Posts Tagged ‘Red River’

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.

In an earlier article I left the Bolton cotton bleacher and Indian missionary, the Rev. John Grisdale, at Liverpool docks in late April 1873. He was waiting with his new wife Ann and their infant son Robert Chaplin Grisdale to take ship to New York, from where they would travel overland to Rupert’s Land in Canada. Within a month they had arrived at the Church Missionary Society’s church of St. Andrews in the Red River Settlement.

The Manitoba Historical Society has this to say about John’s clerical career in Canada:

John Grisdale (1845-1922). Cleric.

Born at Lancashire, England on 25 June 1845, he spent five years in the C.M.S. College at Islington, London. He was ordained deacon in St. Paul’s Cathedral in June 1870. He then spent a year doing missionary work in India, returning due to ill health. There he married Annie Chaplin. In May 1873, they emigrated to Canada and came to Winnipeg where he served as rector of Holy Trinity Church. He later held positions at Christ Church, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s College, canon of St. John’s Cathedral, and dean of Rupert’s Land. In 1879 he helped to found the Manitoba Historical Society.

He received a DD degree from the University of Manitoba in 1887. In 1896 he was elected Bishop of Qu’Appelle. He held the position until 1911 when he retired due to ill health. He died at his Winnipeg residence on 27 January 1922.

These are the bare facts, but let’s try to add some flesh to the bones.

St Andrew's Church, Manitoba

St Andrew’s Church, Manitoba

In my previous article I told that John was primarily a missionary. He had trained with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in London for five years before being sent to India where eventually the climate had proved unconducive to him. The CMS was primarily concerned with converting the ‘heathens’. By the way, the word ‘heathens’ was the one used by the CMS, whose whole purpose, which was very explicit, was to convert the native “heathens” – the religious care of colonists generally being left to the SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), although the lines were often blurred. It was in this capacity that the CMS had sent him to Rupert’s Land. One month after leaving England, he and his wife and young son Robert arrived at the CMS mission in the Red River Settlement at St. Andrews, where his job was to be ministering to the Anglo-Métis community there.

As soon as he arrived John immediately wrote to Mr Wright, the secretary of the CMS in London:

St. Andrews, Lisgar, Manitoba, May 30, 1873.

My dear Mr. Wright

We arrived here on Saturday last, exactly a month from the date of sailing from Liverpool.

We are each of us in moderate health, and do feel deeply grateful to Him who has so abundantly answered the prayers of our many friends at home.

Our heavy luggage has not yet reached us, so that we feel a little unsettled.

The Bishop has himself instituted me at once, so that on Sunday I hope to have two services in the Church and one in the northern school. Dear Archdeacon Cowley has just said ‘Goodbye’ and is on his way to the Indian Settlement. He must have toiled very hard, too hard, during the vacancy. McDonald and Rayner have not yet reached us. The boats are going in about a fortnight. I hope shortly to write to you more fully.

With … Love and earnest prayers for God’s blessing on the Committee’s ‘plans & proceedings’.

Very truly yours

John Grisdale

Bishop Robert Machray

Bishop Robert Machray

The ‘Dear Archdeacon Cowley’ John refers to was Abraham Cowley who had first come as a CMS missionary to the Red River Settlement in 1841 and was by this time based at the ‘Original Indian Settlement of Western Canada’: St. Peter’s (in present-day Dynevor). The Bishop who had ‘instituted’ Grisdale was Robert Machray, who had been made Bishop of Rupert’s Land in 1865 and was to become the first Primate of All Canada in 1893. Machray would be John Grisdale’s friend, mentor and sponsor for many years.

Although John’s primary role was to minister to the Anglo-Métis community in St. Andrew’s, he obviously from time to time went to preach to the native Indians living at St. Peter’s Indian settlement, a thing he was to continue to do even after he had been elevated to higher positions within the Anglican Church. See for example my story of Alex Grisdale and his grandfather here.

But Bishop Machray had plans for the future organization of the Anglican Church in Rupert’s Land.

