Upper Fort Garry Court House: Venue for the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia

Court House History: On December 8, 1866, Thomas Spence, loyalist, toper, and man of many parts, called a public meeting for 10:30 a.m. at the Court House, Upper Fort Garry, for the purpose of passing a resolution in favour of the establishment of a Crown Colony at Red River. However, Spence and four cronies, it seems, knowing there would be strong opposition from American sympathizers in the settlement, met by design at 9:30 a.m. - one hour ahead of the appointed time for the public meeting. They started the proceedings informally, strengthening their convictions by quaffing several snorts of Jamaica rum, and then passed a resolution and drafted a petition to Queen Victoria, "on behalf of certain worthy citizens," praying Her Majesty to hasten the establishment of a Crown Colony at Red River. Then, having thwarted the opposition, they closed their unorthodox assembly. As their loyal huzzahs were fading away, the supporters of annexation to the United States appeared en masse on the Court House steps, prompt, ready, and well primed for the 10:30 meeting. They had come from a preliminary meeting of their own in "Dutch George" Emmerling's hotel, where the proprietor, a leading exponent of annexation, had strengthened his hold on their loyalty by dispensing liberal doses of his own "potent persuasive potion," known throughout the settlement as "Oh Be Joyful." On 8 April 1867 some of the residents of the small hamlet at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers met in the Court House to organize a parish, and a building committee was appointed. At first, religious services were held in the Court House, just outside the enclosure of Fort Garry, and afterwards in the upper level of Red River Hall near the corner of what are now Portage Avenue and Main Streets. On March 17th, 1870, in the morning church services were held, and in the evening everyone gathered at 8 o’clock at the Court House, Upper Fort Garry, to join in a celebration. The Legislative Chamber was gaily decorated, the flag of the Provisional Government being used along with many other flags. Father Dugas’ band from St. Boniface mingled Irish and French airs. The Honourable William B. O’Donoghue was chairman, and on his right sat the President of the Provisional Government. There were speeches - the Chairman, the President, the Chief Justice, Father Lestanc, Father Dugas, and Father McCarthy all spoke - so did Messrs.Bannatyne, Bunn, Bird and Scott followed by Dr. O’Donnell, John Henry McTavish 1, William Coldwell, J. C. Kennedy, J. Kennedy - and others. The celebrations lasted into the wee small hours, fortified as the revellers were with sherry and champagne— probably liberated from the Hudson’s Bay Stores.
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McTavish was an accountant at Fort Garry in 1869-70, he was unrelated to HBC Governor McTavish. He was a Roman Catholic and spoke French fluently. He was rumoured to be a sympathizer of the Métis. He was in charge of Upper Fort Garry after the departure of Governor McTavish in 1870. He was elected as a conservative representing Ste. Anne to the first legislature of Manitoba.

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The President of the Provisional Government, Louis Riel, who sat at the right of the Chairman, was the then occupant of “Government Rouse.” He had seized the residence of Dr. Cowan inside the walls of Fort Garry and was using it as the headquarters of the Provisional Government and he called it “Government House.”

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John Balsillie's plan of Upper Fort Garry and adjacent structures, c. 1868. Provincial Archive of Manitoba.

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Government House: Manitoba’s first Lieutenant-Governor, His Honour Adams G. ASrchibald, arrived on September 2, 1870, and stayed as a guest of Donald A. Smith at the residence of the Hudson’s Bay Governor in Fort Garry. Subsequently they agreed, subject to the approval of the Dominion Government and the Hudson’s Bay Company, that the Lieutenant-Governor should use the Hudson’s Bay House, also known as McTavish House, as his official residence until other suitable arrangements could be made, The original government house was originally a log structure and was built in 1840 for Mr. Ballantine, who was at the time in charge of Fort Garry. The contractor was Mr. Drever. The house being built several years after main Fort, it was located to the North and outside the original thick stone walls. The original walls were extended to enclose the house but instead of using stone the extended walls were of large, solid, square oak logs, laid horizontally in the form of crib work, the space between the outer and inner oak walls being filled with earth. It was at this time that the gateway which still remains in the small Fort Garry Park was erected.

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Edited and Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research Louis Riel Institute

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