Manitou Memories *
MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1956-57 Season
With the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway to Winnipeg, and its extension westward, transportation was provided for the stream of settlers who came to establish homes for themselves on prairie homesteads. The flat lands adjoining Winnipeg were at first avoided in favor of those with higher altitudes, especially those where wood and good water were available. It was not long before homesteads dotted the different districts known as Riding Mountain, Moose Mountain, Turtle Mountain and Pembina Mountain, and it is more particularly of the Pembina Municipality, with Manitou as its centre, that I write.
The Red River Valley, which scientists tell us is the bottom of Lake Agassiz, had its western shore just west of the present town of Morden, where traces of the old lake beach can still be seen. From the point where Dead Horse Creek enters the valley, the ground rises abruptly until within twenty miles west there is a rise in altitude of over a thousand feet. This was the area known as Pembina Mountain, for the most part rolling prairie with occasional poplar bluffs, and some sloughs, most of which have since been drained by municipal ditches. Each year, in the early summer, the Indians from the Swan Lake Reserve gathered seneca root on the open prairie, for which manufacturing chemists furnished a market.
The Indians were for the most part law-abiding but once when a a band of the Sioux, fugitives from Minnesota, were camped in Metcalf's bush, they were found with a horse that had been stolen. They had bought it in good faith from a white thief, but gave it up rather reluctantly after pressure from a group of neighbouring farmers.
Pembina Municipality comprised townships one to four inclusive in ranges seven to nine west inclusive, the river and valley of the same name cutting diagonally from the northwest to the southeast corner, where it enters North Dakota and empties into the Red River just south of the international border at Pembina, ND.
By 1880 there were sufficient settlers in the district to form a post office, called Archibald, kept by Alex Bethune, about three miles north of the present Manitou; the mail being driven from Emerson, the nearest railway station. It was there also, that the first grain was marketed, seventy miles distant, requiring an over-night stay, both going and coming, at one of the Mennonite villages. The Mennonites had settled there in 1875, and were very hospitable to travellers.
With the promise of branch railway lines being built, and in anticipation of their arrival, townsites were surveyed in different parts of the province. Among the most ambitious was one in Township 4, Range 6, about five miles northwest of the present town of Morden. Here Adam Nelson and his family had settled and erected a flour mill and a sawmill which served the needs of the local community. Soon Nelson became a business centre, was incorporated as a town and bonds sold for $100,000. A speculative boom developed in the sale of building sites, many of which were sold by auction. It was a tragic disappointment to many when the C.P.R. changed their plans and located at Morden where most of the buildings were afterwards moved. A similar experience, though on a much smaller scale, took place on the north half of section 30-3-8W. Here a site was surveyed, called Manitoba City, and building commenced. The railway, however, kept the lower level to the south and W. F. Ellis and H. A. Jukes subdivided the south half of 30, which was called Manitou, and most of the buildings were moved to the new townsite. It was not incorporated as a village until 1895.
The earliest settlers, for the most part, came from the rural counties of Ontario. From Carleton came the families of Armitage, Owens, Clark, Storey, Lowry, Boyle and Moorhead; from Renfrew those of Forrest and Tait; from Bruce the McGregors; from Halton, D. D. Campbell; from Oxford, Baldwin and Motheral; from Oshawa, Foley, Moore and Ullyott; from Leeds, Bolton and Bedford, and the Fargeys from Ireland, via Hastings county. From across the Ottawa river, on the Quebec side, came the families of Davidson, Hill, Strachan, Gayton, Tarriff and Dougall. It would be hard to find a more efficient force with which to transform the wilderness and establish homes, while maintaining the institutions which are the pride of our British traditions. No task was too difficult to be undertaken. They were resourceful in every circumstance and skilled in all the handicrafts necessary for pioneer life.
An exception might be made in the case of "The Ranch". A block of 3000 acres had been acquired by Sir John Waldron at Pembina Crossing; a considerable portion was brought under cultivation and herds were established of pure-bred Shorthorn cattle and Clydesdale horses. It was managed by Wm. Winram who had an adjoining farm, but it was afterwards sold to different parties. Among them was one who undertook, for an annual fee, to teach farming to sons of English gentlemen, but I never heard of any of the students attaining distinction in the field of agriculture.
