The Canadian Prairie Province – Winnipeg

THE Old Fort faces the Assiniboine just before its junction with the Red River. We are under the shadow of high stone walls, seamed with cracks, and evidently of no modern origin. They form a rectangle of five hundred and ten feet in breadth, and six hundred feet long. A gateway opens in the middle of the wall facing the Assiniboine ; through this we see a grass plot, having at its further extremity a two-and-a-half storied house, with stairs ascending from the exterior to the second story ; on each side are four wooden houses, some of old logs axe-hewn, others clapboarded. Each corner of the enclosure is guarded by a round stone tower. These were erected in 1840. Passing to the east side we find a store, which opens to Garry or Main Street, and is filled with goods of every variety, from fierce hunting and bowie-knives,many-barrelled pistols and rifles, to pretty articles for ladies toilets and boudoirs. This store has been thus opened to the street since Riel ruled. Then the eastern side was all closed in by the high wall, made of hewn pine logs laid horizontally, which encloses now from this store to the tower on the north-west corner the newer part of the fort, which was so enlarged about 1850. These logs show the tooth of time, which has eaten holes in many to their centres into which the hand could be pushed. Here and there we see where the red man’s lead has pierced the wood. At this side, too, fell, after a mock trial, Thomas Scott on the 4th of March, 1870, pierced, but not killed, by rebel bullets. His body was placed within a rude coffin and carried within the fort. His friends asked for it and were refused, and why ? Because the assassins had done their work so unskilfully that the man still spoke in his coffin, and so continued till night fell then the knife ended his torture. Chains taken from the fort were placed around the coffin ; Dr. Schultz’s stolen cutter was used as a hearse ; Riel’s minions in this carried the remains down the Red River to where the Seine joins it in St. Boniface, and pushed it through a hole in the ice to its last resting-place in the deep mud of the river, where doubtless it still lies. On the north side of the fort, facing the city, the wall is the highest. In its centre is a castellated gateway ; within is the large frame house formerly occupied by the Governor of the Company, now by the Hon. Alexander Morris, Lieut.-Governor of the Province, and a store-house and offices. Some trees and shrubs surround this, and a large garden ; but the grasshoppers were there before me, in contempt of high walls and massive towers. A rental of $2,000 a year is paid to the Company for that part of these premises occupied by the Lieutenant-Governor. [Our frontispiece view of the fort shows the sides facing the rivers, and is from a sketch made on the spot by Mr. Verner. The smaller views are from excellent photographs by Mr. S. Duffin, of Winnipeg.] Passing along Main Street, we see on each side many substantial houses, dwellings, offices, stores and warerooms ; some of these are of white brick ; among such on our left are the Custom House and Dominion Land Office, and Mr. Hespeller’s block. A large brick hotel was here erected, but its walls were not sufficiently sunk, and the whole structure will soon have to be taken down. Main Street extends from the fort to Burrows Avenue, a distance of nearly two miles, following in main the Red River, but taking a short cut along the base of the triangle that forms Point Douglas. From the Fort to the Wolsely House, now the Presbyterian College, this street is fairly built up, and the land bordering upon it is held at figures that would astonish those who saw the poor little village of Winnipeg as described by Captain Butler five years ago. The triangle referred to, bounded by Main Street and Red River, holds the old village, and is mostly built upon. The Point Douglas road runs through it from the river westerly, and streets branch off either side of it. West of Main Street the city is also fast filling up with frame houses of all sizes. Every mechanic seems to have his own homestead, however small. First is erected towards the middle of the lot a small house, just sufficient for immediate necessity ; in time a two-story addition is added in front, and the part first erected forms the rear of the completed mansion. Merchants and others who have succeeded well and there are many such in the city have erected, or are now erecting, more pretentious and comfortable residences. Many of the stores on Main Street are handsome buildings and well provided but as happens, especially in new places, where each builds to suit his fancy, present wants, and pocket, there is no uniformity in size or proportions. This time may remedy. Some of the surveys are unsymmetrical and have lots, even in outlying parts, absurdly small in pro-portion. This might well be provided against by legislation. One of the finest of the recently erected stores is that of J. H. Ashdown & Co. The building is 72 x 28 feet, three stories high, and is built of the handsome light-coloured brick of Manitoba, with stone basement, the cornices, window caps, &c., being of galvanized iron. The materials used in the building were procured in Manitoba, at a cost of some $15,000. The principal of the firm, Mr. J. H. Ashdown, arrived in Manitoba, previous to the Red River rebellion, with scarcely any capital. The stock contained in the building is valued at about $50,000 and keeps four-teen salesmen and workmen fully employed.

