Bog # 20 Education of Girls in Red River Settlement: Part Four: French Catholic Education

Tags: Bishop Provencher; Lord Selkirk; Angélique and Marguerite Nolin; Grey Nuns; St. Boniface; Rosalie Gauthier; St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg; Manitoba French education;

 Lord Selkirk and the HBC Support Education

 The Bishop of Quebec sent the first three Catholic missionaries, led by Joseph Norbert Provencher, to the North West in 1818. In his instructions to them he wrote:

Missionaries will take particular care of Christian education among children, and for this they will establish schools and catechisms in all the localities they may have occasion to visit…The missionaries will establish their home near Fort Douglas on the Red River [and] will build there a church, a house and a school. For their support they will take the most advantageous way to utilize the lands that will be given to them.  [Tache, p. 1]

At this time, Lord Selkirk gave Catholic authorities in Quebec two tracts of land “the whole to help the work of the Catholic missionaries in Red River country”.  The mission was named St. Boniface. Immediately upon their arrival in July 1818, the missionaries constructed a building which became the first Catholic school at the Red River. Beginning in September 1818 the children were taught reading, writing and catechism for a few hours each day.  It is unclear whether both boys and girls were taught because Provencher wrote to the bishop in Quebec six months later, “If we had some nuns for the instruction of the girls, they would already find work to do.”  [Jaenen, pp. 8-10]

At a meeting of Hudson’s Bay Company council in July 1825 it was decided to make an annual grant of ₤50 to support the St. Boniface mission. The HBC also offered free passage to missionaries coming from Quebec as long as they were listed as teachers rather than priests. By 1830, the HBC council voted to increase their annual grant to ₤150. Equal grants were made to support Catholic and Protestant education and both were granted land on which to build schools.

A seminarian named Jean Harper arrived in St. Boniface in 1822 and was put in charge of teaching junior students. In 1827 he was sent to St. François-Xavier where he built a chapel and began instructing some girls and young women who couldn’t travel to St. Boniface. During the winter, the wife of the mission’s farm manager began to teach the girls to work in flax and wool. [Jaenen, pp. 13-4]

 The Nolin Sisters, Angélique and Marguerite

 A prominent family named Nolin arrived at the Red River from Sault Ste. Marie in 1819 on the invitation of Lord Selkirk. Jean-Baptiste Nolin was a French-Canadian and his wife Marie-Angélique Couvret was Métis-Ojibwa.  Their daughters had been well educated in Montreal, so Bishop Provencher asked one of them (Angélique) to teach the girls in St. Boniface. Her father, however, would not let her go.  He was elderly and wanted his daughters to stay home and look after him. In a letter to a Quebec Archbishop Provencher explained that J-B. Nolin “has all sorts of petty excuses, but above all he does not wish that his daughter be a servant. It is certainly not the status that I wish to give her.”   [Boyd thesis, p. 51]

 Following J-B Nolin’s death in 1826, Provencher again approached Angélique about teaching school. Finally in  1829 she and her sister Marguerite opened a school which they operated until 1834. That year, they left for Baie St. Paul near present-day St.  Francois Xavier west of St. Boniface where they continued teaching for the next ten years and also helped a priest named Belcourt in translating an Ojibwa dictionary.

 School for Weaving

 A school to teach girls how to do weaving and other domestic arts was established by Bishop Provencher in 1838. Governor Simpson agreed to pay the salaries of two women instructors for three years if the St. Boniface mission provided them with board and lodging. The school began well, but it burnt down the following year and all of the equipment was destroyed.  It was not rebuilt. One of the instructors was Ursule Grenier, the bishop’s housekeeper, who had come from Lower Canada.

 Bishop Provencher

Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher


Sisters of Charity (Grey Nuns)

 Provencher visited the Grey Nuns in Montreal to request some sisters to come to the St. Boniface Mission at the Red River to provide education for the daughters of the French-speaking people of the area. The first four sisters arrived on June 21, 1844. They were Marie Louise Valade, Marie Marguerite Eulalie Lagrave (trained nurse and musician), Gertrude Coutlée, and Marie Hedwidge La France.  By July 11, they had organized a class for girls, and soon after a class for boys was begun. The nuns continued to teach both boys and girls until the Brothers of the Christian School of Montreal arrived in 1854. After that time the nuns only taught girls. Sister Lagrave soon realized that there was as much or more need for nursing care than for education.  In 1871 the Grey Nuns opened the first hospital in the North West.

Marie Louise Valade was chosen as superior-foundress of the convent at St. Boniface for several reasons. She had vast experience as a treasurer and good leadership skills. Another important qualification was that she was Métis and it was felt that she “would have an instinctive understanding of the young girls and women she could expect to be in charge of.”   [Mitchell, p. 11] At her death at the age of 53 in 1861, Mother Valade left a well-organized convent, three schools, and a staff of 21 nuns.

Sister La France began as the girls’ teacher, with 27 students “whose docility and intelligence were really remarkable” according to her. The parents paid tuition of 20 sols plus one cord of wood per student each year.  [Mitchell, pp.  29, 31] In 1846, Sister Ouimet and Sister Marguerite Connolly (a young Métis woman who entered the Grey Nuns order at the Red River) were also assigned as teachers. Sister Lagrave soon formed an excellent choir.

Sister Ste. Therese, who became known as Soeur le Docteur because of her medical skill, spent most of her time treating the sick; however she was also a teacher and was one of the founders of Ėcole Sainte-Marie which evolved into St. Mary’s Academy to serve the English speaking Catholics across the Red River from St. Boniface. St. Mary’s Academy continues to operate today as an all-girls high school in the city of Winnipeg. Classes began in 1869 with the assistance of Red River Governor William McTavish and his wife. Because the Grey Nuns’ primary mandate was as nurses rather than teachers, they soon requested that the bishop find someone else to take over this new school.  Bishop Taché was successful in recruiting some Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary for this task. They arrived in 1874. Initially both boys and girls attended the school until three Christian Brothers arrived the following year to set up a school for boys.

