Manitoba History: The Early Years of the Manitoba Home for Boys

by Cameron Harvey
Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba

Number 79, Fall 2015

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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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This article is an excerpt from a longer manuscript, copies of which are deposited at the Manitoba Legislative Library and the Elizabeth Dafoe Library at the University of Manitoba.

The story of the Home begins with the enactment in 1889 of “An Act respecting the Home for Incurables and the Manitoba Reformatory for Boys,” [1] by which the Governor-in-Council was empowered to authorize the purchase of a site and the erection of a building for these institutions for a total cost not to exceed $50,000.00. This legislation was immediately implemented with the purchase of the NW Ό of 25-10-19, on which the Brandon Mental Health Centre (now Assiniboine Community College) is located currently. In March 1890, royal assent was given to “An Act respecting the Manitoba Reformatory for Boys” [2] and during July 1890, a building housing the two institutions opened for the reception of juvenile offenders. According to the Report of the Department of Public Works for the year 1890, “[t]he result of its establishment seems to have had a deterring influence on the youth of the country … Up to the present time … but one boy has been committed.” The two institutions were under the superintendence of the Hon. John Wright Sifton.

In July 1891, the building became for the most part the Home for Incurables when 44 patients were transferred from the Selkirk Asylum and the Home for Incurables at Portage la Prairie and only the one juvenile offender continued in residence. Dr. Gordon Bell assumed the duties of Superintendent. There are no references to the Manitoba Reformatory for Boys in the annual reports of the Department of Public Works for the years 1892–1900. Presumably, the use of the building at Brandon as Reformatory for Boys petered out during the 1890s, and juvenile offenders were incarcerated in the various Judicial District Gaols.

On 1 November 1901, the Central Judicial District Gaol at Portage la Prairie “was set apart as a reformatory prison for the detention of youthful offenders from the Province generally and the better class of [adult] prisoners from the district.” [3] Daniel MacLean, the Gaoler for the Central District Gaol, referred to this as an “experiment of conducting a common gaol and a reformatory prison under the same roof and under similar conditions... the results [of which] will no doubt be watched with considerable interest.” [4] By 1906, and perhaps as a result of a Grand Jury report [5] recommending greater separation of the boys and the adult prisoners, the decision was taken to relocate the Reformatory to the current Crescent Road site, which included a 200-acre farm.

Bricks and Mortar

During 1908–1909, a four-storey all-purpose building and a power house were constructed. [6] The Provincial Architect, Sam Hooper, modelled it on the Minnesota Training School at Red Wing. [7] The Reformatory opened its doors on 1 February 1910, to 20 boys transferred from the Central District Gaol. On 16 March 1910, royal assent was given to The Industrial Home Act, [8] which repealed The Reformatory Act. Although the new Act provided for a name change to the Industrial Home, the institution was in fact called the Industrial Training School. The Industrial Home Act was virtually a reiteration of the original Reformatory Act of 1890.

During 1911–1915 the original concept of private rooms for the children was abandoned in favour of dormitories and several buildings were added to the School complex: a three-storey school building, containing a gymnasium and “swimming bath;” an addition to the original building, housing a bakery, laundry, and more dormitory accommodation; a blacksmith shop; a piggery; a slaughterhouse; and replacements for a barn, root house, implement shed, and granary which were destroyed by a lightning fire in 1912.

A view of the Industrial Training Centre, no date.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Portage la Prairie - Provincial - Industrial School for Boys 3, N14987

During 1930–1931 three new buildings were constructed adjacent to the school building, comprising a two-storey administration building and two brick cottages “in the home-like design of modern English cottages.” [9] Thus began the Cottage System of dealing with the boys. With the occupation of the three new buildings, by the end of 1931, the original 1910 building was entirely vacated and became for a while an annex of the Home of the Aged and Infirm; [10] subsequently it was vacant for a few years. Ultimately, it came to a fiery end in the early morning of 1 November 1943 when it was being occupied by the military. [11]

In the fall of 1940, the Department of National Defence took over the Manitoba Home for Boys to use it as a training centre. Initially, the Home was to be transferred to a youth training camp at Gimli. However, this choice proved to be unsatisfactory and between 50 and 60 boys, including two 10-year-olds, were moved on 10 September 1940, to “temporary quarters” comprising tarpaper shacks at a forestry camp, Camp No. 3, 20 miles north of Rennie in the Whiteshell Forest Reserve. [12] The deplorable conditions of the camp, recorded for posterity in photographs, prompted a Winnipeg Free Press editorial:

