DAVIS, MATHILDA, teacher; b. c. 1820 in the parish of St Andrews, Red River Settlement, daughter of John Davis, a retired officer of the Hudson’s Bay Company; d. 1873 at St Andrews, Man., and buried on 10 December.
Mathilda Davis’ parents sent her to England to be educated and upon her return to Red River she devoted her life to teaching. The settlers and HBC families were at this time obliged to have their daughters educated in England as she herself had been. Now, through the efforts of influential citizens, HBC families, and Dr John Bunn*, physician for the company, a young ladies school was started at Red River about 1840, with Mathilda Davis as the teacher. The company provided some assistance and students paid fees: full board and instruction in English, French, and music, $132 per annum; weekly board and instruction, $105; day pupils (who received lunch at the school), $50.
The school was first located in a frame house in St Andrews, the property of Mathilda Davis’ brother, an HBC employee at Lower Fort Garry. A stone house (still standing) was completed in front of the wooden one around 1858 and provided living quarters for the staff and students; the latter numbered about 40 in the mid-1850s.
Some letters from pupils to their parents in Red River have been preserved. They show that the students “like school very much, particularly geography, music and French,” and that they were using Pinnock’s History of England and Reid’s Dictionary since they ask their parents to bring these books when they next visit the school. In addition to music, drawing and dancing were taught.
Miss Davis was assisted in her teaching by several women prominent in the colony and by her sister Nancy (d. 1893) who also helped with the arduous household chores. These chores necessitated rising every morning at 4:00 am to light the inevitable Carron stove, carry water, and milk the cows.
After Mathilda Davis’ death, education in the new province of Manitoba was supported mainly by ecclesiastical bodies. The name Mathilda Davis will long be remembered in Red River for the pioneer educational work she did and loved so well.
PAM, Church of England registers, St Andrews Church, burials, 1870–84, no.154; Miss Davis’ school, Correspondence, accounts and miscellaneous papers, 1837–76; Miss Davis’ school, note books, 1840–72; Red River Settlement, Red River Census, 1870, no.1125, 1127; Red River Settlement, Samuel Taylor diary, II; Alexander Ross family papers, 284, 474, 476, 477. W. J. Healy, Women of Red River: being a book written down from the recollections of women surviving from the Red River era (Winnipeg, 1923), 159. Lillian Gibbons, “Early Red River homes,” HSSM, Papers, 3rd ser., [no.2] (1945–46), 26–42.