Sister Laurent (born in Montreal in 1832) was one of the Grey Nuns who arrived at the Red River in 1850. She was interviewed for the book Women of Red River when she was 92. She recounted how she had dreamed of serving in a far-off mission field from her childhood, so she volunteered to   come to the Red River. She was initially asked to teach school; however, because she was a very small woman, she declined when she saw some of the boys she would have as students.  She said, “I do not want to teach school. Those boys are too big, and they will not mind me, I am sure.” Instead, she visited the local people in their homes and spent many years as a housekeeper at the St. Boniface convent. She later helped to establish a convent at the nearby community of St. Norbert.  [Healy, p. 113]

 Grey Nuns

Sister Ste-Therese                                             Sister Margaret Connolly

Archives Grey Nuns of Manitoba

 In 1862, a local priest wrote in praise of the education offered by the Grey Nuns:

As to the pupils of the boarding school, I dare say their examinations results could honour our fine convents in Lower Canada. The program of studies is exactly the same: French, English, history, mathematics, drawing and music…They also teach spinning, weaving and knitting besides sewing. [McGuire, p. 5]

In the early 1860s classes began at St. Charles along the Assiniboine River at the western edge of the modern city of Winnipeg. About 40 children were taught by two former students of the Grey Nuns, Adeline Dauphinas and Marie Riel (sister of Louis).

Rosalie Gauthier (née Germain)

In addition to the Nolin sisters and the Grey Nuns, another French teacher was a married woman at a time when most female teachers would have been either single or widowed.  Rosalie Germain married Jean-Baptiste Gauthier when she was 16 and became mother of 14 children.  She was born and educated in Quebec and came to the Red River in 1853. She and her husband took up a farm at Lorette south of St. Boniface where—despite her rapidly expanding family—she began teaching   children in the daytime and adults at night.  She continued teaching there and later at nearby Ste. Anne when the family moved there. “When my babies came, the women of the settlement used to help me with them, until my older girls grew up, so that I might be able to continue teaching,”  she said. During her first years at Ste. Anne she taught in her own home—she in the afternoon and the priest in the morning.  School did not operate during harvest time because everyone had to help with it.  [Healy, pp. 117-18]

The first cathedral was  destroyed by fire in 1860. Sara Riel wrote a description of the fire to her brother Louis. It is likely that the girls she refers to were students:

The girls were busy melting tallow for candles to beautify the altar for Christmas. The girls had put too much tallow into the vessel when it boiled over and caught fire. They passed water on it but the flames spread more and more and it a second the kitchen floor was ablaze.[McGuire, p. 11]

 St. Boniface Cathedral

St. Boniface Cathedral 1858

Archives of Manitoba


Healy, W.J. Women of the Red River, Winnipeg: Women’s Canadian Club, 1923

Jaenen, C.J. “Foundation of Dual Education at Red River, 1811-34”, MHS (online)

McGuire, Rita SGM, “The Grey Nuns in the Red River settlement, 1844-70” (online)

Mitchell, Estelle, The Grey Nuns of  Montreal and the Red River Settlement 1844-1948


Print copies of all my books and an e-book (e-pub version) of Letitia Hargrave: Mistress of York Factory may be purchased through my website   at http/ or by e-mailing me at

Most of my books are also available as Kindle e-books from Amazon.






Blog #19 Education of Girls in the Red River Settlement: Part Three

Tags: Red River Academy; Red River Settlement education; education of girls;  Hudson’s Bay Company and  education; Church Missionary Society; Manitoba Education; Reverend David Jones and Mary Lloyd Jones; John MacCallum; Jane McKenzie; Mary Lowman


The Red River Academy

At the end of my last Blog I said that  this week I would describe the formation of the Red River Academy, the first high school at the Red River Settlement.  Anglican clergyman Reverend David Jones wrote to Hudson’s Bay Company Governor George Simpson outlining plans for a “respectable seminary…for the moral improvement, religious instruction, and general education of boys, the sons of gentlemen belonging to the fur trade.” Simpson approved and suggested educating the girls as well. He also agreed that the HBC could pay the salary of an assistant while the Church Missionary Society agreed to provide a tutor and a governess. As a result, the Red River Academy was founded.

Jones argued that the school would inculcate British values in the children of mixed parentage and–shockingly—the boarding school would separate children from their non-English parents “and thus prevent them from sliding back into barbarism.” [Guest article, pp. 107-9]

Jones asked the CMS to find a governess for the girls who would attend the Red River Academy. He said that she “should be upwards of thirty, of matured Christian experience.” Simpson added that she should be qualified in both ornamental and useful branches of education and preferably not interested in marriage.

In the fall of 1833 John MacCallum and Mary Lowman arrived to take charge of the Red River Academy. Simpson described Mrs. Lowman as “a clever unsurpassed woman.” There were 40 children enrolled initially. Though Mrs. Lowman was highly regarded by Governor Simpson, she did not meet his final criteria, leaving her teaching post two years later to marry retired HBC Chief Factor James Bird.

Mary Lowman

Mary Lowman

Man. Prov. Archives

Thomas Simpson (Governor Simpson’s cousin) wrote about the new school to Donald Ross, HBC factor at Norway House.

