DR. CJ BIRD

By George Siamandas

© George Siamandas

On Dec 23, 1874, Dr Curtis J Bird, doctor and politician, and, the controversial speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly was tarred and feathered for denying the first bid for the City of Winnipeg's incorporation.

Bird was the first doctor to be born at Red River. Red River's earlier doctors included Dr Bunn, Dr Bedomme and Dr Cowan. Bird was baptised Feb 1, 1838 at Middlechurch, the son of Chief HBC Factor James Curtis Bird, and his second wife Mary Lowman a widowed school teacher at Red River. Bird was educated at St John's College and later studied medicine at Guy's Hospital in London. He came back to Red River in 1862 and in 1866, CJ Bird married Frances, the daughter of HBC Chief Trader Donald Ross, and they had four children. After his first wife's death, Bird married Annabella Ross McDermot, his sister in law, and the widow of Charles McDermot. They had two more children.

BIRD THE POLITICIAN

Bird served on the Council of Assiniboia in 1868. After the council was disbanded during the difficulties at Red River, Bird continued to be a representative of St Paul's and was one of six delegates to negotiate a list of rights. In Manitoba's first election he was elected to the Manitoba legislative Assembly representing St Paul's. Bird also became a member of the first Board of Education.

TARRED AND FEATHERED

Bird served as Speaker of the House during 1873-1874. While speaker in 1873, Bird gave an unpopular ruling during the debate to incorporate the City of Winnipeg. Bird had rejected a bill that proposed to assume part of the taxing powers of the province.

It was thought that he was showing favouritism towards the Hudson Bay Co, which stood to face 1/3 of the future taxation. And further, the proposed name of Winnipeg was changed to Assiniboia. For months, Winnipeg citizens held "indignation meetings" which became a popular form of entertainment. The proponents of incorporation were incensed and on March 7, 1873 Dr Bird was lured from his house on the pretext that a sick man needed immediate attention. While driving his sleigh to the patient's home, Bird was dragged from his sleigh, on North Main, and tarred and feathered. He later showed Archbishop Matheson the ruined Beaver coat he had worn that day. A $1,000 reward was offered but the culprits were never found.

BIRD THE CORONER

Bird was the coroner for Winnipeg's first murder. Bird also owned a drug store and operated the west's first soda fountain. He also advocated an early form of Medicare where affluent citizens donated money for the care of the poor.

AN EARLY DEATH

While on a trip to England with Bishop SP Matheson, Bird contracted pneumonia and died in London in June 13, 1876, at age 38. Matheson tells of nursing Bird for a week in a London dive as he withered away from the disease. Bird had many descendants and the family name became the name of the district, Bird's Hill.

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