Extracts From the Political Memoirs of H. W. Winkler, Part 1

by Howard W. Winkler

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1972, Volume 17, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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These extracts from his political memoirs are published by permission of Mrs. H. W. (Ruth) Winkler, Morden, Manitoba.

It has been suggested to me occasionally that I should write my memoirs of a political nature, but I have secretly scoffed at the idea. My entry into politics was in the main a political accident. I did not have any of the characteristics that mark a boy or a young man as a likely candidate for political honours. My youth was marred by a series of serious illnesses which not only limited my physical endurance but plagued me with the distressing pains of neuralgia and rheumatism for many years. Amazingly, I outgrew this discomfiture to a great degree after I had reached maturity. But by that time I had decided that my life's work should be in the outdoors on the farm, and with my father's assistance in the beginning, I became a farmer.

My father, as a boy of fourteen, joined his older brother Enoch at Emerson in 1879. He worked there for two years in his brother's lumber yard. In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway which was pushing its transcontinental tracks westward in the Northwest Territories, decided to build a subsidiary line southward to join the Great Northern at Neche, Dacotah Territory. From a point about twelve miles north of the international boundary, they would build a branch line as far as Manitoba Junction (Manitou). The line reached Gretna in 1881, but not before Enoch Winkler had become established there with a lumber yard and grain warehouse. His younger brother, Valentine Winkler, now a mature lad of sixteen, was in charge.

Two years later, when the C.P.R. surveyed a townsite on the farms of two young settlers, Frank and Wilmot Morden, my uncle established his small empire there, and my father was placed in charge as his agent at Morden.

My father had a thrifty disposition; he invested his savings in farm lands, and when my uncle sold his business in Morden in 1886, father had to go only a mile from Morden to set up farming on his own land. In 1890 he became the first Reeve of the Rural Municipality of Stanley in which there dwelt many Mennonites. Father had already had business dealing with the Mennonites at Emerson and Gretna.

His Mennonite constituents to the east had no railroad station; there was in fact no railroad station between Morden and Plum Coulee. In those days the Mennonite clergy exercised almost unlimited power over their flock, and their objective was to keep their people away from those "out-side the faith," and to keep them on their farms. When, for example, the C.P.R. built a siding near Heffnungsfeld, the Mennonite clergy would not permit their parishioners on the adjacent land to subdivide it into a town-site.

However, my father's Mennonite constituents had their own ideas about overcoming the clerical restrictions, and so they asked my father to trade one of his nearby farms for a farm occupied by Mennonites at the new railroad siding. He did this, and in the meantime built a home in the Village of Morden and travelled seven miles daily to his lumber and grain business at Winkler. Among my earliest recollections are those of driving with my father to the tiny settlement which the Mennonites named after him. Many times I watched him take grain into his elevator while chatting with his agent, J. E. Doerr.

My father had already been elected a member of the Manitoba Legislature and, with but a few months intermission, remained a member until the end of his life. Both he and his brother were members of the legislature at the same time in the Ministry of the Honourable Thomas Greenaway.

When I was about five or six, my father had to go to Ottawa, and since I was recovering at the time from a severe bout of typhoid, it was decided that a change of air and scenery might be helpful, so I went along. While my father was over at "The Buildings" with the Honourable Clifford Sifton, I sat in the lobby of the old Russell House, (the largest hotel I had ever been in), dangling my legs from a chair and watching people come and go. Then to my delight, who should enter but the Honourable Wilfrid Laurier. He handed his hat and cane to the checkroom girl and then paced up and down the lobby with his hands behind his back. I must have slipped off my chair in seeking to get a closer look at the Prime Minister, and he in turn noticed my mild misadventure. "What is your name, my little man?" he asked, as he patted me on the head. I answered of course and volunteered some further information about my father and our family. Later I eagerly told my father the wonderful news.

The occasion of the Ottawa visit, as I learned later, was the intransigence of the member for our constituency of Lisgar in the federal house, Mr. R. L. Richardson, owner of the Winnipeg Tribune. When Laurier chose Sifton to represent Manitoba in his cabinet, Richardson kicked over the traces and raised a ruckus. Sifton's reprisal was to recruit my father to oppose Richardson in the next general election.

