Deer Lodge Through the Century *
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 22, 1965-66 season
It is always difficult to decide on a topic which may possibly be of interest or value ... I decided simply to tell you something about the past story of Deer Lodge, your community and your school. Perhaps this topic is particularly fitting because in the year ahead you will be celebrating Canada’s Centennial.
If we look back at our district in 1867, we find that settlement was just beginning. Long narrow river lot farms were being developed by such pioneers as the Bourkes, the Bruces and the Taits. The first St. James Parish Church had recently been constructed of oak logs floated down the Assiniboine. Squeaking Red River carts drawn by oxen lumbered through the ruts of the Portage trail that passed by “Deer Lodge”, the home of James McKay, on their way to Portage la Prairie and even to Edmonton. Deer Lodge later became a fine country mansion, and a favourite country inn for the weekend visitors and parties from Winnipeg to enjoy its hospitality and its zoo including “Chad’s bear”. In World War I, Deer Lodge became a Veteran’s Hospital, now one of the largest in Canada.
But, except near the river, the St. James area was relatively untouched. The prairie stretched from Omand’s Creek to Truro Creek to Sturgeon Creek and beyond, brightened with crocuses and tiger lilies and low clumps of silver willows. In the scattered groves of poplar and oak, Indians still camped by the creeks and hunted buffalo, bear and beaver as they had done for centuries before.
It was not until the early years of this century that the long river lots were sold one by one for suburban subdivisions. To make more money the real estate promoters of most of the area as far west as Rutland Street divided the land into the smallest possible lots—only twenty-five feet wide. Small frame cottages were built at a very fast rate, to provide homes for the great numbers of immigrants mainly English, Scottish and Irish that arrived between 1900 and 1914 and settled in St. James. But practically all construction stopped by August 1914, when World War I broke out.
Our family moved to the Deer Lodge School area in the spring of 1914, taking the home at 374 Sackville Street, occupied since 1928 by Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Glassey. In 1914 there were only three houses on Sackville Street—and by 1928 there were only six. On some streets not one house was added in all these years. Fortunately from Amherst St. west, most of the lots were from 33 to 50 feet wide, giving a better setting for the homes and providing more space for lawns and gardens. During this long period, and right on to the year 1950, there was still so much vacant land that young people had plenty of fields and woods in which to play, with Truro Creek itself the centre of attraction.
Fifty years ago most of us youngsters in the Deer Lodge School area attended Linwood School. Some of our spare time was taken up carrying water from the hand pumps, often as far as two or more blocks, for many of the streets and most of the homes had no sewer and water. Still more time was needed for chopping wood or removing and sifting coal ashes from the kitchen stove, living room heaters or basement furnaces, that were the common thing. If that was finished we were expected to weed and water the vegetable garden, for those potatoes, carrots and beets and turnips stored in our cellars which had to help feed us most of the winter. On Arbor Day, about 12 May, we planted trees at school and at home. The four I planted about 1920 on the boulevard in front of our home, today are real giants. Many of us boys were active in Wolf Cubs and Boy Scouts, and many of us delivered papers, as I did for eight years. The girls had to spend much more time helping with home chores and baby-sitting was done for love, not for money.
However, we did find time for play and because there were no radios and no TVs and no rumpus rooms, we played outdoors. In summer we explored the prairies and woods for birds and flowers and had campfires in the clearings and smoked poplar bark cigarettes. To cool off, there was the “Old Swimming Hole” up Truro Creek. The most exciting events were prairie fires and bush fires, particularly when the spirited horses of the St. James Fire Department galloped to the rescue. In Autumn there were wild plums and choke-cherries and hazelnuts to be found. When winter came, we got out wooden sleighs or double bobsleds and headed for Truro Creek. The favourite spots were between Albany and Truro, and better still on Bruce Street from Albany downhill, which was much steeper then, and which we iced with water from a convenient pump—until the municipality spread ashes to prevent the horses pulling sleighs from breaking their legs on the icy hill. As the snow deepened we tramped or snow-shoed down to the mouth of Truro Creek and jumped from the high banks into drifts some fifteen feet deep.
