Posts Tagged ‘Hudson’s Bay Company’

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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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.

Genealogists and family historians are normally concerned with blood relationships. Who was whose father? What became of the children? But names also get passed down in other ways. American and Caribbean slaves took the names of their masters. In Canada and America native Indians also took European names. These were quite often the names of the missionaries who had influenced, or pressured, them to convert to Christianity. It was therefore with much curiosity and interest that I discovered a family of Ojibway Indians called Grisdale in Manitoba, Canada. Many still live there to this day. What was their story?

In Manitoba there is a small river called Broken head which empties into Lake Winnipeg.

When the Indian people first came into this land, they camped at the mouth of this river. Before it was dark they looked out across the waters of the lake. As they stood there they could see a huge shape rising out of the water. They could see that it was a monstrous head with horns and covered with long black hair. To them it looked like a mighty Mis-ko-taypis- a-ka, that is a giant bull buffalo. The most fearless of the band snatched up his bow and quiver and ran down to the edge of the lake. In an instant he let fly at the head with one of his arrows. Its flint tip struck the fearful monster in the center of the forehead so hard that the head split completely in two. Then with a mighty splash the head disappeared beneath the waters of the lake. Never again was it seen, but since then this river has been called Pas-ka-ta-bay Cee-pee, the River of the Broken head.

Red River Indian Settlement in 1846

These were members of the Ojibway tribe. They first came into the area under their famous Chief Peguis in the late 1790s. He led a band of his tribe to the Red River . They weren’t of course the first Indians to live in the area, but as elsewhere in North American the white man’s diseases had taken their toll. Ojibway Felix Keuhn, upon whose writings I rely extensively in telling this story, and to whom I acknowledge a huge debt, says: “Many, many years ago, all of this land was the hunting grounds of the Cree and Assiniboine nation. Then the white people started to come here to trade furs. They brought with them many sicknesses that no medicine man had ever seen, and many, many Cree and Assiniboine died.”

When Peguis and his people arrived at the Red River they found many camps of the Assiniboine in which all the people were dead with smallpox. The Assiniboine’s who had not died with this sickness had left their hunting grounds here and gone far to the west where they hoped they would never see another white man. Peguis and his people made their camp where the Netley Creek flows into the Red River.

Chief Peguis

There are many excellent histories of Chief Peguis and his dealings first with the trappers and then with the increasing numbers of British settlers arriving in the area; I commend them to you. But as regards the Grisdales, the story starts with two Ojibway brothers who “came from the land where the waters of the mighty Lake Superior flow down into Lake Huron”. They said that would go to “this land where there were more buffalo than any man could count and the rivers were filled with the finest beavers”. “So they set out with their wives and children. One of the brothers had seven sons and a number of daughters. The other brother had five sons and some daughters. They made this trip in their birch bark canoes.”

Felix Keuhn continues their story as it has been passed down in the Ojibway Nation:

First they paddled along the north shore of Lake Superior. Then they came to the mouth of a river. When they had paddled up this river, they came to a lake that the white men called Rainy Lake. From here they paddled up another river into a lake now called the Lake of the Woods. That lake was drained by a mighty river flowing to the north and to the west. There were thirty thundering rapids on that river where the Indians had to make a portage. Finally, they came to a lake, wide and deep and very long, which is sometimes called Ou-in-i-peg (Winnipeg), that is ‘muddy water’.

Then they paddled along this lake to the south and to the west. In the evening they looked for a good place to camp. They saw a good place where a small river flowed into the lake. Here they camped for the night. The little river was the Broken head. The next day they continued paddling along the shore of the lake until they came to the mouth of the Red River. Then they paddled up that river until they came to the camp of Chief Peguis. Here there were many Indians living. Some of the camps were their own Ojibway people; others were the camps of the Cree. Here these families from the east lived for many years.

Finally, the families of the two brothers who came from the east said they did not want to live any longer at the Red River. Instead they would go to the mouth of the river where they had camped the first night many years before. There the river was full of fish and all along the banks of the river grew the maple trees from which they made maple sugar. The bush was filled with berries and with all kinds of animals that were good for food. Many water birds nested close by: there were many marshes filled with muskrats and the river and many creeks were filled with beaver. Here they lived for many years.

Broken Head

They moved back to Broken head. But why? At least in part the reason seems to have been to get away from the British missionaries who were trying to convert them to Christianity. A strange paradox given what was to later happen. Ojibway tradition tells us: “With the passing of time there was trouble among the Indians living along the Red River. There were too many there. Some were Ojibway and some were Cree and there was not enough hunting and trapping close by for both. Some of the Ojibway wanted to be away from the white praying masters who were always telling them they were bad people and that their prayers and dances and all their old ways were no good.”

It was one of the of the sons of the Ojibway brother who “had five sons” who was to eventually take the name Jacob Grisdale, but he only did so many years later. We don’t know his original Ojibway name, so unfortunately we’ll have to call him Jacob. He worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company “for 24 summers”.

In those days many, many furs were brought to the forts south of Chief Peguis’s camp. These furs had to be taken in big boats to Churchill on Hudson’s Bay. The crews of these boats were Métis and Indians. They took these boats down the Red River into Lake Winnipeg and at the north end of Lake Winnipeg they went down the Nelson River. The Indians rowed these boats when there was no wind and carried the bales of fur on their backs over the many portages. It was very hard work. The packages of furs weighed 90 pounds and the Indians were gone from home from the first of June until the end of October. On their trip back these boats brought whisky and supplies to the forts. The company paid them very little for this hard work.

