Early Days in Souris and Glenwood

Cred­it for this sto­ry belongs to:   The Man­i­to­ba His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety.….……

Souris as a name seems to have been ill-defined and loose­ly used through the years; even the pro­nun­ci­a­tion has been inde­ci­sive, for though as a French word it should be Source, long usage by the Eng­lish speak­ing peo­ple of the area have deter­mined that it shall be, Souris. The Inter­na­tion­al Riv­er, from which cpr_depot

the name is derived, ris­es in the Yel­low Grass marsh­es of south­ern Saskatchewan and flows in a south east­er­ly direc­tion par­al­lel­ing the Mis­souri Coteau, and cross­es the international
bound­ary south east of Este­van, Saskatchewan, almost direct­ly south of Oxbow. Its south­ern loop is com­plet­ed some forty miles from the Mis­souri, whose course it par­al­lels for some dis­tance, before dou­bling back in a huge horse­shoe to enter Man­i­to­ba south of Meli­ta. From this point it angles north east­ward, and the Town of Souris, locat­ed at its junc­tion with the Plum Creek, is at the north­ern tip of its major bend in Man­i­to­ba. Con­tin­u­ing east it dips south again, until, deflect­ed by the west­ern end of the Tiger Hills it again flows north, enter­ing the Assini­boine at the N.W. cor­ner of sec­tion 15–8‑16 W. lst.

In the Ses­sion­al papers for 1880–81 the name was var­i­ous­ly applied. Prof. John Macoun refers to the Souris Plain as “This immense tree­less expanse, extend­ing from the Souris Riv­er on the 101st Merid­i­an near Meli­ta and stretch­ing north­west­er­ly to Moose Jaw Creek, near the 106th Merid­i­an.” Again sur­vey notes by William Pearce speak of the Souris Plain when refer­ring to the area north from Tur­tle Moun­tain to the riv­er, which would include an area almost 50 miles east and as far north of Macoun’s bound­ary at Meli­ta. A map of Man­i­to­ba and the North West Ter­ri­to­ries pub­lished in 1884 uses the name “Souris”, applied this time to the land dis­trict which includ­ed all of town­ships 6 to 12, and which extend­ed from Tre­herne near its east­ern bound­ary to Moose Moun­tain in Saskatchewan. When set­tlers of the Sow­den par­ty were pro­ceed­ing west­ward by oxcart they thought of their des­ti­na­tion near the present town as “the Souris Dis­trict”. The town site, or post office, is so des­ig­nat­ed on the map pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, and also on an ear­ly postal map. This presents a minor mys­tery, for though the town and Post Office of the 1880s was known to its inhab­i­tants as Plum Creek (even achiev­ing a degree of fame in 1887, when the Plum Creek Lacrosse team defeat­ed the 90th at Win­nipeg to become cham­pi­ons of the north­west), I could find no offi­cial recog­ni­tion of the fact that any such post office had ever exist­ed. I con­sult­ed Man­i­to­ba place names with no result. Accord­ing to the old­est inhab­i­tants it was not until the com­ing of the rail­way that the Town was renamed “Souris”. I have found Plum Creek men­tioned in many old news­pa­pers, and mail so addressed was cer­tain­ly deliv­ered through a span of sev­er­al years.

To add to this con­fu­sion of names, “Souris” has long been asso­ci­at­ed with Souris coal, of which the report of the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or for the year 1880 has this to say:

“In con­nec­tion with the fuel sup­ply for this part of the coun­try, it may be of inter­est to men­tion that sev­er­al barge loads of lig­nite from the valu­able deposits of that mate­r­i­al on the upper waters of the Souris were float­ed down that stream and the Assini­boine to the mar­ket at Win­nipeg, by par­ties who had embarked in the enter­prise under per­mis­sion from the Department.”

