INKSTER, JOHN (nicknamed Orkney Johnny), merchant, politician; b. 1799 in the Orkney Islands, Scotland; d. 30 June 1874, at Kildonan, Man.
Nothing is known about the parentage or background of John Inkster. In 1819 he came to Rupert’s Land as a stone mason in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company. On 20 Jan. 1826, in St John’s parish, he married Mary Sinclair, daughter of Chief Factor William Sinclair. They had nine children, of whom the eldest, Colin, was to become sheriff of Winnipeg. John Inkster did not serve out his contract with the HBC. In 1823 or 1824 he had joined an uncle, John Inkster, who had come to the country in 1797 and who owned land on both sides of Red River. John Inkster began farming on the west side of the river, but he was to win prosperity and respect as a freighter and one of the earliest independent merchants of the settlement. He dealt in a variety of goods ranging from pemmican to “plough irons,” from shirts to shot and powder. Among his customers were numerous Red River worthies, other traders such as his brother-in-law James Sinclair*, missionaries, Indians, and tripmen. His dealings extended from Portage la Prairie to York Factory and St Paul (Minn.). Some produce came from local sources, such as wheat and potatoes; other goods were imported from Edinburgh, London, and Hamilton, Canada West. The HBC handled his overseas financial transactions and brought in a proportion of his supplies by the bay; others came via St Paul. After his death, his estate was evaluated at about $20,000.
In 1856 the settlers of Red River decided a steam grist mill was essential for a more reliable service than that given by the wind and water mills. Inkster, who already owned a water mill, became president of the Steam Mill Company, which brought components for a mill down-river by barge to be set up at Redwood (Kildonan Park) with a sawmill attachment. A fire destroyed the mill in 1860.
Inkster is said to have been the first teacher in the school organized in 1849 by the Scottish settlers in Kildonan. He attended St John’s Cathedral and served as rector’s warden. He served as magistrate for the Lower District from 1850 to 1858 and as petty judge with a salary of £5 a year. In 1863 he became auditor of public accounts and worked on committees dealing with the regulation of liquor imports and the marking out of public roads. He was concerned with such public matters as the provision and upkeep of bridges and postal services. A member of the Council of Assiniboia from 1857 to 1868, he attended 54 meetings. He was elected as one of the English-speaking members to a council convened by Louis Riel* in November 1869 but could not attend.
Of special interest is the imposing house he built, constructing the stone foundation himself in 1851. Work was interrupted by the flood of 1852; however, the nine-room, two-storey house, built of squared oak logs floated down from Baie Saint-Paul (Man.), was completed in 1853. A much smaller structure alongside served as a store and post office. Seven Oaks is today a museum.
PAC, MG 19, E7 (John Inkster papers), account books, papers. PAM, John Inkster, correspondence, 1860–74; John Inkster, papers, 1862–73. Surrogate Court for the Eastern Judicial District (Winnipeg), will of John Inkster, 16 July 1874. Begg’s Red River journal (Morton), 165, 357, 396. Canadian North-West (Oliver), I. J. W. Graham, Winnipeg architecture; the Red River Settlement, 1831–1960 (Winnipeg, ), 6. 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), 46, 74, 86, 90–92, 95–96, 200. Martin Kavanagh, The Assiniboine basin; a social study of the discovery, exploration and settlement of Manitoba (Brandon, Man., 1966), 197.