Camperville and Duck Bay. Part 2 - Duck Bay

by Gwen Palmer

Manitoba Pageant, Volume 18, Number 3, Spring 1973

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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Part Two — Duck Bay

Today the term, ‘Canadian Mosaic’ is much used to describe the mixture of cultures making up our population. This is a fitting term to describe the three men who played the major role in the development of the small settlement at Duck Bay. For it was a Negro, a Frenchman and a Jew who were mainly responsible for the development of this totally Indian settlement, 15 miles north of Camperville on the west side of Lake Winnipegosis.

The French form of the name, Baie de Canard, was applied in very early years to a bay half way up the west side of Lake Winnipegosis and 56 miles east of Swan River. The settlement along the shore eventually adopted the same name, which was gradually anglicized over the years to Duck Bay. We can only assume that the quiet waters of this bay were a resting and feeding stop for waterfowl on their yearly migration north and south.

Until around 1917-1920, there was no permanent settlement at this point, although it was a good fishing spot with the Indians and Métis for many years. There was no official fishing season as we know it today. Winter fishing began whenever the ice became thick enough. Cooled by strong northwest winds, this bay was usually one of the first parts of the lake to freeze over.

A general migration to its shores took place in late October and early November, when the fish preferred the quiet bay to the rough waters of the large lake. Thus Duck Bay became the favorite camping site of the Indians of Pine Creek Reserve during this season. When the fishing was over, they would move back the 15 miles to Pine Creek (Camperville). This became their habit for many years, with the result that there was no permanent settlement at Duck Bay. To provide for the needs of these people and to catch the migrant trade, a merchant moved north for these few months from Camperville.

The only store in the area for many years was the Hudson’s Bay Company on Lot 6 in Camperville, but it was sold to Magloire de Laronde in 1908. In 1912 he employed a French-Canadian from Quebec named Rodier to help with the Duck Bay seasonal trade and to work at other times at Camperville. Eventually Rodier bought the business and continued merchandising in this manner. In 1910 another merchant, J. Desrocher, formerly a teacher at Waterhen and Meadow Portage, started a store in opposition to the Rodier Brothers, on adjoining Lot 5 in Camperville. In 1918 the store of J. Desrocher came under the management of another French-Canadian, Joseph Barnabe from St. Jean Baptiste, near Winnipeg. These merchants dealt in furs, fish, berries and seneca roots, in exchange for tools, clothing and other things that had become necessities to the Indian people by this time. Until 1915 there was no permanent merchant at Duck Bay.

During that time a homeless young Jewish boy named Abe Sanoffsky was growing up on the streets of London, England, making his way by begging and other means. Shrewd, cunning and strong, he often put his talents to work to provide for other street orphans. In the course of events he was sent to an institution for destitute children probably founded by Baron Rothschild. Often such boys were sent to the colonies to get a new start with a hope of a brighter future. Abe Sanoffsky landed in Montreal and was sent west to work on a farm at Neepawa. He excelled in sports, and at an exhibition of sports events, his abilities were noticed by Joseph Barnabe, the Camperville merchant, and the boy was eventually adopted by Mr. Barnabe and his wife.

As he grew older and took charge of the family store at Duck Bay, Abe came to the conclusion that if work could be found for people at Duck Bay between the fishing seasons, they would not have to move back to Camperville and neither would he. An abundant supply of timber on the lakeshore and adjacent island encouraged him to set up a sawmill. Over the years he enlarged it, until an output of a million board feet of lumber was processed in a single year at its peak production.

The fish catch was hauled 50 miles with team and sleigh to Winnipegosis on the railway which had been extended to that point in 1897. Mr. Sanoffsky’s next venture was a fish plant, where the catch was packed in ice and shipped to the railway by him, rather than by individual fishermen. He had many contacts in Winnipeg and the United States where there were good markets for his products.

He used lumber from his saw mill to make boxes needed for fish packing. He also had ice houses built at several points on the lake for storage of fish. All these enterprises furnished employment the year round with the result that settlement around these industries stabilized and Duck Bay be-came a thriving little community for a number of years. Unhappily order and discipline are hard to teach and maintain in these isolated areas. Three major fires left Mr. Sanoffsky practically penniless after an industrious and productive life. He was still alive at the time of writing, living in Oak View Senior Citizens Home, St. James.

In 1915 another merchant arrived in Duck Bay to do business and play an important role in the development of education. Bob Jones was a Negro who had worked as a railway porter in Toronto. Before moving to Duck Bay. he worked as a deck hand on the old fishing boat Manitow which sailed out of Winnipegosis. A former resident of that town recalls hearing stories of Bob Jones’ strength. He was said to be six feet two inches tall, and able to hoist 250-pound fish boxes four decks high, single-handed. He also liked to boast that he was the first “white man” to live at Duck Bay. Owing to the fact that he could read and write, he felt he was more civilized than the natives.

First church in Duck Bay, constructed in 1912.

Second church in Duck Bay, constructed in 1929.

The spiritual needs of the population during the early years were looked after by travelling missionary priests. An Anglican, the Rev. James Settee, states in his journal that he visited “Romanist priests” at Duck Bay in 1863, but as the reserve had the same name, this could mean an area, and not necessarily the village. Services were held in homes until 1912, when the people themselves erected a small log church.

