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Betsey Ramsay's Grave

Riverton, Manitoba, R0B, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1989/09/13

Contextual view, from the south, of Betsey Ramsay's Grave, Riverton area, 2006; Historic Resources Branch, Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism, 2006
Contextual View
Detail view, from the south, of Betsey Ramsay's Grave, Riverton area, 2006, showing the gravemarker for Betsey Ramsay on the left and for John Ramsay on the right; Historic Resources Branch, Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism, 2006
Detail View
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Other Name(s)

Betsey Ramsay's Grave
Borden No. EfLf-2

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/02/08

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Betsey Ramsay's Grave consists of the burials of Betsey and John Ramsay, two modest grave markers and a small picket fence that encloses them. The site is situated a short distance from the Lake Winnipeg shoreline, just south of Riverton, and is surrounded by cultivated fields. The municipal designation applies to the gravestones, fence and small parcel of land on which they stand.

Heritage Value

Betsey Ramsay's Grave is important for the rural community around Riverton, a potent and poignant reminder of the area's early interaction between Aboriginal peoples and Icelandic settlers, of a smallpox epidemic that decimated the Interlake region in 1876, of a love story that still inspires local attention, and of traditional Icelandic folklore beliefs. The gravesite is the only tangible link to Betsey and John Ramsay, prominent members of a local Saulteaux Aboriginal band who reached out in the mid-1870s to newly-arrived Icelandic immigrants, educating the settlers in winter survival techniques and providing meat to hungry families. The gravesite for Betsey Ramsay also is the only known marked resting place in the area that recalls the 1876 smallpox epidemic, a devastating episode that took the lives of both First Nations peoples and Icelanders. That Betsey's burial is marked with a fine marble tablet recalls the heroic efforts of John Ramsay who undertook a pilgrimage of more than 200 kilometres to obtain the memorial from Lower Fort Garry, making it the first marker of its kind in the area. The situation of the grave on the shores of Lake Winnipeg reinforces the depth of loss aroused in John Ramsay by the death of his wife, who was said to have loved the sounds associated with the lake. The site has also assumed importance as a reminder of traditional Icelandic folklore, and of that culture's belief in the power of dreams. Local legend asserts that the short white picket fence that traditionally encloses the gravesite was the manifestation of a dream in which Trusti Vigfusson, who in 1910 hunted on the land on which the gravesite sits, was directed by John Ramsay's ghost to erect a protective fence.

Source: Rural Municipality of Bifrost By-law No. 1-89, September 13, 1989

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the site character of Betsey Ramsay's Grave include:
- the relatively remote and isolated location, close to the western shore of Lake Winnipeg, and in an open setting within grain fields and grasses

Key elements that define the physical characteristics of the site include:
- the gravesites of the remains of Betsey and John Ramsay, placed side by side
- the placement, facing south, of the fine nineteenth-century marble gravestone with original engravings marking the resting place of Betsey Ramsay, and beside it of the granite stone, of recent design, marking the grave of John Ramsay

Key elements that define the traditional Icelandic folkloric characteristics of the site include:
- the presence of a white picket fence around the burial site




Recognition Authority

Local Governments (MB)

Recognition Statute

Manitoba Historic Resources Act

Recognition Type

Municipal Heritage Site

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1876/01/01 to 1876/12/31

Theme - Category and Type

Peopling the Land
People and the Environment
Peopling the Land
Migration and Immigration
Peopling the Land
Peopling the Land
Canada's Earliest Inhabitants

Function - Category and Type


Religion, Ritual and Funeral
Mortuary Site, Cemetery or Enclosure


Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

RM of Bifrost 329 River Road Box 70 Arborg MB R0C 0A0

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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