A wisp of dirt tumbles to the ground as Richard Graydon slaps his right palm against a smooth, oblong grey Tyndall stone brick that forms the foundation of a former historic home in a windswept field in Old Kildonan.
That stone and numerous others like it, all of which were likely quarried from a pit near the town of Garson, were used in the construction of Murray House.
It was the home of Donald Murray, who was born in Kildonan, Sutherlandshire, Scotland in 1801 and came to Canada with the fourth party of Selkirk Settlers, which numbered 100 people, in 1815.
Murray eventually settled on Frog Plain (Seven Oaks), writes historian Bruce Cherney, editor of the Winnipeg Real Estate News, in his article, "Extraordinary affair at Pembina."
After the original Murray house was demolished, the bricks were used to build the home (some 25 to 30 metres southeast) of Murray’s son, Donald Murray Jr., which is where the stones still lie.
A room in the original Murray home was where Manitoba College was founded by the Presbyterian Church in 1871, notes Graydon, a retired school teacher and principal.
"Manitoba College was a college that existed in Winnipeg... from 1871 to 1967, when it became one of the University of Winnipeg’s founding colleges," according to one online report.
"It was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba. The first graduating class had 12 members."
Graydon, a past chair of the board of regents of the U of W, was first informed of the significance of the Murray site during a walk in the area a few years ago with his former neighbour and longtime friend, Marlene Mouser, a great granddaughter of Donald Murray Jr.
Following his discovery, Graydon spoke with a building supervisor at the downtown university.
"I said to him, ‘I think I know where some of the original stones from Manitoba College are,’ " he said. "He came out and I showed the site to him."
An agreement was then drawn up between the property’s owner and the university.
"It stated that if the property was to change hands or be developed (which it will be), the stones would revert to the U of W for its use," Graydon explained.
Sometime this fall the university will be sending out a team of professionals to assess and remove the stones.
"We’re looking at three or four options for their use," said U of W president and vice-chancellor Lloyd Axworthy during a telephone interview, mentioning that one of the potential uses is in the construction of the university’s new $40 million health and recreation complex.
"We’re quite excited about it — to see some of your history restored in such a way."
The past lives.
Martin Zeilig is a Garden City-based writer.
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