Red River's Historian
By George Siamandas
Ross was born in Scotland on his father's farm in Layhill on May 9, 1783. In 1804 he set sail for North America and arrived in Quebec City to become a schoolteacher. The next year he moved to Glengarry, Ontario to continue teaching. Ross was not interested in being either a schoolteacher or a farmer. He had come to make his fortune in the fur trade. In 1810 he joined the Pacific Fur Co and set sail taking the long route around South America aboard the Tonquin. He was abandoned at the Falkland Islands by a mean ship captain who was forced at gunpoint to retrieve him. After a voyage of almost a year they arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River and established Fort Astoria. Ross had a successful career in the Pacific Northwest being responsible for a series of forts.
A CIVILIZED CITIZEN OF RED RIVER
After the merger of the NWC and HBC, Ross finally settled at Red River in 1825. He became a permanent resident of the settlement establishing himself in a 100-acre land grant comprising what is Point Douglas today. Ross was finding himself in increasing difficulty with Gov George Simpson who saw Ross setting himself as a bad example as a petty trader. But despite his unpopularity with Simpson, Ross's skills made him a prominent man. In 1835 Ross became sheriff. In 1836 he became a councillor in the Council of Assiniboia. In 1837 he became magistrate. Ross continued to not enforce the HBC laws on its fur trade monopoly. And later in 1843 he became governor of the new jail. Ross continued support for the Metis right to trade furs, which made him very popular in the Metis community.
LIFE AT COLONY GARDENS
Ross and his aboriginal wife Sally raised at least 13 children. Ross pressed his children to do well. Son William became sheriff, governor of the jail, a councillor and postmaster. Son James became a journalist and lawyer and came back to Red River in 1870 to help represent the English. Both died at young ages. The daughters married prominent men weaving their roots into early Red River society. Henrietta married the Rev John Black while Mary married Minister George Flett. Henrietta's marriage to Black caused quite a stir in the colony. Jemima married William Caldwell founder of the first newspaper, the Nor'Wester.
ROSS THE WRITER
From his beautiful Colony Gardens, Ross became the Northwest's most prolific writer prior to 1870. His first book "Adventures on the Columbia" published in 1849 told of his 1810-1811 voyage to Columbia. His second book in 1855 was "The Fur Hunters of the Far West."
Just before his death, Ross wrote a book called "The Red River Settlement." Here he chronicled the life and times of the period from 1825 to 1856, including the 1826 flood and just about everything else that happened at Red River. He thought that the Red River settlement, as isolated as it was, had a kind of destiny. A kind of a civilized nucleus in the wilderness whose primary purpose was to bring civilization and God to the heathens. The book, which runs 400 pages, paints a vivid picture of the buffalo hunt, aboriginal characteristics and attitudes, HBC politics, experimental farms, and daily life.
Ross became tirelessly devoted to his community, his church, and to the upbringing of his mixed blood children. He died Oct 23, 1856 at his home on the Red River.