Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Red River Settler took the high ground

B & B built following 1852 flood retains 19th-century character

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John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

EAST SELKIRK -- Thomas Bunn made a promise to his wife, kept it, and is still keeping it 152 years later.

The promise came after their Kildonan home was flooded out in the Great Flood of 1852. They fled, like other Red River Settlers, to higher ground at Birds Hill (some fled to Stonewall).

Never again, Bunn assured wife, Rachel. He paddled north on the Red River to a location just outside Selkirk. There, in 1862, he rebuilt on the riverbank -- the river was the highway, after all -- and the house has kept his promise ever since.

If only city fathers had been as prescient and built Winnipeg where Selkirk is.

The Bunn House still survives, is one of the oldest houses in Manitoba and has been a bed and breakfast for the last 10 years.

"We're interested in sharing the house with other people because it's part of our collective heritage," said Fraser Stewart, who runs the B & B with wife, Bev, in their retirement.

It's a grand old house and lovingly preserved. The doorways are less than six feet high, proof of evolution, but the ceilings are 10 feet high. Every creaking stair and floorboard seems like a groan from the Bunn family.

Bunn, a well-known farmer, lawyer and politician, was English Métis on both sides. His father was John Bunn, the first physician of the Red River Settlement.

Thomas backed Louis Riel and became a member of Riel's provisional government. He then served on Manitoba's first legislative assembly in 1870 representing St. Clements. (Bunn House is located in the RM of St. Clements.) He died young at age 45.

Another thing you don't get in a hotel room is immersion in that old wood smell of the planked floors and old doors and framing. It's as encompassing as whiffing home baking on a Saturday morning. Then there's the roughed, white plaster walls of another era. The Stewarts have furnished and decorated it in an older style. That includes a heating pan you filled with hot coals and put into the bed for warming, like an electric blanket.

It's 1,120 square feet and as sturdy as the day it was built. The walls are almost a metre thick -- 30 inches -- thanks to the limestone blocks. Back in the day, they painted the exterior with lime whitewash. The Stewarts have kept it that way with white paint.

Samuel Taylor, a mason born in Scotland's Orkney Islands in 1812, built the Bunn House, assisted by Bunn. He helped build Lower Fort Garry earlier and used similar materials and construction: the Georgian style used by the Hudson's Bay Co. and its retirees in the settlement.

"It's like living in the Lower Fort," said Stewart. A photocopy of Taylor's diary, written with quill nib, is on the parlour coffee table for guests to read.

The Bunn House was named a provincial heritage site in 1998, and the province's writeup describes it as a construction usually reserved for institutional or commercial buildings. "Few private individuals could afford the expense."

You can see why Bunn chose the location. The bank on the Red River is 13 metres above the river's high-water mark. The Mapleton ferry ran right next to it, one of four ferries in the area that all connected to churches. This one connected to the St. Clements Anglican Church, the others to St. Peter's Dynevor Church, the Little Britain United Church and the churches in Selkirk.

Wedding parties and family reunions are regular clientele. The Bunn house sleeps six, plus the Stewarts have the Fidler House that sleeps eight. Peter Fidler was a prominent geographer who helped map Western Canada. The Fidler house was moved onto the property years ago.

The Stewarts also get people up for fishing, or people who just like B & Bs, especially the heritage kind. The Stewarts have their own house just up the driveway.

The land was initially purchased by his father in 1944, and is owned today by Stewart and the Burton Fraser family.

Rates start at $100 per couple for the Bunn House, and $15 for each additional guest; and $90 for the Fidler House. More information is available at bedandbreakfast.mb.ca.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 0

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