Manitoba History: Historical Tour - Carberry, Manitoba
by Rosemary Malaher
Everyone knows that the traveller is well rewarded by side trips off the speeding double lanes of the Trans-Canada Highway. There are several important sites and towns between Portage La Prairie and Brandon which merit a few extra hours and one place worth visiting is Carberry, just south of Highway No. 1, on Highway No. 5.
The success of this community was assured with the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway main line in 1882. The original community of De Winton was moved, overnight it seems, when the final route of the railway was decided. The Board of Directors of the railway company were on a westward inspection trip when J. J. Hill named the stop for the Carberry Tower in Musselburgh, Scotland, the home of Lord Elphinstone, who was one of the Directors on the trip.
The first settlers, people from Ontario, had come to this district in 1879, overland from Winnipeg by the South Saskatchewan Trail, taking the south fork from Pine Creek through to Brandon. The area was referred to as the “Big Plain.” It was above the Assiniboine escarpment and possessed lots of water. It was quickly taken up by homesteaders. Although the original settlers were living beyond the boundary of the province of Manitoba, the district became part of the province when the boundary was extended west to its present location in 1881.
By the turn of the century, the town had become an important agricultural supply centre, with seven grain elevators, a flour mill, a creamery, and a fair grounds. A few years later the Grand Trunk Pacific also built a line through the town and, after much urging by the town council, a transfer track was put in between the two rail lines. The Carberry Fair was renowned for the horse racing events held at the Woodbine Race Track, home of the Carberry Turf Club. It is reputed that the name “Woodbine” was sold to the present company in Toronto.
The tradition of pride in fine livestock and in the quality of the grain grown on the farms continues to this day. The Carberry Fair, held now at the beginning of July, is still renowned for its horses, particularly the teams of Clydesdales shown in full regalia. In 1897, two thousand people attended the fair, encouraged by the special rates on the C.P.R. west from Winnipeg and east from Virden, and a special train on the Grand Trunk line from Grandview. A “special” also carried fair-goers back to Winnipeg on the closing day.
In the town today, the prosperous heritage is visible in the distinguished buildings on Main Street. A serious fire in 1896 destroyed many of the wood frame businesses and merchants replaced these with brick buildings. In 1900, the Union Bank built a red brick branch for $3,000. The building was described as “free classic.” It was the most elegant and substantial structure in town. Also in 1900, Mr. James White, an important local businessman, built his Sash and Door Factory, now the home of the Carberry Plains Museum. The two storey brick building has windows with romanesque arch shapes and stained glass borders. Along Fourth Avenue, close to the railway line, he also built a carriage shop, a foundry, and his own Victorian gingerbread house which is still a tourist site. It has a two storey verandah, brick quoins which are now painted white, and ornate wooden trim. The gable ends have half-circle bargeboard trim with round windows centred under the eaves. There is arched brickwork above the windows. Mr. White was also the builder of three of the town’s churches. All three are in buff-coloured brick and contain the original stained-glass windows, mostly in geometric shapes in different colours. St. Agnes Anglican Church (1902-03) was the first of the three. It has a very different chancel window (1903) depicting the Crucifixion.
Along Simcoe, Selkirk and Dufferin Streets are the homes built by the Ontario settlers during the decade 1895 to 1905. Many are white clapboard with touches of ornamental woodwork. A distinctive feature of this town, not seen to the same extent in other locations, is the use of geometric stained glass forming a border around the doors and windows of the porch entrances. These may have been a favourite touch of Mr. White since he also used them in the Sash and Door factory. Walking along the wide streets with their mature trees, one can savour the feeling of confidence and pride which developed in this community. What a delight for us today, that these homes have been maintained by their owners through the years, so that we, too, can appreciate the continuing spirit of the residents.
Immediately across Third Street from the Anglican church is the Carberry United Church, built by White for the Methodist congregation in 1903. It was designed after Wesley Methodist Church in Winnipeg and cost $9,000. It has a four-sided spire above the main entrance which is 65 feet high, and smaller six-sided towers with steeples for the two side doors. The choir and pulpit are in the corner opposite the main door giving a very wide auditorium with oak pews. The romanesque arches of the windows light up all four sides, with the central motif of the descending dove. The original glass was re-leaded in the 1950s.
An interesting feature of life in Carberry was the early availability of electric power. Built in 1893, the Carberry Electric Light and Power Company operated a plant which was bought out by Manitoba Hydro in 1939. At first, a steam generator provided power for lights from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. Then, as electric washing machines and irons came on the market, electricity was provided on Monday and Tuesday mornings. Then refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and toasters created a demand for 24-hour service which was provided by a semi-diesel engine and finally a Ruston-Hornsbly full Diesel. The main street acquired street lights in 1904.
The industrial base of the community was fairly broad. It included a machine shop, the Carberry Machine and Manufacturing Company, which developed the “Carberry blower,” among other agricultural implements.
During the 1930s the early settlers’ desire for a good water supply paid off. The springs which kept the area watered provided healthy grass for the herds of cattle and horses brought in from Saskatchewan for feeding. In 1937, a community referred to as “Little Chicago” grew up at Brandon Junction. A sales office and stock yards, bunk house, cook house, and stands were built. 23,000 animals were sold, mostly to Ontario buyers for one to three cents a pound. In the summer of 1938, all the buildings were removed.
At the outbreak of World War II, the R.A.F. established a training base, and British wives and children were accommodated in the town. Richard Burton, the actor, was posted here as an instructor.
On the site of the airport, south of the town limit, is now located the Carnation Foods Company potato processing plant.
To complete an interesting day’s visit, the tour should carry on to the Spruce Woods Provincial Park. It was early recognized as land which should not be farmed and was closed to homesteading in 1895. It became a Provincial Forest Reserve when the Province took over the natural resources in 1930.
Page revised: 25 April 2010