Historic Sites of Manitoba: Van Horne Farm / Searle Farm (RM of St. Clements)
In mid-1899, noted railwayman William Cornelius Van Horne visited Manitoba to quietly buy land in the area between Selkirk and Tyndall to establish a farm. In the end, the Van Horne Farm was 4,000 acres – a massive area at that time. On a site just east of present-day Highway #59, next to the CPR Main Line where it takes a dogleg toward Winnipeg, he built a farmyard, complete with a grand home, manager’s residence, horse and cattle barns (for Clydesdales and Shorthorns), sheep pen, chicken coops, and a large piggery.
The purpose of the Van Horne Farm was not as a residence for Van Horne. In fact, he spent relatively little time there, making only unannounced visits occasionally. It was essentially a large corporate farm. The people that Van Horne hired showcased innovative farming techniques, turning what was previously stony, unproductive ground into fertile farmland. It was a source of livestock breeding stock for the surrounding region. Students from the Manitoba Agricultural College visited to view the livestock and farm fields.
Van Horne died in 1915 but the farm continued to operate in his name, finally being sold to Winnipeg-based grain merchant Norman Leach, in 1936. Mr. Leach was the son-in-law of Augustus Searle, whose Minneapolis-based company had established a Canadian subsidiary. Leach was its President at the time of the Van Horne Farm purchase, which became known as the Searle Farm, an experimental farm as a department of the Searle Grain Company. In other words, it continued as a corporate farm.
The Searle Grain Company bought 3,900 acres of land and all the original buildings. They continued the livestock operation, and expanded into laying chickens. Crops expanded to include sugar beets, as Leach was an early investor in the Manitoba Sugar Company. The Searle Grain Company also operated a commercial grain elevator on the edge of the property. Workers on the Searle Farm included patients from the nearby Selkirk Hospital for the Insane and, during the Second World War, Japanese Canadians who had been displaced from their homes in British Columbia.
The Searle Farm began to wind down in the early 1960s. The cattle herd and hogs were sold in 1965. A boarding house that had been used by scores of farm workers through the years was closed in 1966 and demolished the following year. The Searle Grain Company merged with Federal Grain in 1967 to form Canada’s largest privately-owned grain company. In 1968, the Searles put the farm on the market. There were no takers for three years, at which time they decided to subdivided into smaller farms. The dairy was sold in 1971, the feedlot and most of the farmland (2,500 acres) in 1973, and the nursery greenhouses in 1977.
As of 1979, the site was owned by Right Angle Farms. Most of the farm buildings have been removed, except for two large concrete silos once used to store grain that are visible from nearby Highway #59.
Photos & Coordinates
We thank Paul Buus and Margaret-Ann Smith for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 5 October 2021