Manitoba Organization: Portage Country Club
As early as 1898, waterfowl hunters in Portage la Prairie were meeting regularly in a hotel owned by local brick manufacturer Henry Stephens to plan the establishment of a hunting club. By June of 1911, after many years of debate and planning, the group managed to acquire land and build a clubhouse. Club member and lawyer Ewan MacPherson travelled to Ottawa where he negotiated, with the assistance of fellow club member Arthur Meighen (MacPherson’s former law partner, the local member of parliament, and later Prime Minister), to purchase at minimal cost over 1,000 acres of Crown land that was deemed to be “inaccessible marsh” of little value.
The clubhouse was built at the south end of the club’s property at Delta Marsh. They built a large two-storey, wood-frame building that contained a kitchen and small bedrooms on either side of a central living room on the main floor and a games room surrounded by more bedrooms on the second floor. A boathouse and ice house were built nearby. Labourers were hired to dig a ditch from the boathouse to the south end of Cram Creek to access the marsh.
Although a prominent lawyer and politician were instrumental in its creation, membership in the club was exclusive only to the extent that members had to be residents of the town or municipality of Portage la Prairie. This restriction was relaxed in 1917, however, when wealthy Winnipegger Donald Bain applied for membership. The 35 original club members included realtor William Richardson, lawyers Harry Cowan and Fawcett Taylor; and fish merchant (and future provincial MLA) Hugh Armstrong. The rest included court clerks and hardware dealers, newspapermen and clothiers, travelling salesmen and managers. Initially the club seems to have been committed to the concept of egalitarianism, for early club by-laws restricted members to holding just one share each. In time, however, some members became more equal than others. Bain, for example, would eventually own five club shares.
When the clubhouse became operational in the fall of 1911, members were charged $1.60 per day for room and board, and afternoon tea was provided at a cost of 25 cents. Food service was provided by a live-in married couple employed by the club through the hunting season. Those wishing to use a club boat or canoe paid 60 cents per day. In addition, members paid an annual fee ($10 each in 1919) for their share of the annual cost of taxes, repairs, and improvements, and could be called upon to contribute when additional expenses were incurred. By 1919, the room and board charge had risen to $3 per day. Even those not staying at the clubhouse and using its amenities were charged $2 per person per day for the general support of the club. The club by-law expressly prohibited members from tipping the employees.
In 1922 the club members decided to move the clubhouse from the south side of the marsh to the north side along the lakeshore. They hired a local farmer and his horses to drag the building across the winter ice to its present site. A member would later reminisce that “when the lodge was at the south end most of the hunters would head to the northern parts of the property for their hunt, and after the clubhouse was moved they invariably headed for the southern bays.”
Access to the site along the lakeshore proved problematic. The clubhouse could only be reached by a rudimentary trail established by hunter Joe Lemon on his adjoining property. When Lemon died in 1924, his widow delayed in providing the club with an assurance of continued road access and the club members worried that they were going to lose access to their clubhouse. This situation was resolved in 1928 when club member Donald Bain purchased the Lemon estate and built his own private hunting lodge next door to the Portage club. Bain purchased his own dragline to construct, at considerable cost, an all-weather road through the marsh to his lodge on the lakeshore. For several years, he allowed other club members to use his road but he became increasingly unco-operative over time, eventually refusing them access. In 1945, as matters came to a head, Bain begrudgingly provided the club with an easement to access the clubhouse across his property. His agreement was conditional on the club constructing a new road along the lakeshore westward from the cottages at Delta Beach.
A concern for hunters in the early 1940s was the generally low water levels on Lake Manitoba that translated into correspondingly low water levels in Delta Marsh. In 1941, the Portage Club received permission from the provincial government to construct dams on Cram Creek and Deep Creek, the two channels on its property that linked the marsh to the lake, in an effort to retain water in the marsh. These structures were eventually allowed to deteriorate because of complaints from adjoining landowners who claimed that blockage of the creeks caused water to back up on their property.
The club remains active and still uses the original clubhouse to this day.
Delta: A Prairie Marsh and Its People by Glen Suggett, Gordon Goldsborough, and the Delta Marsh History Group, 2015.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 18 November 2021