At all seasons of the year we had cave houses dug in the earth and tree houses built in the oaks. But springtime at Truro Creek brought particularly thrilling pleasures. One pleasure was simply “water”, for some years almost the whole of eastern St. James was under water with the wooden sidewalks floating. And after that came the most delightful sticky mud—everywhere, bogging down milk and bread wagons. Rubber boots were simply a must—of course there were jack fish swimming up the creek to spawn, and the fun trying to net them or snare them. Then if the water froze there were great areas of rubber ice to tempt the daring, and every two or three years there was the risky fun of skating up the frozen creek even as far as the mysterious “two mile track” of the C.P.R. line at the north end of what is now the airport. The other game was even more exciting and dangerous—piloting a home made raft, or a boat if you could get one, in the deeper pools or as far up the creek as you could pole or paddle, then floating down with the current, which was often quite fast and with the risky journey’s end at a bridge or culvert, such as where Truro Creek crosses Albany Street. It was just west of this point that I made my first impressive acquaintance with the site of the present Deer Lodge Junior High School. The boat I was poling bumped into a raft, and I dived head first into the creek. It was still April and chilly so I can assure you that the run from Truro Creek to 374 Sackville Street was made in record time.
Like most young people of junior high age our generation of almost fifty years ago enjoyed parties. Class parties and Scout parties and private parties, snowshoe parties and toboggan parties and skating parties, all the way from Kensington Street to Thompson Drive and Assiniboine Park. I remember them. On our return to one of the homes after our hike, big bowls of home-made oven baked pork and beans were our favourite “piece de resistance”. But, as I look back, there is one thing I can no longer comprehend—why all those kissing games—Postman’s Knock, Wink, Spin the Plate, Forfeits and the like? Today’s young people do not do such things at modern parties. I cannot understand it!
Another thing I can no longer understand were the Hallowe’en pranks of some of our generation. Today’s young people are so much better behaved—at least at Hallowe’en. I remember seeing next day, an assortment of fence gates and garbage cans hanging on the climbing spikes of telephone poles, outdoor toilets overturned, and even buggies and delivery carts up on store roofs. Who put them there or how they got them there we never knew. Thank heaven our present younger generation has outgrown such vandalism—as well as outgrowing kissing games!
In 1926 I left St. James to teach in a country school. Thirty years later I came back as Superintendent of Schools—and practically my first problem centred around that old favourite stamping ground—Truro Creek. Hundreds of houses had just been built in our area on Amherst and Sackville Streets, particularly, and as far west as Silver Heights. Linwood and Britannia Schools were bulging at the seams. It was obvious that we must build a new junior high school—but where? The only space the developers had not used for houses was the banks of Truro Creek. Some of the School Board members had their doubts about this suggested site, but the architect said he could design a school that would fit into the small space and still look attractive. The special money By-law for the construction of Deer Lodge Junior High School was voted on in February of 1957 and passed by almost thirteen to one. The contractors did their best to get the school finished by September I st. Finished or not, as it turned out, the classes and teachers under the first principal, Mr. R. A. MacIntosh, had to move in to only partly completed classrooms, damp from new plaster and without heat. It was months before the auditorium and the rest of the school was finished and available for full use. Within a few years the original building could no longer hold all the pupils on the way and in the year 1960 the School Board bought more property and added the east wing. You may be interested to know that, if needed, this two-storey wing is planned to take a third storey.
However, it is not the school building that makes the school. It is rather the teaching staff and pupils together which develop the learnings and create the curricular and extra-curricular activities that build up the school spirit that all together combine to make a fine school such as Deer Lodge. From difficult beginnings, in only nine years, Deer Lodge Junior High School has excelled not only in its academic achievements, but also in sport, music, art, shops, Year Book, the School Tea, in Education Week Displays and in Science Fair entries. Equally important, through all these years, Deer Lodge students have treated their school building and equipment with the care it deserves. Even more important, Deer Lodge students have shown appreciation of their Principal, their teachers and their classmates. Through learning respect for others, you at Deer Lodge, have learned to respect yourselves and set high standards for your education, your work and your life.
In these 1966 Closing Exercises, after we have reviewed the past, let us turn now to the future. As you leave Deer Lodge Junior High School, you look forward to the important choice of a high school course in which you can find success. You look forward also to “growing up”—to strengthening your mind and body and personality and character to the point where you can become a worthy adult citizen of your community. You have been good citizens of Deer Lodge. In the years ahead you may strive also to become good citizens of your Collegiate, of your city of St. James and of Manitoba, Canada and the World. Of course you can’t do it all yourself as yet. You will still need the help of your parents and your teachers, and you will need also the guidance and courage and spirit that can come only from our Lord himself.
Alfred Lord Tennyson summed up our ever changing life in just two lines:
*Editor’s Note: This address was delivered to the students of Deer Lodge Junior High School at their closing exercises, 2 June 1966. Mr. Thompson is the retiring Superintendent of St. James Schools.
Page revised: 21 May 2011