imagine that it only requires incorporation to make the hamlet of Winnipeg jump into a great, flourishing, magnificent, commercial city. For our part we cannot see it."
In November, 1872 a mass meeting was held and it was decided that "An Act of Incorporation for Winnipeg is necessary." A committee was appointed to draft a bill. The bill was duly prepared and introduced in the local legislature on February 19, 18'73, but here it met with opposition, criticism and obstruction. When it came up for second reading, an amendment substituting the name "Assini boine" in place of "Winnipeg". This was carried with but 3 dissenting votes.
The following day, when the House met as a committee of the whole, the amended bill naming the city "Assiniboine" was defeated. It was then unsuccessfully moved that "Carry" be substituted for "Assiniboine". Still another amendment followed, this one being, "that the name of the City be Selkirk". This was declared carried and the bill as so amended was read for the third time. The upshot of all these manoeuvres was that the sponsor of the bill moved that it lie over until the next session of the House. This was the finish of the first application for a City Charter.
The citizens were aroused to fever heat at the reception accorded their bill. A sidelight on their reaction is obtained from the statement made by Dr. C. J. Bird, the Speaker, before the House on March 8, 1872.
A reward of $1,000.00 for the discovery of the culprits was offered but without any result.
The next session of the Manitoba Legislature was held in November, 1873. The Lieut. Governor, Alexander Morris, in his address from the Throne, suggested the advisability of a charter being granted to the people of Winnipeg. The bill was duly introduced on November 5; given second reading on November 6, and read for a third time on November 7. Assent was given on November 8, thus, in the short space of four days the City Charter became a statute of the Province of Manitoba - and the name given to the new city was Winnipeg.
The original boundaries according to the legal description given in 1873 were:
Translating this legal description into the geography of the streets of the City as we know them the original area of Winnipeg consisted of the block of land as now described:
Starting at the river bank at Aberdeen Avenue East, we include the south side of Aberdeen Avenue up to Main Street; along the centre of Main Street to the south limit of Burrows Avenue; thence westerly to McPhillips Street including the east side of McPhillips Street; thence south to Notre Dame; easterly from that point including the north side of Notre Dame to Maryland Street; south on Maryland Street including the East side to the Assiniboine River, follow the Assiniboine River to the junction of the Red River, then the red to our starting point at Aberdeen Avenue.
In 1875 the jog at Main Street between Aberdeen Avenue and Burrows Avenue was added to the city. Then in 1882, the northern limit was extended to include both sides of Luxton Avenue. A further addition was made in 1906 at which time the city was enlarged to the area of what comprises our city limits as we know them today.
A traveller who arrived at Winnipeg about the time the citizens elected their first City Council gives us his impressions of the newly chartered city in these words:
Well, we have now arrived at Winnipeg. Where Fort Gibraltar and Fort Douglas were in 1812 now stands a great metropolis - the City of Winnipeg. An unsightly group of Indians' tents is replaced by a busy, throbbing hive of industry and commerce.
Seventy-five years ago it was the home of 215 souls - today it is populated by nearly a quarter of a million.
The motto on our municipal seal consists of three words, Commerce, Prudence, Industry. These were the words chosen by our pioneer citizens and they have been handed to us as a heritage. They are truly significant of the faith which our founding fathers had in the city they started to build. Surely time has more than fulfilled their dream and the facts have outrun their faith.
Yes, "The Forks" has become a city.
1 This fort is shown on map of 1737 (before it was built) as Fort Maurepas. On a map subsequent to 1741 it is shown as Fort Rouge, but this is the only time it is referred to as such in corn temporary records. None of the La Verendryes ever mention it by name, nor speak of it as anything but proposed or abandoned. - Ed.
Page revised: 22 May 2010