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Manitoba History: Prairie Monuments: A Video History of Oakville, Manitoba

by Nikki McLeod
Oakville, Manitoba

Number 59, October 2008

This essay and video received the 2006 Dr. Edward Shaw Award in the Young Historians Competition sponsored by the Manitoba Historical Society.

Watch the 17-minute video Prairie Monuments by Nikki McLeod:

When most people hear the name Oakville, they immediately think of the large Ontario city of that name. However, my Oakville is actually located halfway between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, just three kilometers south of the number one highway. Although many people have never heard of Oakville, it is home to several people of note. Take for instance, Janet Marie Salway, who was inducted into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame; Joan Ingram, who is recognized in the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame as well as the Manitoba Softball Hall of Fame; also Rick Blight, former NHL star and curling legend. Many travelers may view Oakville as a mere rest stop on the way to a greater destination, but to the people that live here, it is a little something more. My video, Prairie Monuments, is the story of Oakville.

Sometime before European settlers arrived, an Aboriginal tribe set up camp near the area that is now known as Oakville. There was little available drinking water, poor land, and little wood. The tribe abandoned their camp but they left behind the name, Kawende, which, in English, means no good.You might think that people would not want to live in a no good town so in 1890, the name was changed from Kawende to Oakville. This is said to be because of the great number of oak trees that once covered the region. However, in 1891, the name was changed once more, this time from Oakville, back to Kawende. This was apparently to avoid confusion with Oakville, Ontario. On 13 March 1939, the name was officially changed back from Kawende to Oakville.

Main Street in Oakville, 1950s.
Source: PCI Archive, Yosh Tashiro Collection

Over a century has passed since the town of Oakville began. The town that once was, does not exist anymore. In place of the old businesses are empty lots. The few businesses that are left survive, but even some of their owners are trying to move on. The question that remains, is, can Oakville survive? It is clear that no natural disaster could curb the spirit of the people, but our recent setbacks have been man-made. A downfall in the economy, a terrific train wreck, and urbanization have all played a roll in creating the current crisis. Perhaps the name Kawende now fits?

History shows that Oakville was started by hardworking pioneers who would not give up. Time and time again they were challenged by nature but each time, they stood by each other and would not stop trying. They have helped each other through good times and bad. They held church services in their homes. They spent days building new schools. They helped shovel their neighbors driveway. The people are the reason the community exists and the reason that it will exist into the future.

Mr. Bott in the paint department of Oakville’s Crescent Lumber Yard, June 1952.
Source: PCI Archive, Yosh Tashiro Collection

Page revised: 15 February 2015

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