When all the young ladies don their new leg-horns, [a style of straw hat that was fashionable at the time] they cut a dash that would captivate a whole troop of dragoons. Their improvement in manner and appearance is really amazing. I cannot speak too highly of that seminary and the recent acquisitions. Mrs. Lowman and Mr. MacCallum seem admirably qualified to teach the twenty lads and twenty lasses. The establishment will accelerate the progress of morality throughout Rupert’s Land.”  [Shave article p. 7]

Ross and his wife Mary sent some of their numerous children to the Red River Academy. They were very anxious that their daughters should marry well and obviously believed that education would assist to that end. Their two oldest daughters Jane (Jean) and Jessie both graduated from the Red River Academy and then were sent to England to complete their education at a “finishing” school. Donald Ross described Jane’s two and a half years in London. He said that the principal reason for sending her to school there was for her to learn to play the piano, but evidently she had little musical ability. Not only did she not learn the piano, she also unsuccessfully tried to learn to play the guitar and to sing.

Despite her lack of musical ability, Jane made what her parents considered a good marriage. She wed an Anglican missionary named James Hunter less than a year after the death of his first wife. Mrs. Ross, rather defensively remarked, “People would wonder at the haste, but we were not going to let such a good catch slip.” [Quoted in Gordon book, p. 71] Hunter was beginning to translate religious literature into Cree when he married Jane. Jane, who had lived all her life at Norway House, was fluent in Cree and played a major role in doing these translations—some of which are still in use.

Jane’s younger sister Jessie also made what appeared to be a good marriage to an employee of the HBC, but tragically she became serious ill of tuberculosis and died within a year of the wedding.

John MacCallum

A graduate of King’s College in Aberdeen, John MacCallum became head master of the Red River Academy. Feelings about him were mixed. He was a scholarly man, and some parents approved of the high standards he set for the school.  Others believed he was too strict with his students and his punishments too severe.

Despite the auspicious beginnings for the Academy, some white parents objected to their children being taught with Indian children. After the daughter of an HBC officer became pregnant by an Aboriginal boy who worked in the school kitchen, Simpson ordered that the school for First Nations children be moved to Grand Rapids.

After Mrs. Lowman left to marry in 1835, MacCallum taught the girls as well as the boys. Some parents were pleased that he taught their daughters something other than sewing and cooking. In addition to the Ross daughters, another female graduate of the Academy who did well was Jane McKenzie. She was daughter of Roderick McKenzie, a Scottish fur trader, and a Nipigon woman named Angelique. Jane taught at the Academy beginning in 1846 when she was 21. It is not known how long she taught there, but she did not marry until 1854. Two of her sons would become a lawyer and a doctor respectively.

Harriet Sinclair (born in 1832) began attending the Red River Academy when she was 14, the same year as Jane McKenzie began teaching there.   As an elderly woman in the early 1920s, she told an interviewer about her life. She said that she was sent as little girl to a boarding school begun by a woman named Mrs. Ingham who had arrived from England in 1833 as a companion to Mrs. Lowman.   Mrs. Lowman became Harriet’s step-grandmother when she married James Bird who was Harriet’s grandfather. Harriet completed her education at a college in Illinois which she attended for two years (1848-1850).  In 1852 Harriet married a doctor named William Cowan, who had come from England [Healy, pp. 17-28]

Harriet Cowan (née Sinclair)

Man. Prov. Archives

In October 1836, Mrs. Jones died in child birth, leaving her husband Reverend Jones with five young children.  When he returned to England in 1838, the HBC purchased the school for ₤500. They arranged a five-year lease with MacCallum, who was to remain in charge, maintain the buildings in good repair and pay 10% of the purchase price each year as rent.  In 1841, he purchased the school outright.  When the Anglican bishop visited from Montreal in 1844, he praised the school as well as ordaining MacCallum. The sketch below is from the book the bishop wrote about his trip.

Indian Settlemet

The year after the bishop’s visit, however, problems arose at the school and the number of students dropped sharply. Letitia Hargrave, wife of the HBC factor at York Factory, never visited the Red River; but she took an avid interest in the gossip she learned about the Red River Academy from various correspondents. Some of them wrote  about how badly headmaster MacCallum conducted the school.  He was accused of punishing children with severe floggings and confinement and by making them miss meals. Children were supposedly fainting due to the missed meals. MacCallum made the girls exchange their Indian leggings for English footwear.  They had to go out walking every day in winter and without proper footwear, their feet got wet and they got ill.


Lititia2 4.5X5.62 268.3 ppi.

Letitia Hargrave

Also MacCallum did not allow mothers who were not legally married to visit their children. Letitia was very critical of this policy. As she said, “it is fearfully cruel… [because] the poor unfortunate mothers did not know that there was any distinction and it is only within the last few years that any one was so married.”

MacCallum finally quarreled with the governess Miss Allen, who had come from England to teach at the Academy in 1840. MacCallum blamed her because the school was falling on hard times. He said she was “careless and lazy, had extraordinary peculiarities of manner which made her the laugh of her school girls and was not sufficiently accomplished to carry on the education of young ladies”. Miss Allen, in turn, said MacCallum was so despotic and overbearing that the children were terrified of him and their parents were taking them out of school as a result. MacCallum fired Miss Allen in 1845.  [Gordon, pp. 120-21]

Red River Academy

Red River Academy sketch by Peter Jacobs while he was a student at the Academy

Metropolitan Toronto Library Board

MacCallum died in October 1849, at the same time that Bishop David Anderson arrived as the first Anglican Bishop of Rupert’s Land.  MacCallum left the school to the bishop in his will. Soon afterwards Bishop Anderson renamed the school St. John’s Collegiate School.

My next Blog on June 14 will describe the development of French language education at the Red River.


Gordon, Irene Ternier. Letitia Hargrave: Mistress of York Factory

Healy, W.J. Women of the Red River, Winnipeg: Canadian Women’s Club, 1923

Shave, Harry, “Pioneer Protestant Ministers at Red River” (1), Manitoba Historical

Society Transactions, 1949-50


Print copies of all my books and an e-book (e-pub version) of Letitia Hargrave: Mistress of York Factory may be purchased through my website  at http/ or by e-mailing me at

Most of my books are also available as Kindle e-books from Amazon.

