By George Siamandas


This was at the time that the Red River settlement called Fort Garry, was changing from a fur trade centre run by the Hudson Bay Co, to an agricultural and commercial centre that wanted to run its own civic affairs. Transportation was still by river up from the US. No railway yet was connecting to eastern Canada. Private traders like AG Bannatyne in Point Douglas started to compete with the Hudson Bay Co. In 1870 the population was 100, a year later 215, and by 1874 3,700. It was a place clearly poised for growth. The traders wanted to have their own government and petitioned for incorporation. It took years to become a city, and the Hudson Bay Co was suspected of having delayed provincial approval till late 1873.


The first civic election was held on January 5, 1874. The two contestants were Frances Cornish and William Luxton. Cornish was a lawyer who had come to Winnipeg in 1872 at age 41. Luxton was 28, and the editor of the Manitoba Free Press, but he had also been Winnipeg's first public school teacher. When they counted the ballots they realized they had a problem. Cornish had gathered 383 of a possible 388 registered voters. Meanwhile Luxton had 179. At the time, one had to own property to vote, and some property owners had voted several times. A recount upheld Cornish as the winner but his reputation had been tarnished. Cornish served only one year.

The first meeting of city hall was held on January 19, at noon 1874 at a new building at the south west corner of Portage and Main where the 33 storey Toronto Dominion Bank now stands. Eight councillors from four wards were also elected and the new council immediately established committees for Finance, Property Assessment, and fire and police. They adopted Parliamentary procedures and the system of three readings for the passing of by-laws. The by-laws ran 40 pages. The same system continues today.


Major civic expenditures by that council included $8,246 on wooden sidewalks, $3,204 on roads, and $321 on bridges. And when the taxes were collected it was immediately apparent why the Hudson Bay Co had opposed incorporation. They paid most of the taxes. And liquor taxes paid the rest. In the following year, 1875, the city obtained taxpayer approval for $250,000 in spending for sewers, fire equipment, water works, civic buildings and streets. And on a political level, council helped ensure that the coming CPR Railway went through Winnipeg, and not Selkirk as had been earlier planned. Becoming the gateway to the west, the Chicago of the north, was the vision of those that ran Winnipeg in the early years.


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