We will only mention further among the brick buildings, the Ontario Bank, Merchants’ Bank, the store of the Hon. A. G. B. Bannatyne, the new Post Office, and the stores of Dr. Schultz, Mr. McMicken, and Higgins & Young, and residence of the Chief Justice. So great has been the demand for places of business that many buildings in the young city have already, say by three or four years’ rental, or even less, repaid their total cost to their owners.

Main Street has a plank sidewalk from the Fort to Bur-rows Avenue ; is graded, surface drained, but insufficiently so, and supplied in many places with water cisterns, to use in case of fire. The city has several hotels and far too many saloons. The chief hotels are the Grand Central and the Exchange.

Turn we again ; and following, as the sun is setting, the strains of music, pass to Fort Osborne, on the banks of the Assiniboine, we find that the strains proceed from a band of some fifteen performers, regimentaled in the uniform of Canadian Militia, standing in the parade ground of an enclosure, in which we see a sergeant putting his squad through evening drill, and a lot of jolly fellows playing football, and are kindly welcomed by some young Canadian officers, among whom we may mention Captain Herchmer and Lieutenant Nash. The enclosure is surrounded by a high white fence, and on each side of the parade ground within are half-a-dozen neat wooden buildings, forming the officers’ and men’s quarters, stables, etc. About one hundred officers and men were here stationed, including a battery of artillery. The time of half of the men was about expiring, and a like number recruited in ” Canada,” as the older Provinces are called in Manitoba, have just come through by the Dawson road to take their places, making the trip from Fort William in six days, the soldiers having aided much in working their passage. Behind the barracks, Colony Creek runs down to the Assiniboine, and beyond it is a wind-mill with sails set. We saw several others round the country, but most of them have been dismantled and their machinery taken farther West, steam mills here taking their places.

Between the barracks and the heart of the city is a large tract a square through which, on the city map, we find that ten streets run from north to south, and five crossing these. It contains twelve hundred lots, of which we think quite one thousand are vacant ; yet the city is spreading out in other directions, and even along the Portage road, beyond this tract. This seems anomalous. Let us ask the cause. We are told, ” Oh, that is the Hudson Bay Company’s property they ask more than other proprietors ; in fact, value their lots as highly as good residence property in Toronto, and annex terms as to improvements ; so people buy and build elsewhere. Such is the present apparent state of affairs. The patent deed to ” the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into the Hudson’s Bay ” (the Company’s corporate name), conveying this 450 acres of land between the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, is dated 5th June, 1873, and is made pursuant to the Order in Council of June 23rd, 1870, whereby the North-west Territory and Rupert’s Land were admitted into the Dominion. At an auction sale of lots in their reserve west of Main street, on October 15th, 1874, the Company sold fifty-eight building lots for $25,695.

Some irritation exists in the Province at the generous manner in which the great Company was treated, and the alleged arbitrary manner in which they hold these lands in the centre of a growing population, and other lands round every fort or trading post, and a slice out of every township ; but more of this hereafter. The Portage road was being graded diagonally across this tract from the main street, cutting up the lots as laid out. The Company are in litigation with the city as to this. Other ” Company ” grievances are heard of, but they are of local importance.

The 17th of August, 1875, was a gala day in Garry, when its beauty and its chivalry, including the Masonic and Orange fraternities and firemen, in full regalia, assembled at the laying of the corner stone of the city market. In the absence of the Governor off to treaty with Indians, but from whom a congratulatory letter was read by Mayor Kennedy, and received with applause, for His Excellency is deservedly held in much popular esteem by all Chief Justice Wood was called on for a speech, and we had the pleasure of hearing his ” big thunder ” in the young prairie city. Well did he refer to the wonderful growth, prosperity and future of Manitoba, and its one city, Winnipeg ; to the rivers that flowed by, and the beautiful and great lake into which their waters enter one and a half times as large as Lake Ontario. He showed that Winnipeg was at once the geographical centre of Manitoba and the commercial and political hub of the Nor’-west, and predicted its future greatness. Excellent speeches were also made by the Premier, Mr. Davis, and that good friend of Manitoba, Mr. J. W. Taylor, United States Consul at Winnipeg. Near this spot is the frame building used for Court-house, Gaol, and Parliament House. The city is much iii need of better accommodation for all these purposes. Here we saw a tall, well-looking French half-breed, Ambroise Lepine, Riel’s Adjutant-General, undergoing, with some impatience, the sentence of imprisonment for his share in the Scott tragedy, and refusing to live in banishment, or to accept the terms on which alone he can regain his political status. In the next cell were two Americans awaiting extradition on a charge of murder.