These coal fields seem to have mul­ti­plied the oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­fu­sion and mis­use of the place name. J. B. Breb­n­er in his book North Atlantic Tri­an­gle refers to the Souris coal fields in Man­i­to­ba; and A. S. Mor­ton, in his most detailed and author­i­ta­tive work, A His­to­ry of Prairie Set­tle­ment, on page 67, states that the C.P.R. line which branch­es south from the main track at Kem­nay, Man­i­to­ba, reached the coal fields at Souris in 1887 and pushed on to Hart­ney by 1890. Rather a remark­able state­ment when one con­sid­ers that these coal fields are clear­ly marked on the N.W.T. map of 1884, and con­sti­tute a size­able area along the base of the Mis­souri Coteau in Saskatchewan, between the 102nd and 104th merid­i­an lon­gi­tude; an error of some 120 miles in space, and of a year or two in time as well, since the rail­way did not reach Souris until 1889 or 1890. It would appear from all of this that in the ear­ly years, Souris Plains, Souris Val­ley, Souris Dis­trict, or Souris Basin, were very gen­er­al geo­graph­ic terms used to describe almost any part of a wide area in south­west­ern Man­i­to­ba and south­east­ern Saskatchewan.

By 1882, when the McBain par­ty and oth­ers from Mill­brook passed through Plum Creek on their way south­west, they thought of their des­ti­na­tion near Meli­ta, Pear­son, or Lyle­ton, as the Antler Coun­try. “Glen­wood” is the name of the rur­al munic­i­pal­i­ty which com­prised 6 town­ships cen­tred on the Town. It was named for Squire Sow­den’s home in Millbrook.

The ear­li­est records of inhab­i­tants of this dis­trict indi­cate that David Thomp­son, in the win­ter of 1798–99, and Alexan­der Hen­ry the younger, in the sum­mer of 1806, passed through the area; suf­fer­ing the rig­ors of a track­less, windswept wilder­ness of snow, or the mis­eries of the sod­den, mos­qui­to-infest­ed plains in a wet sum­mer, both report­ed encamp­ment of Assini­boine Indi­ans along the riv­er. The North West Com­pa­ny oper­at­ed a post known as Ash House on the riv­er south of Hart­ney for a brief peri­od in the late 18th cen­tu­ry. From 1824 through to 1861 sev­er­al posts were in more or less con­tin­u­ous oper­a­tion in this neigh­bor­hood. William Mack­ay, Hud­son’s Bay Com­pa­ny fac­tor at Fort Ellice, men­tions in his jour­nal “par­ties pro­ceed­ing south to the Pem­mi­can forts”. In 1858, Pro­fes­sor Hind vis­it­ed a post in the Souris Sand Hills which he says was main­tained only in the win­ters dur­ing the absence of the Sioux, whose war par­ties seem to have been the scourge of this coun­try south of the Souris. There are fair­ly fre­quent accounts in fur trad­ing annals of Indi­ans or traders ambushed by these war­like plains­men of the south.

It would seem that eigh­teen some­what vacant years elapsed between the clos­ing of the last small trad­ing estab­lish­ment and the year 1879, when the first set­tlers began to drift into or through the area. James Wig­gins built a log shan­ty and attempt­ed some plough­ing near the mouth of Plum Creek in the spring of 1880. In that year the sur­vey was com­plet­ed and land seek­ers were becom­ing aware of its pos­si­bil­i­ties. In July, 1880, in the Vil­lage of Mill­brook, Ontario, a group of busi­ness men formed a Col­o­niza­tion Syn­di­cate con­sist­ing of W. H. Sow­den, J. N. Kirch­hof­fer, and Maj. S. G. Fair­clough of Kingston, the firm name of Wood & Kells (Archibald Wood‑T. G. Kells). This group planned to orga­nize a small seg­ment of the land hun­gry tide which was begin­ning to surge west­ward. W. H. Sow­den was sent to the West in the fall of that year; and after a scout­ing expe­di­tion with buck­board and pony, which took him as far west as the present site of Gains­boro, Saskatchewan, he select­ed Town­ship 6, 7 and the south half of 8, in Ranges 20, 21 and 22, for their project. Their pro­pos­al was accept­ed ‘by the author­i­ties at Ottawa and the orga­niz­ers pro­ceed­ed to solic­it colonists for their ven­ture. Those who signed up in Ontario were to have first choice of home­steads and pre-emp­tions, and the option of pur­chas­ing from the gov­ern­ment half of the odd num­bered sec­tion which was next their home­stead. The Syn­di­cate was to have the priv­i­lege of pur­chas­ing all of the odd sec­tions which remained after the colonists had giv­en their refusal notices for the land on which they held options. (The price at which the Syn­di­cate land was sold to the set­tlers amount­ed, in most cas­es, to $3.00 per acre.) On mak­ing their ten­ta­tive reg­is­tra­tion in Ontario, each set­tler paid $25.00 and was to present his receipt to the Land Office at the mouth of the Souris when he com­plet­ed his reg­is­tra­tion. As an addi­tion­al advan­tage this mass move­ment which was known as the Sow­den-Plum Creek par­ty, was able to obtain low­er rates for their rail­way trans­porta­tion to St. Boniface.

