A Sword From the Past

by Lillian Gibbons

Manitoba Pageant, January 1963, Volume 8, 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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A three-edged sword, brought here in 1812 by John Palmer Bourke, an Irish Selkirk Settler, could well be among the oldest historic relics in Metro Winnipeg.

James T. Bourke, a St. James lawyer and alderman got it out and polished it up 24 September 1962 for the ninety-fifth birthday of his father’s cousin, John Hallett of Winnipeg.

The thin rapier is concealed in a bamboo cane. The marks of the maker engraved near the hilt show a design of flowers, animals, fruit and seeds. A leather thong through the hilt kept the weapon in the wearer’s possession. Anyone seizing the ferule of the cane would find himself facing a murderous point.

The sword might have stood John Palmer Bourke in good stead, had he worn it 19 June 1816, at Seven Oaks. He was wounded in the groin but did not lose his life as did Governor Robert Semple and twenty of his colonists. Later, he was dragged off to Montreal to stand trial.

On his return to the Red River Settlement, Bourke met Nancy Campbell, a strong young woman brought up in Illinois.

“My grandfather married twice,” chuckles John Hallett, “both times to the same woman. He married her in the wilderness, where there were no clergymen, then again when Rev. John West came to the Red River Settlement in 1820.” Their first wedding was called a “marriage by contract” and was recognized as legal.

In 1883, John Palmer bought the old Hudson’s Bay Experimental Farm where Ferry Road is today, and the family moved from Point Douglas where Hallett Street recalls the Selkirk Settler days. Nancy Campbell Bourke lived to be ninety-five, the same age her grandson is today. She was buried in St. James Churchyard where the Bourkes have been buried for over a century.

Mr. James T. Bourke (left) and Mr. John Hallett (right) with the sword.

Mr. James T. Bourke (left) and Mr. John Hallett (right) with the sword.
Source: Winnipeg Tribune, 27 September 1962, page 41

Page revised: 30 October 2021