On Sunday Winnipeg is remarkably quiet and orderly. In the early morning, the St. Boniface ferry is loaded with well dressed French-speaking folk on their way to mass at St. Boniface. The other denominations have each their church edifice in the town. There are many public and private schools, and a Young Men’s Christian Association, with free reading-rooms. Several newspapers —among them the Free Press, a daily and weekly, and the Standard a weekly are ably conducted. The gentlemen of the city have a club, where we had the pleasure of meeting and forming the acquaintance of several of the merchants, lawyers, and legislators of the Province. Winnipeg is a city the only city of the Province and has its Civic Council ; and that worthy body, following the fashion of its more eastern prototypes, spends more time in personal bickerings and disputes than in legislating for the public weal, yet it is gradually working out a system of fire protection, drainage, and other needed improvements. Blue-coated police parade the streets. Society, too, has its cliques and coteries, up-town and down-town divisions. A main cause of differences is the rancour still existing from the effects of the Riel rebellion and Scott tragedy. The assessors’ rolls for 1875 show about 2,000 males and 1,000 females as real estate owners ; many are non-residents. The population of the city numbers about 6,000 souls.

Among the heaviest ratepayers were the following, assessed for real and personal property :–Hudson’s Bay Company, $595,000 ; Hon. Mr. Bannatyne, $84,000 ; Mr. McDermott, $78,876 ; Mr. Macaulay, $44,500 ; Mr. Alex. Logan, $53,000.

The water supply is generally obtained from the rivers, delivered at the houses in barrels drawn by mules or oxen. Wells, unless sunk to the rock, are alkaline. In many places flowing wells of excellent water exist. To make such, the ground is bored for a depth of from 25 to 100 feet ; then rock is met, and below it is a sandy bed holding good water. The well must be tubed round to prevent alkaline infiltration. When so completed the water rises in abundance to within a few feet of the surface. Such a well has just been sunk at the new penitentiary on Stony Mountain. At a depth of 100 feet rock was thrown up which Professor Ames pronounced to be Silurian. It has distinct traces of ocean shells and crustaceae imbedded in it, and is one of the many proofs that ages ago this valley was the bed of the ocean, and has been upheaved by volcanic agency.

Dr. Owen, so long ago as 1848, described Lower Silurian limestone as found at the Stone Fort, and in his Report to the American Government gave an extensive list of fossils imbedded in it.

A continuous stream of the purest water lately rose from a spot in the river’s bank at Point Douglas, when the railway engineers were boring to find a proper bottom for the proposed bridge across Red River.

Besides the wild men from the plains, we see, here and there, other former denizens of the wilds the pets of Garry. In the half acre attached to the Ontario Bank is a pretty red doe. Young black bears are often seen chained in the gardens. Foxes peep from their holes, but run in as far as the cord will allow as we approach. A young cinnamon Bruin has his lair behind one of the warehouses. A pair of Buffalo calves were expected in soon by one of the traders. Every house of any pretensions has its show of stuffed birds, skins and horns. In some the only carpets are the soft furs of bear, wolf, buffalo, mink, and badger. The priests at St. Boniface are skilled in the curing of birds’ skins, and have many specimens. These important-looking big dogs that walk with measured tread which cannot be mistaken, are ” train dogs,” who, as soon as the snow falls, will be harnessed to tobogans with shagynappi, and run with bags of flour, pemmican and the like, many a mile, and at no slow pace. At Prince Arthur we first met a pair of these fellows enjoying their summer holidays with otium cum dignitate, but were shown the sled and harness in which they have often gone as far as Duluth and back.

The tobogan is made of sound white birch wood, eight feet long, and shaped like a straight moccasin, with a turn up before and behind, width two feet, with canvas sides some eight inches high, resembling a canoe, but the bottom projects out behind to carry baggage. The harness is of the Dutch species, sufficient for the purpose ; the absence of shafts sometimes causes the last dog’s hind legs to get into trouble. When all is ready for a start, the dogs, generally four or five to a team, at the driver’s order, fall into place, and away they go to distant posts, often travelling fifty miles a day, at a rate of six miles an hour.