Owing to the statesmanlike plans of Bishop Machray, of Rupert’s Land, it was decided to divide the vast district, comprising more than one-half of all Canada, into separate dioceses. The Bishop realized that more effective supervision was needed in the large field, as the distances were too great for one man to think of undertaking. The distance from the Red River to the farthest posts on the Mackenzie River was as great as “from London to Mecca,” and it would have taken him two years to visit the northern posts with profit. Crossing to England, the Bishop set forth the proposal for the division of his diocese into four parts, which was accepted by all concerned.

The reduced Diocese of Rupert’s Land would comprise the new province of Manitoba and some adjacent districts; the coasts and environs of Hudson’s Bay would form the Diocese of Moosonee; the vast plains of the Saskatchewan, stretching westward to the Rocky Mountains, the Diocese of Saskatchewan; and the whole of the enormous territories watered by the Athabasca and Mackenzie Rivers, and such part of the Yukon basin as was within British territory, the Diocese of Athabasca.

The first St. John's Cathedral in Winnipeg

The first St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg

Machray also became the warden and headmaster of St. John’s College in Winnipeg in 1874 and he immediately made John Grisdale the Professor of Systematic Theology. And then on the 2nd of November 1874 Grisdale was made a canon of St. John’s Cathedral. Bishop Machray gave a long sermon in the cathedral on Grisdale’s inauguration. He said:

To those of you dear brethren who are Parishioners of St. John’s, the induction of Mr Grisdale can scarcely fail to have a lively interest, for in becoming one of the pastors of the Collegiate Church that has been established here – the Mother Church – the Cathedral Church of the Diocese – he will in a peculiar degree be a pastor of St. John’s Parish, as it is still intended that the Cathedral should partake of the character of a Parish church.

John’s rise had been rapid, all this had happened in eighteen months or so from his arrival in Canada. In 1875 Canon Grisdale was made secretary of the ‘First Provincial Synod of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s land’.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg in 1884

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg in 1884

As canon of St. John’s Cathedral, John took an interest in rebuilding Holy Trinity Church as well. He was appointed Rector of Holy Trinity:

On 8 April 1867 some of the residents of the small hamlet at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers met in the Court House to organize a parish, and a building committee was appointed. At first, religious services were held in the Court House, just outside the enclosure of Fort Garry, and afterwards in the upper level of Red River Hall near the corner of what are now Portage Avenue and Main Streets. The large numbers of people that crowded into this fragile structure required the use of wooden poles as temporary supports for the floor to prevent the assembled congregation from falling into the store below. The small congregation commenced work on building their own church at the corner of Avenue and Garry Street on land donated by the Hudson’s Bay Company. However, the enterprise was thwarted by a violent windstorm that destroyed the incomplete structure and killed a workman who was sleeping there overnight. Starting over, the congregation successfully completed a simple and unpretentious wooden structure that was opened for public worship in two services on 4 November 1868. The first vestry of the church that was constituted five days later included the rector, The Venerable Archdeacon John McLean, and other prominent members of the community.

By 1870 the church was already too small for the expanding congregation, so steps were taken to enlarge the building to accommodate 350 persons; this was accomplished by Christmas Day of that year. A later cleric, Rev. Canon Grisdale of St. John’s College, promoted a new church with a capacity for 450 worshippers; it was opened on 11 November 1875, when Rev. O. Fortin was inducted by the archbishop of Rupert’s Land, but only the chancel and transept were completed at that time.

John was also instrumental in founding Christ Church in Point Douglas, Winnipeg:

Christ Church began in 1875 as a Sunday school started by Rev. Canon J. Grisdale in the home of W.G. Fonseca in the Point Douglas district. The Sunday School was moved to a log building, known as the Sutherland House on the northeast corner of Henry Avenue and Main Street. Land was purchased from W.G. Fonseca in 1876 at the corner of Princess and Main. There a brick church was built and opened on 13 August 1876. The parish of Christ Church was officially formed that year as well. A new church was built on the corner of Princess and Higgins in 1881. It opened for service 24 November 1881.

When the church was first opened in 1876 the local newspaper carried this report:

Christ Church, Point Douglas

This handsome little Church will open for Divine service tomorrow afternoon, at half-past three o’clock, when the Lord Bishop of Rupert’s Land will preach. Rev. Precentor Beck will preside at the organ, and will be supported by a choir of St. John’s College boys.

