Manitoba Communities: Elphinstone (Unincorporated Village)
Elphinstone is a village in the Rural Municipality of Yellowhead, and is located along Highway 45, approximately 30 kilometres west of its junction with Highway No. 10. It was named after Lord Elphinstone  who was a director of the Canada North-West Land Company (CNWLC), a British-Canadian syndicate, incorporated as a British company in 1882 to which the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) sold 2,000,000 hectares of lands, mostly along its main rail line. The purpose of CNWLC was to serve as agents for the buying and selling of that property for farm and town-sites, and to assist in their developments. The syndicate eventually went into liquidation and ended up as a Canadian company in 1982, known as Canada Northwest Energy, located in Calgary, Alberta. 
According to the New York Times, published 15 August 1883, Lord Elphinstone, President of CNWLC, along with The Prince of Hohenlohe, of Germany, and the Earl of Latham, arrived in Montreal on 14 August 1883 with the intent of purchasing lands in Canada.  Subsequently, Lord Elphinstone acquired about 13 sections of land along the Little Saskatchewan River near the site of what became known as Elphinstone, and established a ranch there. His attempt at ranching was unsuccessful and he eventually returned to Scotland where he passed away in 1893. The land was sold to local farmers in 1894. 
In 2014, due to the research and organizational efforts of Ms. Sylvia (nee Sichewski) Dziver, a resident of Elphinstone, a commemorative site including a plaque, was established in his honor, at a prominent location in the village.
Early Business Establishments
Elphinstone had its beginnings as a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) trading post. The company had moved into the general area in the late 1850s. The post was sold to J. A. Lauder in 1895 who operated it as a general store. Robert’s Cheese Factory and Robert’s Store were added to the community. Other early business establishments included the J. C. Foster boarding house (1908), Wellar blacksmith shop, C.N.R. Station House (1905), Bedson and Lauder Lumber and Hardware Store (1905), J. R. Muir General Store (1907), Johnstone livery barn (1907), the Muir, McDermot and Lauder first garage (1919), a post office, a barber shop, and a bank.
Transportation and Public Utilities
Early on, access to the area was by wagon trails and by river which were used by fur traders and early settlers. The town site was located on the north side of the river, while some settlers were located on the south side. Crossings were made using the Flett and Muir Fords. This was hazardous during spring floods and so a road and bridge were constructed in 1906. The main highway, No.45, was built in 1937 connecting towns between the junction of Highway No. 10 just north-west of the town of Erickson, and Highway 16 near Russell. The road was constructed by using 55 teams of horses and scrapers. It became known as “The Turkey Trail.” There is no official explanation for the name but two oft-repeated stories are: 1. a truck loaded with live turkeys went off the road and rolled, from which the turkeys escaped, and 2. because of the numerous twists and turns skirting sloughs and lakes. In 1963 the highway was improved in alignment and cross section and was topped with asphalt mix, making it an all-weather road. It has since been paved with asphaltic concrete.
The Little Saskatchewan River played an important role in the development of Elphinstone. One important function was to provide a means of floating logs, harvested in the area, to saw mills as far south as Brandon. In 1904-1905 the Canadian Northern Railway, which became part of CNR in 1914, came through Elphinstone, It brought passengers and mail three times weekly from the east, and on alternate days from the west. . The service grew to include freight, bringing in necessary supplies and taking away agricultural and forest products as well as furs, to markets. The community was almost exclusively dependent on the railway during its growth. However as alternative methods of transport evolved, the dependence diminished and the passenger rail service was terminated in 1960.
A Pitner Gas Lamp for Elphinstone was approved by the Strathclair Municipal Council in 1909 and a second in 1911. The first lighting plant was assembled in the early twenties, providing electrical power to a few street lamps and a few businesses. Hydro power was brought into the village in the late 1940s. Prior to that, most private homes used coal oil lamps followed by gas lamps for lighting. Early on, wood was used to fuel cooking stoves and a variety of free-standing heaters and furnaces. The wood later gave way to coal and oil and ultimately to hydro power. An official “nuisance” ground for disposal of unwanted refuse was established by Strathclair Council in 1924. In 1964 Council proposed a sewer system for Elphinstone, but it was rejected by a referendum. The village remains without a proper sewer system. For domestic water usage, some homes had their own private wells while others got their water from a village pump, located next to the CNR station. That source is still in use although the manual pump has long been replaced by an electric one.
