The Ross House Museum is bringing awareness to the injustice that Jemima Mackenzie Ross Coldwell faced in Winnipeg during the late 1800's.
On September 1, the City of Winnipeg and Red River College Polytech announced an honourary renaming of a portion of Elgin Avenue in the Exchange District to Jemima Way.
"I think it's really great," says Ross House Museum Board Chair, Sandy Klowak. "It's basically the portion that was given an honorary renaming of Jemima Way is the portion near the Elgin Plaza, which is the new Plaza that Red River College has just launched near their new building. It's a really nice first step in honouring Jemima and I think it's a really important step in reconciliation."
The Ross House Museum is one of Winnipeg's oldest original homes which has been turned into a museum with a board of members. The museum hosts tours of the building during the summer, and with fall approaching, it hosted its last tour of the season recently.
Ross House is located now located in Point Douglas but it originally resided in what is now Winnipeg's Exchange district near Waterfront Boulevard. The house was built in 1854 and was the first post office in western Canada, meaning before it was built, people relied on the Hudson's Bay Company to deliver all mail by ship.
"Jemima Ross was a woman of Scottish Métis descent who was a prominent member of the Ross family, marrying William Ross. They ran the post office together and especially, she continued to run it after his fairly early death of ill in 1856," says Klowak. "Several years later, when the City of Winnipeg was being built, she donated, along with her family, donated her land to the city of Winnipeg for perpetual public use, and it's known as the Market Lands now, so it's where the Public Safety building was that they're redeveloping. It's always meant to be for public use and it was from the river right up to Mcphillips and that's why she had a street named after her originally in the early day of Winnipeg."
In a Facebook post, Ross House Museum states that in 1891 the City attempted to change all street names to numbers, but when the decision faced backlash from the public they reverted the street names back, except for some duplicates. However, Jemima Street was not changed back during that time.
- Rooster Town: The forgotten history of a Métis community bulldozed by the government
- Corrections Museum of Manitoba digs for history in Portage
- ON THIS DATE IN 1907: 'One of Manitoba's Worst Storms'
"So, two years later they decided, okay, we're changing them back, but we're going to tweak a few because there were a few duplicates. A lot of these streets were named after the families who had owned the land, including many, many of the Ross family members, including William Jemima's husband, her brother-in-law James, and her father-in-law, Alexander, those streets are all still there."
While researching the event, Klowak and the curator of Ross House and Seven Oaks House, Eric Napier Strong, discovered that a petition was created by someone in the neighbourhood saying that Jemima's name was unfavourable and unsatisfactory.
The Winnipeg Free Press Archives provided Klowak and Strong with a direct quote about the situation.
“The name Jemima which has been so offensive to the refined tastes of a considerable number of citizens has been changed to Elgin.”
Klowak says that this is all they know about the situation and it leaves lots of room for speculation, however, it is an important part of Winnipeg's history.
"I think always we need to go back to our roots and understand what we came from and the fact that Winnipeg is such a young city and just 150 years ago was all just farms and before that, we had so many Indigenous people living here for so long and all that history and all of that context, it's really cool that a lot of it is, kept in our street names. There are a lot of Métis family names like McDermott and Ross, etc, and it's really important to remember where we came from and how we were founded and all those different people that contribute to that."