But to get back to pioneer conditions. In the late '70s and early '80s the end of each breaking season saw an increased acreage on each homestead brought under cultivation; horses and oxen providing the motive power. Since I did not arrive in Manitou until 1892, for the story of happenings prior to that date, I have to depend on those with whom I later became more intimately associated. I am writing this in March, 1956 and the news has just been published that a new snowfall record for the season has been made, surpassing that made in 1882 - ninety-eight inches. In late March of that season, my wife, with a cousin, drove in a sleigh one hundred miles, a three-day trip, to where some of the family had already settled. They stayed the first night at Headingly, had lunch the next day at a halfbreed's house at Stinking Creek, and in the afternoon drove on towards Carman. For several miles they used the railway grade, where some construction work was going on, but were obliged to get off the grade as a work engine approached, the horses floundering in snow several feet deep. When they reached the construction camp they had a splendid meal and reached Carman at eleven p.m. No beds were available, but she sat on the hotel parlor floor and, with her head on a chair, got some sleep. The next evening they reached their destination. Time, not cosmetics, restored to normal complexion the face of a fifteen year old girl exposed to sun and wind for three days.
I was a partner in the lumber business for six years with Gil Davidson whose mother was the first white woman in the township (4-8W). His father was a genius in all kinds of woodcraft and constructive engineering, always a "corner man" at a raising bee when a neighbor put up a log house or barn. Sam Forrest was another and the skill required to dovetail the logs at the corner is now one of the lost arts. Tom Toobey and Sam Moorhead often completed the required quartette in such operations. Among Sam Forrest's other accomplishments was his skill in baking bread in an oven made of heated stones. His physical prowess had already been tested as a member of the Lord Wolseley Expedition in 1870, when a year's provisions for fourteen hundred men were transported by water from Port Arthur to Fort Garry over the extremely difficult fur trade route.
I have heard him tell of the rivalry that existed among the different boat crews, to see who could make the quickest portage, or carry the heaviest load. Returning with the expedition to Renfrew he married my wife's eldest sister and, some years later, homesteaded on Pembina Mountain. Tragedy overtook him in 1880 when he lost his wife and one child. To save his seed wheat from spoilage during spring rains he had moved it to the upstairs of the house and during the night the floor collapsed, the wheat smothering those in bed.
The social life of those early days would fill a very small space in a society column. My wife had no companions of her own age for several years in the immediate neighborhood, and it became an event to go to a picnic in summer or a dance in winter within a radius of ten miles. But the monotonous routine of milking cows, making butter, exchanging the butter and eggs at the store for household necessities was broken in 1884 as the railroad gangs appeared over the hill a mile from her brother's homestead and their westward progress was daily noted.
The duck population on the numerous sloughs in summer and prairie chickens in the fall furnished some variety in the meat diet of the early settlers. It was not uncommon for some to have a "deep freeze" after November first-a barrel of frozen chickens on the north side of the house. Deer meat in season was plentiful.
The new townsite was called Manitou. The C.P.R. built a water tank and roundhouse, and it was a divisional point for many years until it was moved to LaRiviere. In addition to the buildings moved from Manitoba City, many business places were established to supply local needs, including three grain elevators operated by steam power, as the gasoline engine for power had not yet been developed.
Early Farming Methods
I went to Manitou to buy wheat for the Ogilvie Milling Company and worked for them for nine years. The other two elevators were owned by Robert Ironside and R. J. Chalmers. When I started working in an elevator in 1891, and for many years afterwards, all grain was delivered to the elevator in sacks which were emptied into a hopper scale inside the elevator, over a ledge which projected on the driveway. In the busy season it was not unusual to take in three or four thousand bushels in one day, which required some physical effort. Now, wheat delivered loose in a truck to a dump scale requires no such effort, neither on the part of the farmer nor of the elevator operator.
At that time the threshing season did not usually commence until well on in September. For this there were several reasons. The variety then grown - Red Fyfe - a beautiful wheat, well-becoming the grade name that had been established for it - No. 1 Hard - took one hundred and twenty-one days to ripen. Though never surpassed for its baking qualities, it was discarded as soon as a sufficient quantity of the new Marquis variety, which ripened at least two weeks earlier, became available.