Homesteaders, mostly from Scotland and Ontario started arriving in the late 1870s, the 1880s, and the 1890s. Some Icelanders arrived in the early 1900s, as well as large numbers of immigrants from Poland and Ukraine. As the number of families grew, the population peaked in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. Unfortunately, there are no records of population census being taken in Elphinstone by Statistics Canada.
The first school in the general area was Riding Mountain No. 491 which was built in 1887 on SW10-18-21W. A photo of the class of 1897 includes the names Murray, Crawford, Boyer, Hunter, Beaton, and Rogerson, all from the Elphinstone community. The school was closed in 1909 and the students were transferred to Elphinstone. The first Elphinstone school was a six-sided log building located on 7-18-21W. The first teacher was a Mr. King who later became an Anglican minister. It was replaced in 1884 by another log building on SW12-18-22W. A photo taken about 1895 shows 14 attendees. This school in turn was replaced in 1898 by a new frame building on 11-18-22W.
In 1910 there was a consolidation of several districts in the vicinity to become the Elphinstone Consolidated School District. Students living outside the village, but within about a five-mile radius, were transported to and from school in horse-drawn “vans.” These were rectangular box-like structures with a bench along each side, capable of holding up to about twenty students. The vans were outfitted with wood-burning tin stoves to provide warmth during the winter months. The vans were supported by sleighs in winter and buggy-type wheels in summer, which were later replaced by rubber-tired wheels. Following consolidation, class rooms were first housed in a store owned by James Muir. In 1911 a new two-room school was built on the site of what later became the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. A photo taken in 1911 shows a student population of 45. As the student population grew, additional space was created by housing Grades one and two in the nearby Presbyterian Church. Later, a private home was used as a high-school room. In 1928 land was purchased at what became the permanent site, and a four-room school, with indoor plumbing, was built there.
The high-school building was moved onto this site and continued to be used. In 1940 a basement room was remodeled for Grades 11 and 12. Hydro was also installed that year. A photo taken in 1940 shows a student plus staff population of 165. Student numbers continued to grow and in 1955 two rooms were added. Native children were accepted about that time, whereas, prior to that, they attended provincial residential native schools. A new elementary school was built in 1960 and Elphinstone was placed in the Pelly Trail School Division. The school was closed in 1994 and students were bussed to neighboring schools in Strathclair, Oakburn and Rossburn A celebration/reunion of former students and staff was held 1 July 1994 to commemorate the closing of the Elphinstone school. A photo taken in 2012 shows the final school building.
A Presbyterian mission church was established by Rev. George Flett in 1873, near the Indian reserve in the Elphinstone district. Later, in about 1912, a church was built on the reserve. Rev. Flett and his wife were buried in the Indian Cemetery in Elphinstone. In 1897 a Presbyterian log church was built for the Elphinstone parisheners on a farm, NE34-17-21W, land donated by the farmer W. J. McMurchay. In 1907 this was replaced by a wood-frame church built in the village. One minister served both this church and the one on the Indian reserve. Of note, in 1925, the congregation voted to retain the name Presbyterian rather than become part of The United Church of Canada, a unification that was taking place nationally.
Early on, a Roman Catholic priest held services among the indians on the reserve, traveling by foot, canoe, or wagon. The services were held in any available structure as well as in the open air. Then in 1937 a Roman Catholic Church was built in Elphinstone and is still in use today.
A Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish was started in 1927. Services were held in private homes and in the Memorial Hall until their own church, named St. Mary the Protectress, was established in an existing building in 1936. Later the building was demolished and replaced by a traditional church building In 1954. It is still used on occasions such as funerals. Distinctive features of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox churches are the onion-shaped domes.
Following the closure of the Elphinstone school in 1994, the main building became the home of the Calvary Gospel Church, a member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC).
As a memorial to the men who had served in the First World War, a hall was built in 1921. In 1945 the facility was expanded by adding a full basement to serve as a dining area and space for the Legion branch. The hall was used for multiple socializing purposes such as: dances, showing of films, fowl suppers, wedding receptions, school concerts and memorial services. The hall was destroyed by fire in 1971 and was replaced by a new structure with more modern facilities.
The first boarding house in Elphinstone, 1905, was the log mission house associated with the Presbyterian church on the Indian reserve. This was replaced two years later by a large frame house on the village’s main street, Railway Street. It served as a gathering place for social functions and became known as the Valleyview Hotel. Many years later it was granted a license for beer sales and opened a Beer Parlor that could only be frequented by male adults over the age of 21. Indian natives were not allowed on the premises. This changed when “... the federal government finally amended the Indian Act in 1951 to allow Aboriginal people to consume alcohol in public drinking establishments but not to buy booze to take home.” [7, pp 319-320] It is assumed that Natives were allowed into the Elphinstone Beer Parlor soon thereafter.