Blog #18 Education of Girls in Red River Settlement: Part Two (Reverends Jones and Cochran)

Tags: Red River Settlement education; education of girls; George and Elizabeth Harbidge; Hudson’s Bay Company and  education; Church Missionary Society; Manitoba Education; Reverend David Jones and Mary Lloyd Jones; Reverend William Cochran and Ann Cochran;

 At the end of my last Blog, you may remember that Reverend West was fired from his position as Hudson’s Bay Company chaplain after he arrived in England on furlough in 1823. The HBC wanted West to concentrate on educating the children in the Red River area, whereas West and the Church Missionary Society believed they should attempt to educate and Christianize the Indians and Métis in the whole North West.

David Jones (ca 1796-1844) was a Welshman who left for the Red River immediately after his ordination in 1823. There, he was to relieve West for a year while the latter was on furlough. Soon after Jones arrived, however, Governor Simpson wrote to HBC director Andrew Colvile opposing West’s return and praising Jones. As a result, West’s contract was terminated and Jones succeeded him.

After Jones’ arrival the day school increased in importance while the Indian school declined. A problem with finances remained. Many settlers did not pay their share of money needed to pay teachers.  When West departed on furlough it appeared that the Aboriginal children were progressing well in the school which he had established in efforts to evangelize them.  Jones continued West’s program at the school. By 1826, however, the school was judged only a qualified success. The deaths of some students—cause of deaths not stated—led some parents to question the treatment of their children and not wish to send them to school. There was also the issue of what graduating students would do. The CMS had hoped to train these students as missionaries, but in most cases they were neither suitable for such a role nor interested in it.  The school continued, but with a reduced number of students.

In 1825, Reverend William Cochran and his wife Ann arrived as a teaching couple with their infant son. About the same time as the Cochrans’ arrival, Jones fired the teacher George Harbidge “ostensibly for drunkenness.”  Harbidge was also accused of being unable to keep order or teach arithmetic. He was replaced by a retired HBC officer named William Garrioch and Mrs. Harbidge was replaced by Mrs. Cochran. Jones oversaw the school and taught grammar; Garrioch taught the other academic subjects; Cochran taught practical subjects such as gardening; and Ann Cochran taught the girls practical subjects.


William Cochran

In January 1827, Jones wrote to the Church Missionary Society describing a planned “female school” to be directed by Mrs. Cochran.

We are to receive ten girls next summer…I consider this an important step gained….Experience has taught the society the influence which female education is calculated to produce in an uncivilized country…In the course of time… [these girls] will be disposed of in marriage to persons of the country and may we not hope that thus we shall have female missionaries by and bye throughout the Indian  territories?” [Foster,  p. 68]

By 1828 there were four day schools and about 30 Indian children were boarding. Jones hoped that the Church Missionary Society would be more sympathetic to the education of non-Aboriginal children. The HBC officers supported the Anglican efforts at education; however they would not consider having their children educated with either Indian or common settler children.

In 1828, Jones went on leave. His experiences on his furlough were much happier than West’s had been. Instead of being fired, Jones returned from his furlough with a bride named Mary Lloyd.

Mrs. Jones was impressed with the need for a boarding school for the girls of the settlement and daughters of HBC factors living elsewhere. She taught the girls with the assistance of an English governess.

In 1833, the minutes of the meeting of the Council of the HBC highly praised the educational and religious work of Reverend Jones. The Council also voted the sum of ₤100 per annum to Jones for the school “in aid of this highly promising establishment.” Another resolution was passed stating:

That a vote of thanks be presented to Mr. and Mrs. Jones for the readiness with which they entered into the views and wishes of the gentlemen of the country when requested to undertake the formation of such an establishment, for the deep and lively interest they take in the improvement, and for the unremitting attention they pay to the health and comfort of the young folk entrusted to their care. [quoted in Shave article p. 7]

William and Ann Cochran

Cochran was a Scot raised in England on a farm and his wife had been a maid servant, so they were both lower class, practical people.  Shortly after their arrival, the Church Missionary Society wrote to Cochran:

Your account of Mrs. Cochran’s attention to the females is particularly pleasing.  She is a true missionary’s wife…and as important in her sphere to the spiritual good of the mission as you in yours. [Jaenen article p.  26]

Soon after that, Jones reported to the Church Missionary Society:

Experience has taught the Society, the influence which female education is calculated to produce in an uncivilized country…The females in question [mixed-race daughters of HBC officers] are never likely to see any country but this.  In the course of time, they will be disposed of in marriage to persons of the country; and may we not hope, that thus we shall have female missionaries by and bye throughout the Indian Territories?

 Not surprisingly, Governor Simpson disapproved of Mrs. Cochran whom he described as a “dolly mop” who “ever prays and cooks and looks demure.”  He further charged that her “assumed Puritanism but ill conceals the vixen, shines only when talking of elbow grease and the scouring of pots and pans.” Simpson’s comments appear to be sheer prejudice against Mrs. Cochran because of her servant background.

George Simpson final
Governor George Simpson 1857, an engraving from a portrait by Stephen Pearce. (HBCA, AM,  P 296 Neg. N5394) )

Cochran began construction at St. Andrews of a combination church and school house in 1831.  The next year it was completed and “Mrs. Cochran taught the girls five days in the week and the boys were taught by a young gentleman of fine education.”

In 1832, the Indian school founded by West was transferred to Cochran’s care, He established a school of industry which trained boys in weaving, carpentry and husbandry and the girls in spinning and other domestic tasks.

Church and Mission School
Church and Mission School at the Upper Settlement, (from The Rainbow of the North by Sarah Tucker, 1851)

Jones and Cochran agreed that they should establish a boarding school for fee-paying girls.  In 1827, they had persuaded some local “gentlemen” to send their girls to such as school run by Ann Cochran; however Mrs. Cochran did not have the qualities these families wanted for their daughters.  They were not interested in having them taught only domestic skills; they wished them to learn “ornamental” skills such as music and to acquire the manners of ladies.   When Mary Jones arrived from England, she took over the school from Mrs. Cochran.

