Robert Logan of Red River

by Dr. Ross Mitchell

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1968, Volume 13, 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.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 best settler about the place without exception ... with the command of a little money."

Before Winnipeg became a city there were four residents who determined its site and moulded its early growth. Each had been in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company and later had become free agents. They were able forceful men who lived side by side on the bank of the Red River. Each had property extending westward for two miles. Each gave his name to avenues across Main Street. The four were Andrew McDermot, Alexander Graham Ballenden Bannatyne, his son-in-law, Alexander Ross, the sheriff of Assiniboia, and Robert Logan.

Robert Logan was the son of a West Indian planter. When the West Indian slaves rebelled Logan's father moved to Montreal where Robert learned to speak French "like a native" - (Logan archives). In 1801 Robert Logan entered the service of the Montreal-based North West Company. In 1814 he was a clerk at the Company's post at Sault Ste Marie when it was captured by the Americans. Previously he had deter-mined to leave the Company although it had promised him a share in 1816. On his arrival at Quebec in 1814, Logan met Colin Robertson and was persuaded to join the Hudson's Bay Company. He accompanied the H.B. brigade to Athabasca as second in command to John Clarke and encountered bitter opposition from the North West Company. In 1818-19 he was stationed at Lac la Pluie (Rainy Lake) and was then appointed sheriff of Assiniboia in succession to Alexander McDonell. (Personal letter from Lord Selkirk, May 20th, 1819). After Lord Selkirk's death in 1820, the British government insisted on a union of the two rival fur companies. This was effected in 1821. The Governor and Company of the re-organized Hudson's Bay Company sent out their Deputy Director, Nicholas Garry, to smooth out the difficulties. He kept an interesting diary which contains the following extract.

This landscape showing Robert Logan's mill and his house beside it is taken from a larger sketch in which the artist, Paul Kane, shows the sites of both Fort Douglas and Upper Fort Garry (circa 1846).

"August 4th, 1821 ... after breakfast the Birds and myself attempted to cross the (Red) river in a small bateau, an old crazy rotten vessel. We had scarcely got halfway over when she began to sink and when within 30 yards of the shore went down. It was fortunately not deep enough to drown us, so we escaped with a ducking. After changing our clothes we again embarked and got over safely. Called on Mr. Logan formerly in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company ... in a small miserable hut, him-self, his wife and seven children were living. From Mr. Logan's we rode to the French priest's."

This would indicate that Logan then lived on the east side of the river. This assumption is borne out by an indenture dated August 13th, 1824 conveying to Robert Logan from the Lord Selkirk estate title to 215 square acres of land clearly on the cast side of the river. Logan paid for this with his "command of a little money" which George Simpson, governor of Rupert's Land, mentioned in a letter to Andrew Colvile, governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, dated May 20th, 1822. (Selkirk papers 7626).

"Logan is the best settler about the place without exception; is sober, industrious and active, has a spirit of enterprise and improvement about him, with the command of a little money."

In his novel, Light in the Wilderness, E. B. Osier mentions this spirit of enterprise which prompted Robert Logan and Andrew McDermot to outfit the young hero, John Ferguson, for a trading expedition with the colony buffalo hunters. John had recently come out from Scotland to help operate a grist mill which had been erected by the Lord Selkirk estate.

On the 1st of June, 1825, Robert Logan purchased for £400 this windmill, the remains of Fort Douglas and 100 acres of land on the west side of the river extending for two miles. The northern boundary of this tract became Logan Avenue. Fort Douglas stood on the bank of the Red River at the foot of Robert Street where now stands the T. Eaton warehouse. The fort, near which had been buried the bodies of Governor Semple's party who fell at Seven Oaks on June 19th, 1816, had become dilapidated and was largely destroyed in the flood of 1826. The windmill stood for many years and sheltered both settlers and livestock during the floods of 1826 and 1852. The grist mill prospered under Logan's direction. The toll for grinding grain was ten per cent. On his property Logan built a fine home around which he planted many trees and spanned with a rustic bridge the coulee which ran to the river along what is now George Street. So many were the trees planted that the short street which ends at the Canadian Pacific Railway line is called Maple Street. According to Mrs. Charles Hislop in her book The Streets of Winnipeg Alexander Avenue was named after Robert Logan's son, and Lily and Martha (originally Mary) after his granddaughters.

