James Bird was born ca 1773 in Acton, Middlesex, England, and joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1788 as a writer at York Factory. He served at various posts in the Northwest, eventually attaining the rank of Chief Factor. He was appointed to Governor Semple’s council in 1815, and served as acting governor 1817-1818. He was given charge of the Lower Red River district 1821-1822, and was appointed to the council of the HBC Northern Department in 1822. He spent a year on furlough, and was then in charge of the Upper Red River district 1823-1824. He retired in 1824 and chose to remain in Red River, where he was one of the principal settlers. He served from 1835 to 1845 as receiver of import and export duties and justice of the peace. He was appointed councillor of Assiniboia in 1839 and held this position until shortly before his death. His years of service with the HBC entitled him to a large grant of land at the settlement. Reports vary as to the amount of land Bird received, but it seems to have been 1000 acres on the east side of the Red River opposite Image Plain. Present-day Bird’s Hill, northeast of Winnipeg, is on or near his original property. Bird’s residence was known as White Cottage and his wealth and property gave him a position of prestige in the community.
Bird probably had more than one First Nations wife whose names were not recorded. He is reputed to have had eighteen children. He came to Red River with his country wife Elizabeth, and they were married at the settlement on 30 March 1821 by the Rev. John West. A number of his adult children and their families were among two large groups of Red River people who left to settle in the Columbia District in 1841 and 1854 under the leadership of James Sinclair.
Bird’s wife Elizabeth died in October 1834 and he married Mrs. Mary Lowman on 22 January 1835. Mrs. Lowman was an English widow who had come to teach at the Red River Academy. She and James had three children; their son, Curtis James, studied medicine in London, England, and practised at Red River. James Sr. died at his home on 18 October 1856 and was buried in St. Andrew’s cemetery.