John Inkster was born in Orkney about 1799. He joined the Hudson’s Bay Company as a stonemason in 1821, but bought out of the service early to settle at Red River. On 20 Jan 1826 he married Mary Sinclair, daughter of William Sinclair (6443) and Margaret (Nahovway) Norton. They first settled on the east side of the Red River. They later moved to the west side of the river, onto land owned by John’s uncle James Inkster.(1) In the late 1830s or early 40s, John purchased a lot adjoining his uncle’s land. (2) This lot was not far from the seven oak trees which marked the site of the 1816 Battle of Seven Oaks, and the house which Inkster constructed there in the 1850s was named Seven Oaks. John and Mary had a family of eleven children.
Inkster, known as “Orkney Johnny”, set up as a free trader and merchant, importing goods from England via Hudson Bay and through St. Paul, Minnesota, by Red River cart. He served as Justice of the Peace, Magistrate, and Councillor of Assiniboia. He was an Anglican, and served as rector’s warden of St. John’s. Inkster died in 1874 and his wife died in 1892. They are both buried in the churchyard of St. John’s Cathedral, Winnipeg.
In 1851, Inkster himself laid the stone foundation for a large family home, which was named Seven Oaks House. As a result of the flood of 1852, the house was not completed until 1853. It consisted of two storeys and nine rooms and was built of squared oak logs floated down from Baie Saint-Paul, Manitoba. The home was continuously lived in by the Inkster family until 1912 when it was deeded to the City of Winnipeg. The house was used only occasionally in the ensuing years and in the 1950s the City of West Kildonan became the owner. Restoration work was done on the house and in 1958 it was opened as a museum. The house is now the property of the City of Winnipeg and is designated as a Historic Site.
Bleak House, the home of long-time sheriff Colin Inkster, son of John and Mary, was erected in 1874 in the Red River frame style of construction. The house was originally situated on a large lot, but the family gradually sold their land, eventually leaving 6½ acres of grass and trees around the house. The last member of the Inkster family to live in the house was Colin’s daughter Sybil, who died in 1973. The house is now used as a drop-in facility for senior citizens.
(1) This lot roughly corresponds to #10 of Peter Fidler’s first survey and was originally occupied by Alexander Sutherland (4847), son of William Sutherland (4845).
(2) This lot was #11 of Fidler’s survey and was originally occupied by William Sutherland (4845). Sutherland died in 1838 and the land was sold by his heirs to Andrew McDermot who transferred it to John Inkster.