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Manitoba History: Early Settlers’ Cairn at Pilot Mound

by Mary B. Perfect
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 17, Spring 1989

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to

On Sunday, 3 July 1988, as part of the weekend of the United Church Centennial Celebrations, the Pilot Mound and District Chamber of Commerce held the unveiling and dedication of the Barbour’s Lake Cairn. The plaque on the field stone cairn, erected in honour of the earliest settlers who came to the district, reads as follows:

“Erected July 1980
To commemorate the
settlers who pioneered and
built their log houses in
this area, and who in the
year 1878-79 lived in the
home of James Barbour
located 2000 yards east
of this site.

Mr. and Mrs. James Beveridge,
Mrs. Wilson (latter’s mother)
Robert Blackburn, John Moffat,
James Kemp, James Barbour.

It was in the fall of 1878 that a group of settlers succumbed to the “Manitoba (land) fever” which was sweeping Ontario, and left Lanark County to stake out homesteads in the land of promise. Since there was no trans-Canada railroad at that time, they came by way of Duluth and St. Paul to Emerson and then walked west until they found an area which appealed to them, about two miles from the present site of Pilot Mound. Here was gently rolling upland prairie, with bush land and a small lake to the north. Seven of them decided to stay for the winter and to build a log house on the homestead which James Barbour had acquired. Since the lake was on that property, it became known as Barbour’s Lake. The other members of the original group returned to the east “to settle their affairs” before moving west permanently in the spring, bringing their families with them.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Kemp returned early in 1879, at which time he took out a homestead on Section 36-3-11. Today that land is still farmed by the Kemp family while a great grandson of James Kemp lives on the Barbour homestead (Section 34-3-11). Also, by the fall of 1879, three Blackburn families, complete with their carpenter’s tools had arrived and acquired homesteads. Since then there have been three generations of Blackburn carpenters at Pilot Mound. Margaret Bethea Blackburn, born 15 November 1879, was believed to have been the first white girl born west of the Pembina River.

Among those present at the unveiling of the cairn were several of the pioneer’s descendants. The Kemp and Blackburn grandsons played prominent parts in the simple but moving ceremony honouring their ancestors and the other hardy pioneers of that part of Manitoba.

More information:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Early Settlers’ Cairn at Pilot Mound

Page revised: 5 September 2010

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