In 1832, encouraged by Simpson, Jones proposed a boarding school at the Upper Church “for the moral improvement, religious instruction, and general education of boys; the sons of gentlemen   belonging to the fur trade.”  This school, which became known as the Red River Academy, was the first English-speaking high school at the Red River. It opened in 1833 with a female academy within the school.

My next Blog will describe the formation of the Red River Academy and its history.


Foster, John E., “Program for the Red River Mission: the Anglican Clergy, 1820-1826”, University of Alberta, M.A. thesis, 1966

Shave, Harry, “Pioneer Protestant Ministers”, MHS Transactions, Series 3, No. 6, 1949-50 season

Jaenen, Dr. C.J., “Foundations of dual Education at Red River, 1811-34”, MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1964-65 season


Print copies of all my books and an e-book (e-pub version) of Letitia Hargrave: Mistress of York Factory may be purchased through my website   at


or by e-mailing me at

Most of my books are also available as Kindle e-books from Amazon.


Blog #17 Education of Girls in Red River Settlement: Part One

Tags: Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk; Reverend John West; Red River Settlement education; education of girls; George and Elizabeth Harbidge; Hudson’s Bay Company education; Church Missionary Society; The Battle of Seven Oaks and the Violent Birth of the Red River Settlement  by Irene Ternier Gordon; Manitoba education

Today’s Blog is the first of a series  describing the efforts to provide  education for girls in the Red River Settlement between the arrival of the first Selkirk settlers in 1812 and the formation of the province of Manitoba in 1870. Some readers who live outside of Manitoba may not know that the first agricultural settlement in Manitoba was formed in 1812 in what is now the city of Winnipeg. The founder of this settlement was a Scottish Lord named Selkirk.

For more information about the formation of the Red River Settlement, you may want to read my book The Battle of Seven Oaks and the Violent Birth of the Red River Settlement.

Cover Seven Oaks

Although my focus will be on the education of girls, boys and girls were educated together in the earliest schools. I do not intend to discuss the issue of residential schools and the harmful legacy of such schools in any detail; however the first schools also had a mixture of white, Métis and First Nations students. All of the schools were operated by either Catholic or Anglican missionaries and thus were segregated according to language and religion—being either English and Anglican or Catholic and French.

Education pre-1820

The captain of the ship bringing a group of Red River settlers to North America in 1815 reported that the children aboard his ship attended school between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. using English bibles as their only texts. In 1813, Selkirk had appointed an educational supervisor for the Red River Settlement. Selkirk wrote to Miles MacDonnell, whom he had named governor of the settlement, about this appointment and said further,

Get a young man of cool temper to assist him as master. Teach them [students] to read and write in their native tongue. I care not how little they learn of the language of the Yankees. In the girls’ school, needlework and women’s accomplishments should be taught with reading. [Schofield, F. H.,The Story of Manitoba, 1913, p. 433]

 The native tongue Selkirk referred to was Gaelic. Others of Selkirk’s letters indicate that he aimed at forming a Gaelic community because he believed that this would counteract any tendency of the settlers to join the Americans.

3 Selkirk

Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk

In January 1815, Governor MacDonnell appointed “a steady young man” named John Matheson, Jr. as school master for the Red River Settlement, with a yearly salary of ₤25.  MacDonnell soon reported that “people in general sent their children and appeared well satisfied in this respect.”  Six months later, however, the settlement lost their teacher when the North West Company attacked the settlement and Matheson left for Upper Canada. [Lang, S. E. “History of Education in Manitoba”, pp. 422-23].

Governor Semple, who took over control of the Red River Settlement from Governor MacDonnell,   received a letter in 1816 about the role of the Hudson’s Bay Company in education. It said:

As the Company wish to allow about ₤30 per annum for the instruction and amusement of the officers and servants of the Company…We shall be anxious for your report as to the books or tracts you would wish to be sent for the purpose of religious instruction and we are desirous for your opinion as to the prospects of success in civilization and converting to Christianity  the children of native Indians. [Jaenen,  C. J., “Foundations of Dual Education at Red River, 1811-1834”, p.5.]

 Nothing further happened in the way of formal education until Selkirk arrived in 1817. Selkirk then set apart two parcels of land for a school and a church respectively and provided some money to help in paying for a teacher.

Reverend John West

John West was appointed HBC chaplain in 1819. The understanding of the HBC was that West would “establish and superintend schools at the settlement for the education of the youth of both sexes”.  [Jaenen, pp. 15-6]  West and a teacher named George Harbidge arrived at the Red River in the summer of 1820. West immediately set up a school for both Aboriginal and Red River settler children. Girls were to learn domestic skills and boys horticultural skills; both were to receive religious education.


The Rev. John West

West  reported in his journal that there were no facilities when he arrived, but shortly afterwards “I got us a log-house repaired about three miles below the Fort, among the Scotch population, where the school  master took up his abode, and began teaching from twenty to twenty-five of the children.”

By 1822 the house contained an apartment for the teacher, lodging for Aboriginal students and facilities for day students. On Sundays it served as a church. A settler was hired to take care of the milk, provide hay for the cows, and provide fire wood and fish.  At that time, there were six boys and two girls boarding at the school with a woman hired to take care of them. The illustration below was likely made after West left the Red River since it shows the church and school as being in separate buildings.

Church and Mission SchoolChurch and Mission School at the Upper Settlement, built by the Rev. John West

(from The Rainbow of the North by Sarah Tucker, 1851)

West also established a Sunday school to provide religious education and basic English literacy for the older settler children and for illiterate women. By 1823 there were about 50 Sunday school “scholars” receiving instruction from a variety of men and women from the community. It is not clear whether these teachers were volunteers or if they were paid a small amount.