A little more than a year ago the Rev. Canon Grisdale bought the block of land on which the church now stands for the Church Missionary Society, London; last year a substantial fence was put around it, also at the cosy of the Society; and this spring the church about to be opened was put up.

The cost of the building, exclusive of the inside fittings and furniture, was $2,300. Of this sum $300 has been received from England, and Rev, Canon Grisdale is confident that he will shortly receive the balance from the same source.

The building is 46 by 26 feet, built of wood with a veneering of white brick. It is intended as soon as the population of the city shall warrant it, to put up a large and substantial church edifice of either brick or stone, when the present building will be used as a school house.

Rev. Canon Grisdale went about the work of building this church in a quiet and unostentatious way, feeling that there was a need of a church in that part of the city where it is situated and he expresses himself gratified at the liberality with which he has been met on every hand. The carpet for the chancel and vestry rooms is a rich Brussels, of a pattern that corresponds finely with the inside painting, and is the gift of the Hon. Mr. Graham, Chief Commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Messrs. Higgins, Young and Peebles present a beautiful crimson communion cloth. Two oak chairs for the chancel are the gift of Mrs. Wm. Besant. McMicken & Taylor give two four light chandeliers; and Kew, Stobart & Co. Furnish the necessary cocoanut matting for the aisles. A small harmonium made by Prince of Buffalo, was paid for by the contributions of Mrs. F. C. Mercer and Mr. W. H. Lyon, but it has not yet come to hand. Instead of a reading desk and pulpit, there is a double lectern, of oak, contributed by Bishop & Shelton; and the Bible, Prayer Book and Service Book – all beautifully bound – are the gift of the English Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. The organ to be used tomorrow has been kindly lent for the occasion by Messrs. Cornell & Clements dealers in musical instruments in the city.

The contractor for the building was Mr. J. J. Johnston; the painting was done by Mr.Peter Stanley; the upholstery by Bishop & Shelton,; the seats were made by Mr. Henry Sellick; the windows and doors are from the shop of Messrs. Brown and Rutherford; and the two elegant designs in stucco are the work of Mr. Moulds. The doors and windows are in the gothic style – the chancel window in particular being a rich design and of excellent workmanship. The main window is 11 by 4 feet, and is composed of two gothic windows, surmounted by a circular window composed of eight concentric circles diverging from a common centre. It is intended to put stained glass into this window – an improvement which will add much to the appearance of the church.

Hereafter Sunday School will be held every Sunday afternoon at half-past 2 o’clock, and Divine service will be held by Rev. Canon Grisdale, Incumbent, at half-past 3 o’clock.

It is expected that a balance of about $250 will remain due on the inside fittings, and to aid in reducing this debt a collection will be taken up at the close of the service tomorrow afternoon.

From his earliest time in Canada, John started to make many trips back to England. Often he was sent to London to try to raise money for the church in Rupert’s Land, including money to help rebuild Holy Trinity Church. But he always took these opportunities to visit his parents and sibling in Bolton. In 1883 he even took his two children, Robert Chaplin and Alice, back to England to visit his family, including his parents who both lived until 1897. Later, in 1888, he was also back in Bolton and conducted the wedding of his younger brother Levi.

As already noted, in 1879 John was one of the 26 original founders of the Manitoba Historical Society. Here is an account of the Society’s first meeting when Canon Grisdale was certainly present:

On the appointed night, the old City Hall on Main Street was “completely filled” by a distinguished audience which was said to include “much of the worth and intelligence of Winnipeg.” The citizens parked their carriages and tied their horses on either side of the wide, rutted street and jumped onto the board sidewalks, boot heels ringing in the frosty air ignoring the shouts from several nearby taverns, they entered the lamplight at the door and mingled with the other leaders of Manitoba society. It was an exciting evening, precisely because it was all so new. Manitoba itself seemed a new world. Of the old-timers, McTavish of the Hudson’s Bay Company was gone, James McKay of Deer Lodge was on his death bed, and Louis Riel, now in exile somewhere near the Missouri River, was little more than a name. With few exceptions, these citizens had arrived in the province within the decade. To them an old-timer was John Christian Schultz, who had come to Red River in 1859, or Jim Ashdown, who had walked from St. Cloud to Red River in 1868. The number of native-born Red River citizens in their midst, like the métis Premier John Norquay, was tiny. This audience crackled with excitement because John Macoun would provide the first real assessment of the worth of their empire.

