Leading Winnipeg's First Chamber of Commerce

by George Siamandas

The Board of Trade was organized in 1873 a time when Winnipeg had 3,000 people and only about 100 commercial buildings. Its first task was to see the town of Winnipeg incorporated as a city. And its second was to see the transportation system improved. This meant going from the Red River cart to railways and eventually the St Andrews Lock project. It took 7 years of lobbying to get the railway built (by 1882). The first head of the Board of Trade was AGB Bannatyne: both a businessman and a community builder.

Andrew Graham Ballenden Bannatyne was born in the Orkney Islands Oct 31, 1829. As both his grandfather and great grandfather had served with the Hudson Bay Co, young Bannatyne also entered the service of the HBC at age 14. When his contract with the HBC ended he was aware of the commercial possibilities of becoming a free trader. In 1851 he became a dry goods merchant much to the chagrin of the HBC. The Guillaume Sayer trial of 1849 had begun the end of the HBC's monopoly in both trading and in political influence. Bannatyne went into partnership with Alexander Begg in 1868 and they were soon the largest retail and wholesale traders in red River with 300 carts carrying 300,000 pounds each.

Bannatyne became a petty judge, postmaster and a councillor of Assiniboia. Later he became a member of Parliament winning Riel's seat by acclamation, after Riel had been outlawed. Bannatyne tried to bridge the gap between the Metis and the whites during the rebellion. His wife Annie was of mixed blood herself and he had great sympathy for the Metis. It was Bannatyne who chaired one of the January 1870 meetings at which Donald Smith tired to present the federal govt's view.

Bannatyne was one of those that Riel arrested when things were not initially going well but was well treated and was soon released becoming the Post master. Bannatyne wrote to Bishop Tache of his recognition that Riel was working for the good of the settlement. And that multiracial unity was the key to Red River's future. This attitude was not popular amongst the whites. Bannatyne was seen as being too much with Riel. Nevertheless the first meeting of the new Legislature met in Bannatyne's house which in 1870 was the finest building in Red River. And once again AGB was appointed postmaster, justice of the peace and a member to the Executive Council of the North West Territories.

Bannatyne was involved in the establishment of the Manitoba Insurance Company in 1871. After 1874 when he sold his dry goods business he became a land speculator just as the railway was about to arrive in Winnipeg in 1881. Considered an honest land agent and a thorough gentlemen, he became very wealthy. At this time he was spending winters in Hot Springs Arizona and left his business affairs in other hands. But he did not see the bust that lay ahead in 1882 Bannatyne lost his entire fortune. In a tone of humour, he remarked that the only thing he did not lose was his planned trip back to Europe.

AGB donated the land for the first Winnipeg general Hospital and was associated with the establishment of the University of Manitoba. AGB died on May 18 1889 and after a large civic funeral he was buried in Kildonan cemetery.


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