Catherine (Kate) McPherson
In 1813, Catherine McPherson and her younger brother John left their home in Northern Scotland with a group of emigrants known as the Selkirk Settlers. They left behind the infamous Highland Clearances for a more promising future in the Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg). After crossing the Atlantic, the settlers landed in Fort Churchill, Hudson’s Bay, where a typhoid outbreak forced them to spend the winter in make-shift dwellings. When the ship’s surgeon died from typhoid, Kate, as she was known, selflessly stepped in to help nurse the sick.
The following spring, the settlers faced a grueling 240-kilometre trek on snowshoes along the Hayes River to York Factory. Throughout the journey, McPherson’s efforts to keep up morale and assist the more vulnerable settlers during the long trek became well known. After another 1,100 kilometres by boat, they finally arrived at the Red River Settlement in the summer of 1814, a full year after leaving Scotland.
In 1815, John McPherson left the colony and his sister for Upper Canada with other settlers who were weary of the ongoing conflict between feuding fur trading companies. Despite being a young unmarried woman on her own in the early 1800s, McPherson held fast to the Red River settlement. She and the remaining settlers would endure severe winters and continual harassment by the Northwest Fur Trading Company and its allies.
In 1817, she married Alexander Sutherland, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, who arrived in 1815 with the last group of Selkirk Settlers. They settled on land at Point Douglas and continued to experience harsh weather, floods and locusts. Still, they refused to leave their Red River home, despite the encouragement of her brothers and sister, who had settled in Upper Canada.
Kate and Alexander had only one child, John, born in 1821. He would go on to participate in the complex politics of the colony as a delegate of the Council of the Assiniboia, The Convention of Forty, Collector of Customs under Louis Riel’s provisional government, the first appointed high sheriff of Manitoba and the first Senator appointed to represent Manitoba in Ottawa. McPherson’s descendants would continue to play prominent roles in the development of the province, well into the 1900s. She has hundreds of living descendants, some who still reside in Manitoba and many others throughout North America.
Catherine McPherson is often referred to as the Florence Nightingale of the Selkirk Settlers. Her tenacity and perseverance as a pioneer woman in the early 1800s has inspired many to this day. She passed away in 1867 and is buried with her husband in the Kildonan Presbyterian Cemetery in Winnipeg, alongside numerous family members.