James Fraser was born about 1788 in Avoch, county of Ross and Cromarty, Scotland. He came to Rupert’s Land in 1816, a passenger on the Prince of Wales.(1) He and 18 men had boarded a small vessel at Inverness and sailed to Stromness in Orkney where they joined other Hudson’s Bay Company servants embarking on the Prince. It is possible that Fraser was recruited as a servant for the proposed farm at Red River, but the passenger roster does not indicate this; it simply lists him as a labourer. Upon the ship’s arrival at York Factory, her passengers would have received the news that the settlement was destroyed and most of the settlers were wintering at Winipic Settlement or Jack River House at the north end of Lake Winnipeg.
The HBC records show that in 1816 Fraser was employed in the Edmonton district and that by 1817 he was in the East Winnipic (2) District. The ledger does not specify that he was working at Hayfield Farm at the Selkirk Settlement, but other correspondence shows that to be the case. Land for the farm was chosen by Lord Selkirk in 1817 and William Laidlaw had been engaged as manager. A letter written by Laidlaw to Lord Selkirk in 1818 noted that Fraser had married and wished to become a settler the following spring. Hayfield Farm was a problematic enterprise, and Laidlaw left for the USA in 1821. The running of the farm was taken over by George McRae and in 1823 the farm experiment came to an end. It seems that Fraser continued to be employed at the farm in some capacity until 1823 as a letter written in 1823 by Alexander McDonell contained the information that the wives of James Fraser and Robert Shields were living at the farm.
St. John’s Cathedral marriage registers record that James Fraser and Ann Bannerman were married by HBC chaplain John West on 19 December 1822. They had previously been married by contract on 18 January 1818. Ann was the daughter of William and Barbara Bannerman, colonists of 1815. William Kempt’s land survey of 1822-23 shows that Fraser settled on lot #102 on the west side of the Red River, which corresponds roughly to lot #16 of Fidler’s original survey. The Frasers had eight children.
In 1851, with the arrival of a Presbyterian minister at the settlement, James was chosen by ballot as one of six elders for the new Kildonan Church. Ann died on 29 August 1854, just after the new church was opened, and was buried in St. John’s Cathedral churchyard, Winnipeg. James died in early February 1862, and was buried beside her. The Kildonan Presbyterian Church burial register gave his age as 73½ years.
The home that Fraser built in 1830 has been preserved and moved to Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, St. Andrews, Manitoba.
(1) HBCA C.1/785 passenger list of the Prince of Wales outward bound 1816.
(2) Various spellings. East Winnipic District included Red River.