Some Historic Chairs of Manitoba

by Lillian Gibbons

Manitoba Pageant, January 1962, Volume 7, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.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 Great Men are gone but the chairs they sat in remain, reminders of our storied past. In legislature, museum, city hall, bishop's palace and even penitentiary, chairs of church and state are tucked away often unidentified, their story almost forgotten.

Manitoba's Legislative Council ceased to exist in 1876 but in the present Law Courts building in Winnipeg three impressive chairs bearing the carved wood initials M.L.C., stand as a reminder of the days when the new province had a Legislative Council as well as a Legislative Assembly. These three chairs have survived a number of moves and two fires. They stood first in the A. G. B. Bannatyne home, Manitoba's earliest Legislative Building; after this home was burned in 1873 they were moved to the Law Courts building on Main Street; from there, in 1883, they were taken to the Law Courts on Kennedy Street which burned in 1956. [1]

The Legislative Assembly, in the Legislative Building, now the only law-making body, is dominated by Mr. Speaker's austere chair, a veritable throne. To remove it would be to threaten the foundation of the whole institution. Yet two Speaker's chairs were presented to their one-time occupants, to S. J. Jackson, 1891-1895, and to J. B. Baird, 1916-1922.

The walnut chair, carved with the Coat-of-Arms and upholstered in red mohair, presented to Speaker Jackson, is today in a very safe place at Stony Mountain Penitentiary.

Jackson came to Manitoba in 1871 via St. Paul, one of a group of early settlers from Ontario. He staked a claim in Stonewall, helped survey the area, and was later Registrar there and an alderman in Winnipeg. After his death in 1942, at the age of 94, his household effects were disposed of and his Speaker's chair sold at auction. The buyer donated it to the town of Stonewall and for some years it remained in the Council Chamber.

About 1949, according to the Chaplain at Stony Mountain, it was sent to the penitentiary repair shop, placed in a shed where rain damaged the upholstery and loosened the joints. Rescued from this oblivion by the Chaplain who recognized the chair as a bit of Manitoba, history, it now occupies a place of honour in his home. Six and a half feet high, solid walnut with burl facings, it is carved at the top with a Crown, Shield, Union Jack and Buffalo. Several private collectors and a museum have offered to buy it.

Speaker Baird's chair, the last one used in the Kennedy Street Legislative Building, was presented by his son Elwood to the Masonic Order in Pilot Mound, where it is still used, according to Ronald Tuckwell, editor of The Pilot Mound Sentinel.

In the Bishop's Palace on Tache Avenue in St. Boniface, is a set of twenty Jacobean chairs with twist carvings and cane seats. They belonged, says Archbishop Maurice Badoux, to Bishop L. P. A. Langevin.

Archbishop Arthur Beliveau's armchair, mahogany with low rope-twist carved on the back and on Savonarola legs (x-shaped), has a silver plate on the left arm. It is in the waiting room of the Bishop's Palace. In 1922, Archbisnop Beliveau conducted the burial ceremony for the students who perished when St. Boniface College was destroyed by fire.

The Grey Nuns' home in St. Boniface treasures a faded-rose and gold-striped damask chair once used by Archbishop Tache. Other chairs used by him and by Bishop J. N. Provencher, who came to the west as a missionary in 1818, are in the St. Boniface Museum located in the St. Boniface City Hall.

Mary Inkster, with her grandfather Sheriff Inkster's chair.
Photo by D. Parker.

In this museum, too, is probably the oldest state chair in Manitoba, one occupied by George Simpson, Governor of Rupert's Land, when he presided at meetings of the Council of Assiniboia. It was given to Bishop Provencher in 1833.

George Sharpe of Winnipeg has the chair which his father occupied as Mayor of Winnipeg, 1904-1906 and which he himself sat in as Mayor, 1955-1956. Tall, of black leather, tufted and buttoned but cracking now, it stands like a watchful ghost in a corner of Mr. Sharpe's business office board room.

On display in the Winnipeg Public Library is the chair used by the first eight Mayors of Winnipeg from 1874 to 1886 - F. E. Cornish, W. N. Kennedy, Thomas Scott, Alexander Logan, E. G. Conklin, Alexander McMicken, C. E. Hamilton and H. S. Westbrook. This tall, tufted monster was used in the first City Hall which was located on the same site as the present City Hall. The original City Hall fell down because it was built on the bed of Brown's Creek. They say the present City Hall is falling for the same reason.

In the Lieutenant-Governor's reception room in the Legislative Building in Winnipeg is a royal chair adorned with a series of silver and gilt plaques attached to the finely polished mahogany back. Used by the Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria, and later Edward VII, when he visited Canada in 1860, his motto, "Ich Dien", (I serve) is carved on the top. Five generations of his descendants have sat in this chair, the last being his great grand-daughter, Queen Elizabeth. According to Derek Bedson, Clerk of the Executive Council, the Dominion Government gave it to Manitoba. It is a "lady" Victorian chair, small and low, not a "gentleman" chair with arms.

Two historic chairs are unaccounted for. Where is the red tufted chair used by E. B. Wood, Chief Justice of Manitoba, 1874-1882, which appears in his portrait and in those of his three successors? And where is the "throne" with which William McDougall had provided himself when he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba in 1869? McDougall, you may recall, was never able to assume office, his entry into the province being barred by Louis Riel.


1. See Pageant, September 1961, pp 12, 13.

Page revised: 4 December 2011