The grain was all cut with the binder of course, and stooked. Threshing from the stook did not become general for some time, as there was a general opinion held that the colour of the wheat was improved by stacking and consequently a higher grade obtained. But as the cultivated acreage increased, the cost and labor of stacking was taken into account and stook threshing soon became general as custom threshing machines became more numerous.
Within a radius of five miles from the elevator, most of the wheat was delivered from the threshing machine through the co-operation of neighbors with their teams. But for those at a greater distance, it became a winter's job to haul it in on sleighs; for some a two-day trip coming and going. Sam Curiston's hostel was, indeed, a haven for many who had put in a winter's day on a prairie trail; some from as far away as Windygates. The tractor, combine and truck have surely made life easier for the farmer of today who can now have his harvesting, marketing and fall cultivation completed before the date when his grandfather could expect the threshing machine to pull in to his stacks.
Whether on account of the higher altitude or soil conditions, the wheat on Pembina Mountain ripened more slowly than it did on the lower Red River Valley soil, and much of it was often injured by early fall frosts. As this wheat was not wanted by the milling companies and as there was only a limited market for it for feed purposes, the prices offered for it were disappointingly low. To increase their income farmers, encouraged by Robert Ironside, began feeding it to livestock, and it was not long before some of the best Shorthorn herds in the province, including the famous Greenway herd at Crystal City, were established in this area. The same conditions prevailed at Pilot Mound where Mr. Ironside's partner, J. T. Gordon, was operating, and they eventually became the largest exporters of livestock from Canada. In 1894, I accompanied a train load of finished steers from Manitou and Pilot Mound to Liverpool. Gil Davidson and Edgar Burgess had made a similiar trip two years previously.
A description of the early businessmen and of business conditions might fit in here. When the railway reached Manitou, a lumber and hardware business was established by J. T. Gordon and Robert Ironside, but when the railway reached Pilot Mound, Gordon moved there and operated on his own account. The lumber and hardware business was taken over by Charlie Gordon, a brother-in-law of Mr. Ironside, who now devoted all his time to the grain and livestock business. Adjoining the hardware store was the general store of Fullerton & Ross, two Montreal businessmen, both of whom had built substantial houses in the new townsite. Other general stores were those of the Hudson's Bay Company, Huston & Betts, and John Wootton, and another hardware store was operated by R. J. Chalmers. There were also a number of smaller stores and butcher shops, each with a hitching post in front, where customers' horses were tied. There were also three livery barns, and two hotels, equipped with sample rooms; a necessary adjunct in those days as the different wholesale and manufacturing firms employed commercial travellers to display their goods to the retail trade. As there were no automobiles or roads on which they could be used, and perhaps only a thrice-weekly railway service, the transportation of these salesmen and their samples provided a good share of the liveryman's income.
There were also three blacksmith shops, and I wonder as I write, where one would go now to get a horse shod. The first one was started by Dick McKenzie who had already been operating at Pembina Crossing. He afterwards sold the shop to Billy Dales and handled the products of the McLaughlin Carriage Company of Oshawa. Dick McKenzie received buggies in car lots and it was not long before, within a radius of twenty-five miles, there were few farmers who had not got one from him. When automobiles were added to the McLaughlin factory output, Mr. McKenzie was chosen as the Western manager, with headquarters at Winnipeg.
It was not until the turn of the century that the chartered banks began to establish branches at country points. There were at many points, however, banks owned by private individuals, but the prevailing rates charged would now be called usury, and few were patronized for loans except in emergency cases. The local storekeepers, besides exchanging goods for butter and eggs, in many cases provided credit during the summer months on the understanding that payments would be made after threshing time. Deferred payments on land purchases, mortgage loans, and machinery notes all became due on November 1, and to meet these payments it became necessary for most to sell all their grain before that date. Under these conditions more wheat was delivered than the market would absorb, with the result that prices invariably declined while the bulk of the crop was being marketed. It is easy to understand the farmers who recall such experiences being enthusiastic about the operation of the Wheat Board which, through orderly marketing, assures them the average price for the season.
Professional men were not numerous. For years, W. F. Ellis had the only law office, but he was never so fond of legal work as he was with the sale of his townsite, with mortgage loans, and with the training of his English setter dogs. G. F. Bradley came later and kept a law office until his death. George Armstrong was articled with W. F. Ellis, graduated in law, represented Manitou in the local legislature, and at the time of his death was County Court Judge.