… The conditions are far from satisfactory. There is no medical doctor within fifty miles. The sanitary arrangements are simply scandalous. The use of oil lamps means a fire hazard and an injurious strain on the eyes of the boys, while a Delco lighting system could be easily installed. There is no building with lock and key, in case that might be required for disciplinary purposes. The buildings will be harder to make comfortable in the severe winter weather than they would be if porches were built at the doors and storm windows provided. [13]

The temporary quarters were endured until July 1941, when the shacks and their 46 juvenile occupants were relocated on a 200-acre site along the north bank of the Boyne River, the E ½ of the NW Ό of 25-6-5W, one mile west of Carman via PR 245 and then a half-mile north. [14] In August “a quiet but impressive” sod-turning ceremony, involving each boy digging a spadeful of soil, marked the commencement of construction of two permanent buildings for the Home, an administration building including the kitchen and dining room, and a dormitory [15] which were ready for occupancy later that fall. [16] Indeed, the boys “did all the excavating” and assisted in the carpentry. Rev. Atkinson’s initial satisfaction with the process had disappeared by the time of his report for the year ending 30 April 1943. He described the year as “the most unsatisfactory year in the history of the School since I took charge. I fear that we have not only been marking time, but going backward.”

In 1944, the American Welfare Association was quite critical of the facilities at Carman:

… the correctional school for boys is so inadequately housed and staffed that it calls for some special comment in spite of the remarkable success with which the present limited facilities are employed. There is not physical space to care properly for the boys committed, the big boys and the little boys being housed in the same building, although in separate dormitories. There are no adequate isolation quarters in the building. There is no real staff or equipment for vocational training of the boys. [17]

In September 1945, it was announced that the Home would be moved back to Portage la Prairie the following spring. The move was completed by 8 October 1947, following a $110,000.00 reconditioning of the buildings. One of the dormitory buildings and the foundations of three other buildings still exist on the site, access to which is gained through the premises of Carman Concrete Ltd.


The first Superintendent of the Industrial Training School at Portage la Prairie was the Rev. Wellington Bridgman, 1909–1911. In reporting his appointment the Winnipeg Telegram said:

… Mr. Bridgman has lived in the province since 1881, and has been constantly engaged in the pastoral work of the Methodist church. He has been engaged as pastor at Emerson, Brandon, Medicine Hat, MacLeod, Morden, Deloraine, Virden, Souris, Neepawa, and last at St. John’s, Winnipeg. He has occupied the most responsible positions in the Methodist church, having been chairman of the district, and from June 1907, to June 1908, was president of conference. [18]

During 1910, the School’s first eleven months of operation, the School received 106 children from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, twelve of them being girls who were all from Manitoba. The children ranged in age from 8 to 18 years. Just over half of them were committed for theft. Twelve children, who comprised the next largest category, were designated as “incorrigible”, and 10 of this group were girls. The rest of the children were committed for a wide range of offences, including vagrancy, arson, forgery, assault, horse stealing, and being masked without lawful excuse. One child was simply a ward of the Children’s Aid Society. Two-thirds of the children were described as being Canadian, English, Scotch, and American. The rest were from various European countries, except for one of the girls who was described as being South African. [19] The school became exclusively an institution for boys during the summer of 1911. [20]

In his two annual reports for 1910 and 1911, Rev. Bridgman referred to the boys and girls as pupils. “We never use the word ‘reformatory,’ nor remind a boy that he ever saw a magistrate. We always emphasize the fact that ours is a Provincial industrial training school, that the boys who attend here are pupils ….” [21]

Pursuant to the objects stipulated in The Industrial Home Act of 1910, namely “custody and detention, with a view to their education, industrial training and moral reclamation,” the daily regimen of the boys and girls was half a day studying “how to read, write, and do simple parts of arithmetic” [22] and the other half taking industrial training in blacksmith, carpentry, tailor, shoe, and bakery shops, and working in the School’s farm, garden, kitchen, laundry, and engine house. Every Sunday afternoon a service was conducted in the assembly hall by a rotation of clergymen from the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Baptist churches, the Church of Christ, and the Salvation Army. Daily recreation consisted of baseball, football, skating, cricket, and a brass band.

To carry on the operation of the School, in addition to Superintendent Bridgman, in 1910–1911 there were 16 employees: an Assistant Superintendent, a Matron, an Assistant Matron, a teacher, a clerk-storekeeper, a guard, two engineers, a gardener, a carpenter, a farm worker, a watchman, three housemaid-laundresses, and a cook. This complement of employees quickly grew to around 30 employees, with the hiring of additional teachers, both academic and vocational, clerks, engineers and firemen, guards, cooks, carpenters, and farm workers; in the 1920s the workforce was reduced by several bodies and it continued to fluctuate in the low 20s during the 1930s and 1940s. The positions of Assistant Superintendent and Assistant Matron were eliminated after 1911. The position of Matron was eliminated in 1931 with the introduction of the Cottage System.

