A Grisdale Métis Family in Manitoba

Posted: July 4, 2015 in Canadian history, Family History
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In the late 1830s and early 1840s three young brothers attended school together in what would become, but wasn’t yet, the Canadian city of Winnipeg. They were pupils at the Red River Academy, the first school established in the Red River Settlement, an area of Manitoba where Lord Selkirk had established English and Scottish farmers. These settlers in the Red River area weren’t however the first people there. The indigenous peoples, mostly of the Cree and Ojibway tribes, had been there for a long time. There were also the Métis, people of mixed race – French/Indian or British/Indian – who mostly worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the fur trade. It was for the children of these people that the Red River Academy was started.

On land granted by Selkirk to his settlers for religious and educational purposes the Reverend John West of the Church of England founded in 1820 the church of St. John. This was located about two miles below the Forks on the west bank of the Red. The mission gave rise to the Red River Academy, later St. John’s College. It was established for the training of a native ministry and for the education of the sons of Hudson’s Bay Company employees.

Red River Academy

Red River Academy

The three brothers were called Thomas, John and William Bunn. They were the only children of the Métis, or ‘half-breed’, couple Dr John Bunn and Catherine Thomas, who at the time lived in the small Red River Settlement of St. Paul, known as Middlechurch. Catherine’s father was Welsh but her mother Sarah was a Cree Indian. Dr John Bunn’s father was English, but his mother Sarah McNab was a Scottish/Indian Métis.

All the boys’ family were or had been employees in one capacity or another of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dr John Bunn was the first native-born doctor to practice medicine in the Red River Settlement.   His English-born father Thomas was employed as a writer by the Hudson’s Bay Company at the company’s York Factory (trading post) in Manitoba.

Young John was well cared for by his father and by his Scottish grandfather, John McNab, a surgeon and the chief factor at York Factory. Thanks to their generous assistance, he attended a good school in Edinburgh and then began to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. ‘In 1819, when he had only two years’ medical training, not enough to graduate, he was persuaded by McNab to accept a position as surgeon at Moose Factory. Upon reaching Moose Factory in September of that year, Bunn had grave misgivings about the wisdom of his grandfather’s decision in sending a not yet fully qualified doctor into the wilderness of Rupert’s Land. Uneasy as he was about his future, during the next five years Bunn gained considerable experience by serving the HBC as a surgeon at several posts as well as on the company’s ship, the Eddystone.’

York Factory 1812

York Factory 1812

John’s entry in the Canadian Dictionary of Biography continues:

With no real taste for a nomadic existence, Bunn in 1824 left the HBC service and moved to the Red River Settlement to begin a private medical practice. Here, in the vicinity of Middlechurch, he lived with his father who had retired two years earlier. Here too, on 23 July 1829, he married Catherine Thomas, the daughter of his father’s close friend Thomas Thomas, a former governor of the Northern Department. Because of his family connections and his professional status, Bunn was able to move easily in the influential circles of Red River society. A witty, good-natured, and vigorous man, with a dark complexion and a handsome bearing, Bunn the doctor was as popular with the HBC establishment as he was with the half-caste population of the settlement.

Feeling the need to upgrade his qualifications, Bunn again attended the University of Edinburgh during the 1831–32 academic session, and returned to Red River in 1832 not with a degree but as a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons at Edinburgh. He was happy to come home to his wife Catherine who had cheered him with her affectionate letters while he was abroad. A little over a year after his return, on 3 Jan. 1834, came her death, and he never remarried. He and his three small boys… continued to live comfortably in his father’s household which was ably managed by his halfbreed stepmother Phoebe Sinclair Bunn.

Dr John Bunn

Dr John Bunn

With the lack of European women it was fairly common, in fact usual, for English and Scottish employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the remote west of British North America to take  native Indian wives, marriages often entered into via a native ritual and thus not recognised by the Church of England. The same was true, and for a much longer period, of the French fur trappers, voyageurs and traders.

There is much more to tell about this fascinating man, but our concern here is with his sons. When the three boys were pupils at the Red River Academy the headmaster was John Macallum who came to Red River in 1833 as a schoolteacher, working at £100 per annum at the academy. In 1836, having married one of his mixed-blood students, he became headmaster in 1838 and having initially leased the buildings from the HBC, which owned the property, he eventually purchased the school for £350 in 1841.

Under Macallum’s guidance it (the school) maintained a high level of excellence. During his tenure courses were offered in Greek, Latin, geography, Bible study, history, algebra, writing, and elocution.

It was later said that Macallum’s school ‘prepared a goodly number of postmasters, clerks and future chief traders and chief factors’ for the HBC and that he was a ‘conscientious and faithful worker”, but who ‘perhaps over-estimated the use of the rod’.