For years Dr. McConnell of Morden, Dr. Moore of Manitou, and Dr. Riddell of Crystal City were the only medical men available in a wide area. Later came Dr. Cook, Dr. R. W. McCharles, and Dr. Herb Davidson who worthily maintained the Drumtochty standards of William Maclure. Dr. H. H. Black, a graduate of Philadelphia Dental College, moved to Manitou from Pembina Crossing and maintained an office for many years. Veterinary services were provided in turn by Drs. Young, McGillivary and Swanson.
In the teaching profession there were some outstanding personalities. Among them was Jack Mulvey, son of Col. Stewart Mulvey, for whom Mulvey School in Winnipeg is named. Apart from his qualities as a teacher he was regarded as a hero by the boys in the first New Haven School. I have heard Gil Davidson tell of his skill with a shotgun, his physical exploits and football coaching. In Manitou we had Jim Calder as principal for a year. He afterwards went to Saskatchewan, entered into politics and became a Canadian senator. Edgar Burgess, a born teacher, was principal for many years, and many today, holding prominent positions in the business or professional world, will give their old teacher credit for the thorough grounding they received from him. Among his pupils in the educational field was Charlie Huston who became a professor in a California University, and Bruce Moorhead who was principal of the Normal School, Winnipeg at the time of his death.
But of those who emerged from the teaching profession to larger spheres of influence, none adds a greater degree of lustre than Nellie Mooney. First at Hazel School, and later at Manitou, she was held in affectionate regard by all her pupils. In 1896 she married the local druggist, Wesley McClung. In her books, Clearing in the West, and The Stream Runs Fast, her later activities are most interestingly told; many incidents illustrating so well what life in the community was like at the turn of the century. Although she was not internationally known until some time after leaving Manitou, she made her influence felt in many good causes-for women's suffrage and a sober citizenship in particular. Her syndicated articles in various publications were eagerly awaited for their sound philosophy, and I have more than once been asked, after a Monday morning greeting: "Did you read Mrs. McClung's column in Saturday's paper?"
In 1920 she was appointed a delegate to the Ecumenical Council of the Methodist Church in London and, in 1938, she was one of the Canadian delegates to the League of Nations conference in Geneva. Other public services as a member of the Alberta Legislature, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were honorably discharged. I will always feel that Manitou has failed in its duty until in some public place there is a plaque reading:
"In Memory of Nellie L. McClung
Church services of a kind found their way to the Archibald district. From Nelson, Rev. Mr. Borthwick came to hold occasional services for the Presbyterians, first in Sam Forrest's house and later in Jim Lister's where the Methodists also worshipped.
In the new townsite the different denominations erected their respective church buildings. Among the earlier Methodist ministers were Reverends Argue, McClung and Spence and among their Presbyterian contemporaries Reverends McRae, Townsend and Caven. Prominent in the Anglican Church was Rural Dean Hewitt, and in the Baptist church Rev. Mr. Canfield who was also an accomplished singer.
Apart from the French-Canadian settlement at St. Leon the Roman Catholics were few in number and had no church for a time but their needs were served by Father Turcotte who was the guest of Hugh Toobey, and later by Father Duffy, a kind Irish soul.
Before the United Church of Canada was officially organized, the local congregations of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches had already united under the leadership of Dr. A. C. Strachan.
The complacency of the local religious life was stirred in 1891 through an evangelical mission conducted by the Misses Judd in the Methodist church. In the Presbyterian church the somnolent discourses of Mr. Caven on Pauline theology or different phases of fundamentalist doctrines were replaced by the thought-provoking sermons of Rev. Thomas Beveridge, who came in 1897.
At that time, what was termed "higher criticism" and the theory of evolution were becoming controversial subjects in theological circles in the English-speaking world. The position taken by Mr. Beveridge was that "truth is its own apologetic." If a thing is true, there is an end to controversy. Proven truth must be accepted, though it cuts across traditional customs or beliefs. His enthusiasm for the discovery of truth caused some unpopularity at first among those who did not want their conventional ideas disturbed, but it disappeared as his sincerity and good will became increasingly evident. At his funeral service Dr. Baird spoke of him as having an "honest mind." Another of his characteristics was his courage to defend an unpopular cause if he believed it to be his duty to do so.
