Life in Kildonan, 150 years ago
By: Cheryl Girard
This year being Canada’s 150th birthday, it is the perfect time to reflect back and to wonder what life was like 150 years ago.
Manitoba was not yet a province and did not become one until 1870. Even then it was tiny and often compared to the size of a postage stamp.
The Kildonan area saw its first settlement when the Selkirk Settlers made the long and difficult journey from the highlands of Scotland in and around 1812.
In 1923, W.J. Healy wrote in Women of Red River that “the Selkirk settlers were more isolated from the world than a settlement on the north shore of Hudson Bay would be today.” Fur trade warfare “destroyed their first attempts at settlement, and brought death to some and extreme suffering to the survivors.”
The settlers also had to contend with floods, grasshopper plagues, shortages of food and supplies, illnesses and harsh winters.
The Aboriginals helped the settlers to survive teaching them about pemmican and other foods and helping them with hunting and gathering. Life soon improved. Healy quotes Gov. MacKenzie in 1833 saying that the settlement was “going most thrivingly forward” with “large and flourishing harvests.”
And life was not without its pleasant times. Healy quotes Harriet Cowan, born in the settlement in 1832, and her recollections of the many weddings in Kildonan.
“The dancing used to be kept up all night,” and “…at Christmas there used to be three weeks of parties.”
Noni Campbell-Horner, a descendant of the early settlers, says in her Red River Remembered that “summer was a time of work and chores… However, the settlers managed bat and ball games, cricket, horse races, picnics and canoeing.”
In the winter there was ice-skating, tobogganing and, indoors, chess, checkers, cards, and dancing.
Some links to these early days still stand. Seven Oaks House, built in 1853, by the Inkster family remains. The Kildonan Presbyterian church, built in 1852, still stands.
Bleak House, the home of sheriff Colin Inkster, was built in 1874 and is still in current use along Main St. St. John’s Anglican Cathedral is also a strong link to those early days.
The Anson Northrup was the first steamboat on the river in 1859. The first newspaper, The Nor’Wester, was founded in the Red River settlement that same year.
In 1869 Louis Riel led the Red River Rebellion and Manitoba became a province in 1870.
In the late 1800s and on, other European immigrants came to Manitoba, bringing their rich cultures and traditions to our growing province and since then we have become truly international.