As the gentlemen settled in their oak armchairs, Chief Justice Wood introduced their guest in his inimitable prose. The burden of his message lay in a peroration that brought his listeners to life: “we are now waking up to the conviction,” he said, “that our North-West is destined to be one of the most important parts of the globe … and with the older eastern Provinces … will soon be the right arm of the British Empire.”John Macoun took up this theme where the Chief Justice had left off. He responded to the hearty applause with a few jokes, told stories about his trek across the vast plains to the west and, as everyone hoped, he provided enthusiastic reports about the potential of the prairie soil and the salubrity of prairie climate. Here was the confirmation of the best features of the Hind and Palliser reports that Winnipeggers had awaited. Macoun was assuring them that the West would soon contain an agricultural empire. His concluding comment, a statement attributed to Lord Beaconsfield, described this imperial frontier as a land of “illimitable opportunities.” His words provoked cheers from the audience.

MHS‘Among other trifling pursuits this young society set itself to build up three libraries. It organized, purchased, managed, housed and made available for the people the only public library and reading room the city had until the Carnegie library was opened. A second, the special joy of the Society’s heart, was a general reference library which included a fairly complete collection of books, historical and other, relating to Western Canada. Part of this collection went to the Carnegie reference library, and part was buried in the catacombs of the Parliament building. The third of the Society’s libraries had as its nucleus the books bequeathed by Mr. Isbister. This carefully preserved, used, and added to, was the beginning of the library of the Manitoba University.’

John’s church career and ministry in the growing city of Winnipeg continued. In 1884 he was promoted to the important position of dean of Rupert’s Land, and finally he was made Bishop of the huge prairie province of Qu’Appelle in 1896. But before this, in 1883 when John took his children back to England and when he was still Canon of St. John’s Cathedral, he must have talked with his brothers about them emigrating to Canada, because when he returned in April 1883 he was accompanied by his younger brother Joseph. Brother George arrived the next year in Winnipeg having travelled via Quebec. George had been a packer in a Bolton bleach works but became a bookkeeper in Canada, while Joseph had been a railway clerk back home but became a bank manager in Canada. I’ll tell something about them at a later date.

John Grisdasle

John Grisdasle

Dean Grisdale, as he now was, continued to be a trusted emissary and fund raiser for the diocese. Not long after Grisdale’s appointment as Dean, Bishop Machray we read:

Spoke of the place the Cathedral should hold in a Diocese, employing much the same terms and ideas he had used in setting forth his Cathedral system in 1874, when Mr. Grisdale, the Dean, had been installed as Canon He announced that while funds were not yet at his command for building a suitable Cathedral edifice, nor for the holding of daily Services, still his plans had to a large extent been realised, as the proceeds of the sale of Cathedral land, together with the endowments already formed for the Professorships in the College, now gave the means of having an effective staff–a Dean and four residentiary Canons–as well as of providing residences for them. The Dean and the four Canons would hold the Chairs of Pastoral Theology, Systematic Theology, Exegetical Theology, Ecclesiastical History, and Music respectively; he hoped to make an appointment to the last in a short time. The endowment of the Cathedral Chapter having now been secured, the next great effort at the centre of the Diocese was to be for the College, which needed a new building. He stated that Dean Grisdale was to proceed to England to try to raise an Endowment Fund for teachers in Arts, which also was necessary.

To assist Dean Grisdale, who left Winnipeg for London in the summer, the Bishop issued a circular, drawing attention at some length to the growth of Manitoba and the North-West, and the consequent needs of the Church. Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, was becoming a large place, wrote the Bishop, and was of great importance as a railway centre. East of it the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had built (1882) 450 miles of line to Port Arthur on Lake Superior, where connection was made with steamships on the Great Lakes for eastern points; and west of it the Company had constructed 450 miles of line across the prairies, and were still carrying the line westward at the rate of three miles a day. The line had gone beyond the boundary of Manitoba into Assiniboia, into which settlement was flowing to such an extent that it would be necessary to think very soon of providing a Bishop for that Territory. As regards Manitoba itself fifty-two new municipalities had been formed, and in thirty-eight of them, embracing over 700 townships, each comprising 36 square miles, there was no resident clergyman of the Church, while in several other municipalities, each with from twelve to forty townships, there was only one clergyman.