During his ministry the church building became too small and under his leadership the building of the present church was undertaken by the congregation with the objective of having it paid for in two years. This was accomplished; Mr. Beveridge setting an example by subscribing two hundred and fifty a year out of a salary of nine hundred dollars. It was considered a loss to the community, when, on account of throat trouble, he had to stop preaching and take up newspaper work.
While the efforts of the early settlers were for the most part directed toward breaking new land and establishing homes or businesses, it was not long before sports of different kinds found a place in community activities. I have heard Gil Davidson tell of a big sports competition held at Nelson on one Dominion Day. Getting up early in the morning, he walked the fifteen-miles distance and won a race and a prize in another athletic competition. A skating rink was built in Manitou in the early '90s and later a curling rink was erected.
But the game in which the entire countryside was most interested was lacrosse. A league was formed including the clubs of Miami, Morden and Manitou. Between the latter two a rivalry developed from year to year until it culminated in the importation of skilled players by both sides for whom positions were found locally during the playing season. Charlie Gordon who was the driving force on the Manitou team engaged Bert Poile, an expert stick handler, while Morden had Flett and another called Krupp on whom their hopes were placed. The Manitou boys were fast, were expert in passing the ball in team play, and were the winners in the final game played at Manitou that season (1896). The Morden backers were badly disappointed, having bet considerable money on the game - Hugh Toobey was said to have won two hundred dollars. In a parody on "Edinburgh after Flodden" Mr. E. E. Best, school inspector, penned the following poem which was published in the Manitou Mercury, and which quite aptly described the event.
When I went to Manitou in 1892, the three grain elevators had sufficient capacity to handle all the grain produced in Pembina Municipality and they were never congested. There were none nearer than Thornhill, fourteen miles to the east, and in 1899, the C.P.R. put a siding where Darlingford is now. Turnbull and Davidson had the lumber yard at Manitou and decided to put in a yard there too. I drove a load of lumber down to put up the first building there - our office. An elevator was built by Geo. Ullyott for Ferris Bolton, Scott Bros. and Ab. Lawson and Ned Jordan built a store. Darlingford soon became a thriving village in a prosperous community. As the cultivated acreage continued to increase, other elevators were built at Wood Bay, Purvis, Snowflake, Windygates and Kaleida, with a combined capacity of 350,000 bushels, and each became a centre of social and community life.
Around the turn of the century, an annual event which many country people eagerly awaited was the one-day excursion to the city during the Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition, held usually in July. A cheap fare was offered along the branch railway lines, and a train made up principally of colonist cars with corrugated wooden seats left distant divisional points early in the morning, arriving in the city before noon. This left ample time to see the various displays at the exhibition grounds, and for the few women passengers to visit city friends or do special shopping.
It was a tired crowd that boarded the return train about eleven p.m. to arrive home in the early morning hours of the next day. But they had seen the Exhibition, and many of them for the first time, the city. Others had not been out of Pembina Municipality since their arrival. New topics of conversation were provided as farmers foregathered at village post offices or street corners. They could be heard discussing the relative merits of different steam-tractor engines, threshing machines, and other farm implements they had seen. Others dwelt on the beautiful Clydesdale horses shown, or other livestock exhibits, particularly the Shorthorn herds of John Barron of Carberry, and Premier Greenway of Crystal City.
Brandon has long since supplanted Winnipeg as the centre for such displays, but the thrill of "Excursion Day" may still be recalled by some who may tell their grandchildren about the midway and the sideshows they saw on such occasions.
Present wheat prices under the International Wheat Agreement one dollar and fifty-five cents per bushel minimum to two dollars and five cents maximum-would have seemed a dream in those days. I remember taking into the elevator in one October day in 1895, four thousand bushels of No. 1 Northern wheat and issuing tickets at forty four cents per bushel. Later that season the price for oats and barley was twelve to fifteen cents per bushel. In the previous season, 1894, Ogilvie's had sent me to Deloraine. then the end of the line, as their buyer there. When I sent in the books at the end of the season, the average price was thirty-eight and a fraction cents per bushel and every car graded No. 1 Hard. During the winter months much of it was hauled in sleighs from where Minto, Elgin, Goodlands and Waskada are now, and the price paid was thirty-three cents per bushel. Freight rates were so high in proportion that one farmer, with title to his homestead, declared that he was farming on shares with the C.P.R., as it took nearly half the value of his crop to send it to Fort William.