Rev. Bridgman’s tenure as Superintendent came to an end in December 1911, following several months of controversy about the lack of discipline and security at the School. [23] He returned to the Methodist ministry. Rev. Bridgman died on 11 February 1922, aged 68 years. His obituary in the Winnipeg Evening Tribune made no mention of his two and a half years at the Industrial Training School. [24]

John Weir succeeded Rev. Bridgman as Superintendent of the School. F. H. Schofield in The Story of Manitoba, 1913, gives this background on Mr. Weir:

He was born near London … Ontario, April 2, 1867 ... He received an excellent education in the public schools of Ontario … he came to Manitoba ... in 1891 and engaged in farming at Oakville … From the time of his arrival in Manitoba Mr. Weir took an active part in public affairs, serving as reeve and as a member of the rural council for several terms ... as school trustee ... [and as] inspector of foster homes in the province. His duties consisted of overseeing the management and direction of various orphan asylums… [25]

Mr. Weir’s farm was located on the SW Ό of 30-11-4, a mile and a half north of Oakville. He served as a councillor of the RM of Portage la Prairie during 1901–1905 and as Reeve during 1905–1906.

Mr. Weir was Superintendent of the School for 4 years, 1911–1915. In the first of the three annual reports, which Mr. Weir submitted, he dealt with the problem, which had presumably brought about his appointment: “In an establishment of this kind, it is imperative that strict discipline must be maintained in all departments.” [26]

Mr. Justice J. P. Curran of the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench visited the School in October 1915 in connection with carrying out his task as a Special Commissioner. [27] While he was impressed with the “[c]leanliness, good discipline and attention to the material and mental welfare of the boys,” he was not impressed with the “housing principle by which all inmates live together in one building.” Mr. Justice Curran concluded his remarks about the School writing: “On the whole, I think the Province is to be congratulated on possessing so efficient and well conducted an institution.”

In December of 1915, a new broom swept into the office of the Superintendent, John Weir’s successor Findlay William McKinnon, a Baptist clergyman. Rev. McKinnon was born in 1879 in Bruce County, Ontario. He attended Brandon College, completing the three-year Theology Course, although he did not obtain a degree. Prior to his appointment at the School he served as a student pastor at Red Deer and Coleman, Alberta, and Boissevain and Kildonan, Manitoba. Why John Weir’s tenure as Superintendent came to an end and what he did with the rest of his life is a mystery… Apparently, Mr. Weir eventually retired to Vancouver where he died near the age of 100 years. [28]

In his first report on the School Rev. McKinnon wrote:

After studying the needs of this institution for the past month, I am fully persuaded that we cannot attain to any means of success in our work under the existing conditions Our farm is inadequate … we need another team of horses We have a large barn only partially filled with cattle … The trades at this institution are a farce, and absolutely and wholly inadequate to meet the demands of the trade business. [29]

The school was allowed to rent two adjacent, small farms and to purchase additional horses. [30] Although the farm remained a part of the School and, together with all the buildings comprising the School, under the control of the Minister of Public Works, the administration of the School was transferred to the Department of Education in 1916 [31] and visited by the district public school Inspector.

In 1916, after a trip during which he visited several institutions in eastern Canada and the United States, Superintendent McKinnon introduced an honour system allowing boys to earn the privilege of unsupervised visits home, and to local parks and picture shows. As well, parents were allowed to visit, with a special dining room and parlour set aside for this purpose. Also as a result of his trip, he set up a system of self-government, unique in Canada, by which the boys disciplined themselves. They elected their own constables, judges, juries, court clerk, court crier, and lawyers. [32] A ledger was kept of the court’s proceedings. The offences included swearing, talking after lights out, standing up in bed, obtaining bread and butter by threat, indecent assault, permitting dirty talk in the dormitory and failing to report it, spilling water on the table, playing hooky, reading after 10 o’clock, talking in line, hitting boys on the head with a strap, unreported bedwetting, cheating on exams, looking around while singing grace at the table, stalling in the hall instead of doing work in the dining room, carrying a comb in pocket, whistling in the dormitory, throwing crusts in the dining room, smoking, calling the police names, and lying. [33] The standard punishment was from 5–15 straps which were administered by the Superintendent. There was an appeal available to the “Supreme Court,” over which the Superintendent presided. Rev. McKinnon considered the system of self-government to be “one of the finest things ever introduced into this or any other school.” [34] The self-government system apparently petered out in 1919 and was rejuvenated for approximately six months in mid-1921.

