Filing Cabinet: Notes pertaining to Norton Question

Transcript, newspaper clipping, [presumably from a Winnipeg newspaper, no date] from the autograph album of Nina Cameron Graham:


“Canadian History is Exciting Says New Park Superintendent,” by Edith Paterson

A grade 5 student who decided to write her own history of Canada has grown up to become custodian of one of the Canadian west’s most important historical sites.

When Barbara Johnstone began to learn Canadian history in a Winnipeg school, she became indignant because she felt the story of the west had not been presented in its true colors. The stories in history books did not jibe with the tales that had been handed down by word of mouth in her own family, that for generations had been creating that history.

Although she never completed the book, the program of research into old manuscripts and archives which she began at that time and which has occupied almost every available hour of her time since, led to her appointment last week as superintendent of the national historic park at Lower Fort Garry.

Meal-Time Research

The grade 5 student read all the books she could find relating to the subject and started research into old manuscripts. Growing up she became a library assistant and spent meal-times delving further into stories of the early days, all the more interesting because of her own ancestors. And she became an enthusiastic member of the Manitoba Historical Society.

After serving in the women’s division of the RCAF, during the Second World War, she returned to library work, then was custodian, later curator, of the museum of the Hudson’s Bay Company Store, a historical collection of articles of fur trading days and Indian and Eskimo material.

She has written articles for the Beaver and other publications, one of which was completed only after she spent ten years verifying the facts.

Unfair Treatment

Miss Johnstone feels the Indian was not given fair treatment by historians, and by people who point derisively at the commonly accepted picture of the Indian walking first, with his burdened squaw plodding behind.

“Just as the white man walks next to the curb to protect his wife from danger from the road, so the Indian walked first along the narrow forest trails because he was the scout and hunter,” said Miss Johnstone in an interview Wednesday. “The Indian was chivalrous and had a code of behavior and laws which were strictly adhered to,” she emphasized.

She quoted as an example the fact that after the killing of the buffalo, the first people allowed to take meat were the widows, orphans and old people who were given the choicest cuts.

The first and second-born sons were given to the paternal and maternal grandparents, she related, to grow up to comfort and care for them in their old age.

No Princesses

She also termed “nonsense” the stories of white men marrying Indian princesses. “There were no Indian princesses,” she stated flatly. The white man usually was given the daughter of the chief as a wife, and he needed the help she could give in the hard struggle for survival which was the lot of the early explorers and fur-traders. “The clothes he brought from the old country soon wore out and needed to be replaced with others made from skins, and he needed someone to preserve the food as well as prepare it, which the Indian women had been trained to do.”

The marriages often were not performed by clergy in the early days, but were usually recorded and faithfully adhered to, she said.

Miss Johnstone is a direct descendant of Governor Richard Norton who started to build Fort Prince of Wales (near the present Fort Churchill) for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early 1730s. His son, Moses Norton, also became governor of the fort and after his death was succeeded by Samuel Hearne. When the French raided and practically destroyed the fort in 1872 [sic], Hearne and other important prisoners were carried away aboard ship, but the widow and two-year-old daughter of Moses Norton were among those abandoned amid the ruins of the fort.

Long Journey

With other refugees they made their way over the long hard route to the safety of Fort York. Frail little Margaret Norton became known as Nahowayo, an Indian name meaning “voice like an echo,” so weak had she become.

However, Margaret Nahowayo, who is buried in St. John’s Cathedral cemetery, grew up to become the wife of Chief Factor William Sinclair “inland governor of west Winnipic” which included Fort Alexander, Brandon House and Cumberland House. Margaret and William are the great-great-great grandparents of Miss Johnstone.

The relationship came down on her mother’s side, and her grandfather Isaac Cowie, who married into the historic family, was a junior chief trader for the company and wrote The Company of Adventurers, a story of the early fur traders.

Miss Johnstone’s paternal grandfather, Dr. R.C. Johnstone was head of the reference department of the William Avenue library.

Steeped in the lore of the country, Miss Johnstone is full of enthusiasm for her new position as superintendent of the park and curator of the museum which will house the collection of which she was in charge in Hudson’s Bay Store. The company, which gave the fort to the people of Canada in 1951, has loaned the articles.

The fort, with its red roofs rising above the river, was built in 1832 as a residence for Governor Sir George Simpson, and as a trading post. Occupied continuously, it was a centre of commerce in the north until 1911 and since has been headquarters of the Motor Country Club. It is the only fur trading fort that has survived intact.

Miss Johnstone, whose eyes sparkle when speaking of her new work, feels it is too early to discuss plans for the park.

“A thorough research job will have to be undertaken before any restoration plans are undertaken,” she said, “but it’s tremendously exciting.”

And not the least interested of visitors to the historic site will be the many young people who as youngsters were fascinated members of the Children’s Historical Society she founded and conducted when curator at the store museum.


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