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A Union of Manitoba Municipalities

by Gordon Goldsborough
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Manitoba History, Number 51, February 2006

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 webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

In early March 1905, the Council of the Rural Municipality of Macdonald met for its monthly meeting. One of the items they considered was an invitation from John W. Fleming, the mayor of Brandon, to attend a meeting ten days hence, the object of which would be to consider a proposal for a new organization for municipal governments. The Council chose two of its members to attend. [1] To encourage attendance by delegates from remote parts of the province, the Brandon organizing committee arranged round-trip train fares at one and a third times the one-way rate. Fifty participants arrived in Brandon from thirty-one rural and urban municipalities in time for the opening session in the afternoon of Tuesday, 14 March. Several other municipalities which were unable to send representatives instead sent telegrams of support. The mood was unanimously favorable, for the assembled group promptly passed a motion approving the creation of a Union of Manitoba Municipalities. Several delegates with legal inclination were sent off to hash out a constitution and bylaws. The advantages of the new Union were thought to include the encouragement of mutually profitable communications between various municipalities and the increased influence that would result from this union, the fostering of a “patriotic spirit,” a centralized Bureau of Information, and of course, the saving by Union members of “enormous sums of money.”

Delegates to the 1905 founding meeting, at Brandon, of the Union of Manitoba Municipalities.
Source: Gordon Goldsborough.

The delegates elected an executive, had further discussion, then adjourned for a banquet at Brandon’s Shore House, hosted by the city council and mayor. [3] Following speeches by sundry reeves, mayors, and councilors, the dinner concluded with a singing of the national anthem. The delegates went back to an evening session, where they approved the draft constitution after a careful reading. With its foundation now firmly established, the group passed its first resolution to the effect “that municipalities should have full and exclusive control of their streets and roads, and that no legislation should be passed [by provincial and federal governments] infringing on such control” without prior input from the affected municipality. The resolution’s intent had less to do with the control of roadways—although concern for road improvement would lead in 1909 to the formation of a separate Good Roads Association—than with the telephone lines that generally followed roadways:

“One of the objects of this resolution was to stop the governments from giving blanket charters to telephone companies, as they had in the case of the Bell Telephone Company, who are asking excessive prices, and not being even satisfied with what they have got in their charter, are trying to persuade Municipal Courts to pass bylaws allowing them to reduce the height of their poles in the country districts.” [4]

On the second day of the meeting, various other resolutions were considered which collectively illustrate the nature of municipal governance issues of the day. Among the resolutions passed was one urging the federal government to compel railway companies to assume all costs of road crossings whenever such were required to maintain public safety. The Union was also understandably concerned about procuring tax revenue for public works. For example, they worried that land which had been set aside throughout the province as an endowment for the University of Manitoba—sale of which would generate revenue for the institution—were not generating tax revenue for their constituent municipality, so a system of grants in lieu of taxes was advocated. The councilors from Macdonald drew the group’s attention to another thorny tax problem. In their municipality, as well as others around the province, large areas of land had been originally assessed as “swampland” unfit for agriculture but which drainage had rendered highly productive. Yet, the municipality was unable to change the assessed value and thereby raise needed funds for local road improvement.

The Union was also concerned about jurisdictional matters. They requested that any provincial or federal bills affecting railways, or telegraph, telephone, and electric power lines should be vetted by the municipalities which might be affected by them. They requested the right to exempt companies providing work to fifteen or more local employees from paying taxes for up to twelve years, to entice companies to build facilities in Manitoba communities. The Union proposed that all trees and shrubs planted along highways should become the property of the municipality in which they were situated.

The meeting concluded with a hearty vote of thanks to the Brandon organizers, after which delegates dispersed around the city. Some went on a tour of the nearby Dominion Experimental Farm [5] to learn about the latest innovations being developed there. The Macdonald councilors, both of whom were farmers, likely attended that tour so they could take back advice to their neighbors. Then everyone went their separate ways, happy for having played a role in founding an organization that was to become a major force on behalf of municipal governments during the coming century.

Union membership grew rapidly in its first half dozen years, leveling off at a little over 100 by 1910. This represented half to three quarters of the municipal governments in the province, depending on the year. The Union organized an annual meeting, usually in Brandon or Winnipeg but occasionally elsewhere—Portage la Prairie, Stonewall, and pre-Unicity St. Boniface. By the early 1920s, these meetings were attended by around 300 people. Their purpose was to highlight common problems, develop collective responses to matters of mutual concern, and pass along useful information. Later, the Union published a magazine, The Western Municipal News, in collaboration with their counterparts in Saskatchewan and Alberta. [6] The Union faltered during the early years of the Great Depression; membership fell for a few years, but the benefits were sufficiently compelling that, as the economy recovered, so too did membership statistics. Over time, the urban municipalities, which had been represented from the outset, drifted away to form their own association. The divorce was temporary, however, for in 1999, the Union of Manitoba Municipalities merged with the Manitoba Association of Urban Municipalities to become the Association of Manitoba Municipalities. The AMM thrives to the present day, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005.

The men who attended the Union’s founding meeting in Brandon came from diverse backgrounds, and went on to play various roles in municipal, provincial, and federal governments. One of the two Macdonald delegates would continue for a few more years as a councilor, attending the Union’s 1907 meeting in Winnipeg, and would later serve as Reeve for three years. While he would remain interested in local affairs for the rest of his life, he did so as a citizen, and held no further municipal office. But he was clearly proud of his role in the founding of the Union of Manitoba Municipalities, as shown by the fact that he kept the group photo that had been taken outside the Brandon City Hall in 1905. He passed it on to his grandson who, in turn, gave it to his son. That delegate was my great-grandfather, John Fletcher Goldsbrough. [7]

Notes

1. Manitoba Free Press, 10 March 1905, page 8.

2. First Annual Report of the Union of Manitoba Municipalities, 1905. Archives of Manitoba.

3. Brandon Weekly Sun, 23 March 1905, page 3.

4. First Annual Report of the Union of Manitoba Municipalities, 1905. Archives of Manitoba.

5. Brandon Weekly Sun, 16 March 1905, page 1.

6. I am grateful to Tom Mitchell at Brandon University’s McKee Archives for drawing my attention to this magazine, and for allowing me to peruse his wonderful collection of the Brandon Daily Sun—the only copies of this paper in existence!

7. Some of the delegates to the founding meeting apparently missed the “photo op” and we are not certain whether J. F. Goldsbrough (the spelling of our surname changed after 1911, for reasons unknown) was among them. I am inclined to think the fellow in the buffalo coat and peasant cap on the right side is him, but my dad is not so sure.

Page revised: 24 April 2011

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