In furtherance of the war effort, no doubt, in 1916–1917 a Cadet Corps was organized at the School, [35] which was augmented by the organization of a bugle band in 1920. References to the Cadet Corps and School band cease after the Annual Report for the year ending 30 June 1922; presumably they were discontinued by 1925, for the Annual Report for the year ending 30 June 1925, which describes at some length the activities carried on at the School, makes no reference to them. Of the boys who had attended School since its inception, 135 enlisted to serve in the First World War; many of them received commissions, at least three attaining the rank of captain, and five the rank of lieutenant. [36] Twenty-five of the boys gave their lives. [37] This devotion to duty was repeated in the Second World War. According to the Annual Report for 1941–1942, at least 200 of the School’s “old boys” had enlisted.

Education continued to be “the most important feature of the whole school.” [38] Qualified teachers gave instruction up to high school entrance. Except for the “smaller boys” who attended school all day, the boys divided their day between “school” and the trades. A reading room containing daily newspapers and magazines was opened and the library was “replenished with a hundred volumes of good reading for boys.” [39] Whatever the quality of education at the beginning of Rev. McKinnon’s tenure, by 1922 according to officials at the Department of Education:

… the showing made at the School compares favourably with any school in the Province … it is really one of the best in Manitoba as far as results obtained. At the recent entrance examinations there were sixteen boys who wrote and all sixteen passed. There were seven who took the grade nine exams and all seven passed. There were two boys who wrote the grade ten exams and both passed. [40]

In addition to the regular school work the boys, under the direction of teachers, arranged literary evenings twice a month. On holiday occasions, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. the teachers prepared programmes in keeping with the holiday season; [41] for instance, at Christmas, 1918, the boys put on a programme of musical numbers from HMS Pinafore, interspersed with patriotic marches and drills, “which was very well-received by the local community.” [42]

The influenza epidemic of 1919 “went through the entire institution.” [43] At a time when the number of boys at the School was down to approximately 90, a total of 74 boys came down with the disease. All recovered. In October 1920, an outbreak of diphtheria resulted in the School being placed under strict quarantine. [44] Apparently, the diphtheria was brought to the School by one of the Portage children attending classes at the School due to a lack of space in Portage public schools. The quarantining brought to an end this use of the School’s classrooms by the Portage School Board, which had been occurring since the spring of 1920. [45]

Heritage conservation. One of the older buildings at the Agassiz Youth Centre had a new cedar roof installed in May 2013.
Source: G. Goldsborough

In his second annual report, Rev. McKinnon began promoting the Cottage System advocated a year earlier by Mr. Justice Curran. Rev. McKinnon received support from the Public Welfare Commission and in the Legislature from C. D. McPherson, the MLA for Lakeside. [46] Eight years after his departure the Cottage System was implemented in 1931.

Over the years under Rev. McKinnon’s supervision the School received nothing but praise from grand jury inspections. Nevertheless, all of a sudden in the spring of 1923 it was reported “that the government did not intend retaining the services of Rev. McKinnon. Premier Bracken stated that a committee, headed by D. B. Harkness, would make recommendations “… with the view of bringing about greater efficiency and more economy in operation and reducing the operating costs.” [47] In June it was reported that all of the staff were asked for their resignations, but that no one, including Rev. McKinnon, knew why or what was to be done. [48] From 1923 until he retired in 1946 Rev. McKinnon served as the pastor at churches in Vernon, New Westminster, and Victoria, British Columbia. He died in January 1958.

The new Superintendent was Hugh Duncan “HD” Cumming, [49] a Department of Education school inspector from Teulon. Cumming was born in Sunny Brae, Nova Scotia, in 1878. He graduated from the Pictou Academy and took his first teaching position at Glencoe, Nova Scotia. In 1904, he taught for a short time at Netley, Manitoba, returning to Nova Scotia when his parents died. In 1907 he resumed his teaching career at Teulon, where he taught and served as the Principal of the Intermediate School, High School, and Collegiate Department until his appointment as the Inspector of Public Schools for Division 19, beginning 1 January 1920.

It would appear from the Annual Report for the year ending 30 June 1925 [50] that with the changing of the guard, so to speak, the School’s industrial training programme was terminated. The Report describes at some length the school, sports, recreational, and farm placement programmes. No mention is made of any industrial training. In keeping with the focus on farm training the School’s farm acreage was increased to 540 acres and a barley exhibit submitted by the School to the International Stock Exhibition at Chicago in December 1924, won the Chicago Board of Trade prizes in the Grain and Hay Show Division. [51]

The Report also describes the “marking system,” which had “almost altogether taken the place of any corporal punishment.” It is difficult to accept the statement about corporal punishment at face value. The available evidence of the incidence of corporal punishment over the years presents an unclear picture.