Price comparisons in other commodities may also be interesting. When we started in the lumber business in 1896, we bought dimension lumber at eighteen dollars per M, and retailed it at twenty dollars; now one hundred and forty dollars. Flooring and siding we sold at twenty-eight dollars per M, the same quality of flooring today costs three hundred dollars. During the six years I was in the lumber business, many of the old settlers' log buildings were replaced by frame houses and barns. Shelter belts were later planted, helped by the government policy of distributing seedlings free from the Nursery at Indian Head. Besides changing the landscape and preventing snow from drifting around farm buildings, these provided better conditions for gardening and fruit growing. From the earliest days of settlement, "Sandy" Stevenson of Nelson had carried on experiments in the development of hardy varieties suitable to our climate. The value of his contributions to this phase of homemaking was publicly recognized and perpetuated through the establishment of the A. P. Stevenson Memorial Board. I recall the delightful Scottish burr he retained as he addressed our Institute meetings.
Early industries in Manitou might be limited to the cheese factory and flour mill, neither very large. The flour mill driven by steam provided a market for the cordwood cut in the more wooded districts around St. Leon; the French settlers and others brought their own wheat to be ground into flour. I remember one old German, Koenig, who was on his way to the mill once and passed the corner where the wheat buyers were standing. They jumped on his load to offer him a price and we were amused as he announced in his quaint accent: "Mill I go, hungry I am. Bread I must haffen." Ogilvie's had a flour shed and occasionally I bought their wheat and exchanged it for flour, but most preferred to have it ground as they then had the bran and shorts for feed. But I have retailed car lots of flour (a brand called "Strong Bakers") at a dollar and eighty cents per bag of ninety-eight pounds, and "Hungarian Patent" at two dollars and for the elevator boiler exchanged a bag of flour for a cord of wood at the same price: wood brought in a distance of 15 miles. During the busy season there was usually enough screenings from the cleaner to provide fuel for steam purposes.
Another industry of a more ambitious nature was attempted in the Pembina Valley on the farm of R. N. Lea. A syndicate was formed which included Wes. McClung and Alf Garrett to bore for oil, but although oil was discovered, for some reason it was never developed.
The use of horse-drawn machinery on the farm and the shortness of the seasons in which the work had to be done, made long hours of physical effort the inescapable price to be paid for success. Other factors there were, of course, careful planning, favourable weather conditions, profitable prices and available help. Few homesteaders had a permanent "hired man". Around the turn of the century several were hired from April 1st to "freeze up" at the standard wage of two dollars and board. Then they would go to the lumber woods for the winter months or do the winter chores for their board until next April 1st. Ten dollar excursion rates from Ontario brought thousands for stooking, stacking and threshing; the hours worked-daylight to dark-and the wages paid-thirty-five to fifty dollars per month. And the extra work in the house - cooking for the hired men and threshing gangs! But I'll leave that for some grandmother to describe.
If I were allowed to glance through an old diary of the times, such entries as the following would be found describing the seasonal activities:
I have by no means exhausted memories, pleasant or unpleasant. though the pleasant experiences are always a joy to recall. Some, I think, will be denied the mechanical farmer of today. The pride and affection that his grandfather had for a good faithful team can't be given to a tractor, however more efficient. Nor can I imagine the man who steps off a tractor after going over his land with a one-way disc feeling the same sense of achievement or self-expression that I have felt at the end of a breaking season as I looked over another field, through my physical effort, added to my cultivated acreage. I feel that the grandchildren of those men and women, by whose physical efforts the wilderness of Pembina Mountain was transformed and made to blossom, will not find the same sense of satisfaction through the use of mechanical power. Yet its use may provide the necessary time for other sources of satisfaction-the beautifying of homes and gardens and the enjoyment of household conveniences denied their forebears. But will that make them better citizens?
* We are pleased to publish this essay which won for its author a Margaret McWilliams medal in 1956. For editorial reasons the essay has not been printed in its entirety.
Page revised: 23 April 2011