Seven months ago I moved into a condo on Bannatyne Avenue in Winnipeg. Today while I was reading an essay by Ed Rea about Winnipeg called Prairie Metropolis: A Personal View I came across the name A.G.Bannatyne.
I knew Bannatyne Avenue had been made famous by the Winnipeg singing sensation The Guess Who when they named their second album So Long Bannatyne. The record has a song on it called So Long Bannatyne.
But could Bannatyne Avenue also be named after someone who had been important to the history of Winnipeg?A.G. Bannatyne aka Andrew Graham Bannatyne who was born in the Orkney Islands in 1829 and began working for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Norway House in 1846.
In 1850 Andrew fell in love with this young woman named Annie McDermot, one of 15 children of Andrew McDermot and Sarah McNab. Annie was highly educated. Her Dad was a wealthy Red River merchant. Unfortunately the Hudson’s Bay Company did not look kindly on its junior clerks getting married so in order to wed the fair Annie, Andrew had to quit his job.
Andrew decided to start a merchant firm in Red River with a partner and soon it was a large and flourishing business. The Hudson’s Bay Company must have been a little upset with Andrew for leaving them since they accused him of illegal trading in 1847. Apparently he weathered that storm nicely because he was appointed a Red River magistrate in 1861.
In 1868 when Louis Riel led a rebellion against the government of Canada and set up his own provisional government in Manitoba, Andrew Bannatyne tried to serve as a mediator between the two warring factions. This didn’t necessarily make him very popular. However despite this he was appointed the first postmaster of Winnipeg in 1871 and helped to found the first Free Masons lodge in the province of Manitoba.
By now he and Annie had three children. Annie had given birth ten times but seven children had died. Annie was not only devoted to her family but gave lots of her time to various Winnipeg charities, in particular the Winnipeg General Hospital which the two Andrews in her life–her father and husband, had helped to found at her request and with her encouragement. Annie is known as one of Winnipeg’s first philanthropists. Annie, a Metis, was outspoken and opinionated. She was incensed when a Winnipeg writer named Charles Mair wrote an article for the Toronto Globe in which he made derogatory comments about the women of mixed blood in the Red River Settlement.
Annie knew that Mair came into her husband’s store every Saturday to collect his mail and she told the store clerk that as soon as Mair arrived she wanted to know. The clerk dutifully informed Annie of Mair’s arrival and she burst into the store brandishing a horse whip. Grabbing Mair by the nose she gave him a half-dozen licks with the whip and shouted, “That’s how the women of Red River treat those who insult them.” Mair to his credit did not retaliate and left the store in humiliation. Luckily a priest named George Dugas was in the store at the time and wrote about the debacle he had witnessed in his journal. Later Louis Riel would write a humourous poem about the encounter between Mr. Mair and Mrs. Bannatyne.
During the 1870’s Andrew Bannatyne did several noteworthy things that might have merited naming a street after him. He helped found the Winnipeg Board of Trade and the Manitoba Historical Society. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1875 and……….he played in Winnipeg’s first ever curling match in December of 1876.
Unfortunately Andrew Bannatyne’s business did not fair well in the 1880’s and he lost all his wealth and land. He retired from politics in 1878 and died in 1889.
They say that Bannatyne Avenue was named after Andrew Bannatyne but I’d like to think it was named after his wife Annie too. Her feisty compassionate personality makes her every bit as colorful a historical figure as her husband.