In 1922, during the administration of Rev. McKinnon, the Minister of Education reported in the Legislature that “benching” had recently been prohibited after an investigation by the Deputy Minister, Dr. Fletcher. [52] Harry Atkinson later reported that when he took over the School, a year after the departure of H. D. Cumming, “[p]ublic floggings were in vogue. The boys would be lined up in their night shirts and the victims would be thrashed.” [53] However much Mr. Atkinson was appalled by public flogging and against strapping in general, as late as 1932, six years into his regime, boys were still being strapped for various offences, including not reporting bed wetting, [54] and residents of Carman recall at least one witnessed incident of a boy being whipped while draped over a barrel.

In August 1925, H. D. Cumming returned to his former post at Teulon as Public Schools Inspector of what had become Division 21. [55] According to one of his sons, Jack Cumming of Teulon, Mr. and Mrs. Cumming decided that the School was not a satisfactory environment to raise their family, especially the girls. Mr. Cumming continued as the Inspector of Division 21 until his death on 5 January 1942. [56]

F. G. Wood, the Agricultural Instructor at the School, became the acting Superintendent. Mr. Wood had come to School at the same time as Mr. Cumming, from Hamiota where he was the “Agricultural Representative of the Extension Service of the Agricultural College.” [57] Mr. Wood’s occupancy of the Superintendent’s office lasted less than a year. On 15 July 1926, Rev. Harry Atkinson took over as Superintendent and Mr. Wood continued as the Agricultural Instructor. [58]

Harry Atkinson was born in 1882 in the district of Lindley, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England. In 1913, he was ordained as a Methodist minister from Wesley College. For seventeen years prior to his appointment as Superintendent of the School he had been involved in work with boys as the Director of Boys Work of the Methodist Missions, Stella, McLeans, and Sutherland, in Winnipeg. He promoted the playing of basketball and what came to be named “outward bound” programmes. He supervised summer camping hikes of boys from Winnipeg to Victoria Beach and back to Winnipeg. He became the first volunteer probation officer in Winnipeg’s Juvenile Court, perhaps in Canada. For many years he had periodically conducted services at the School. At the time of his appointment, he was the secretary of the Welfare Supervision Board of Manitoba. [59]

He accepted the superintendency on the understanding that he would have full control of the operation of the School, including the selection of staff, and that there would be no political interference. In Harry Atkinson, the Province acquired a recognized expert in dealing with boys in trouble with the law. On more than one occasion during his tenure as Superintendent he was asked by other governments for advice. [60] It was apparent to visitors to the School that for Harry Atkinson his responsibilities as Superintendent were more than a job; he loved his work; it was his life. [61] R. A. Hoey, the Minister of Education in 1931, praised Harry Atkinson saying, “There was a time when every session of the Legislature brought complaints about the School. We made a fortunate choice when we picked Atkinson for the place. We did our best to find the right man and I believe we found him.” [62]

Harry Atkinson did not turn the School upside down. Indeed he continued the basic programmes and philosophies of his immediate predecessors. One significant change that he did engineer was the discontinuance of committing boys under twelve who were only neglected, [63] not delinquent, and boys who were mentally retarded. Indeed, he was not in favour of the committal of any neglected children to training schools for two reasons. First:

In the case of a delinquent child, some overt act has been committed concerning which partial responsibility can, in any case, be placed upon the individual boy or girl. A neglected child’s situation is in no sense brought about by his own actions. They are entirely due to the acts of his parents or guardians, or their misfortunes. The problems are different and treatment entirely separate. This cannot be done if the two groups of children are admitted to the same institution.

His second reason was the unfairness of sending neglected children to training schools in that committal to a training school inevitably stigmatized a boy and imbued “feelings of inferiority which are the usual aftermath of treatment in a corrective institution.” [64]

The committal of 9- and 10-year-old boys was an occasional irritant to the School. Usually such boys were sent home. “This is against the spirit of the Juvenile Delinquents Act. No boy should be committed to a Reform School under twelve years of age, and not then until other methods have been tried.” [65] The annual reports of the School indicate that a few ten- and eleven-year-olds were part of the School’s population during most of the years of his tenure.

