Donald Gunn was born in Halkirk, Caithness, Scotland, in 1797. He joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1813 (1) and was employed for ten years in the Severn District. In 1819 at York Factory, he married Margaret Swain, daughter of James Swain Sr, an HBC Trader at York Factory, and a native woman. In 1823 the Gunns, with five other HBC retirees, settled near the rapids (2) on the Red River, in the area they named Little Britain. Donald and Margaret had 12 children.
He was a founder and elder of Little Britain Presbyterian Church, established in 1852. For 18 years he was in charge of the parish school and was made custodian of the library he had begun in his home. He was a correspondent and contributing member to the Smithsonian Institute. At his death the Institute wrote that Gunn was “one of the earliest of its meteorological observers, who for more than twenty years was a contributor of information and collections relating to the natural history of the North-West”. A magistrate, and President of Petty Sessions in the district, he became Police Magistrate, Justice of the Peace for the province, Postmaster, and Inspector of Fisheries. He was a member of the Upper House, 1871-75, in Manitoba’s first legislature. He was the author, with Charles R. Tuttle, of History of Manitoba.
Margaret died in 1870 and Donald in 1878.
(1) HBCA C.1/298: passenger list of the Eddystone, outward bound 1813
(2) Originally named Sault a la Biche (Deer Rapids) by French explorers and later known as St. Andrew’s Rapids. The bridge and locks at Lockport (completed in 1910), submerged the rapids.