Alexander Ross was born in the parish of Dyke on the Moray coast, Scotland, in 1783, the son of Alexander Ross and Isabella Watson. He came to Canada in 1804 via Quebec, where he obtained employment as a schoolteacher. In 1805 he moved to Glengarry, Upper Canada, where he taught school until 1810, when he joined the Pacific Fur Company. He travelled on the Tonquin to the mouth of the Columbia River by way of Cape Horn. He was placed in charge of a small trading point at the junction of the Columbia and Okanogan Rivers (1) where he remained for the next few years. During this time, he took an Okanogan woman as his “country wife”. (2) In 1813 he joined the North West Company when it took over Pacific Fur.
In 1825, four years after the NWC merged with the HBC, Ross left the fur trade to settle at Red River. He journeyed to the settlement with his eldest son and took up a grant of 100 acres of land near the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. In 1826 he was joined by his wife and four more children. Due to the flooding of the Red River, the family spent the winter at Pembina. In 1827 they returned to the colony, where they were formally married by the HBC chaplain in December 1828. Seven more children were born to this couple at the settlement. Their residence, known as Colony Gardens, included the site of Winnipeg’s present City Hall.
Ross became a leading figure at the settlement. He held a number of public offices including that of magistrate. He was a member of the Council of Assiniboia from 1835 to 1850, and was appointed Sheriff of Assiniboia in 1839. He had led the struggle for a Presbyterian Church in the settlement and in 1851 he was chosen as leading elder of the new Kildonan Presbyterian Church.
Ross had three books published: Adventures on the Columbia, published in 1849, which documented his voyage to the Columbia in 1810–11 and his years in the employ of the PFC; The Fur Hunters of the Far West, published in 1855, which covered his years with the NWC and the HBC up to 1825; The Red River Settlement: its rise, progress, and present state appeared in 1856.
Alexander died 23 October 1856, and Sally in 1884. They are both buried in Kildonan Presbyterian Churchyard.
Ross’s son William was the first postmaster at Red River and the post office was operated from his home. The house has been preserved as Ross House Museum.
(1) This area is now in Washington State, USA.
(2) Ross always referred to his wife as ‘Sally’ and in written documents of the time she was called Sally or Mrs. Ross. A genealogist researching the Ross family has suggested that her Indian name was Twe-whee-min-wiwh Timentwa. This may be correct, but the information is based solely upon interviews with native families who claimed a relationship with Alexander Ross.