McGIBBON, ALEXANDER, merchant and inspector in the Department of Indian Affairs; b. 13 Feb. 1829 in Petite-Cote (Montreal), one of twin sons of John McGibbon and Isabella Mackison, farmers; m. 7 June 1855 Harriet Davidson (d. 1879) in Montreal, and they had three sons and two daughters; d. 24 Feb. 1904 in Calgary.
Alexander McGibbon spent his early years on the family farm but while still a lad entered the employ of Neil McIntosh, a Montreal merchant. In 1856 he went into business for himself, specializing in “teas, coffees, wines, liquors and choice groceries.” He was active in the city’s Scottish community, serving as president of the St Andrew’s and Caledonian societies, and he was also a governor of the Montreal General Hospital and the House of Refuge. From 1863 to 1866 he was a member of the city council.
A strong supporter of the Conservative party, McGibbon was particularly close to Thomas White*, one of Montreal’s leading Tories in the 1870s. He was also on good terms with Sir John A. Macdonald* and enthusiastically endorsed his government’s purchase of Rupert’s Land and adoption of the protectionist tariff. The Conservative connection worked to McGibbon’s advantage in the spring of 1885. When the North-West rebellion broke out he was appointed quartermaster general and chief transport officer to the military forces under Major-General Thomas Bland Strange*. Stationed in Calgary, he organized the shipment and distribution of supplies for the Alberta Field Force. He remained in the west for a few months after hostilities ended in May.
That summer McGibbon’s friend White became minister of the interior, and he began to reorganize the various components of his portfolio, which included the Department of Indian Affairs. In the aftermath of the rebellion it was considered necessary to expand that department’s resources in the west in order to prevent further trouble among the native population, accelerate the process of cultural assimilation, and clear the way for settlement. By 1886 Indian commissioner Edgar Dewdney*, who was based in Regina, still had only one travelling inspector to keep an eye on the operations of the department’s agents in the North-West Territories. Another was badly needed. In May McGibbon was appointed and he headed west once more.
Inspectors had the task of ensuring that agents conducted affairs with business-like efficiency, keeping accurate records of all supplies received and disbursed. To make sure that only the approved portions were granted, inspectors were encouraged to observe the issuing of rations. And they were expected to note progress being made by the native population towards economic self-sufficiency and “civilized behaviour.” Initially McGibbon shared the work with T. P. Wadsworth. In 1897, in a general reorganization of the Indian service, the North-West Territories was divided into three inspectorates: Battleford, Calgary, and Qu’Appelle. McGibbon was assigned to Qu’Appelle, which covered an area corresponding to present-day southern Saskatchewan. In 1902, upon Wadsworth’s retirement, he was transferred to Calgary.
McGibbon wrote almost 100 inspection reports over the years. They constitute a valuable source of information not only on agency management, but on native health, housing, possessions, farms, and education. They bear, of course, the stamp of the department’s aims and methods, which McGibbon never questioned. He was quick to denounce the persistence of customs such as dancing when he encountered them. On the other hand, he was ready to praise tidiness, hard work, and attachment to Christianity. If pleased with the Indians’ behaviour he would give them a treat of tea and tobacco. McGibbon had the respect of the agents whose work he was obliged to evaluate, although there were some complaints about his obsession with detail. It was precisely this concern with minutiae that made his superiors consider him a reliable employee.
The job paid well – $2,200 per annum after 1887 – but constant travel was required, often over rugged terrain on horseback and in all weather. Ultimately it took its toll. In November 1903 McGibbon’s doctor ordered him to rest completely for two months. He received leave of absence and went to Montreal to be with old friends. Soon he felt better and returned to Calgary. But on 24 Feb. 1904, after a brief illness, he died of appendicitis. An obituary in the Calgary Herald described him as “a man of a kindly and generous disposition, who never lost a friend or made an enemy.”
ANQ-M, CE1-120, 7 juin 1855; CE1-126, 28 sept. 1829. AVM, D016.643. GA, M740, McGibbon to Van Horne, 23 Sept. 1885. NA, MG 17, B2, G, C.1/0, McGibbon to Pinkham, 6 Oct. 1894 (mfm.); MG 29, E106, 13; RG 10, 3739, file 28227; 3781, file 40153; 3782, file 40468, pt.3; 3878, file 91829, pt.25. Calgary Herald, 24 Feb. 1904. Gazette (Montreal), 25 Feb. 1904. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). [E.] B. Titley, “Transition to settlement: the Peace Hills Indian agency, 1884–1890,” Canadian papers in rural history, ed. D. H. Akenson (8v. to date, Gananoque, Ont., 1978– ), 8: 175–94.