Women were allowed into Beer Parlors about 1957, initially only if escorted by a male. The hotel was torn down and replaced by a motel-type structure in 1956. In about the mid 2000s a fire broke out in the motel causing considerable damage and it was never restored.
Another large house was built in 1913 on the hill above the business section and served as a popular boarding place, particularly for “out of town” school teachers. It was known as the Rogerson house.
The first grain elevator was the Northern Elevator Company built in 1907 which burned down in 1912 and was rebuilt. Another known as The Ruthenian Farmers Elevator Company was also built in that time period. The two were purchased by Manitoba Pool in 1928. In 1947 the Northern was dismantled and a new one was built next to the Ruthenian, which was then used as an annex. The bins of the elevator in those days, were built nailing down two by four planks, laid on their sides. Unlike today, when old buildings are commonly demolished using cranes and bulldozers, the Northern was dismantled “a plank at a time” by local labor. The used lumber was sold and used in the construction of new buildings in the area. The Pool Elevator remained in use until the rail service was terminated in 1960.
Early on, a third elevator, the J. R. Muir Elevator was also built. It later became the Inter-Ocean Company which was eventually purchased by the Pioneer Grain Company and moved to Glossop.
By the mid 1940s to the early 1950s Elphinstone had grown to a respectable size. It boasted at least three general stores, two cafes, four implement dealers, two garages, two blacksmith shops, two grain elevators, a shoemaker shop, an electrical supply and service shop, three churches, a hotel/beer parlor, a funeral home, curling rink, hockey rink, two pool halls, a memorial hall, and a post office.
It was a vibrant community which held a 1 July annual sports day, featuring such events as baseball and softball tournaments, horse and chuck wagon races, square dance competitions, to name a few. Elphinstone also produced notable curling and hockey teams that competed provincially. School sport days were also hosted which included students from the Sandy Lake School as well as outlying one-room schools. Each school bearing its colors (banner and hats) participated in a marching parade. The Elphinstone colors were orange and black. The hats worn by both genders were boat-shaped in style, similar to a private soldier’s cap. For those who could afford it, a cloth material was used, while for those who couldn’t, the hats were fashioned out of crepe paper. There were no bands and the parades were military style. A “precision” trophy was awarded to the winning school. The parade was followed by competitive races, high and broad jumping. Trophies were presented to the winning main school and a separate one for the winning one-room school for best-over-all achievements.
The growth of the village was typical of prairie villages and towns, and was mostly the result of the growth of the agricultural industry. Early on, families managed to exist on as little as one-quarter section of land. Consequently, there was an abundance of farm families in the community. Because much if not most travel was by horses, local businesses were required to serve the agricultural industry. As farmers prospered, particularly after the “dirty thirties,” the use of horses gave way to motorized power which had a two-fold effect. The size of individually owned farms grew in size thus reducing the concentration of farmers and secondly, people were able to do their purchases of goods and services at larger centers, such as Shoal Lake, Minnedosa and Brandon. This resulted in a decline of local businesses support and it started a slow but continual closure of local services.
Current Status (2015)
Today, 2015, there remains one convenience/gas station, a sausage-making plant, two active churches (Roman Catholic, Calvary Gospel), the Memorial Hall, an outdoor assembly of post office boxes, an RCMP detachment, and about 45 residences that are currently occupied. The Municipality continues to provide hydro power and street maintenance to the village.
Photos & Maps
1. Rudnyckyj, J. B. (1979) Manitoba Mosaic of Place Names, p. 63, Winnipeg, Manitoba: Canadian Institute of Onomastic Sciences.
2. Glenbow Museum, Archives Main Catalogue Search Results.
3. The New York Times, Distinguished Foreigners in Canada, 15 August 1883.
4. Our Story To 1984, The R.M. Of Strathclair, compiled By The Centennial History Committee, 1984.
5. Historic Sites of Manitoba: Elphinstone School No. 196 (Elphinstone, RM of Yellowhead)
6. Booze: A Distilled History - Google Books Result
Much of the information was based on the contributions made to the Strathclair centennial publication of Our Story to 1984. I am grateful to the Strathclair Municipal Council for permission to reproduce some of the photos from the centennial publication.
Page revised: 26 March 2017