They left Mill­brook on the evening of April 5th, 1881, and tru­ly the launch­ing of a pri­vate expe­di­tionary force could hard­ly have occa­sioned a greater upheaval in that lit­tle com­mu­ni­ty. An hour or so lat­er they changed trains at Port Hope, and the “Times” of that day devot­ed a large, head­lined fea­ture to recount­ing what was appar­ent­ly a colour­ful event. On reach­ing Toron­to they found that no arrange­ment had been made for William Wen­man and his sons, who were to have joined them there; but aside from this over­sight they reached Detroit with­out inci­dent. There they com­plet­ed the arrange­ments nec­es­sary for trav­el­ling in bond through the Unit­ed States.

Just out of Detroit, the con­duc­tor noticed a dog belong­ing to William Fal­lis, and demand­ed that it ride with the live­stock. Appar­ent­ly a dog did not ride too well in a crowd­ed car of oxen, and the uproar which ensued was such that the rail­road author­i­ties pulled into a sid­ing at Bat­tle Creek, Michi­gan, with an ulti­ma­tum to do some­thing, and quick­ly, before their cat­tle car was com­plete­ly wrecked. After a hur­ried con­sul­ta­tion, and some peer­ing down into the car to assess the sit­u­a­tion, it was evi­dent that some­one would have to ven­ture in to retrieve the dog. One of my grand­fa­ther’s oxen was down, appar­ent­ly exhaust­ed and being bad­ly tram­pled, so he vol­un­teered to make the attempt. He suc­ceed­ed in thread­ing his way over to the manger where the dog had tak­en refuge, and almost reached the lad­der again before he was assist­ed on the last lap of his jour­ney by one of the fran­tic oxen who tossed him out through the roof. He was for­tu­nate through­out this nasty sit­u­a­tion; for as the ox’s horns were well blunt­ed, he suf­fered lit­tle dam­age, and, from the point of view of the rail­road and the rest of the par­ty, his suc­cess in hang­ing onto the dog until he was clear of the car, made the episode no vain effort. Their unhap­py car­go milled about for a time but grad­u­al­ly set­tled down so that the jour­ney could be resumed.

They made few stops except when nec­es­sary to exer­cise the stock; but occa­sion­al­ly when there was a brief pause some of the par­ty would get off to stretch their legs and see some­thing of “the States”. At one such stop, a num­ber were left behind, Squire Sow­den among them. The train crew cre­at­ed a lit­tle sport for them­selves by rat­tling along just out of their fran­tic grasp for almost a mile while the sight-seers stum­bled des­per­ate­ly over the rough ties behind them. The train even­tu­al­ly wait­ed for them and the Squire was dragged aboard, pur­ple with rage and exhaust­ed by his efforts. When he had breath to speak, he force­ful­ly denounced the con­duc­tor, who was, how­ev­er, lit­tle impressed by the Cana­di­an’s wrath, or his posi­tion as leader of the party.

When they reached Chica­go they were shunt­ed far out in the yards, and ordered to get up on top of the cars which con­tained their goods and effects. There they sat all night while anoth­er train was made up. Hard­ly an excit­ing way to spend a night in the big town; but to most of them the myr­i­ad wink­ing lights, the swing­ing sig­nal lanterns, and the cease­less noise and motion of the scene around them, were suf­fi­cient­ly nov­el and intrigu­ing to keep them awake. Had they fall­en asleep, there was a very real dan­ger of rolling off their uncom­fort­able and pre­car­i­ous perch.

Spring came ear­ly in 1881, with less and less snow appar­ent as they pro­ceed­ed north­ward. In many places seed­ing was well advanced, and the Mis­sis­sip­pi was in flood where their line bridged it at La Crosse. As they had three rivers to cross before they would be home in “the North­west,” there was some con­cern over the pos­si­ble state of riv­er ice. But their jour­ney was pleas­ant enough and opti­mism and high spir­its pre­vailed through­out the par­ty. My grand­fa­ther men­tions two of the younger mem­bers, Jack Hay­den and George Kerr, whom he con­sid­ered “real wits” of the total­ly desir­able vari­ety. They kept the rest of the group well enter­tained by their appro­pri­ate com­ments on many lit­tle inci­dents along the way that oth­er­wise would have seemed tire­some trifles.

