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

The Big House, Lower Fort Garry

by George Ingram

The Bishop of Rupert's Land

In 1849, the Big House was made ready for the occupancy of the Reverend David Anderson, consecrated bishop of the newly established diocese of Rupert's Land, 29 May 1849. Simpson gave explicit instructions to Chief Factor John Ballenden, pointing out the elaborate alterations necessary to make the house suitable for his occupancy. The wing (annex) was retained for the use of the Company, being then occupied by John Black, the clerk in charge of the fort. The rest of the house, blocked off from the wing, would be divided into two sections for the use of the bishop and his chaplain.

You will make over to the Bishop, the principal house at the Lower Fort, with the exception of the wing which it is advisable to retain for our own accommodation, it being in the meantime occupied by Mr. Black. The communication between the wing and the main house must be walled up, thereby making two entirely distinct houses, with separate entrances. The mess room you will please divide into two, and in appropriating the accommodation, the Bishop should be put in possession of all that part formerly occupied during the Sitting of the Councils with the front entrance, Consisting of 6 rooms together with Kitchen, Servants rooms, cellars &c. his Lordship's Chaplain can occupy that portion of the House formerly inhabited by Mr. Thom, with a separate entrance, consisting of four rooms besides Kitchen, Servants rooms and cellars. The requisite alterations and repairs should be entered upon without delay and the residence put in order for the reception of the Bishop and his suite immediately on arrival at the Settlement.1

Simpson's orders were carried out immediately and by July, the house, with the exception of the furnishings, was ready for the occupancy of the bishop.

Agreeably to Your instructions when here, the large dwelling house at this place, has been completely arranged, for the accommodation of Bishop Anderson and his Chaplain, but the furniture of the several rooms, is far from what they have been accustomed to, the deficiency may however, be afterwards prepared and completed under their own direction.2

Bishop Anderson, a widower, and his three sons under the care of the bishop's unmarried sister, sailed from England on the Hudson's Bay Company supply ship, Prince Rupert. They were accompanied by the bishop's chaplain, Mr. Chapman and his wife, and the Reverend R. Hunt, a Church Missionary Society missionary and his wife. The party arrived at York Factory on 16 August.3 Ten days later it set off for Red River, reaching there on 3 October. The bishop immediately moved into the Big House with which he was quite pleased.

Since I last wrote you matters in the Colony have gone on very quietly. The Bishop and party arrived on the 3rd of October & immediately took possession of and seemed to be well pleased with their residence at the lower Fort. He had with him one clergyman and a reader both with wives, and I was therefore under the necessity of allowing one of them to take possession of the little house occupied by Mr. Christie last year.4

The bishop's stay in the Big House was very short. Just as he was "entering the river in October, Mr. (John) Macallum, the master of the boys' school in the Red River Settlement, died, leaving the school without management. The bishop agreed to purchase the school and moved there sometime in December.5 Mr. Chapman, who was appointed to the Middle Church in December, probably moved out of the Big House at the same time.6 Mr. and Mrs. Hunt remained at the lower fort during the winter and spring until 6 June, when Hunt left for his new charge in the English River district.7

After the bishop moved from the house, "no further occupant" was to be allowed to take up quarters there until Simpson specified. Black, of course, continued to occupy the annex or some other portion of the house.

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