John Macallum

John Macallum

He was in fact ‘a strict disciplinarian, with a strong sense of morality’.  Despite his own marriage to a mixed blood girl, if Indian or mixed-blood mothers were not formally married he refused to allow them to visit their children at the school. One contemporary commented on this policy as being ‘fearfully cruel for the poor unfortunate mothers did not know that there was any distinction’. Macallum was also ‘an exponent of corporal punishment, he employed a rod more than three feet long’.

Such was the school life of the three Bunn brothers. Their mother would likely have not been allowed to visit them if she had lived; unfortunately she had died in 1834 when the boys were still very young.

The third and youngest brother, William, died in 1847, aged just fourteen. Thomas was the oldest son; he was born in St Paul in 1830 and was to go on to great things. Second son John, who was born in 1832, never achieved any fame, but it was one of his daughters who would marry into the family of the Bolton-born future Bishop of Qu’Appelle John Grisdale.

Thomas Bunn (third from left back row) with Louis Riel (meddle second row)

Thomas Bunn (third from left back row) with Louis Riel (middle second row)

Having left school Thomas Bunn first remained in St. Paul where he married Métis Isabella Clouston in 1854. Three children followed until Isabella’s untimely death only three years later. He then moved to the nearby St. Andrews where he married Rachel Harriot in 1859. Eventually he moved further up the Red River to St. Clements near Selkirk. He became a member of the Church of England and a freemason. ‘He was able, therefore, to have some influence in the Indian community and to enter English society in Red River. In January 1868 Bunn was appointed a member of the Council of Assiniboia and held this office until the council ceased to function in September 1870. On 17 Dec. 1869 he succeeded W. R. Smith as executive officer of the council with a salary of £100 per year.’

Here a little history is called for. It explains Thomas Bunn’s involvement in the ‘Red River Rebellion’, better said the Red River Resistance:

In 1869 Louis Riel had begun to organize resistance to the transfer of the North-West to the dominion of Canada without prearranged terms. Bunn was elected a representative from St Clements to the council of English and French parishes convened on 16 Nov. 1869 to draw up terms for entry. He hoped for a united front to negotiate these terms of union with Canada. Most English settlers, however, were disposed to think that Canada would be just, and if it were not, that Great Britain would ensure a fair settlement. Many English were willing to support Riel’s policy of union through negotiation, not so much because they thought negotiation was necessary, but because they hoped thus to preserve peace in the Red River Settlement. Bunn tried indeed to pursue an intermediate position, and the strains were sometimes great. By accepting Riel’s policy, Bunn, in a sense, made himself Riel’s English half-breed lieutenant, despite the fact that there was no bond between the men.

On 19 and 20 Jan. 1870, a mass open-air meeting was held to hear Donald Alexander Smith, commissioner of the Canadian government. Bunn was chairman of the discussion. It was decided that a convention should be held to prepare terms for negotiations with Canada, and that delegates should be elected. Bunn was one of those appointed to a committee to arrange the elections. He himself became a delegate from St Clements. From 27 January to 3 February, the convention prepared a second list of rights and approved the formation of a provisional government. Riel made Bunn secretary of state in the provisional government.

On 24 August the military forces of the crown under Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley reached Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg) and the provisional government was swept from power. Bunn survived its fall and may have been present at a meeting of the Council of Assiniboia which Wolseley revived in an attempt to settle the situation. Indeed, Bunn continued as usual in Red River society and set out to establish himself in the new order. As a man of some education and a fluent speaker with a judicious cast of mind, he decided to go into law. He was called to the bar of the new province of Manitoba in 1871, and was clerk to the First General Quarterly Court held in the new province on 16 May 1871. St Clements returned him as its first member to the provincial Legislative Assembly on 30 Dec. 1870. Thus Bunn’s career decidedly bridged the way from the old order to the new. His early death in 1875 cut short his passage into it.

During all this time that Thomas Bunn was becoming a prominent local politician and being involved in events that shaped the history of Canada, his brother John was pursuing a much more humdrum career as a ‘clerk’ with the Hudson’s Bay Company – exactly the sort of role that the Red River Academy had been founded to prepare such Métis children of the company’s employees for.

St Paul's Anglican Church

St Paul’s Anglican Church

But John didn’t enter the service of the HBC until 1867 when he was 35. What he did before that is unknown. All we know was that he married Jemima Clouston in St Paul in 1859 in his home settlement of St. Paul. Jemima was the sister of Isabella, John’s brother Thomas’ wife. Eight children were to follow, the first few born in St. Paul, the reminder at the various HBC trading posts John was posted to. Between 1867 and 1878, John was a HBC clerk in three factories or trading posts in the remote and wild west of the country: Lac Ste. Anne, Fort Victory and Bow Fort. In 1878 he retired back in the Red River Settlement and ‘died after a brief illness that year’. His wife Jemima was to live until 1888.

It is with his daughter Annie Bunn that we are concerned with here. Annie was born in 1866 in St. Paul in the Red River Settlement but, as we have seen, she spent most of her childhood living with her family in various remote HBC factories. In her 1885 ’Declaration concerning her claim to participate in any grant to Half Breeds living in the North West Territories’, she stated, ‘I lived with my parents in the north West Territories from 1867 to 1877’. I will return to this declaration later.