Returning to John’s irresistible rise:

Upon the death of Bishop Burn (in 1896), Dean Grisdale, of Winnipeg, was chosen successor, being the first Bishop of Qu’Appelle to be elevated to such dignity by the authorities of the English Church in Canada. He was fortunate in having as co-workers a corps of faithful and industrious priests, among whom may be named Archdeacon Dobie, Archdeacon T. W. Johnson, Canon Beale and the Rev. M. McAdam Harding. Thanks to the strenuous labours of these and other clergymen under Bishop Grisdale’s leadership, his episcopate was prosperous in the extreme. By 1906 the diocese contained sixty-seven churches and more than thirty-three hundred members of the Anglican communion, served by forty-eight ordained clergymen and twenty-four lay readers. By 1908 there were eighty-two churches, thirty-nine rectories and vicarages and eight parish halls.

Today the small town of Qu’Appelle in southern Saskatchewan isn’t of any great importance (except to those living there), but in the nineteenth century there were great hopes for the settlement. It was for a time the terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the major distribution centre for what was then the District of Assiniboia in the North-West Territories. Qu’Appelle had at one stage been credibly anticipated to be the major metropole of the North-West Territories by both the federal government and the Church of England. In anticipation of Qu’Appelle’s future urban importance the Church had designated it the cathedral city for the new Diocese of Qu’Appelle, which geographically corresponded to the District of Assiniboia.

Political events, however, passed Qu’Appelle entirely by when Lieutenant- Governor Edgar Dewdney selected the locale of his own landholdings at Pile-O-Bomes (then re-named “Regina”) as his Territorial capital: Qu’Appelle’s significance… then largely lapsed.

Bishop's Court, Indian Head, Qu'Appelle Diocese

Bishop’s Court, Indian Head, Qu’Appelle Diocese

When John Grisdale became Bishop the pro-Cathedral church was St. Peter’s in Qu’Appelle which had been built in 1885 one year after the appointment of the first Bishop Adelbert Anson. The diocese briefly operated a training facility for Anglican clergy in the town and the St John’s College Farm, a model farm immediately to the west of town. Bishop Burn, Anson’s successor, ‘closed both of these facilities in 1895’. Burns also moved the Bishop’s Court or Palace to Indian Head. When Grisdale arrived the he too would live in the imposing Bishop’s Palace at Indian Head, although he would later move to the provincial capital of Regina where he established St. Chad’s College in 1907 for the training of students in Divinity. It also was recognized by the Provincial University and carried affiliation status. ‘In 1964, Emmanuel College and St. Chad’s College were amalgamated under the name of the “College of Emmanuel and St. Chad,” thus establishing on the Saskatoon Campus one college for the training of ministers for the Anglican Church of Canada.’

This is not the place to retell the story of the diocese of Qu’Appelle but some flavour is given by Trevor Powell in Building ‘a Holy Catholic Church’ on the Prairies:

REGINA  Cross, candles and flowers on the altar, intonation of the service, surpliced choirs, liturgical colours – very much part of Anglican services nowadays, but more than 125 years ago such outward expressions of traditional Catholic worship created a deep rift among Anglicans in England and overseas. Division between those of the Catholic and Evangelical traditions manifested itself not only in worship, but also in other aspects of church life – theological education, forms of ministry, missionary work – to name a few.

The Diocese of Qu’Appelle was no exception. Of the Catholic tradition, Bishops Anson (1884-1892), Burn (1893-1896) and their clergy, emphasized sacramental worship and ceremonial. These innovations to varying degrees were to be found in mainline parishes such as Moosomin, Grenfell, Qu’Appelle, Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Maple Creek, and with the advance of the railway to Saltcoats, Churchbridge, Estevan and Oxbow. Not everyone was pleased with such changes. Opposition by the congregation of St. Paul’s, Regina, to candles on the altar led Anson to ask the people of St. Peter’s, Qu’Appelle to become the pro-cathedral.

