BIRD, CURTIS JAMES, doctor and legislator; baptized 1 Feb. 1838, in St John’s parish, Man.; d. in London, England, 13 June 1876.
Curtis James Bird was the son of James Curtis Bird*, former chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and his second wife, Mary Lowman, a widowed teacher at the Red River Academy (Winnipeg), and was born at his father’s estate (present-day Birds Hill). Curtis James was educated at St John’s College (Winnipeg) and later studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital, London. He returned to the Red River to practise medicine and in 1862 married Frances, a daughter of Donald Ross who had been a chief trader in the HBC. By Frances, Dr Bird had four children. After her death, he married his sister-in-law, Annabella Ross McDermot, the widow of Charles Edward McDermot, and they had two children.
Following the death of Dr John Bunn* on 31 May 1861, Dr Bird served as coroner of the District of Assiniboia; at the meeting of the Council of Assiniboia, 8 and 11 April 1862, he received formal appointment as coroner. He held this position successively under the Council of Assiniboia, Louis Riel*’s provisional government, and the province of Manitoba. At one point during the period of the provisional government, concerned over the loss of life among the poor in the Red River Settlement, he proposed a crude medicare programme whereby two publicly supported surgeries would be established in the settlement.
Dr Bird’s political career began with his appointment to the Council of Assiniboia, 23 Jan. 1868. He served on the council until its dissolution at the outbreak of the Red River disturbances in the fall of 1868. During the disturbances he was elected twice to represent the people of St Paul’s parish. In the fall of 1869 he was chosen to meet with representatives of the other communities to decide whether or not a provisional government should be formed; in January 1870 he was a delegate at the meeting that decided that a “list of rights” should be presented to the government of Canada. In the convention that met from 25 Jan. to 11 Feb. 1870, Dr Bird was selected to serve on a committee of six to draft such a list.
After the creation of the province of Manitoba in 1870, Dr Bird continued to be interested in politics. He was nominated for the federal constituency of Lisgar in opposition to Dr John Christian Schultz*; he was also nominated for the provincial constituency of Baie de Saint-Paul. Following his victory in the provincial election of 30 Dec. 1870, Dr Bird withdrew from the federal campaign. He was re-elected in the same constituency in 1874 and remained a member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba until his death.
On 5 Feb. 1873, Dr Bird was elected speaker of the assembly and held this position until 1874. While he was speaker, a bill to incorporate the city of Winnipeg was introduced into the assembly [see Francis Evans Cornish]. To this bill the Legislative Council attached amendments which impinged upon the provincial government’s taxing powers; Dr Bird, as speaker, declared the bill out of order. Since a new bill could not be presented in that session of the legislature, the proponents of the bill were infuriated by Dr Bird’s action. Early in the morning of 7 March, Dr Bird was lured from his house on the pretext that a patient needed immediate medical attention. While driving in his cutter to the patient’s home, Dr Bird was attacked, dragged from his cutter, and soaked with heated oil. Though the government of Manitoba promptly offered a reward of $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the offenders, they were never discovered.
In the spring of 1876 Dr Bird was in poor health; in the hope that a visit among old friends in England would improve it, he travelled to England. Instead of improving, his health worsened and he died in London on 13 June.
PAM, Church of England registers, St John’s Church (Winnipeg), baptisms, 1828–79, no.1077. Begg and Nursey, Ten years in Winnipeg, 19–20, 22, 41, 47, 49, 79–80. Begg’s Red River journal (Morton). Canadian North-West (Oliver), I, 71, 485, 582. Hargrave, Red River. Manitoba Free Press (Winnipeg). Manitoban (Winnipeg). Nor’Wester (Winnipeg). R. B. Mitchell, Medicine in Manitoba; the story of its beginnings ([Winnipeg, 1955]), 47–48, 49, 54, 68–69, 107.