ALEXANDER BEGG

ALEXANDER BEGG

RED RIVER’S HISTORIAN

By George Siamandas

ALEXANDER BEGG
Alexander Begg was a businessman, author, newspaper editor and office holder. Alexander Begg had been born on July 19, 1839 in Quebec. He was the son of a druggist. When Begg first came to Red River in 1867 he was active in the dry goods trade and became a partner of AGB Bannatyne until 1871. But Begg was primarily a writer and journalist starting more than half a dozen publications.

BEGG: THE FLY ON THE WALL DURING THE RIEL REBELLION
Begg had a strong interest in contemporary events and an amazing ability to record them. He was here for the days of the Riel rebellion and kept detailed diaries (“Dot-it-Down” and “The Red River Journal”) on the events which he later used to write his numerous books such as his 1871 the “Creation of Manitoba.” Begg remained detached from the politics of Red River and from siding with the Canadian view which was bent on ignoring the rights of the majority of Red River’s citizens, the Metis. Begg quickly became sympathetic to the Metis and their concerns. As the Riel rebellion continued Begg started to distrust Riel because of his arrogant and intemperate manner. He also became concerned about the talk of joining the US instead of Canada.

A VARIED CAREER IN BUSINESS AND JOURNALISM
Begg started many businesses especially in publishing and when they would fail, he simply bounced back and started a new one. He began the Manitoba Trade Review in 1872, and when it failed, started the Manitoba Gazette and Trade Review. His business interests were varied and he was for a time a bottler of soda drinks. In 1875 he set up the Manitoba Commercial College. In 1877 he served as Manitoba’s Queen’s Printer, Sergeant at Arms of the legislature in 1878, and Deputy treasurer till 1884. He also represented Manitoba’s agricultural products in Ottawa for a while. Begg together with George Bryce was also a founder of the Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society in 1879. In 1879 together with Walter Nursey he wrote “Ten Years in Winnipeg”

A STRONG WESTERNER
Begg was a true westerner supporting anyone who believed in the future of the west. He was very critical of both the conservative and liberal governments whose polices on land and railway development were holding up western development. He championed the efforts of the Hudson Bay Co and the CPR as embodying the entrepreneurial spirit. In 1884 he became involved with the CPR actively encouraging immigration from Britain. In 1888 this man who had always been on the move left he CPR and began editing several papers in Seattle. In 1892 he moved to Victoria. In 1894 he published the book the “History of the Northwest” in three volumes.

HIS LEGACY
Alexander Begg was more the intelligent observer than the active participant. He moved restlessly from position to position and from place to place as did many young men who had been drawn to the west. He married in 1868 and had two children. Begg died Sept 6, 1897. His strong western stance, his recognition of the rights of the Metis, and his journalism and writing career showed him to be a man of many facets.

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