In 1923, a young priest named Maurice de Bretagne arrived, to remain as the people’s spiritual adviser and friend for many years. He was born in France near Vimy Ridge in 1892 and served in the French army during the first world war. Later he joined the Oblate order and came to Canada. Under his direction a new church at Duck Bay was constructed in 1929.

By this time Duck Bay had become a stable settlement, and education facilities for the village were badly needed. Bob Jones, then some sixty years old, appreciated education and it bothered him that the children could not at least read and write. He took it as his task to organize the first school in Duck Bay. Jones organized a work-bee in the village, and the first log school was erected under his watchful eye, with the windows, doors and roof being provided by the department of education. It opened in 1929 with Narcisse Delorier as the first teacher hired at $35.00 a month. Mr. Delorier’s first task was to communicate with his students, and the result was a mixture of English, French, Crce and Saulteaux. Jones and Delorier received the untiring support of Father de Bretagne. According to Father de Bretagne, Mr. Delorier had a unique approach to education which was similar to the modern theory of “learn to do by doing.” Father de Bretagne did not entirely approve of this method, but it found favor with the school inspector, Mr. Peach, who lived at Swan River.

Rev. M. de Bretagne with first pupils to attend the school in 1929.

First log school in Duck Bay, 1929.

Bob Jones operated his store in the village until the early 1940s, but lived on Spruce Island. He retired to the St. Boniface home for the Aged and died there in 1952. During all his years in Duck Bay, he took a keen interest in school affairs and often visited the classroom to see how the pupils were progressing.

In the intervening years, Father de Bretagne was moved to Lebret, Saskatchewan, to take charge of the Indian residential school there, and when he returned to Duck Bay in 1944. he found the little school bursting at the seams with 110 children of school age in the settlement. Father Bretagne went directly to the department of education and in no uncertain terms pointed out that according to the Manitoba School Act, provision had to be made for the education of these children. As a result of his efforts, the minister of education, Mr. Dryden, visited Duck Bay to assess the situation, and promised that a new school would be built. Father de Bretagne offered the Mission Hall for use as a temporary classroom until the new school was erected under the direction of Bernard Grafton, official trustee for special schools. However, Father de Bretagne had attached one condition to his offer—the local people had to provide the wood to heat the hall. This was a large room made of logs, built on to the east side of the church and dwelling, and required a good amount of wood to make it comfortable. In the beginning a few cords turned up—enough to keep the fires burning for a day. Then the bargain was conveniently forgotten. More drastic measures had to be taken and both Father de Bretagne and the teacher went on strike. No wood—no school!

The inspector was asked to inform the people that the agreement had to be kept or the school would remain closed and their family allowances would be discontinued. Mr. Sanoffsky, the merchant, became so anxious to have the school heated that he took over the responsibility of replenishing the wood supply himself, and classes resumed once more.

A new four-room school was finally completed in 1950. Father de Bretagne built a convent-teacherage himself, to accommodate the Oblate Sisters who arrived to take over the teaching duties in 1952. During the intervening two years the school term had been erratic because of poor salaries, isolation, no living accommodation and the shortage of teachers.

A road to Camperville and Duck Bay was started from Winnipegosis just before the outbreak of war in 1939, and by the time public works came to a standstill, construction had reached Smokey Island, five miles south of the town.

Work was resumed in 1946-47 after the war, and the road was completed to Duck Bay. In recent years, a good gravel highway has been constructed from Cowan east to Camperville, connecting the first road with highway no. 10. When the Department of Education designed the division system, Duck Bay and Camperville were included in the Frontier School Division and now have equal opportunity for educational facilities with the rest of the province.

Since 1952 a second school has been built at Duck Bay, with cottages to accommodate the lay teachers. In addition, a large gymnasium is now underway.

In the village itself the only evidence of recent construction is a bright blue Community Centre, embellished by a sign featuring the Manitoba crocus emblem. It was officially opened and dedicated by Princess Anne on her Manitoba centennial tour to Duck Bay by helicopter on July 13, 1970. It is interesting to record once again the report of this royal visit which appeared in the centennial issue of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Reporter David Lee, wrote: “The town had been slightly groomed ... and local Métis residents stood soberly by in freshly pressed suits, cheering the royal arrival. The children sang God Save the Queen and O Canada, and local council members had arranged to have the town’s relatively new community centre renamed in honor of the visiting princess. This was the Duck Bay that Princess Anne saw ... But just down the street, an 83-year-old man sat ... apathetic ... wondering where his next meal was coming from. Others ... were sleeping in rundown, deserted huts within a few blocks of the royal reception site. Local councillors had warned town store owners if they sold ... extracts ... their stores would be burnt to the ground. This was the Duck Bay that Princess Anne did not see Sunday—and likely never will. Instead of travelling to the community centre, which was located only two blocks away, Princess Anne simply snipped the ribbon at the reception site on a sign post which is to be later placed on the building ... They (local residents) suggested that royal tour planners did not want to expose the visiting princess to the “real town ... to the terrible poverty that exists in Duck Bay.”

Both Camperville and Duck Bay missions stand on their original sites, still under the guidance of the two French Oblates, Fathers de Bretagne and Brachet, who contributed to these historical developments. History usually records progress. When assessing what has been and what remains today, one cannot help wondering, “Is history here going backwards?”

Page revised: 19 August 2010