Memorable Manitobans: James Bertram Mitchell (1852-1945)

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James Bertram Mitchell
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Policeman, architect.

Born at Gananocque, Leeds County, Ontario on 14 October 1852, son of George Mitchell and Jane Brown, he was educated at the Gananocque High School and Montreal Art School. He joined the Canadian militia as a bugler at the age of 14, rising to corporal by 1870. Upon promotion, he was assigned to guard the Welland Canal at Carlton, Ontario against a Fenian invasion of Canada, an event that never took place. During his time in the militia, he met Colonel George A. French, soon to be the head of the newly minted North West Mounted Police (NWMP). It was a defining meeting for the young Mitchell.

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James Bertram Mitchell
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At age 18, Mitchell returned to civilian life and studied architecture at the Montreal Institute of Art for three years. He had read newspaper accounts of the difficulties at Red River and the whisky problem in the West. Stemming from his desire to serve his country and his strong sense of adventure Mitchell enlisted and at age 21 and was assigned NWMP regimental number 50, E division with the rank of Staff Constable.

The NWMP departed Fort Dufferin on 8 July 1874. During his time with the force, Mitchell signed as witness with Governor Morris’ Treaty with the Wood and Plain Cree Indians at Fort Carleton and Fort Pitt on 23 August and 9 September 1876. Having passed through Winnipeg during his time with the NWMP, when Mitchell returned to civilian life, he remembered the opportunity he felt existed in this new prairie city. He settled in the Point Douglas area.

He was elected to the Winnipeg School Board in 1888 and in 1892 was appointed Architect and Commissioner of School Buildings and Supplies. Along with his contemporary, School Superintendent Daniel McIntyre, Mitchell designed and created what some saw as North America’s safest and most architecturally eloquent collection of schools. Together the two men oversaw the design and construction of 48 Winnipeg schools and numerous additions. During his tenure, Mitchell witnessed the value of school buildings grow from less than $350,000 to nearly $10 million.

Some of the Winnipeg schools that Mitchell designed:





Somerset School

775 Sherbrook Street


Demolished (2005)

Alexandra School

Edmonton Street


Demolished (1969)

Pinkham School No. 2

765 Pacific Avenue


Burned and rebuilt (1945)

Carlton School

Graham Avenue


Demolished (April 1930)

Strathcona School

McGregor Street


Demolished (1963-1964)

John M. King School

Ellice Avenue


Demolished (1968)

Wellington School

Wellington Avenue


Demolished (?)

Luxton School

111 Polson Avenue



King Edward School No. 1

Selkirk Avenue


Demolished (1975)

Mulvey School

Maryland Street



Riverview School No. 1

Casey Street



Cecil Rhodes School No. 1

136 Cecil Street



Clifton School

Clifton Street



Lord Selkirk School No. 1

Brazier Street


Demolished (early 1970s)

Aberdeen School No. 2

444 Flora Avenue


Demolished (c1988)

Greenway School No. 1

850 St. Matthews Avenue


Demolished (?)

La Verendrye School

290 Lilac Street



Kelvin High School

55 Harrow Street


Demolished (1965-1966)

St. John’s High School

Machray Avenue


Demolished (?)

Dufferin School No. 3

545 Alexander Avenue

circa 1910

Demolished (?)

Lord Roberts School

Daly Street South


Demolished (1970)

Principal Sparling School

1150 Sherburn Street



Laura Secord School

960 Wolseley Avenue



Isaac Brock School

1265 Barratt Avenue



William Whyte School

200 Powers Street


Demolished (c1976)

George V School

265 Grey Street



Earl Grey School

340 Cockburn Street North



Julia Clark School

611 Academy Road



Anna Gibson School

77 Henderson Highway


Demolished (2005)

Greenway School No. 2

465 Banning Street


Demolished (1997)

Cecil Rhodes School No. 2

East Street


Demolished (?)

Montcalm School

Tecumseh Street


Demolished (?)

Ralph Brown School No. 1

Andrews Street


Demolished (?)

Florence Nightingale School

31 Shaughnessy Street


Demolished (?)

Machray School No. 3

Mountain Avenue


Demolished (?)

David Livingstone School

270 Stella Avenue



Grosvenor School

Grosvenor Avenue



Faraday School

405 Parr Street



Influenced by British Board Schools, Mitchell created powerful, stately buildings that he felt nurtured the physical and intellectual potential of all children, no matter what their country of origin. British Board Schools were massive red brick buildings, usually three storeys, with similar design and layout. Hundreds of them were built between 1870 and 1900. Their style captured the imagination of the public and became the defining characteristic of enlightened education. Mitchell used the Board Schools as his basic design, enhancing the already handsome buildings with decorative details from Queen Anne, Gothic, Classical and Georgian Revival architectural styles.

Always eager to learn new techniques and designs, Mitchell traveled across Canada and the United States, touring educational facilities and discussing their design with his peers. He brought home many new ideas for his schools. But always foremost in his mind was that fundamental education would be provided, children would be enlightened and all of Canada would benefit. He retired in 1928.

He was married twice, first to Helen Richmond Brough of Gananocque with whom he had three children: Rosslyn Brough Mitchell, Edith Helen Mitchell (1879-1961, wife of John Ralston Davidson), and Elinor Mitchell (?-?). His second wife was Margaret “Maggie” Booth (1886-?) of Scotland. He served as President of the Canadian Club of Winnipeg (1908-1909). During the First World War, Mitchell served as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 100th Grenadiers from 1912 to 1920, taking them to Valcartier in August 1914 (11th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force). He raised the 78th Battalion in 1915 and the 100th Battalion which he took overseas in 1916. He saw action at St. Eloi and Vimy.

He died on 14 November 1945 and was buried in the Brookside Cemetery. He is commemorated by J. B. Mitchell School in Winnipeg. There are papers at the Archives of Manitoba.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Mitchell House (45 East Gate, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: J. B. Mitchell School (1720 John Brebeuf Place, Winnipeg)


Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.

The Leading Financial, Business & Professional Men of Winnipeg, published by Edwin McCormick, Photographs by T. J. Leatherdale, Compiled and printed by Stone Limited, c1913. [copy available at the Archives of Manitoba]

Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.

“Last tributes paid to Mitchell,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 November 1945. [Manitoba Legislative Library, Biographical Scrapbook B9]

“Buried today [Mrs. Mary M. Booth],” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 April 1935, page 10.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1800-1950 by Robert G. Hill, Toronto.

Winnipeg Building Index

We thank Jordan Makichuk for providing additional information used here.

This page was prepared by Reid Dickie and Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 18 April 2024

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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