Father was not anxious to enter politics, but Sifton was not a man to take "No" for an answer. Over my mother's opposition, father stood for nomination and got it. Richardson, however, had a strong core of Liberals behind him and father was defeated but much relieved at the outcome. Ottawa would have taken him too far from his interests at home.

Father's defeat was, of course, a blow to morale in our home. We all went to bed early that night. It wasn't long, however, before we were awakened by noises outside our house. A prominent supporter of Richardson, bent on high celebration, had bought up almost all the brooms in town. These were soaked in kerosene and small boys in the village were paid 50¢ each to carry them in file to our house where they were lit, the bearers circling our house, brandishing their torches, and hurling epithets. I was deeply humiliated by all this, but I shall never forget my father looking out the window from behind parted curtains and thoroughly enjoying the somewhat ribald scene.

Returning to the provincial political fray as soon as he could, my father ran counter to the full force of the Roblin-Rogers machine. His hold on the constituency was firm, and in spite of the forceful drive to oust him, he survived the onslaught. The last serious attempt to unseat my father was mounted in 1915 when W. J. Tupper, solicitor for the Rural Municipality of Rhineland, entered the lists. I believe this unsuccessful bid of Mr. Tupper's was his only foray into provincial politics.

I had been a member of the local militia, but there seemed to be no prospect for active service for a near-sighted recruit in the early years of the First Great War. Early in 1916, however, word went round that Field Ambulance units were not so particular. That proved to be the case, and so I went on active service until I was invalided home in the winter of 1917. I was home just in time to vote in the war-time election. In France I had known the three sons of Ferris Bolton, the Unionist Candidate. Each of the boys had been killed in action, one soon after the other. On that ground I voted for Mr. Bolton, while my father voted liberal because of Wilfrid Laurier.

Meanwhile the Norris administration had taken over in Manitoba in 1915, and my father was appointed Minister of Agriculture. This choice ran counter to the wishes of Mr. Sifton and the Free Press. They had J. D. McGregor prepared for that position, and many were surprised that Mr. Norris dared to take any other view. In due course, Mr. McGregor became the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba, but the Free Press maintained a steady hostility toward my father, while the Winnipeg Tribune supported him during his five years in the Cabinet.

Unfortunately my father's last years in the Norris cabinet were plagued by his first serious illness. Diabetes was more or less of a mystery then, and when father died in 1920, insulin was only two years away. In the meantime I was getting settled on my farm. Mixed farming was the order of the day. I had three five-horse teams to do the ploughing. I had a tractor besides; tractors were beginning to replace horses. When I ceased to operate the farm in 1923, things were working out nicely, and I was spared the pain of disposing of my fine Clydesdales. I rented the farm for ten years with the expectation of returning to it, and in the meantime, being the only male member of the family, set about consolidating my father's estate, with its mixed assets of real estate, land, mortgages and agreements for we could see from the way the collections were coming in that the estate might find itself in a difficult position.

My father died in June 1920, just prior to the provincial election. At this point I was surprised by a group of my father's friends who took me to the nominating convention at Plum Coulee where my name was one of two placed before the meeting. Before I realized it, I was the Liberal candidate in Morden-Rhineland. Thereupon, most of those who had attended the convention, having done their duty as they saw it, left me to my own resources.

Being a virtual stranger to practical politics, and relatively unversed in campaign tactics and procedures, the logical outcome was my defeat. The swing against Norris had already started and two years later he threw in the sponge. From the political point of view, (apart from my unpreparedness as a constituency campaigner), the main cause of my defeat was the attitude of the Norris Government to the Old Colony Mennonites on the school question.

My father had urged the Government to go slowly because of the promises the Mennonite delegates had received in 1873 from the Macdonald administration on the question of their schools. [P.C. 957 (a) 10. That the Mennonites will have the fullest privilege of exercising their religious principles and educating their children in schools, as provided by Law, without any kind of molestation or restriction whatever.]

The Free Press and the Provincial Government claimed no such promises could have been given, for education was the constitutional domain of the provinces. Moreover, if such a promise had been given by the Dominion Government, where was the evidence? The Mennonites were sure there had been a written agreement, and the district was thoroughly searched to find it. However, nothing was found - then ...

Part 2 here

Page revised: 20 July 2009