Anne Bannatyne was one of the Metis “First Ladies” of the Red River. She was born around 1830 at Fort Garry, to Andrew McDermot and Sarah McNab, the fifth daughter of nine girls and six boys who survived infancy. Her father was born in 1791 in Ireland; her mother Sarah was the daughter of Thomas McNab and a Saulteau woman. Bannatyne married prominent businessman A.G.B. Bannatyne.
Highly educated, she became a leading force in early philanthropy at Red River. Her Ladies’ Association did extensive fundraising for causes such as the Winnipeg General Hospital, built on land donated by her father and husband (now the Health Sciences Centre), which she was instrumental in establishing. The Ladies’ Association evolved into the Women’s Hospital Aid Society, which helped to raise money and donations of goods for many years.
Although Bannatyne was involved in many charitable causes, what is remembered most about her was her horse-whipping of Charles Mair, an anti-Metis member of the Canada First Party, a bigot and rabblerouser in the Red River Settlement. Mair had written a letter, published in the Toronto Globe, making disparaging remarks about “half-breed” women and Red River society. Bannatyne read the letter and vowed to herself to humiliate the man.
She accomplished this in a spectacular fashion. As Father George Dugas, a St. Boniface priest, described it: “She ordered the clerk of (her husband’s) store, where the post office was located, to come and warn her when Mair arrived to collect his letters and newspapers, as he did every Saturday. Therefore, one Saturday, at four in the afternoon, while the store was full of people, Daniel Mullegan, the clerk, having seen Mair’s arrival, ran to tell Mrs. Bannatyne. She burst into the post office, holding a large whip in her hand. Without hesitating, she advanced on Mair, seized his nose between her fingers and gives him five or six strokes of the whip on different parts of his body: “Look,” she said, “this is how the women of Red River treat those who insult them. The scene lasted for only half a minute, but by evening, the incident was known all across the countryside.”
There is much speculation on how much Bannatyne’s assault on Mair, the arrogant Canadian, became a symbolic catalyst for Louis Riel. On February 25, 1869, Le Nouveau Monde printed a letter from a “half-breed” signed “L.R.” Riel takes Mair to task for his observances on Red River life and especially its women: “You speak of a great many things that you have not had time to see or know; that would be worth as much as the remainder of your letter; as much as the scarcely courteous terms, I will even say barely civilized, which you use in speaking of the ladies of the country…”
Photograph. Mrs. Bannatyne, Montreal, QC, 1882. Notman & Sandham. August 31, 1882. © McCord Museum.