The HBC and West soon came to a parting of the ways, however. West’s goal was to Christianize the Aboriginals of the whole of HBC territory rather than to concentrate on educating the children in the Red River area alone. When the HBC officers asked the very real question about how West would finance a permanent mission in the interior, West believed they were merely being obstructionist. He found “a cold indifference on the part of the chief officers resident in the country…[They] cannot conceal their fears lest the plans which we have in view to civilize and evangelize the  poor Indian will be the means of lessening the quantum for fur and consequently gain.”  [Foster, John E., “Program for the Red River Mission: the Anglican Clergy, 1820-1826″ Thesis, U. of Alberta, 1966”,  p.  71]

The Church Missionary Society had assumed charge of the Anglican mission in 1822. The HBC Council recorded in its minutes that the CMS had “voted large sums for the provision of two clergymen and a schoolmaster and mistress for the instruction of Indian children, and allow other children to be educated in the school on payment of a moderate fee.” [Jaenen, p. 19]

To facilitate the education of girls, the CMS educated a young English woman named Elizabeth Bowden, who was Harbidge’s fiancée, as a teacher.  Soon after she completed her education, she joined Harbidge at the Red River and the couple was married a few months later in October 1822.

HBC Governor Simpson, who frequently made harsh judgments of people and did not hesitate to voice his disapproval, wrote that Harbidge was

ignorant, self-conceited and moreover under the entire control of his wife; and she is above her situation, assuming more of the lady than is necessary, short tempered, paying little or no attention to her charge and treating the children under her care as menial servants without regard to their instruction or comfort.  [Foster, pp.64-5]

In June 1823 West left on a furlough to England; however he did not return to the Red River the following year as planned because the London Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company terminated his employment early in 1824.

I will post Part Two of the history of girls’ education at the Red River on May 17. Then you will learn about the two clergymen who replaced Reverend West and what happened to the newly-wed teachers George and Elizabeth Harbidge.

Print copies of all my books and an e-book (e-pub version) of Letitia Hargrave: Mistress of York Factory may be purchased through my website   at


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Blog #16 William McGillivray and the North West Company

Tags: McGillivray, William; North West Company; North American fur trade; The Laird of Fort William: William McGillivray and the North West Company by Irene Ternier Gordon; Montreal and the fur trade; Montreal social life ca. 1783

Anyone with an interest in the fur trade will be familiar with the name of the North West Company, which was a major fur trade company along with the Hudson’s Bay Company before the two joined together in 1821 under the HBC name. William McGillivray, head of the NWC from 1804 to 1821, was arguably the most powerful and wealthiest businessman in Canada in the early nineteenth century.

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I wrote a biography of William entitled The Laird of Fort William: William McGillivray and the North West Company. He is a direct ancestor of my grandson Felix.  In today’s Blog I describe Montreal at the time of William’s first arrival there in 1783 to become an apprentice with the North West Company, under the patronage of his Uncle Simon McTavish who was one of the founders of the NWC.

The city of Montreal, which had a population of less than 9000 people in 1783, occupied only the south side of the island of Montreal. The lower level of Mont Royal, not yet part of Montreal, rose gently and was planted in gardens and orchards; the steeper upper part was still wooded. Both the houses and warehouses of principal merchants were spacious and covered with sheet iron or tin to protect them from fire. While most houses were of timber, there also were a few stone mansions.

Houses commonly had benches on either side of the front door facing the street. There families spent many fine summer evenings visiting with passers-by. William found the young women attractive and very well dressed – especially on Sundays — however he was likely too shy to do more than politely tip his hat to them. The young women, in their turn, undoubtedly took a great interest in William because an early painting shows him as a handsome, well-built young man with thick, curly red hair.

The arrival of the first canoes of the season at Lachine in late August was the most exciting event of the year for most Montreal residents. The fur trade brigades had been gone since the ice went out of the rivers in late spring, and everyone anxiously awaited their return home. People could talk of nothing else. William found that he had to learn a whole new vocabulary in order to understand the conversations going on around him. Because he knew how to speak French, he knew the literal meanings of most of the expressions he heard. What he had to learn was what these expressions meant to Montrealers. For instance, “les mangeurs de lard” (pork eaters) were voyageurs who only travelled between Montreal and Grand Portage on Lake Superior. While their arrival back in Montreal was a cause for celebration, much more exciting would be the return of “les hommes du nord” or “hivernants”. These men of the north or “winterers” would spend at least three years away from home, travelling beyond the Great Lakes to the North West. This was the country also known as “le pays d’en haut” or high country. Les hommes du nord felt themselves much superior to the men who returned to their Quebec homes each winter.


Many people rushed to travel the nine miles of rough trail separating Lachine from Montreal so as to be first to greet the returning brigades. The Lachine Falls prevented loaded canoes from travelling all the way to Montreal, so the goods had to be unloaded and transferred to carts to bring them to the warehouses. The quiet summertime Montreal that William had got used to burst into life with the arrival of the brigades. The townspeople welcomed home husbands, fathers, sons, sweethearts and friends. Church bells rang and flags waved. The voyageurs swarmed the narrow streets like school boys just let out of school – shouting and singing, greeting friends, telling tall tales, drinking too much, recklessly spending money. Single men rekindled romances with the young women they had left behind or tried to impress new girls with tales of their daring do. McTavish, now a successful merchant, would not likely join the throngs celebrating on the streets; but William, almost certainly did.

William’s time of leisure was over. His first job was to tally the packs of furs as they arrived at the McTavish warehouse along the waterfront…After all the furs were tallied, William had to help   repack them and transport them to the wharf where they were loaded on ships for London. Finally, he helped his uncle pay off the voyageurs.


