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Point Douglas gem offers glimpse of pioneer life

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Ross House was the home of William Ross, the first postmaster appointed by the Council of Assiniboia in 1855.

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Ross House was the home of William Ross, the first postmaster appointed by the Council of Assiniboia in 1855. Photo Store

In the days before automobiles, the railway, telephones and now emails, the only form of long-distance communication available to the early settlers was the mail.

Even that was not reliable, for mail was often moved via the Hudson’s Bay Company and it was not unusual for mail from England, for example, to be at least six months old upon arrival.
In February of 1855, Ross House was designated as the first post office at Red River and, marvelously, it can still be seen today at its present location in Joe Zuken Heritage Park in Point Douglas.

"It is a small historic house museum and a gem in Winnipeg’s history," says Jennifer Bisch, chief program officer and curator of Dalnavert and Ross House museums.

Bisch adds that it is "one of the last remaining architectural examples of Red River frame construction left in Winnipeg."

William Ross was chosen to be the first postmaster in 1855 by the Council of Assiniboia. He first operated the post office from his home which he built, originally, on the banks of the Red River, where Market Avenue is now.

The son of historian and fur trader Alexander Ross, William married Jemima McKenzie in 1844 and together they raised a family, living in the tiny log structure until 1856.

"William Ross was a person of high standing in the Red River Settlement," says Bisch, "holding positions of councillor to Assiniboia, magistrate, keeper of the jail and postmaster".

It is this last role, she says, that is highlighted at the museum. With the establishment of Ross House as the first non-HBC post office, monthly mail service began between Red River and Pembina, North Dakota. Mail took roughly three to four weeks to reach its destination and cost one penny to send from Canada.

Although it was considered to be a fine home in the 1850s and reflected Ross’s prominence in the settlement, he did not live in the house for very long, as he died in 1856, within two years of completing it.

Jemima Ross and their children lived on in the home. She remarried some years later, wedding William Coldwell, who joined with William Buckingham to publish the very first newspaper in Red River, The Nor’Wester.

"At the museum, we interpret William and Jemima’s histories as part of the history behind the Ross and Coldwell families," says Bisch.

The museum also offers a glimpse into the way of life at the Red River Settlement during the 1850’.

Owned by the city and operated by the Manitoba Historical Society, the museum is open for tours Wednesdays to Sundays from June 1 to Aug. 31.

Check out the Ross House facebook page or the MHS webpage, www.mhs.mb.ca/news/events.shtml for upcoming events.

Cheryl Girard is a community correspondent for West Kildonan. You can contact her at girard.cheryl@gmail.com.

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