Monday, 2 December 2013

HIStory& HERitage: Christina Gordon

                           HIStory & HERitage

When Christina Gordon arrived in Fort McMurray, it was little more an isolated Hudson’s Bay Company post. The land was vast, the weather was unforgiving, and living off the land was hard work.

Christina Gordon was the first white woman to permanently settle in the area. She emigrated from Scotland sometime in the 1890s while her brother, William, had arrived in Canada about a decade earlier. Christina appears to have first settled in Athabasca Landing, which was a popular layover site for those adventurous souls en route to the Klondike Gold Rush.  Christina is listed in the 1901 census as living at Athabasca Landing, but William is not listed as living with her at this time. She identified herself as the head of the household and she owned a restaurant. 

By 1906, Christina and her brother were living in Fort McMurray. Together they operated a successful trading post. Four years later, William was appointed the first postmaster of the growing settlement of Fort McMurray. Whenever he was away trading with Aboriginals, it was Christina who was left to run both their store and the post office in her brother’s absence.

Christina was truly a woman before her time.  In an era when women were expected only to be wives and mothers, Christina never married nor had children. She was a businesswoman and she even owned land in her own right, a very uncommon occurrence for women in the early 20th century. Her land was located south of the Clearwater River near the area where Home Hardware and Keyano College now stand. It was there that Christina grew her large garden of fruits, vegetables and herbs and where she prepared food and medicines for the ill and the poor.

This photo shows Christina Gordon (right) standing in front of a vegetable stand. Photo courtesy of the Fort McMurray Historical Society

Christina Gordon was a resident of Fort McMurray until her death in 1949. She was highly respected by the community for her kindness and generosity, so much so that she was awarded one of the highest honours of the Aboriginal people: a Lob Stick. When Chief Paul Cree was dying, he requested that a Lob Stick, a tree that has all of its branches removed except for a tuft at the very top, be created in Christina’s name. Her Lob Stick is said to be somewhere along the banks of the Athabasca River with her name carved at the bottom in the Cree language.

Christina is buried, along with her brother William, in the Fort McMurray Cemetery on Biggs Avenue. Although she didn’t leave any children to carry on her legacy, Christina’s name lives on in the region she so loved.  Both Christina River and Christina Lake are named in her honour as well as the future Christina Gordon Public School in Timberlea, which is scheduled to open in 2015. 

To see Christina in the census returns for 1901, 1906 and 1911, check out the websites below. They are available for free online at

1906 Census ( In this census return Christina lists her year of arrival as 1894 while William arrived in 1884).

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