If Robert Logan had done nothing more than plant trees, thus anticipating Arbor Day plantings and the work of the Parks Board, he would have deserved recognition. In its early days, Winnipeg with its wide dusty streets and houses set on the bald prairie did not please the eyes of Easterners. Robert Logan continued to act as a solid citizen. He was a member of the Council of Assiniboia, Chairman of the Board of Works in 1844, and Justice of the Peace of the Middle District with Alexander Ross in 1837. In 1850 the Governor, Deputy Governor and members of the Committee of the Hudson's Bay Company appointed him Justice of the Peace. On March 27, 1827, the Governor of Assiniboia, D. McKenzie, wrote to Robert Logan asking his opinion as to the length of time the Council of Assiniboia should sit, and on February 28, 1849, William Coldwell, Governor of Assiniboia requested his opinion of the attitude of the Hudson's Bay Company towards Indians, Halfbreeds, the Merchants, the Settlers and the Missionary Society. It is interesting to see how sensitive were the Governors to any criticism of the Company especially regarding the Indians and Metis. He was named as one of the executors of the will of John McCallum, the master of Rupert's Land Academy. In the will, Logan is recorded as "lately Chief Factor of the Hudson's Bay Company."

This crude windmill, a patchwork of undressed lumber, was sold to Robert Logan on July 1, 1825, while still under construction. It was originally situated within Fort Douglas. (Source: Harper's New Monthly, 1859)

Robert Logan was twice married. The first marriage was solemnized by the Reverend John West (Reg. No. 18, Jan. 19, 1821). After his first wife's death, he married a widow, Mrs. Sarah Ingham, who had come from England to act as mistress of a girls' school. The wedding took place at Point Douglas, on July 29, 1839. (St. John's reg. no. 344). She was twenty years younger than her husband and survived him by fourteen years. He died in 1866 at the age of 91 years, and was buried in St. John's cemetery. His widow was 85 at her death in 1880. Their first son, Alexander, became heir to the Logan estate and was mayor of Winnipeg in 1880, 1881, and 1833. A fire engine was named after him "Alexander Logan", but he is said to have wished it had been called Alex Logan, as "that is the name by which I am known." He died on June 25th, 1894 at the age of 52 and it is recorded of him that the name of Alex Logan was synonymous with honesty and uprightness. One of his daughters married Richard D. Waugh, member of the Winnipeg Board of Control 1909-11 and Mayor of Winnipeg 1912, 1913 and 1916. He is generally regarded as the father of the Shoal Lake Water Project. The aqueduct was opened in 1919 and has continued to supply water to the metropolitan area of Winnipeg.

One of the daughters of Robert Logan by his first wife, married E. L. Barber, a Winnipeg merchant. She lived to an advanced age and in 1923 was interviewed by W. J. Healy and thus became one of the Women of the Red River. Her recollections of the early days form a part of that fascinating book. One of her daughters, Mrs. Charles Graham, was one of the early graduates of the Winnipeg General Hospital.

The Logan family was closely bound by marriage to the McDermot and Bannatyne families. Alexander Logan married Maria Lane, a granddaughter of Andrew McDermot. One of their daughters became the wife of William Bannatyne.

So Robert Logan lived and died and his works and those of his family live after him.

Acknowledgements are due to Miss Anne M. Henderson, genealogist of the Manitoba Historical Society, Miss Marjory Morley, Librarian of the Manitoba Legislative library, Mr. Hart Bowsfield, formerly Manitoba Provincial Archivist, and Mr. J. B. Graham a great grandson of Robert Logan.

Page revised: 19 July 2009