Academic journal article Manitoba History

Memories of Fort Ellice

Academic journal article Manitoba History

Memories of Fort Ellice

Article excerpt

In 1881, Reverend A. B. Baird was about to embark on an adventure to the Canadian West. On his way to Edmonton, he passed through the HBC post of Fort Ellice, on which he reflected years later for this "Lost Transaction," presented to the Manitoba Historical Society in February 1931. Returning to Winnipeg after 1887, Baird taught at Manitoba College and, among his other interests, served as the MHS President from 1893 to 1895.

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It is now fifty years since I first saw Fort Ellice. I had arrived in Winnipeg about the end of August 1881, on my way to found a Presbyterian Church in Edmonton. More than a week was spent in Winnipeg determining my route and plan of travel, and buying the necessary outfit--a horse and buckboard, a tent, a blanket and buffalo robe, some bacon, hardtack and other supplies. I was obliged, on account of the lateness of the season and the scarcity of other travellers at that time of the year, to travel alone, and on a Saturday evening, more than a week's journey westward, I crossed the bridge over the Assiniboine just below Fort Ellice, followed the zigzag road up the steep hill and entered the fort gates. I was the bearer of a letter of introduction from Dr. James Robertson, Superintendent of Presbyterian Missions, addressed to Chief Factor Archie McDonald, from whom I received a most cordial welcome and was invited to be his guest over Sunday. "It is time out of mind," he said, "since we have had a religious service and now that we have a resident clergyman, we will have two services tomorrow. Early in the morning I will send some Indian boys around on horseback to invite the few settlers we have in the neighbourhood, and, with our own folk and the Indians camped beside us, we will have a full house."

The services were held according to plan, and morning and afternoon there was a congregation which taxed the capacity of the largest room at the fort. The presenter was John Calder, a clerk who had recently arrived from Scotland, and an excellent singer. Mr. Calder, who afterwards became chief accountant in the Company's office in Winnipeg, is now living in honourable retirement in Vancouver, and kindly assisted me in the preparation of this paper.

Over that week there were two other guests in the fort, both extremely interesting men. One was W. F. King, whom I had known in undergraduate days in the University of Toronto, and who was at this time engaged by the Dominion Government in the business of laying out the meridian lines on which the detailed surveys of townships and sections were afterwards based. The other guest was Major Boulton, afterwards for years a resident of the town of Russell, and at this time a candidate for election to the local Legislature as representative of a new constituency which had just been organized in the western part of the province. The Major had been canvassing for votes during the week and knowing that the fort was a good place to spend Sunday, he timed his visit accordingly.

Any man's first visit to Fort Ellice, or indeed any Hudson's Bay Company post was likely to be memorable after having been fed in his boyhood on R. M. Ballantine's stories, and of course I was all alert to see and hear and to verify and to amplify what I thought I knew already about "The Company of Gentleman Adventurers Trading into Hudson Bay." Mr. McDonald, although he was ready enough to answer my question and tell me what I wanted to know, was bent upon getting more than giving. "Here we are," he said, "with all the sources of the world's news at our disposal. Here is Mr. King, who has spent the summer in the west and has plenty to tell about what he saw and did. Here is our young friend, the minister, fresh from the east with the news of the old world, and here is Major Boulton who has been all around the neighbourhood during the past two weeks and has everything in the way of local gossip at his finger's ends. What more could we have in the center of the world's lines of communication? …

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