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Social life became livelier in December because travel was easier once there was enough snow on the ground for sleighs and the rivers were frozen over. Now it seemed that people were constantly on the move and there were parties almost every day with music, dancing, or card-playing – and always with lavish food and drink, and much conversation.

The wealthier citizens travelled about in carioles in winter. These were light   sleighs pulled by one or two horses that could carry two passengers and a driver… All the men seemed to be in competition to have the handsomest outfit. Most carioles were open because the great pleasure of going for a cariole ride seemed to consist in seeing and being seen. The ladies always went out dressed in the most superb furs and almost everyone looked as if they were really enjoying themselves. Because carioles glided along so quietly, bells were attached to the horse’s harness and many drivers also had horns which they frequently sounded to guard against accidents. 

While William may not have been aware of it, not everyone was enjoying winter parties in December 1783. On Christmas Eve, some 550 officers and men of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York learned that their regiment was disbanded since the British had lost the revolutionary war. These men were not only unemployed but also had permanently lost their homes and lands in New York. They, along with their [families, a total of about 1,460 people,]…were crammed into a newly-built barracks…To make matters even worse; most of the women and children were down with measles or small pox.

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North View of Montreal showing the old fortifications ca. 1793. Painting by George Elliot. Library and Archives Canada.

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Blog #15 A Successful Fur Trade Marriage

Tags   Small, Charlotte;  Thompson, David; People of the Fur Trade: from Native Trappers to Chief Factors.

 David Thompson is one of the most famous explorers of what is now Canada, but today I want to talk about his marriage to a woman named Charlotte Small rather than about his exploits as an explorer. The information that follows primarily comes from my book People of the Fur Trade: from Native Trappers to Chief Factors.

 Cover People of the fur trade

 Charlotte was the daughter of a Scotchman named Patrick Small, a North West Company wintering partner at Île-à-la-Crosse in what is now Northern Saskatchewan.  As was usually the case in marriages between white traders and Indigenous women at that time, nothing is known about Charlotte’s mother other than the fact that she was a Cree woman.  In 1799, when Charlotte was only 13 and David Thompson was in his late 20s, the couple married. Although Thompson kept detailed journals about his professional activities, he wrote little about his personal life.

 His journal entry about his marriage was brief: “This day married Charlotte Small.”   Later, discussing trade with the Cree, he wrote, “My lovely wife is of the blood of these people, speaking their language, and well educated in the English language, which give me great advantage.”

Two of Thompson’s rare journal references to his numerous children occur in June 1808. On June 19, he wrote, ‘One of my horses nearly crushing my children to death from his load being badly  put on, which I mistook for being vicious; I shot him on the spot and rescued my little ones.” The next day, his two-year-old daughter, Emma, went missing while they were travelling by canoe. He reported that after searching most of the morning, they found Emma sleeping under a bush.

 A few snippets of letters Thompson wrote to his wife also remain. In December 1810, he wrote to her at Pembina:

My dear Charlotte, In a few days I will be sending six or seven of my men to Rocky Mountain House to get pemmican and other supplies and they will carry this and my other letters with them. I am hoping they will return with a letter from you, for I am anxious to know how you are faring…I wonder if this will reach you by Christmas? I wish you and the children every blessing. I long for news of you. As ever, David.

 In 1812, Thompson retired after 28 years in the wilderness and moved his family to Canada. A grandson described Charlotte as “slightly built, active and wiry, with a coppery complexion. She dressed plainly but neatly, loved her home and was an excellent housekeeper…she was extremely reserved except when among family.” Charlotte Small

Statue of Charlotte Small and David Thompson     (© Parks Canada / Parcs Canada)

David and Charlotte Thompson died three months apart in 1857, after 58 years of marriage—an almost unheard of length of marriage at that time. The Thompsons lived in a time when women frequently died in childbirth and many people died at young ages of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis. Also, many European men abandoned their Aboriginal wives and children when they retired from the fur trade. That had been the fate of the marriage of Charlotte’s parents. Despite the few details we have about the Thompson marriage, it is fair to describe it as one of the great love stories in Canadian history.

Print copies of all of my books and an e-book (e-pub version) of Letitia Hargrave: Mistress of York Factory may be purchased through my website at: or by e-mailing me at: Most of my books are also available as Kindle e-books from Amazon.

Blog #14 Louis Goulet

Tags: A People on the Move: the Métis of the Western Plains; Goulet, Louis; buffalo hunt; Sitting Bull; Vanishing Spaces: Memoirs of Louis Goulet by Guillaume Charette.

[In 2009 I published A People on the Move: the Métis of the Western Plains. Louis Goulet was one of the many colourful men and women whose stories appeared in the book. The information I used came from Goulet’s memoirs.]

Cover People on the move 

Louis Goulet (born in 1859) looked back with nostalgia on the buffalo hunts of his childhood as an “incomparable time of freedom and plenty”. He travelled with his extended family and friends “at the speed of an ox towards the setting sun through the vast, fragrant air of the endless plain that provided everything they needed to live — wild berries, fresh meat, and clear, cool spring water.”  Louis’ father was a trader so the Goulet family spent their summers following the buffalo hunt. They would leave their farm south of Winnipeg as soon as the grass was “nippable” (long enough for grazing) with anywhere from ten to thirty carts of trade goods. They would return home for a few weeks in July before returning to the prairie until late fall. Some years they even over-wintered on the plains. By 1868 the last buffalo herds had disappeared from the Red River Valley, and hunters had to follow the buffalo farther and farther south and west. Louis was too young to understand that an important part of the Métis way of life was ending.

Buffalo on a ranch near Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba

Although Goulet was not born until eight years after the Battle of the Grand Coteau [fought between the Métis and the Sioux], the Métis continued to worry about the possibility of Sioux attacks. Goulet says that hunting parties were always “armed to the teeth [because]…we’d learned from experience that to be sure of peace we had to prepare for war.”

