Blog #21 Education of Girls in Red River Settlement: Part Five (Later English Education)

Tags: Red River Settlement education of girls; Bishop David Anderson; Mrs. Mills and daughters Harriet and Mary Louisa; Red River Flood of 1852; St. Cross Ladies’ School; Matilda Davis Ladies’ School;

Bishop Anderson

Reverend John MacCallum, head of the Red River Academy, died in 1849 just before the arrival of Reverend David Anderson, who had been named the first Anglican Bishop of Rupert’s Land – the name given to the Anglican diocese in the area which included the Red River. Bishop Anderson had been offered the Red River Academy in MacCallum’s will under certain terms. Anderson agreed, paying ₤430 for school buildings, livestock, books and furnishings.  He spent another ₤700 to improve the school building and enlarge the library to 800 books.  He initially renamed the school St. John’s Collegiate School and in 1855 changed its name St. John’s College. Anderson’s ambitious new plans proved too ambitious and the college closed in 1859. It was reopened in 1866 by Anderson’s successor Bishop Robert Machray.

In 1850, Recorder Adam Thom attributed the problems which would ultimately close the school to Bishop Anderson and his sister. Thom wrote to Governor Simpson as follows:

 Through the uncongenial combination of his disinterestedness, which amounts to apathy, and her parsimony, which amounts to cruelty, their whole establishment has fallen into a sad condition. Palpable dirt in every apartment…itch uncared for among two-thirds of the school boys—lice…want of water unless in the river…insufficiency of food, both as to quantity and quality…fuel to be found…only by chopping it…and lastly their two girls, both of whom had long been with Mr. MacCallum, in the family-way before the end of six months.

[Note: The two girls referred to likely were working as servants at the school. Neither of the   Andersons had daughters so the girls could not have literally been “their” girls.]  [Bredin, pp. 15-6]

Anderson described the flood of 1852 in his book. At the time of the flood, there was the need to support 60 households –including his own home, the St. John’s Collegiate School and St. Cross Ladies’ School. The only part of Andersons’ house that was habitable was a large store-loft over the kitchen.  On May 6, Anderson wrote that a boat had come to evacuate Mrs. Mills, teacher in charge at St. Cross, and   her students, plus a few boys from his school.

In late May, Anderson and Mrs. Mills met with Governor Simpson to   discuss the schools. Anderson thought they should reduce the number of students in case of scarcity during the upcoming winter as a result of the flood  The governor “anxious that the female school should continue, as so great a benefit to the country” offered that the HBC would supply provisions for the next winter at the usual price.  [Anderson, pp. 64-5]

The following two paragraphs should ideally have appeared in Blog # 19 about the Red River Academy; however I didn’t have this information to hand when I wrote that Blog.

A former student of the Academy described it in an interview as an elderly woman.  She said that it was in a pretty ravine formed by a creek near the Red River. The building had two wings – one for the boys and another for the girls – joined by a dining room. There were separate gardens surrounded by large trees for boys’ and girls’ recreation.

The promoters of education at the Red River were said to be discouraged at the difficulty in keeping the female teachers which they had gone to the trouble and expense of bringing out from England.  The women seemed to marry retired HBC officers almost as soon as they arrived. One joke making the rounds at the time was that the educational promoters – in desperation – finally decided to offer a position to a woman of 85. However when they asked her for a guarantee that she would not marry, she said that she could not promise. “If a rich Hudson’s Bay magnate” should propose, she admitted that she might accept. Negotiations were broken off.      [Marion Bryce article, pp. 16-8]

St. Cross Ladies’ School

The female half of the Red River Academy finally closed due to lack of a governess. Bishop Anderson then appealed to the Church Missionary Society for help. As a result,  in 1851 Mrs. Ann Mills and her two daughters Mary Louisa and Harriet came from England to take over the girls’ school as a continuation of the Red River Academy. It was established in the Cochrans’ former house [See Blog #18] and became known as St. Cross Ladies’ School.

Mrs. Mills taught French, German, music and drawing and social etiquette. Although she remained at St. Cross until 1857, she had made no secret of her dislike of the Red River and believed it was futile to try to make local girls into proper English ladies.  She returned to England with her daughter Harriet, while Mary Louisa married and remained in Canada. Mrs. Mills took a position at Queen’s College in London and Harriet continued her education there.


