The Nuyttens of Belgian Town
by Raymonde Loudfoot
Manitoba Pageant, Volume 19, Number 3, Spring 1974
Nuytten Street in East St. Boniface commemorates a well known Belgian family who were pioneers in that area.
The Nuyttens arrived in Manitoba in 1895. Edmund Nuytten had been born in Moorselede, West Flanders in 1851. He grew tobacco, sucraine and chicory and raised a few cattle on the farm he had inherited from his father. After his first wife died, leaving him a three year old daughter, Hermine, Edmund married Octavia Devodder in 1880. They had six children: Theophiel, Jules, Emellie, Leon, Harry and Gerald. When les gendarmes found that Edmund grew four more tobacco plants than the law allowed he had the choice of leaving his homeland or facing imprisonment. This was a common occurrence as local authorities used strict enforcement of laws to relieve overcrowding. He and Octavia were about to go to Argentina when at a local pub they met Charles and Constant Bossuyt, two brothers who were visiting their native Belgium from Manitoba where they had settled in 1888. Charles owned land near Winnipeg at 33-34 Stadacona Street where he ran a stockyard and abattoir. The Bossuyts had a farm at 79 Kingston Row in St. Vital next to the Riel farm. After their short visit to Belgium the Bossuyt brothers returned to Manitoba with Constant’s Belgian bride, Emmerance Vermeulin, and Edmund Nuytten’s daughter, Hermine. Hermine bought a twenty acre farm for her father in East St. Boniface, Belgian Town or “the Dump,” as it was once called. The farm was near an open area where Indians often camped and held their pow-wows. Edmund, Octavia and their family arrived later that year and occupied a small house cabin which had been on the property before the land was surveyed.
Edmund bought the adjoining lot #268 on Dugald Road and built a two storey house for his family. His mother who had accompanied the family on their move to Canada helped Octavia look after the children. Edmund operated a dairy farm known as Nuytten’s Dairy. Everyone worked hard, even the smallest child. The cows had to be milked and the milk canned. Milk containers had to be scoured and hay had to be made. A large kitchen garden had to be looked after by anyone who had time. As the children grew, the house became too small and the family moved to an old big barn of a house that already stood on the twenty acres on the other side of Bourget Road (now Lagimodiere). This house had to be abandoned soon because of inadequate heating. One of Edmund’s sons, Gerald, recalls snow falling on the children’s faces when they were in bed. The Continental Can Company factory now (1974) stands on site where this big house once stood. The house on lot 268 remained for many years but was moved to 1038 Blair St. when the C.N.R. underpass was built.
There were always people arriving from Belgium. Room was made for them in the different farms and houses in the neighbourhood until they were able to buy or build a house of their own in East St. Boniface or Belgian Town, as it came to be known. The Belgians would relieve the drudgery of hard work in their first years in their adopted country with their own kind of fun and their own kind of music. Octavia would wrap paper around a comb and put this to her lips while someone else would tap on pots or flex a saw and another would sing. Parties were held once a week, usually on Sundays. Edmund’s mother would make a Belgian dish called pup or papbuttermilk with rice, flour and apples which was stirred until it boiled. Kegs of beer were consumed as everyone let their hair down before another week’s labour began.
1900 marked the end of an era. Edmund died of a very painful illness in his forty-ninth year. His mother had died a few months earlier at the age of eighty-nine. Theo married Antoinette Durand and became head of the farm. Octavia returned to Belgium for a few years with her younger children. When she was not overseas she lived in the small two storey house Edmund had built and shared farm work with her next door neighbour, Emma Verraes. As each of her sons married, Theo had a house built on the original twenty acres on the south side of Dugald Road. In 1911 Octavia married a Belgian widower, Victor Wyndels. The following year Victor Wyndel’s son, Firman, an architect and builder, constructed a house for them at 340 Holden St.
Theo became one of the most prominent citizens in the area. He and Antoinette operated a small grocery store. In addition he bought and sold pigs and raised them. Firman Wyndels built a large house for him at the corner of Dugald and Holden (1024 Dugald Road) which served as a rooming house and store. One room upstairs was set aside for raising pigeons which was quite a sport amongst the Belgians. A pig barn on the lot behind the house housed as many as three hundred pigs. Edmund is also remembered for the long sleigh, partly filled with hay and covered by a tarpaulin which he would use to take the children of the area to school in the winter monthsSt. Joseph’s Academy for girls and Provencher School for boys. He gave of his time unstintingly to help others in the Belgian community. As time passed he became known as the little mayor of the district. The street where his father and mother first settled became known as Nuytten Street.
Time has brought many changes as descendants of the early pioneers have moved away from Belgian Town and it developed as an industrial area. Yet some roots with the past remain. 1045 Nuytten, on the site of the old cabin house which Edmund and Octavia occupied immediately after their arrival almost eighty years ago, still is owned and occupied by a descendant of the Nuytten family.
The Belgian Sacred Heart Church recorded some three hundred names of families who arrived in Manitoba from Belgium between 1880 and 1914. These records were lost but a new compilation of the names of the Belgian immigrants of these years appears below. Some seem of German, French or Dutch origin because many of the immigrants came from Belgian communities on or near the borders of these countries. Early spellings are used. (e.g., Wijndels instead of Wyndels).
Page revised: 8 November 2013