History of the House
Among the first migrants to Saskatoon were the members of the Alexander and Margaret Marr family, whose house at 326 11th Street now exists as a historical site and marker of themes and events in the community’s early history, including, notably, its role in the field hospital established at Saskatoon after the Battle of Fish Creek.
The Marr Family
Alexander Marr was a stonemason from Woodstock, Ontario, while Margaret (Duclow) Marr was born in Mornington, Ontario. The two were married in 1875, and the family, which consisted of five daughters by 1884, lived in Winnipeg prior to Saskatoon. The family was attracted to Saskatoon in the spring of 1884 by advertising claims of a thriving community- a Temperance Colony, which had been selected by the Temperance Colonization Society of Toronto for its fine location with plenty of fertile land and fresh, clean water. Travelling from Winnipeg the family arrived in Moose Jaw by train, and then came overland with horse and wagon to the Saskatoon town site, an exhausting trip with five young children aged 8 years and under. Alexander planned to build houses in the community as a way of making a living. He had expected that the colony would need two or three hundred homes built that summer. However, when the Marrs arrived the community was at best an undisturbed prairie landscape with a commanding view of the South Saskatchewan River. The town site consisted of a few tents and huts.
The Marr house, the eighth or ninth to be built in the community, was started in the summer of 1884, with lumber floated downriver from Medicine Hat, a small sawmill having been established at Saskatoon to cut the lumber. The original dwelling measured 18 by 24 feet, though the family lived their first winter on the main floor of the house, as the rest remained unfinished until the following year. The Marr house was a pioneer dream home, built in the Second Empire style with 2 storeys, a mansard roof, upstairs dormer windows and hardwood floors. The number of colonists totaled approximately 70, after the arrival of the Marr family. Settlers continued to arrive slowly in the new colony, mostly from England, Scotland and Ontario.
The North-West Resistance Meanwhile, not far from Saskatoon unrest and eventually armed conflict broke out between the Métis and the Canadian government in what would come to be known as the Northwest Resistance. The Resistance occurred when Métis settlers under the leadership of Louis Riel came into conflict with the Canadian government and military over issues of land surveying and cultural autonomy. Military conflict began officially on March 26, 1885 with a clash at Duck Lake, and came to an end with the Battle of Batoche on May 12. Although a few more battles occurred after this date, most soldiers returned home. Saskatoon’s primary role in these events began only once armed conflict had ceased.
In 1885, Saskatoon’s population numbered about 70 people. Local businesses included a blacksmith, tinsmith, temperance hotel and a general store. Due to its proximity to both the fields of battle and the navigable South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon was chosen by General Middleton as the site for a field hospital to accommodate and treat the wounded. The military field hospital itself was established in Saskatoon’s three largest houses, one of which was the Marr house.
Saskatonians supported and assisted the field hospital with non-medical tasks, including food preparation and scouting, and in the case of the Marr family, by volunteering their house to the field hospital. The first of the wounded arrived following the Battle of Fish Creek on April 24, 1885 and by the time military doctors arrived in Saskatoon on May 2nd, there were already 39 soldiers being attended to in Saskatoon homes. The full complement of staff would eventually include eight doctors, six nurses, six dressers and one orderly, most arriving from Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, though some locals were also officially employed: Gerald Willoughby was appointed to Assistant Purveyor, while James McGowan became Supply Officer.
The Saskatoon field hospital is also significant in that it marked the first time in Canada that nurses were officially recognised as a component of military field forces. It was also the first time that the Red Cross symbol was used in this country, on the nurses’ armbands, even though the Canadian Red Cross Society was not established until 1896. These nurses’ primary role was to ensure a sanitary environment in surgeries. They also assisted with treatments, supervised the nutrition of patients, and administered medication.
The Saskatoon field Hospital was decommissioned on July 3rd 1885, the day wounded soldiers began their journey to either the Winnipeg General Hospital or back home to Ontario being towed away on an old scow that had been converted into a hospital barge.
After the Resistance Following the Resistance, the Marr family returned to their home, and was active in the development of the community. In 1887, Sandy Marr built the Little Stone School, on the site on Broadway Avenue where Victoria School stands today. The first classes were held there on January 7, 1888 with 27 students from grades 1-8 attending. This school now sits on the U of S campus.
In June 1886, Gordon was born, followed in October, 1889 by the birth of William, bringing the number of children to seven. Unfortunately a month after the birth of William, Margaret died on November 10. She probably died due to complications of childbirth and might have been saved if there had been a medical doctor in Saskatoon. But at that time, Dr. Willoughby had moved away and the nearest doctor was at Duck Lake (population 3000 then). Ice on the river would not allow the ferry to operate, making communication and travel difficult. A message was sent to Duck Lake for the doctor to come at once, but Margaret died before he made his way to Saskatoon. She is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery near Diefenbaker Park. The community helped the struggling family in a very direct way by caring for baby William. After her mother’s death, the oldest daughter, 13 years old, Mary Elizabeth learned to care for her family. Her father taught her to cook and bake bread, and she sewed and baked for the younger children. In 1892, the Marr family moved to Prince Albert. Mr. Marr remarried. The children grew and the family dispersed. Some stayed in the Prince Albert area, some went to Winnipeg and Ontario and some moved into the United States. Mr. Marr is buried in the old cemetery in Prince Albert.