The history of Canada, and Manitoba specifically, is often tied to its abundant natural resources, the fur trade, and/or the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), which was established in 1670 and controlled much of the fur trade in what is now Canada. They had forts throughout was was known as Rupert’s Land and one of those forts was Lower Fort Garry, on the banks of the Red River, just north of present day Winnipeg. Not far from the fort, a church was built to meet the needs of the growing population, and that church, St. Andrew’s-on-the-Red, built in the late 1840s, remains the oldest stone church in Western Canada. The church is surrounded by a cemetery containing the remains of some 2000 people, mostly of settlers in the area, and former HBC officers.
Despite having visited Lower Fort Garry several times, I had never heard of this church or cemetery until I was talking about this blog with a cousin of mine, and she mentioned this historic place that was practically in her backyard. So I knew I had to visit, and was lucky enough to do so while spending some time in Winnipeg.
Manitoba itself is not that old, so doesn’t have old historic cemeteries like other places further east, but this had a lot of older slab-style gravestones, both still upright and grounded, within the grounds. Being a Protestant cemetery in what was then a trading post means that most of the monuments are not overly ornate, but they do have small epitaphs and/or simple descriptions of how they died (drowned, froze to death), a testament to life near the river in the frozen Prairies.
Although the church was closed when I visited, the grounds at the rectory across the street were open, and it was interesting to look around there as well. I was too early for the opening hours, but I think this would make a nice addition to Lower Fort Garry if you happen to be visiting it nearby.
Monuments: Simple, but interesting. Many of the gravestones are illegible due to the soft stone and time, but the more intact ones are interesting to read.
Grounds: The churchyard is not that big and it doesn’t take to long to visit. While flat, the ground can be uneven in places.
Visitors: None while I was there.
Notes: I went fairly early in the morning (8 a.m.) and it was nice to see the low sun rising over the Red River nearby. Lots of dew on the ground making for wet shoes while visiting.
Site: St. Andrew’s-on-the-Red Anglican Church and Cemetery
Notable Internments: Captain William Kennedy, Arctic explorer (he offered to search for the Franklin expedition in 1850), missionary, and HBC employee. There are also a number of internments of soldiers who died in WWI.
Location: St. Andrew’s, Manitoba. You really need to have your own transportation to get out here. It’s not that far from Winnipeg (about 10 km) and is on the banks of the Red River.
Hours: From dawn till dusk, mostly.
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