Ross, Isabella
b. 1808-01-10
d. 1885
Isabella Ross, née Mainville, was born on 10 January 1808 to Joseph Mainville (a French engagé boatman) and Josette (an Ojibway woman); she grew up in the Great Lakes Region.1 She is noted to have still been a teen when she married Charles Ross, a Hudson's Bay fur trading clerk, in 1822. They were married at Lac La Pluie House in the area which is now Ontario in a country marriage.2
Two years after their marriage, the Rosses moved to the HBC Fort Kilmaurs in the New Caledonia District, what is now British Columbia. They then moved to Fort Vancouver where their marriage was solemnized by the Anglican Church in 1838. Ross had six boys and four girls, most of whom were born west of the Rockies, and all of whom lived to adulthood. She and her family moved to Victoria in the early 1840s where her husband lived only long enough to see the completion of Fort Victoria; he died in 1844.3
After her husband's death, Ross and her children left Victoria and went south to work at a farm near what is now Tacoma, Washington. In 1852, after independently earning money, Ross had enough to return to Victoria where she purchased 100 acres along Ross Bay -- known then as Ross Bay Farm.4 This land purchase enabled her to become the first woman and first Indigenous person to be a registered landowner in BC; and it also ensured that the name “Ross” would take its place beside other known pioneers such as Douglas, McNeil, Tolmie, and others. In her remaining years, Ross was cared for by her daughter Flora Ross in a small house on the grounds of the convent of the Sisters of St Anns. She died in 1885.5
Ross, like other Indigenous women in the “founding families,” was subjected to racial discrimination and acculturation. In colonial Victoria, the husband's culture was dominant, therefore the role of Indigenous mothers socializing their children was circumscribed, as was the case for Ross when her husband sent their children to England for a “proper education.”6 Furthermore, she faced her second husband, Lucius Simon O'Brien's abuse. A so-called fortune hunter, whom she married in 1863, O'Brien hoped to receive wealth from her first husband's estate. When he received nothing from her, he published in the Daily Chronicle that she was lazy and a drunkard.7
Even though Isabella Ross bought, for herself, 100 acres and became the first woman and Indigenous landowner in British Columbia, her story has been forgotten, even her grave in the Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, BC was unmarked for decades and her named attached to it went unremembered.8 Only recently has Isabella Ross has been remembered and recognized for her incredible position in colonial Victoria society.
Mentions of this person in the documents