During Grisdale’s episcopate (1896-1911), a different course was pursued. To meet the spiritual needs of a growing and scattered population after the turn of the century, he invited clergy, theological students and lay workers of the Evangelical tradition to minister to settlers. Students from Wycliffe College, Toronto, served the missions of Condie, Foxleigh and Winnetka north of Regina. The Colonial and Continental Church Society took charge of a vast area on either side of the CPR main line from Caron to Herbert. Missioners reported to the Society that they had laid the foundation for a strong Church based along Evangelical lines at Morse, Herbert, Elbow, Mortlach, and Caron.

While pleased with the inroads made into what it had hitherto considered a Catholic preserve, the Society was not given further territory by Bishop Harding (1911-1934). Instead he brought in clergy of a strong Catholic tradition and through St. Chad’s Theological College ensured that candidates for ordination received a similar grounding. New mission fields were given to the Railway Mission brotherhood which used the expanding railway network as the chief means of bringing the sacraments to the newcomers. Like Anson and Burn, Harding unswervingly upheld the tenets of the Catholic faith and successfully led the diocese through war and peace followed by the Great Depression and the ravages of drought. He and his successors thus ensured that the Diocese of Qu’Appelle maintained its strong Catholic identity which set it apart from other prairie dioceses.

The ‘evangelical’ John Grisdale retired from his Bishop’s duties in 1911 ‘due to ill health’. He lived out his retirement with his wife in Winnipeg.

What sort of a man was Bishop John Grisdale? We can infer things from his career of course. There are many records of his work in Canada and even the story of his conversion of an Ojibway Indian (see here), and I even have a few of his letters sent to the CMS in London. But what was he like as a man? Perhaps one indication is the story he chose to tell when he himself was nearing his death in Winnipeg. This story was published in Winnipeg in 1937 by Kathleen Blanchard and was called, by her, The Gossamer Thread. It seems that when Bishop Grisdale was nearing his death he asked Wilfred Thomas, the Bishop of Brandon, to come and visit him. He then told him a story. Bishop Brandon wrote in the Foreword to The Gossamer Thread:

… It was while the good Bishop was living in retirement, and very shortly before his death, that he related to me the reminiscence which now finds the light of day in the pages of this little book Inasmuch as I was charged by the Bishop to keep the story alive and to make it known, I now owe to the writer a debt of much gratitude for fulfilling his wish in this commendable form. I earnestly hope that it may help to bring back to recollection some memories of one who loved to spend himself for others, and who in turn was loved by all.

Wilfred Brandon. Bishop’s Lodge, February 18, 1937

Kathleen Blanchard begins:

It was a festive night at our Parish hall in Winnipeg. We had gathered from far and near to hear an address by the newly consecrated Bishop of Brandon. We knew what a good speaker the Bishop was, and the story he told us was so remarkable that it is worth recording.

“When I was Archdeacon,” began the Bishop, “I was living very near to Bishop Grisdale. On morning early, the telephone was insistently ringing. I hastened from my bed to answer it. It was Bishop Grisdale’s nurse, who said, ‘Will you come over as soon as you can, the Bishop has something to tell you?’ Replying that I would come at once, I dressed hastily and was soon there.

“The Bishop was obviously pleased I had come, and said at once, ‘My dear Archdeacon, I sent for you early as I feel I have not much longer to live and I have been dreaming and thinking the night of a strange story of coincidence which I experienced years ago, and which I had forgotten – until my dreams brought them all back to my memory.’

“‘I want you to take what I have to say in writing, and when I am gone to pass it on to the world.’”

What follows is as near as we will ever get to John Grisdale’s verbatim dying story, a story he wanted passed on to the world;

Years ago, when I was Dean of Rupert’s Land, I made it a practice to go to the General Hospital every Friday morning and to go the rounds of the wards there. On one of my visits I was told by one of the nurses that a young Englishman who was very ill wished to see me as soon as I arrived.

I went at once to his ward and I saw that the poor fellow was indeed very ill and that his sickness was unto death. He roused himself however and asked, ‘Sir, will you do something for me?’ I at once replied, ‘My dear boy, I will do anything you ask me to do, that I can do for you.’ The young man then said in a low voice, ‘I feel I shall never see my home again, and I want you to take down the address of my mother in the Old Country, and when I am dead write to her and say you saw me.’ Having certain small personal articles, he asked that I would send her these.