The hunt laws in Louis’ childhood were similar to those a quarter of a century earlier described by Alexander Ross.  Lawbreakers were fined a certain number of buffalo skins, which were distributed to the needy or to the guards. For murder, the penalty might even be death. The most serious incident that Louis knew of involved a family named Deschamps, who were “caught red-handed breaking all the rules including the ones about robbery and immorality.” One member of the family also attacked   some of the councillors.  Next morning the entire Deschamps family was found dead in their tent. The massacre of the Deschamps became a legend on the plains, but no one ever openly admitted to having done the deed.


[When Sitting Bull came to Canada in 1879, following the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Goulet became involved.] A group of Sioux stole 60 Métis horses. When the Métis complained, the Sioux promised to return all but 10 of the best horses. The Métis refused this offer. Many of the younger men — secretly encouraged by the Americans, according to Goulet – wanted to take back their horses by force. Cooler heads prevailed, and they appealed to [North West Mounted Police] Major Walsh for help. Walsh hired Goulet and a man named Antoine (Caillou) Morin to accompany him to Sitting Bull’s camp as interpreters. They were backed up by some 30 police with two cannons and about 100 Métis who were veterans of the wars against the Sioux. “We were all on horseback and armed to the teeth. Our guns were better than the ones the Sioux had, and we weren’t sorry to have this chance of measuring ourselves against Sitting Bull’s braves,” Goulet wrote.

On arrival, Walsh trained the cannons on the camp while the police and Métis sharpshooters spread out in a long line, looking as if they were about to attack. The Sioux came out of their lodges carrying their guns. Sitting Bull stood impassive, as if none of it was his concern. Caillou Morin gave Walsh’s message to the Sioux. He told them they would have to return to the United States if they caused trouble in Canada. If they refused to go, Walsh would call on the American Army for help.

The show of force was successful. Sitting Bull said, “Our only protection is in Canada where the Americans can’t come after us as they’d like to. Right now, our only allies are the Métis.” About two weeks later, however, Sitting Bull arrived at the NWMP barracks with his war chief Shonga Anska and told Walsh, “You should at least give us some tea, tobacco and sugar because we turned the horses over to you.”

 Walsh told him that he had to pay for whatever he wanted. Sitting Bull drew his pistol and threatened to shoot Walsh.


Shonga Anska succeeded in convincing Sitting Bull to return to his camp, but the trouble was not yet over. Walsh ordered his officers to take up positions behind the stockade. Then he, along with Goulet and Morin, left the stockade. Walsh ordered Goulet to lay some poles across the road and told Morin to stand by the line of poles and tell the Sioux that if any of them crossed the line, the police would open fire on them. Meanwhile Walsh and Goulet stood on either side of the stockade gate.

 Sitting Bull and Shonga Anska, followed by about 150 horsemen, advanced silently towards the stockade with its 33 men. Some 100 paces from Morin, about 100 of the Sioux dismounted and continued on foot until they reached Morin. The remaining men waited on horseback. Morin delivered Walsh’s message. Shonga Anska said that the Sioux would return to their camp if Walsh forgot the incident. Walsh agreed.

 [When Goulet was 22, he went to the States where he was hired by the American government as a scout.] Requirements were very stringent. In addition to being expert horsemen and crack shots, they had be able to read and write English, speak at least three Indian dialects fluently, box a little, and throw a knife. Scouts also had to be at least six feet tall and weigh 185 pounds. They were paid $75 per month. All their equipment and uniforms were included, except for horses and saddles. They worked as policemen, detectives, and soldiers in turn. “We always had to be spit-and-polish for inspection like soldiers,” Goulet said. Horses and saddles were to be equally spruce, with horses being curried morning and night.

Goulet enjoyed the adventure and excitement of scouting, but he found it difficult “to remain polite and good-natured no matter what happened.” Most of all, Goulet enjoyed wearing the smart navy blue wool scouts’ uniform topped with a broad-brimmed felt hat. He had always loved having the latest styles of clothes made of the best-quality fabrics. “I’m not ashamed to say most people thought I was quite a good-looking fellow,” he admitted.

Goulet also did undercover work as a scout-at-large among the Indians. Being Métis, speaking the Sioux language, and knowing how to put on “a little act” were definite advantages. “Personally, I could manage very well” on all counts, he said. He posed as a trader, specializing in trinkets for the women — the ideal role for a handsome ladies’ man.

 Goulet was 6 foot 2 and active in many sports. He was especially good at boxing. Once, in a bar in Helena, Montana, he even boxed with John L. Sullivan, heavyweight champion of the United States. The crowd was hostile to Sullivan, so his manager stopped the fight – much to the disgust of the cowboys watching it. “I came out of the whole affair with flying colours,” is how Goulet described his experience.

During Goulet’s time as a scout, he only had two skirmishes with the Sioux. On one occasion, four men were killed and Goulet’s horse was shot out from under him. The scouts took about 200 horses from the Sioux in that engagement. However, Goulet said that if the Sioux had not been short of ammunition, “they’d have done the same to us as they did to Custer.” On another occasion, 25 Sioux and 10 scouts were killed in a skirmish, and Goulet got an arrow in his leg.

 [Sadly, Goulet’s life of adventure ended abruptly when he became blind at the age of 33. He spent the last 36 years of his life living in a residence called the Home for Incurables in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.]

Charette, Guillaume, Vanishing Spaces: Memoirs of Louis Goulet,  translated by Ray Ellenwood., illustrated by Réal Bérard. Winnipeg: Editions Bois-Brȗlés, 1976

Print copies of all of my books and an e-book (e-pub version) of Letitia Hargrave: Mistress of York Factory may be purchased through my website at:

or by e-mailing me at:

Most of my books are also available as Kindle e-books from Amazon.