Our history: Thomas Bunn House

River Lot 97, Bunn’s Road, RM of St. Clements

Begun in 1862, the former Thomas Bunn House is likely the oldest continuously occupied dwelling in all of Manitoba and one of its oldest surviving stone structures.

It is also a superb example of a modest-size “Georgian-style” house, popular at the time in Scotland and England, where the Hudson’s Bay Company “servants,” including its carpenters and masons, originated and learned their craft.

Thomas Bunn was an early pioneer of St. Clements who devoted much of his life to shaping the development of this part of the Red River Settlement. His father, Dr. John Bunn, was a chief factor with the Hudson’s Bay Company and also a surgeon, who retired to Red River in 1824. His mother was of mixed-blood ancestry.

Young Tom was educated at the Red River Academy, became a member of the Church of England and a Freemason and was well respected in both the Aboriginal community and English “society” at Red River. He became clerk of the HBC’s Council of Assiniboia, which governed the settlement, in 1865 and a full council member in 1868.

In 1869 during the anxious days of Red River Resistance, Tom was elected to represent St. Clements on Louis Riel’s provisional government, served as secretary of state and helped negotiate the terms of Manitoba’s entry into Canadian Confederation. In 1870, he was elected to Manitoba’s first legislative assembly, studied law and was called to the bar in 1871. He died in 1875.

In the aftermath of the “Great Flood of 1852,” Thomas promised his wife he would build a house that would be safe from future flooding. In 1861, he located and purchased a parcel of land on a high riverbank near the east landing of the Mapleton river ferry, opposite St. Clements Anglican Church.

The building site was 13 metres (40 ft.) above the normal spring high-water mark, and had never flooded.

Thomas then hired former HBC mason Samuel Taylor (whose work at Red River also included Lower Fort Garry and St. Clements church) to build a substantial stone home for the family.

The home was finally completed in August 1864. It was given the name “Victoria Cottage” after Queen Victoria, the new reigning monarch.

The house measures nine metres (28 ft.) by 13 metres (40 ft.), with stone limestone rubble walls one metre thick and set three metres into the ground. The limestone used in its construction was quarried from the banks of the river and gathered from local fields. A mixture of sand and homemade lime was used to make mortar.

Taylor wrote of the many nights during the winters of 1862 and 1863 that he tended to the fire in Mr. Bunn’s lime kiln — built specifically to produce lime needed for the mortar and for whitewashing the finished walls. The building’s rafters were constructed of large squared timbers fastened at the peak with wooden dowels. The main floor possesses three rooms, a parlour, a kitchen and a dining room. The upper storey possesses four bedrooms and is lighted by five dormer windows.

Victoria Cottage was a well-known and highly visible local landmark, as the approach road to the river passed close by as it descended the riverbank to the Mapleton ferry landing. In 1936, the house was sold to George Montague, a Winnipeg businessman who recognized the historical value of the house and spent considerable effort in renovation, installing modern conveniences yet carefully retaining the historical nature of the house.

In 1944, the house was purchased by Dr. C.B. Stewart of Winnipeg who initially used the property as a summer residence. With later improvements of facilities and with the addition of a purebred Polled Hereford herd of beef cattle, the family operated a full-scale farm, Victoria Dale Farm. The farm operations are currently on a reduced scale.

Additional information is available online at: www.gov.mb.ca/chc/hrb/prov/p069 or www.redriverancestry.ca/bunn-thomas-1830.php or www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/bunn_t.

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