They arrived in St. Paul, where they were to trans­fer to the Min­neso­ta-Man­i­to­ba Rail­road at 7 o’clock in the evening, but it was 2:00 a.m. before they could get their stock out of the cars. After the cat­tle were attend­ed to, they had to walk three miles back to the coach­es where they spent what remained of the night.

From St. Paul onward, the train was in two sec­tions, with most of the par­ty togeth­er in the first. A few hours out of St. Paul, when all were set­tled for the night, George Mof­fatt wak­ened, prob­a­bly miss­ing the jolt­ing sway of the cars, and the click­ing beat of the wheels over the rough roadbed. Real­iz­ing that they were stopped, but still grog­gy with sleep, he went to inves­ti­gate. He found no loco­mo­tive, no town, noth­ing, but the soft dark­ness of the qui­et prairie night! He rushed to the caboose to wak­en the con­duc­tor and train­men, who were soon scur­ry­ing down the track to sig­nal the oncom­ing train. Mof­fatt then dashed back to rouse the sleep­ers in the coach­es, who tum­bled out in haste and alarm to scram­ble across the deep water-filled ditch which lined the right-of-way. They all made it safe­ly except poor Mrs. Hen­der­son, the lone woman of the par­ty, who fell short of the mark and land­ed square­ly in three feet of icy water. Wom­en’s clothes in the 1880s were def­i­nite­ly not designed to assist in a run­ning broad jump. When the excite­ment was over, the sec­ond sec­tion flagged to a stop, and the run­away engine reversed from the next sta­tion to pick up its train, they found that the two youngest mem­bers of the group, Arthur Rose and George Lums­den, had slept sound­ly through the wild con­fu­sion which attend­ed their hasty debarka­tion. Since a dis­as­ter had been safe­ly avert­ed, these two were ahead of the rest by a good night’s sleep.

The train arrived in St. Boni­face about three o’clock in the after­noon of April 12th. These for­tu­nate set­tlers who were able to trav­el by rail, the fastest and most up-to-date mode of trav­el avail­able, had tak­en one full week to arrive on the east bank of the Red Riv­er. Their frus­tra­tions had been many, but they were just begin­ning. Now, with their cars in St. Boni­face, they found that the ice was hon­ey­combed and rot­ten with a lot of water along the edges, it seemed that an imme­di­ate cross­ing was their most urgent need. This was impos­si­ble for their pre­cious freight was still ensnarled in red tape. Since their bond­ing papers, and $800.00 deposit had not arrived from Detroit, they were unable to unload imme­di­ate­ly. Anoth­er three days passed before they man­aged to get safe­ly across to the Win­nipeg side.

A. E. Het­her­ing­ton’s let­ter home gives a first hand impres­sion of the unfa­mil­iar West.

“Win­nipeg is a very nice place, and the liveli­est town for busi­ness I have ever been in. The streets are per­fect­ly dry now and the whole place in the most thriv­ing order. The snow out­side the City has not quite dis­ap­peared, and the rivers have not yet bro­ken up as we had feared. I feel quite at home since I arrived here, almost every­one I meet is from some place in Ontario and they all seem so glad to see us. Peo­ple I have nev­er seen before will say, ‘Well, well, you’re from Ontario, how are all the folks down there?’ I do not feel far from home at all, and every­one seems jol­ly and hap­py, and so busy. Mr. Ben­son, a man from Peter­boro, who is now doing busi­ness here, says that there is more busi­ness done here in one week than there is back home in two weeks …

“This is real­ly the tini­est place it has been my plea­sure to be in, of course I haven’t been many places, but this cer­tain­ly beats them all. There are dozens of “swells” rid­ing the streets on their blood­ed hors­es, and the num­ber on foot could hard­ly be num­bered. The ladies are not so numer­ous, but they are quite as tony.

“Now don’t you fret about the uncer­tain­ty of our prospects, I believe there is a good time com­ing for us all in this same North­west. Every­one I meet here says that the Souris dis­trict is the best up here, and that we will be delight­ed with it. There are hun­dreds going west each day, and it is almost impos­si­ble to get cars to Portage, there are so many wait­ing to go.”