The Portage Road, so called because leading towards Portage La Prairie, is of two chains’ breadth, and running westerly, passes through a beautiful part of the city and environs, having the verdant banked Assiniboine whose waters are of much lighter colour than the Red River on the left. On the right we soon come to the large establishment of lion. James McKay, called Deer Lodge ; the house with double verandah and extensive outbuildings, on the roofs of which are displayed a dozen pairs of antlers of red deer, elk and moose. Mr. McKay is, in physical proportions and politically, one of the most noted men in the Province : a member of Government, and an Indian Treaty Commissioner, a trader and contractor.

Six miles out are the ” Silver Heights,” so called as the land rises in beautiful rolling bluffs marked with shining poplar and maple. The plain we drive on is dotted over with many an ox or pony cart and little tent of traders, or servants of the Company, some hundreds of which had gone or were now about to start with winter supplies to far distant posts and stations. Many of them will travel 3,000 miles ere they again tent out here. But here are tepees of different construction and ownership. Two stalwart Indians in their blankets stand at the door of smoke-blacked tents ; one has red leggings ; the other has a tuft of feathers. This is a brave he has killed his men. Each feather is for a scalp torn of . Another young warrior comes strutting on ; red-legginged, with worked moccasins, and red-handled tomahawk in hand. His squaw follows with a heavy bundle on her back. Papooses shy little black-eyed fellows were playing about, some throwing a ball. This was a band of Crees from the Red Hills. The Winnipeg racecourse, a mile in circumference, may be seen from the Portage Road. While all the requirements of civilized, even fashionable life can be obtained, though at enhanced expense, in Garry, we are attracted most by the more romantic part of the place and people red men and half-breeds ; the former in their well-known blankets over rough European dress ; the latter in European costume, moccasin, driving their pony and ox carts. The Red River cart is sui generis, made wholly of wood ; the hubs, of green timber, are pierced for the spokes ; the latter, of dry oak, are then inserted and soon clasped firmly by the drying hub. No iron, not a nail can be seen in the vehicle. Iron was a heavy and dear article to convey inland. Three years ago a keg of nails cost $25. It can now be had for $3.50. No cruel wooden yoke is used, but the ox is harnessed with shagynappi home-made harness of buffalo or ox hide, and collar such as we use for horses. One rein to the horns suffices to guide the patient beast, which moves over the soft prairie with half a ton weight at a quick walk, living only on the grass and water, that grows or runs spontaneously, at each resting-place. No shoes are on either pony or ox. Stony roads would soon ruin the hoofs and shake such vehicles to pieces, but the way of these men is along the river beds and over the yielding sod of the prairie, as it spreads far and wide to the Rocky Mountains. Here we find specimens occasionally of certain free-traders, often Americans, who, for good reasons known to themselves, prefer to keep clear of Uncle Sam’s marshals. They have had little difficulties, ending in the shooting and scalping of red skins or have run off a few ponies or, being Government agents, have set up a, trading post on their own account with goods that poor Lo should have had. These fellows are shyer now of the Queen’s possessions than they were before the Mounted Police took possession of the Nor’-west, having first themselves, with patient, hearty labour, built their forts. We hear of the good work and fame of this force on all hands. Open whiskey traffic with the Indians is stopped on the plains. Both traders and Indians fear and respect the brave three hundred who guard the far Northwest.

The preservation of peace and the developement of the Valley of the Saskatchewan and its tributaries depend much on the proper increase and maintenance of this citizen soldiery. But a few months since a large band of marauders lived in free and glorious style’ at Hoop-up as they styled their den in the Bow River country. They were armed to the teeth and well fortified. Now their fort is deserted, and they are scattered in Montana. Half a score of their number were caught and fined, one in 5500 and three months’ imprisonment, and his stock of robes confiscated, at Fort McLeod, for selling liquor to redskins. Three were still awaiting trial. The consciences or love of freedom of their comrades suggested that discretion was the better part of valour, so Hoop-up is empty. None of this force is now stationed within the Province, but is divided between Fort Pelly, Fort McLeod, Carlton, Edmonton, and Cypress Hills.