Early Days in Brandon
by Hartwell Bowsfield
Manitoba Pageant, September 1957, Volume 3, Number 1
This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.
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You have probably all read stories about the pioneers who opened up the west and the hardships they suffered. Reading about those days in a book, however, is just one way of finding out what the experiences of the pioneers were. One of the best ways of finding out is reading a letter written of the time by someone who was actually there and recorded the events as they happened.
In April, 1882 John Wallis, from Ontario, went out to Brandon by train. Brandon was just beginning to develop as a community and Wallis was going to open a bank. In those days, about fifteen hundred people a week were passing through Winnipeg on their way to farms and new towns in western Canada and John Wallis had to wait two weeks before he could get on a train. Even then this train never reached Brandon. About thirty miles out of Winnipeg a terrible blizzard came up and stranded the train and passengers for three days. Everyone was brought back to Winnipeg and had to start out again for Brandon a few days later. When John Wallis reached this young community he wrote to his mother in Ontario and in this way he described his trip and what he saw there:
"I am not much worse for my experiences except that I have a cold. In Ontario I would probably have been laid up for some time, here one seems to be able to stand anything. I got three or four letters from you on my arrival. We got altogether about 30 letters, some very important ones which should have been answered at once and have been lying in the office for weeks. It was very unfortunate but there was no help for it. I am staying at a pretty good hotel for this country. The first night I was here we had no door on the front of the house which made it rather cold. However, compared with my train experience it was paradise. We have not a stick of furniture in our room except the bed. The room is about six by eight in size. Our office is not quite ready, the builders could not get material but we are going tomorrow to open upstairs in our sitting room and will remain there until the office is ready for use. We have heard nothing of our stationery and books as yet. It is most annoying and has put us to a great deal of expense getting enough to go on with. I have been very busy working from morning until night getting things ready. I commenced this letter over a week ago but could not get more time to go on with it.
We have our stove and are occupying our rooms. We can't get a bit of wood and have been burning odd bits of lumber. Wood is selling from $10 to $12 a load (not a cord). We can get nothing done here except for extravagant prices. We had to pay $5.25 for having our furniture moved from the station. Everything costs 200 per cent more than in Ontario. The blockade in the post office here is, if anything, worse than Winnipeg. I tried a dozen times today to get my letters and could not until this evening. The clerks often work all night and are now so pushed that no newspapers have been delivered for nearly a week. My valise has been lying here for four days and I could not get it until I hunted through a dozen baggage cars and walked off with it. Everyone helps himself to his own baggage without reference to the baggage man. The greatest confusion prevails at the station. Hundreds of immigrants cannot even get shelter. Whole cars of stock have been starved and frozen to death. The reckless destruction of baggage and freight is something appalling. The snow blockade has prevented things from being sent down from Winnipeg and one cannot get the smallest trifles. I could not buy a drop of ink in the place. Could not get coal, oil and numerous other things. They are going to build a church at once as we have already quite a large congregation. Over five million feet of lumber is being sent here now from the States and in a few months this place will be three times the size it is now. Please write often - good long letters. I will do my best to write when I can but I am now snatching a few spare minutes when I ought to be in bed."
Page revised: 30 June 2009