I assured him that I would do so, and immediately noted the name and address of the boy’s mother and the messages. I then prayed with him, and after a little, left him and went on my way. I asked the nurse to let me know how he was and to keep in touch with me at my home.

I did not go straight home that morning and was a later than usual getting back, when I did so I found a message from the hospital waiting for me. The young man I had seen that morning had passed on soon after I left.

I felt very touched by the sad incident of the day and determined that I would do all I could. As I was Dean I had the privilege of choosing any plot of ground for a burial. I chose a spot not far from the east window – under a tree – and arranged for the body to be brought down to St. John’s. I buried him there. The day was beautiful, and after I had taken the burial I gathered some leaves from the tree over the grave and enclosed them in a letter to his mother, telling her all about the incident, as I had promised.

In due time I had a letter from his mother thanking me for all I had done, and enclosing to me the sum of twenty pounds with which to put up a small stone in the form of a cross, and asking me to put the following upon it:

‘Name – When born – When Died – and the following verse, “He brought me forth also into a place of liberty.”’ Psalm 18, verse 19.

Now I was much struck as to the reason his mother had chosen this particular line – as it was very unusual, and I pondered over it quite often.

However, it was all done as requested and the stone was put up. I often looked at it when I was passing through the churchyard – and wondered.

The years passed on. Sometime after I became Bishop, and had occasion to go over to England. During the course of my stay there I was invited to preach at Lichfield Cathedral one Sunday evening. The service commence, and the lovely voices of the choir were singing ‘He brought me forth also into a place of liberty.’ The whole scene of years ago flashed across my mind as the beautiful music rolled around the ancient arches I was transported to the little grave in Winnipeg.

As I looked round the noble building and at the vast congregation, I saw an old white-haired lady sitting in the front row. She was singing the Psalms of the day.

The thought flashed through my mind. ‘Could that possibly be the mother of the young man I had met years ago?’ I was determined after the service to ask someone who she was.

However my duties as a preacher took these thoughts out of my head and I thought no more about it just then. While I was disrobing, however, there was a knock at the Vestry door and the verger announced that a lady would like to speak to me. I knew at once who my visitor was a. It was the old lady I had seen at the service!

She said, ‘I wish to thank you personally, sir, for what you did for my son. You did the kindest deed one man could do for another. You fulfilled his last wises, and buried him with love and kindness.’ We had a little chat, and parted, and soon afterwards I returned to Canada and my work.

While going the rounds of my vast Diocese, I was preaching one Sunday morning in a small country town. The Incumbent was out in the afternoon to take service at a big ranch some miles away. He very much wanted me to go with him, and he said the cowboys would appreciate seeing me, even if I gave them only a little talk.

I was very tired, but consented to go. I enjoyed the drive and despite the bumpy roads and other discomforts. As we journeyed along I turned over in my mind what I would say to them on arrival.

At last we were there, the men were all assembled and the service had begun. Once again the singing commenced. Being the third day of the month, they came to the verse ‘He brought me forth also into a place of liberty!’ which as they sung, seemed to take volume and roll around me until the air was full of music.

I was spellbound. There and then I decided that I would say nothing of what I had prepared, but I commenced telling them of the singular coincidence of that particular verse of the Psalms and of all it reminded me of.

After the service was over, I was sitting on the veranda of the ranch, pondering over the happenings of the day, when the owner came up to speak to me, and said ‘That strange coincidence that you were telling us of, was even stranger than you thought, sir, for it was from this house he was taken to hospital, and it was to this house he first came to from England!’ And this was the singular end of my strange experience – it had following me to its conclusion.

Kathleen Blanchard added at the end: ‘Stranger indeed than fiction – like a gossamer thread.’

John Grisdale, the son of a Bolton cotton weaver, who had started his life as a cotton bleacher, died on 27th January 1922 in Winnipeg, a retired Bishop aged 76.

And memory gently takes our hand

And leads us by a silken thread

To recollections’ pool

K Blanchard

 

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

Bishop John Grisdale circa 1900

 

 

 

 

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”.