Another change he made was to eliminate the guardroom with peepholes in each wall into each dormitory and the padlocked wire gates at the top of the stairways. [66] “Training schools should not be miniature jails. The boy must be trained to respond to trust and he can only be so trained by being trusted.” [67]

The farm-training programme was diversified, as the School operated a mixed farm and the boys worked in all of its phases. The younger boys looked after the poultry and rabbits. The farm placement program continued to be a tremendous success throughout Harry Atkinson’s tenure. During the five-year period, 1928–1931, 310 boys were placed on farms and they earned $27,000. [68]

The gardening programme was quite substantial and year-round in operation, thanks to a “fully modern” greenhouse, entirely constructed by the boys in 1933 to replace the School’s original greenhouse. The boys were introduced to horticulture, and they assisted the staff gardeners in creating the floral displays and otherwise maintaining grounds, including the School’s vegetable garden. [69] In 1930 a “boys plot scheme” was hatched. The participating boys were allotted twelve square feet of garden area in which they grew various vegetables and had a show at the end of the season. [70]

The daily routine of the School began at 6:30 or 6:45 a.m. depending upon whether a boy had farm chores to look after. Breakfast was at 7:15. Trades and school classes were taken from 8:30 until 4:00 p.m. with an hour and a half for lunch. Between 4:00 and 5:45 was play time. Following supper, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m., classes and games were pursued. On Mondays, boys took classes in first aid, physical training, dramatics and singing, stamp collecting, bead work, debating and public speaking, net making, biology, and manual training. The other evenings of weekdays were devoted to various sports. For several years during the 1930s, the School had its own Boy Scout troop under the leadership of Harry Atkinson’s son Ray, who later became the Superintendent of the Home during 1967–1972. From 9:00 until 10:00 p.m. was a reading hour. Lights out occurred at 10:00 p.m. following a two-minute silence at bedtime for prayers. On Sundays the boys attended the Portage church of their faith in the morning, wrote letters home and went on hikes in the afternoon, and attended a School meeting in the evening, following a Sunday school and vesper service at the School. [71]

As mentioned earlier, Harry Atkinson was not a proponent of corporal punishment. He practised a positive approach to discipline:

I question … the value of physical punishment as a deterrent or a means of discipline. While there may be a place for physical fear in the discipline of youth, the higher methods must be adhered to or the school will make very little progress in the work of character building. Real discipline comes from within. [72]

Primarily, he relied on the marking system commenced by H. D. Cumming, having repackaged it, [73] including changing the School’s motto to “Play the Game.” The privileges of the boys in the highest category, the Honour Group, included visits home during the year and for Christmas. The Sunday evening meeting was conducted along the lines of a town hall meeting. Not only were the boys’ performances reviewed, but also the boys were allowed to air grievances about any matter, including the rules, punishments they had been given, the facilities, and the food. Discussion would take place and sometimes votes would be taken. Often personal disputes were resolved through supervised boxing matches.

As were his predecessors, Harry Atkinson was an advocate of the Cottage System. [74] In 1931 this “revolution in the manner of dealing with boys sentenced,” [75] at the School came into being. The Cottage System involved the segregation of the boys into groups for all purposes. With the physical facilities provided in 1930–1931, the School was able to segregate the boys into three groups.

As mentioned, those facilities comprised a two-storey administration building and two one-storey cottages, all of brick construction and designed to present a very comfortable and attractive home-like appearance both from the outside and inside. The administration building housed not only the offices, kitchen, laundry, and other service rooms of the School, but also bedrooms for the staff and a dormitory to accommodate recently received boys while they were being classified for dispersal among the cottages.

Each of the two one-storey cottages could accommodate 25 boys. Each had a dormitory, a dressing room, bathrooms, a dining room, a sick room, a service kitchen, a suite for the live-in married couple, who were in charge of the cottage as a “father and mother” to the boys, and a basement recreation area. All meals were prepared in the central kitchen and then delivered to the cottages for service to the boys. While the windows of the cottages were not barred, the boys’ rooms in the administration building were shuttered from the inside with padlocked steel grating.

Until the Cottage System was adopted the School was a monolithic institution in appearance and operation. The idea of the Cottage System, with its classification and segregation of the boys, according to various factors, including age, delinquency record, and trustworthiness, in cottages under the supervision of a live-in couple, was to provide for most of the boys as far as possible a home-like condition within which to live and learn. For those older boys, who could not be trusted or who would be a bad influence on other boys, more secure accommodation was provided in the school building, which was eventually referred to as a third cottage. [76]

In his annual report for 1930–1931, Harry Atkinson suggested that with the commencement of the Cottage System and the de-emphasis of industrial training “the time has come for the name of the Institution to be changed.” Without recommending a specific name, he suggested that the new name “cover the home, school, and farm idea of the plans upon which we now work.” Earlier, The Daily Graphic had suggested The Boys Agricultural School. [77] By the publication of the Report of the Department of Education for 1931-32, the School had become The Manitoba Home for Boys. [78]

In his annual report for 1939, Harry Atkinson wrote about the educational objectives for boys living in the Home:

1. Teach them to respect the rights of others.

2. Teach them to respect the property of others

3. Teach them to obey the rules of the Institution which have been built up to train them in social living.

4. Teach them to enjoy work and introduce them to skills according to their ability. [79]

Although no attempt has been made in this paper to analyze, let alone pass judgement on, the correctional philosophies pursuant to which the Home was operated during its early years, over all of those years The Daily Graphic of Portage la Prairie was a constant supporter of the School. In December 1934, the Home was criticized by a defence counsel in Saskatoon as a place where “boys are prepared for a life of crime.” [80] The Daily Graphic came quickly to the Home’s defence in a lead editorial:

As stated many times in the columns of this paper the local institution is endeavoring to give instructional guidance to young boys, who through lack of home guidance or other neglect, have been led into infractions of the law. The school is not in the same category as a penal institution, but rather an effort is made to reconstruct the boy’s life through proper educational training.

Citizens of Portage and district have every reason to be justly proud of the record of Manitoba Home for Boys under Mr. Atkinson and staff. [81]

Harry Atkinson retired at the end of January 1948, [82] returning to Carman. He busied himself as a preacher throughout southern Manitoba, filling in for colleagues who were sick or while they were on vacation. He was active on the Carman School Board and in the Fuel Cooperative. On several occasions, he substituted at the Portage and Brandon Indian schools. He gave guest lectures to the RCMP at Regina and attended conferences on delinquency. In the fall of 1967, he and Mrs. Atkinson moved to Regina to be near a daughter. Harry Atkinson died on 13 February 1968, aged 85 years.


1. Betty Johnstone, Virginia Sawatsky Toni, and Kim Smith.

2. Statutes of Manitoba 1890, c.11, later Revised Statutes of Manitoba 1892, c.134 and R.S.M. 1902, c.149.

3. Sessional Papers (No. 13) 1-2 Ed. VII, 1902, page 417.

4. Ibid.

5. Daily Graphic, 1 November 1906.

6. Some accounts of the Home indicate wrongly that this construction occurred in 1899.

7. Sessional Papers (No.3) 8 Ed. VII, 1908, page 504.

8. Statutes of Manitoba 1910, c. 29, later R.S.M. 1913, c.93 (as amended by S.M. 1916, c.58, S.M. 1926, c.22, S.M. 1932, c.18, and S.M. 1939, c.62, s.49) and R.S.M. 1940, c.101.

9. For a detailed description of the three buildings see Daily Graphic, 9 August 1930, and 18 May and 25 June 1931.

10. Daily Graphic, 18 May 1931 and 8 February 1932.

11. Daily Graphic, 1 November 1943.

12. Daily Graphic, 14 September 1940, and the Annual Report for the Year Ending 1 November 1940.

13. Free Press, 8 November 1940. Supt. Atkinson echoed these “drawbacks” and others in his Annual Report for 1941-1942, contained in the Report of the Department of Education for 1941-1942, page 91.

14. The Daily Graphic, 19 June 1941 and Dufferin Leader, 26 June 1941.

15. Dufferin Leader, 7 August 1941.

16. Canadian Welfare (1942) 17 No. 8, page 25.

17. Memorandum on Facilities for the Care of Juvenile Delinquents in Manitoba with Recommendations, September 1944, page 15.

18. Winnipeg Telegram, 8 May 1909.

19. First Annual Report, 31 December 1910, Sessional Papers (No. 4), 1 Geo. V, 1911, page 336.

20. Daily Graphic, 28 November 1911.

21. Second Annual Report, 31 December 1911, Sessional Papers (No. 9), 2 Geo. V, 1912, page 479.

22. Supra, note 29.

23. Daily Graphic, 31 August, 28 November and 30 November 1911.

24. Supra, note 28.

25. Pages 322-323.

26. Third Annual Report, 30 November 1912, Sessional Papers (No.7) 3 Geo. V, 1913, page 403.

27. Sessional Papers (No. 21) 5 Geo. V, 1916, p. 1125, and pages 1147-1150.

28. A. J. Moore, The Deeper Roots of Oakville, page 44.

29. Sixth Annual Report, 1 January 1916, Sessional Papers (No. 19), 5 Geo. V, 1916, page 1073.

30. Seventh Annual Report, 19 January 1917, Sessional Papers (No. 14), 5 Geo. V, 1917, page 932.

31. S.M. 1916, c.58, s.l. Curiously, by The Industrial Home Act of 1910 the Superintendent was responsible to the Attorney General; but, he had always reported to the Minister of Public Works.