Following her father’s death, Annie continued to live in St Paul’s with her mother and siblings. In 1891 we find her living with her sister Isabell and brother William in the growing city of Winnipeg. It was probably in Winnipeg that Annie met her future husband Joseph Grisdale.

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Here we have to leave the Métis world of the Red River Settlement and go back a little to the grim world of the Lancashire cotton mills in England. I have previously written three pieces about a Bolton cotton bleacher called John Grisdale who was first a missionary in India before coming to Manitoba in 1873, and who eventually was to become the Anglican Bishop of Qu’Appelle. (See here, here and here). During one of his many trips back to England in 1882/3 John discussed Canada with his brother Joseph, who was at that time a ‘railway clerk’ in Bolton. When John returned to Canada in 1883 his brother Joseph came with him. At first Joseph lived with his brother John in Winnipeg. In 1883 John was a canon of St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg and a Professor of Theology at St. John’s College (the successor to the Red River Academy). But in 1894 he had been appointed dean of Rupert’s Land. In 1891 we find Joseph living with his brother and his family in comfortable circumstances in Winnipeg. No doubt with his brother’s help Joseph was now a ‘Bank Manager’.

And so it was that in some way at some time bank manager Joseph Grisdale met and fell in love with Annie Bunn. They married in Winnipeg in 1893. We can only wonder if Dean Grisdale officiated at their wedding.

Private Percy John Grisdale (1896-1916)

Private Percy John Grisdale (1896-1916)

Initially the family stayed in Winnipeg and had two children there: Percy John Grisdale in 1896 and Eveleigh Grisdale in 1899. In the 1901 census Joseph and his family are still in Winnipeg and Joseph is said to be an ‘accountant’. But sometime prior to 1904 the family moved north up the Red River to Selkirk where two more children were born: twins Edwin and Roland in 1904. The family continued to live in Selkirk until sometime after 1911, Joseph still being a bank manager. But they soon moved on, to Calgary in Alberta. In the 1916 census we find the family living in Calgary with Joseph listed as a ‘bookkeeper’. Son Percy is listed too, but he is said to have been overseas. You can read his story here. Eventually, sometime after 1921, Joseph took his family to Vancouver, where he died in 1950. I don’t know where and when Annie Bunn Grisdale died.

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Comments
  1. Clif says:

    Deaths Mar 1937
    Cruttenden Eveleigh F 36 Lambeth 1d 198

    7 March 2014 – Eveleigh F. Unknown, wife of Courtenay Cruttenden – I think I’ve finally found this one, thanks to the unusual spelling of her first name and having an approximate birth date for her based on her stated age at death in 1937.
    Joseph Grisdale met and fell in love with Annie Bunn. They married in Winnipeg in 1893
    In the Canadian census records at ancestry.com, I find first, on the 1901 census for Winnipeg, Manitoba, one Eveleigh F Grisdale, born 27 Feb 1899 in Manitoba (age given as 2), with her father Joseph Grisdale (born July 1864 in England, an accountant), her mother Annie B Grisdale (born 1868 in Manitoba), and a brother Percy J Grisdale (born 1896 in Manitoba). She appears again on the 1911 census for Selkirk, Manitoba, now with her birth date given as Feb 1901 (age given as 10), with her father (now described as Bank Manager), her mother, brother Percy, and a pair of twin brothers born in 1904 (Edwin & Roland). The 1916 census of the Prairie Provinces has the same family, now located in Calgary, Alberta, father’s occupation now described as Bookkeeper. Eveleigh Grisdale is also listed in the 1921 Canada Census, still at Calgary, her mother apparently absent, and only her father (occupation Accountant) and her twin brothers at home with her. Eventually, sometime after 1921, Joseph took his family to Vancouver, where he died in 1950. I don’t know where and when Annie Bunn Grisdale died.
    From the London, England, Electoral Registers (ancestry.com) I find Courtenay and Eveleigh Frances Cruttenden living at Sangatte, Park Way, Hillingdon, Ruislip, in 1931.
    More of Eveleigh’s family background can be found at https://grisdalefamily.wordpress.com/tag/selkirk-manitoba/ but the story doesn’t include Eveleigh’s marriage. Nevertheless, I’m feeling quite positive that this is the right Eveleigh.
    I still have not unearthed any information about Courtenay Cruttenden’s death or any of their three children, Mary, Philip and Lawrence Cruttenden. admin@halhed.com;

    We are still looking for confirming info if anyone can be of assistance

    – Clif ( London, England)

    • Simon French (formerley Douglas Cruttenden) says:

      I am also searching for Everleigh and Courtenay Cruttenden as part of my family tree search. I think I may be related to May (Mary) Cruttenden the daughter and would be interested to hear if you have any further information regarding the family.

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