Harriet Mills following her marriage to Reverend Michael Boomer in 1878

 Anderson wrote, following Mrs. Mills’ departure, “She expected too much and looked for the refinement and manners and society of London in this very remote corner of the world. In this way she rather disliked the place and did not conceal her dislike, which is always unfortunate for successful labour.” [Bredin, p. 17]

At least some of Mrs. Mills’ former students did not agree with Anderson. An elderly woman named Jane Tait (née Inkster) recalled her student days at St. Cross.  “We used to get up at 7 o’clock winter and summer and all go for a walk in charge of Miss Harriet Mills. Mrs. Mills was clever and kind, and we were all very fond of her.” The students had a very simple diet including bread and butter with meat once a day. There were about 30 students at the school at that time.  [Healy, p. 90]

Matilda Davis’ School

Following the closure of St. Cross and the St. John’s Collegiate School, English secondary education at the Red River was available only at Matilda Davis’ School in St. Andrews Parish and at a school run by Samuel Pritchard in St. Paul’s Parish. Miss Davis was born ca 1820 at St. Andrews Parish.  Her father was an HBC officer. After being educated in England, she set up a school in the family home with an English woman named Emma Lane as assistant. Around 1858 Miss Davis built a large stone residence for both students and staff to live in. The classroom was in a wooden building behind the stone house. The HBC offered Miss Davis a grant of 100 pounds sterling for her school for three years.




Matilda Davis and Miss Davis’ School, ca late 1850s or early 1860s,

Archives of Manitoba

Another teacher at the Davis School was an English woman named Eleanor Cripps (who later became wife of Captain William Kennedy). She was a good singer and taught music at Miss Davis’ School, as well as playing the organ at St. Andrews’ Church and training the choir.

Eleanor Cripps

Eleanor Cripps,

Libraries and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3451275

Matilda’s sister Nancy, assisted by a woman named Sarah Atkinson, was the housekeeper. Their work included rising at 4 a.m. to light the stove, hauling water and milking the cows. Food was scarce. A student named Mary Kennedy said they ate mashed potatoes with milk, bread and butter, and tea with milk for breakfast. At other meals they ate pemmican made into stew or fish if there was no fresh or frozen meat,

Another student, Jane Mary Truthwaite, described attending the Davis School when she was 10. “I remember our early breakfasts and our stately walks, and how Miss Emma Lane assisted Miss Davis in the work of the school,” The school had about 30 students, all boarders, from ages 10 to 18. “Miss Davis was extremely particular about the accuracy of our spelling, and even more particular about the propriety of our behaviour and our manner of walking and sitting.” People said that “you could pick out Miss Davis’ pupils anywhere.”  A girl sat down “as though she had a basket of eggs balanced on her head.”  They also read the scriptures daily and attended St. Andrew’s Church twice on Sundays. [Healy, p. 135]

In addition to the training mentioned above by Miss Truthwaite, students studied geography, music, French, history, drawing and dancing. They also learned needlework, which included making shirts for the boys (presumably students at the nearby boys’ school).

 Janet Muckle (née Gunn), yet another student, began attending Miss Davis’ School when she was 12. She often heard Miss Davis say that her ambition was to help the women of her native country by education. The classroom contained a long table, with one class sitting on each side and Miss Davis at the head. She “was an accomplished woman and an excellent teacher” who spoke fluent French. As a result of her education, Janet Gunn was appointed teacher at the nearby community of Little Britain when she left school.

 Miss Davis’ School closed some time after 1870 and she died in 1875.

St. Andrew's Church

St. Andrew’s Church, 1860,

sketch by Nanton Marble, Archives of Manitoba


Bredin, Thomas F., “The Red River Academy”,  The Beaver, Winter 1974, Outfit 305:3

Anderson, David, Notes of the Flood at the Red River, London: Hatchard, 1852

Bryce, Marion, “Early Red River Culture”, Manitoba Historical Society Transactions, Series 1, No. 57, 1901

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

Upcoming Blogs

In my July 12 Blog I will leave the topic of education and talk about some of the excellent museums which I recently visited in Saskatchewan – including those in Batoche, Duck Lake, Frenchman’s Butte and Willow Bunch.

Then on July 26, I will complete my series of Blogs on education by talking about the education of the Ross family and the arrival of the first Presbyterian clergyman at the Red River in 1851.


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.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s