“The White people called these Indians ‘trip men’. The Indian who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company for 24 summers later was called Jacob Grisdale.” He lived with his wife, who had come from Saskatchewan, and their nine children at Broken head. For a long time no missionaries, or “praying masters” as the Indians called them, had ventured as far as Broken head, “to tell them they should be baptized”.  The Ojibway people all had Indian names and “followed the old ways”. Of course they knew about “the white man’s God and how they should be baptized and give up their heathen ways” because they often visited Red River.

Signing Treaty Number One – 1871

Eventually the “praying masters” broke them down and individual Broken head Ojibway did start to convert to Christianity. The first “to give up the old ways” was an Indian lady who took the name Mrs. Thomas. Her three children were baptized as well, all by “the praying master called Rev. Cockrane” at Saint Peters (Red River). Then they came back to the Broken head. Soon others went to St. Peters to be baptized or to be married by the missionaries there. The first of the five brothers was baptized and took the name Richard Raven. He and his son were baptized in 1864, when the first Anglican missionary came to visit the Indians at Broken head. This was Rev. James Settee.

But the trip man who was later to be called Jacob Grisdale held out. In 1871, still holding on to the old ways, he was witness to an historic, and ultimately sad, event. This was when Canadian Indians from various Nations signed “Treaty Number one” with the British. This took place at the Stone Fort, Lower Fort Garry. Keuhn explains:

In 1871 the white people called the chief and the elders of all the Indians to come to the stone fort. Here the white people persuaded the Indians to sign Treaty Number One. This is when the Indians gave all their land to the Great White Queen. She promised to give them their own land and many presents each year. Those families who were living at Broken head were to have 1000 acres of land there. Jacob Grisdale was a councillor and he was at the stone fort for eight days. He stood at the door where the Indians and the white people were talking. He was sixty years old at the time and remembered every word that was spoken.

In future the Indians were to be restricted to small Reservations; the “old ways” were over. But at least the British gave them something. The treaty included the following gracious gift from the Crown:

And with a view to show the satisfaction of Her Majesty with the behaviour and good conduct of Her Indians parties to this treaty, She hereby, through Her Commissioner, makes them a present of three dollars for each Indian man, woman and child belonging to the bands here represented.

Keuhn writes: “After that Jacob Grisdale returned to his home at the Broken head. He still was not baptized. This did not happen until 1883. When he was baptised he took Grisdale for his name. This was the name of a missionary who had once been at St. Peters.” The missionary who baptized Jacob and his wife, who took the Queen’s name Victoria, was Rev. Crowley. But who was the “praying master” Grisdale from whom Jacob took his name?

Missionary John Grisdale

He was John Grisdale the son of a poor family of cotton weavers from Bolton in Lancashire, England. He was born on 25 June 1845, the son of weaver Robert Grisdale and his wife Alice Yates. He was in fact a member of the same extended Bolton Grisdale family I have written about on previous occasions. He was related to the weaver Doctor Grisdale, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1850, and to the two Bolton weavers, John and Jonathan, who “went America”. Other members of the family also ended up in Quebec, Washington State and Australia.

I will write in more detail about John Grisdale’s fascinating life at a later date (See here and here). He studied to be a missionary for five years at the Church Missionary Society’s College in Islington in London. He was ordained Deacon in Saint Paul’s Cathedral in June 1870. He was then sent to Calcutta to work as a missionary. But he found the climate unconducive and became ill, and so, after returning briefly to England and marrying Annie Chaplin, in 1873 he was sent as a missionary to the wild lands of “Rupert’s Land” in present day Canada. He was based at Winnipeg, served as Rector of Holy Trinity Church. Later he held positions at Christ Church and was professor of systemic philosophy at St. John’s College, canon of St. John’s Cathedral Winnipeg, then dean of Rupert’s Land and, finally, in 1894, the third Bishop of Qu’Appelle in Saskatchewan.

But John was always an evangelic missionary and it was probably in his early years preaching in the Indian settlements in and around Red River and Broken head that he had met and tried to convert the future Jacob Grisdale.

After he became a Christian, Jacob Grisdale gave half of his land – this was lot No. 2 – to the Anglican church and it was here that the St. Philips church was later built. His house stood here for many years. It was a two story log house with a piece built on one end.

Alex Grisdale

Jacob and Victoria had many children, all while still living in the “old way”. They all took the name Grisdale. They included: Andrew, William, Thomas, Oliver, Elizabeth and Beatrice. They have many living descendants in and around Manitoba today – still bearing the name Grisdale.

One of Jacob’s grandchildren was called Alex Grisdale. He was the son of Oliver Grisdale and his wife Catherine. He was born in 1895. But his mother died when he was only two and so he was raised by his grandparents Jacob and Victoria Grisdale. He was to learn the history and legends of his tribe and family from them. Later, his stories were published with the title Wild Drums. Here in his own words in the story of how John Grisdale  eventually baptized Alex’s grandfather:

My grandfather and grandmother were never baptized by any church at all, and never got married white man’s way. One day a minister came to Brokenhead. His name was the Reverend Grisdale. This man got after my grandfather to be baptized. At last my grandfather got sick of it and said he would be baptized next Sunday if the minister would give my grandfather his name. So Bishop Grisdale did this and my grandfather was named Jacob Grisdale from that day. The Bishop also gave my grandmother the name of the Queen – Victoria.

Jacob Grisdale himself  “died on the 20th of November, 1910 when he was 98 years old. He was sick for three months with lung trouble before he died. He was buried in the Anglican cemetery by Missionary Le Clair. His wife had already died in 1906. She was 70 years old”.