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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 4

The Big House, Lower Fort Garry

by George Ingram

Sixth Regiment of Foot

In 1846, a detachment of the Sixth Regiment of Foot was sent to the Red River Settlement at the request of the Hudson's Bay Company.1 Although the troops were officially despatched to defend British claims to the interior, the Hudson's Bay Company wanted the force to keep peace in the settlement. The regiment came only after protracted negotiations and the assurance of the Hudson's Bay Company that it could supply proper accommodation. The Company offered the upper and lower forts, described in glowing terms, until better accommodations could be provided. It was planned to construct more permanent and regular fortifications after the troops arrived in the settlement.

At the lower fort, the Company's operations were removed from the fort to the buildings at the creek to the south. The Big House was offered for the accommodation of the officers and described as a "dwelling house containing about 20 rooms of various sizes on the basement and first storey where the officers might be quartered."2 The others were quartered in the storehouses which were converted into barracks. In advance of the regulars, two officers of the Royal Engineers with assistants were sent out to place the defences of the two forts in order and to prepare for the occupancy of the troops. They arrived in July and made their headquarters at the lower fort. Lieutenant (later Captain) Hampden Moody took over Adam Thom's quarters in the Big House.

The troops remained for two years, leaving in September, 1848. Although a great boon for the economy and society of the settlement, they were not particularly happy there. Crofton (the officer in command of the unit) complained from the moment he arrived at York Factory and left before his tour of duty was finished. The officers and men were also dissatisfied; there were desertions before the first year was over.

I assure You [wrote Christie to Simpson] nothing has been wanting on our part in contributing towards the comfort of both officers and men so far as our means could possibly admit; . . . there is nevertheless an apparent dissatisfaction amongst the officers and men regarding the country.3

There was, however, some social activity, and the lower fort seems to have had the livelier of the two garrisons. Hampden Moody writing to Sir George a few months after the arrival of the troops noted that "The Lower Fort is the sporting one & the head quarter men come out to us to see the fun."4

When the troops left in September, 1848, the Hudson's Bay Company re-occupied the buildings within the fort. That year John Black, William Lane and Bannatyne wintered at the fort, and probably in the house.5 Simpson may have spent the winter there.

2 When the Big House was occupied by the officers of the Sixth Regiment (1846-48), the wide veranda had not yet been constructed. The broken balustrade was probably indicative of rough usage by the troops. (Public Archives of Canada.)

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