It was with a spir­it of supreme opti­mism, tense eager­ness and sup­pressed excite­ment that they pressed on west­ward. It took two and one half days to dri­ve to Portage la Prairie. My grand­fa­ther com­ments from there on April 17th:

“This is a thriv­ing town of about two thou­sand inhab­i­tants and it is just like Win­nipeg, only small­er. It is thronged with Eng­lish­men of very good fam­i­lies, who seem very nice fel­lows only a lit­tle too fond of bil­liards and sport­ing of one kind or anoth­er. We will leave here tomor­row for the Souris and expect to get there by the end of the week if the roads do not break up.”

Unfor­tu­nate­ly the roads did break up, and became too soft for their heavy loads, so they had to store their heav­ier goods at a wharf on the riv­er from whence it would be shipped to the Souris mouth as soon as nav­i­ga­tion opened. Before leav­ing Portage they heard some­what exag­ger­at­ed rumors con­cern­ing the influx of peo­ple which was pre­ced­ing them into the Souris dis­trict, as is evi­dent from the Portage letter:

“Peo­ple com­ing from the west here report that miles of the Souris Dis­trict is dot­ted with tents of peo­ple wait­ing for us to arrive so that they can take up land in the twelve town­ships held by Sowden.”

They were three days on the road from Portage to the Land Office. Oxen are nev­er swift, and the going was rugged, over trails worn in the prairie sod by Indi­ans, fur traders and explor­ers who had trav­elled light in com­par­i­son with these wag­ons, groan­ing under the weight of the rudi­men­ta­ry house­hold goods and farm imple­ments nec­es­sary for their new start in the west. Much of the ter­rain which they passed through on this lap of their jour­ney was, and is, very rough coun­try. It is more heav­i­ly wood­ed now than then, but even in those days the orig­i­nal spruce trees used by farm­ers in the dis­trict were trans­plant­ed from the Spruce woods. This anx­ious and impa­tient par­ty’s appre­ci­a­tion of nat­ur­al beau­ty had worn thin by the time they reached the Land Office. The fer­ry across the riv­er was a rick­ety, inse­cure affair; and dur­ing the shut­tle ser­vice which it pro­vid­ed for the cross­ing one yoke of oxen found that being hauled across the swift stream on a few wob­bly planks was more than their waver­ing bovine morale could endure, so they plunged into the water, almost over­turn­ing the fer­ry. Tom Lei­th was thrown into the stream but he was able to catch one of the oxen by the horns and throw him­self across its back, as the fran­tic beast struck out for the shore, which they reached safe­ly, cold, wet and thor­ough­ly shak­en but oth­er­wise quite unharmed.

At the Land Office some mem­bers of the par­ty were ready to incite a riot when they found that the Reg­is­trar had received no word from Ottawa, autho­riz­ing him to hon­our their receipts. As a result of being thus upbraid­ed, the Land Agent became quite hos­tile to the whole expe­di­tion, so the last lap of their jour­ney began in a some­what uncer­tain state; though their con­fi­dence in land agents gen­er­al­ly was not so great as to shake their faith seri­ous­ly in the arrange­ment under which they had come to the west.

The par­ty split up at this point; all those locat­ed on the north side of the riv­er and some from the south, took a well defined trail west out of the val­ley. Some of those, whose ulti­mate des­ti­na­tion was on the south side of the Souris, crossed that riv­er by fer­ry at its mouth, and pro­ceed­ed two and one-half miles south across the flats to Millford.

Mill­ford was at this time the only vil­lage south of the Assini­boine in West­ern Man­i­to­ba. It stood in this pleas­ant val­ley where Oak Creek enters the Souris riv­er, sur­round­ed by escarp­ments whose ele­va­tion reach­es 1200 feet and more. Only its cel­lars remain, though a cairn erect­ed a few years ago on the east­ern rim of the val­ley beside the trail from Trees­bank to Stock­ton mark its pass­ing, and the ceme­tery over­look­ing Oak Creek is still used and kept up by the old fam­i­lies of the dis­trict. Most of the land in its imme­di­ate neigh­bor­hood was set­tled at this date, and descen­dants of the pio­neers, Mooneys, Dewarts, Nai­smiths, Turn­bulls, and Clarks from Two Rivers at the Souris mouth, still remain in the dis­trict. A few miles to the west, the Elliott set­tle­ment which had been estab­lished :before the land was sur­veyed formed anoth­er oasis of civ­i­liza­tion in the plains.