32. Daily Graphic, 25 August 1916.

33. Archives of Manitoba, Manitoba Education, Industrial Training School, 56 pages, RG19, Kl.

34. Supra, note 41, page 260.

35. Supra, note 41, page 258.

36. Eighth Annual Report, 1 December 1917, contained in the Report for 1917-1918 of the Department of Education, page 136.

37. Daily Graphic, 24 December 1918.

38. Supra, note 41, page 259. In subsequent annual reports it was written, “Next to reformation … education is … the most important feature ... ”.

39. Supra, note 41, page 259.

40. Daily Graphic, 11 August 1922.

41. Annual Report for the Year Ending 30 June 1922, contained in the Report for 1921-1922 of the Department of Education, page 122.

42. Daily Graphic, 24 December 1918.

43. Annual Report for the Year Ending 30 June 1919, contained in the Report for 1918-1919 of the Department of Education, page 117.

44. Daily Graphic, 22 October 1920.

45. Daily Graphic, 31 March 1920 and 22 October 1920.

46. Daily Graphic, 17 March 1920.

47. Daily Graphic, 1 March 1923.

48. Daily Graphic, 5 June 1923.

49. Not infrequently references to Mr. Cumming in connection with the School wrongly spell his name as Cummings.

50. Contained in the Report for 1924-1925 of the Department of Education, page 74.

51. Daily Graphic, 16 December 1924.

52. Daily Graphic, 18 February 1922.

53. Boys in Trouble, A Review of the Work of the Manitoba Industrial Training School for Boys over a Five-Year Period from July 15, 1926–July 5, 1931, made by Harry Atkinson for the Canadian Council on Child and Family Welfare, page 9.

54. Getting Along Without a Strap, a report by the Supervisor of the Junior Cottage, 11 March 1932.

55. Daily Graphic, 26 August 1925.

56. Argyle Argus and Teulon Times, 7 January 1942.

57. Daily Graphic, 28 August 1925.

58. Daily Graphic, 26 June 1926.

59. Ibid., The Country Guide, 1 July 1929, page 5, and the Carman Dufferin Leader, 19 February 1948.

60. In 1929 he was invited to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Daily Graphic, 4 November 1929, and ultimately he wrote a Report Re The Boys’ Industrial School for the Province of New Brunswick, hereinafter the New Brunswick Report. At the time he was chairman of the Delinquency Section of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare. In the summer of 1933, while still the chairman of the Delinquency Section, he visited England and investigated the Borstal System for the Council. He recommended its adoption in Canada for boys and girls 18-21 years of age: Shall We Try the Borstal System in Canada, (1933) IX No. 3 Child and Family Welfare, and Daily Graphic, 27 October 1933. In Debatable Points in Industrial School Treatment (1942) 17 (No. 8) Canadian Welfare 26 at page 28 he reiterated that “[a] careful study of the British Borstal method of after-care is long overdue on this continent.”

61. Daily Graphic, 18 May 1931.

62. Ibid.

63. By S.M. 1929, c.6, s.4, and pursuant to a recommendation of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare.

64. Debatable Points in Industrial School Treatment (1942) 18 (No. 1) Canadian Welfare 33, pages 33-34.

65. Report of the Department of Education for 1938-1939, p. 43; see also Boys in Trouble, supra note 68, page 4.

66. The Country Guide, 1 July 1929, page 39.

67. In Debatable Points in Industrial School Treatment, supra, note 80, page 35 he elaborates on the merits of this aim.

68. Supra, note 68, page 14.

69. Daily Graphic, 27 January 1929.

70. Daily Graphic, 5 September 1930.

71. Boys in Trouble, supra, note 68, page 11. On extracurricular activities pursued at the Home see also the Report of the Department of Education for 1935-1936, the Report of the Dept. of Education for 1938-1939, p. 47, the Report of the Department of Education for 1939-1940, page 77 and Daily Graphic, 9 May 1940. Note in the Report of the Department of Education for 1938-1939, page 45 and Daily Graphic, 11 July 1938, the camping expedition provided for 17 of the “younger boys” at Jubilee Camp at Delta.

72. Supra, note 68, pages 9-10. Debatable Points in Industrial School Treatment, supra, note 80, page 36.

73. Supra, note 68, page 12.

74. The Country Guide, 1 July 1929, page 39, and the New Brunswick Report, supra, note 76, pages 20 and 22.

75. Supra, note 77.

76. Annual Report of the Industrial Training School for the Fiscal Year 1931-1932, submitted to the Department of Public Works.

77. 18 May 1931.

78. See also S.M. 1932, c.18, ss. 1-3.

79. Report of the Department of Education for 1939-1940, page 76. See also Canadian Penal Institutions by C. W. Topping, 1943, pages 117-118.

80. Daily Graphic, 20 December 1934.

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 24 July 2020