For the south Souris par­ty, get­ting out of Mill­ford and onto the Tur­tle Moun­tain trail pre­sent­ed an obsta­cle nev­er antic­i­pat­ed in com­ing to the Prairies; for they had to dri­ve their wag­ons over the high promon­to­ry which over­looks Mill­ford flats from the south­west. The road had been cut into a soft slith­ery mass of ruts, and it was, more­over, a long way to the top. Dur­ing this uphill grind one of the wag­ons over­turned, spilling its con­tents down the side of the hill into the val­ley of Oak Creek, from whence each item had to be painful­ly retrieved. All in all, it was a gru­elling half day for both men and oxen before the heights were final­ly scaled and they were on their way again. Inci­den­tal­ly, these same heights sound­ed the death knell of Mill­ford some years lat­er when the rail­way refused to con­sid­er an estab­lish­ment in the val­ley and crossed the riv­er at its nar­row­est point, a mile or so to the north.

Once on the trail, the set­tlers must face the ques­tion of where to branch off to the west, for they knew that they would have to make their own way from there on. They brought a Gov­ern­ment guide with them, but he seemed vague and inde­ci­sive. Final­ly, believ­ing that he had found the prop­er place, he pro­ceed­ed to lead those who would fol­low him, into a swamp where he stuck fast and had to be hauled out by his fol­low­ers. The guide, who was real­ly a very good sort, belat­ed­ly admit­ted that lie had not pre­vi­ous­ly crossed to the south side of the riv­er, so from there­on they knew where they stood. My grand­fa­ther, and per­haps oth­ers of the group as well, had learned how to read the sur­vey­ors’ stakes, and so they turned off the Tur­tle Moun­tain trail about 15 miles south­west of Mill­ford, and not far from Lang’s Val­ley on the south bend of the Souris, and had no fur­ther dif­fi­cul­ty. They trav­elled for two days over coun­try burned black by a fire which had swept through the area the pre­vi­ous autumn, and for much of the dis­tance not a shrub was to be seen any­where. On the 30th of April they arrived at the south­east cor­ner of Town­ship 7, Range 21, in which their hold­ings were sit­u­at­ed. From there on each man was on his own, as they eager­ly dis­persed to give close inspec­tion to the half sec­tion that was to be his home in the Northwest.

Now to trace some­thing of the expe­ri­ences of the lit­tle group who were wait­ing at Plum Creek for the par­ty north of the riv­er to arrive. Mr. James Y. Bam­bridge, whose asso­ci­a­tion with the Souris dis­trict pre­dates that of the Sow­den par­ty, stat­ed he was there with Cap­tain Gilbert Wood’s fam­i­ly and the Hicks broth­ers while they were prepar­ing to win­ter on the banks of Plum Creek in the fall of 1880. He spent almost a month in the dis­trict and was present when Squire Sow­den passed through from the west and set­tled on the Souris loca­tion, and chose the Plum Creek site for their mill, which was to form an inte­gral part of their col­o­niza­tion devel­op­ment. He made arrange­ments with Mr. Sow­den to take up land some­where in the Town­ships to be set­tled by the Mill­brook par­ty and agreed to be on the spot the fol­low­ing spring to await their arrival. Mr. Arthur Rose came with the Sow­den par­ty in 1881, and was joined at Win­nipeg by his old­er broth­er Alexan­der Rose, who had been in the west since 1879. They both took up home­steads south of the riv­er in what became the Lily School district.

Some illu­mi­nat­ing details from Mr. Bam­bridge’s rec­ol­lec­tions help to bring into sharp­er focus our pic­ture of life as it was lived in the North­west in the very ear­ly eight­ies, and high­light some of the prob­lems con­fronting an Ontario youth new­ly arrived from the east. He arrived in St. Boni­face by rail on April 5th, 1880, and planned to stay with his father’s friend, Thomas Law­son, at Rapid City while look­ing around the coun­try for a desir­able home­stead. Mr. Bam­bridge pos­sessed no con­veyance, but he had a large trunk which he would not will­ing­ly aban­don, and which made walk­ing or stage-rid­ing out of the ques­tion. While putting in time at West­brook and Fairchild’s imple­ment ware­house the solu­tion to his grave dilem­ma appeared in the guise of a farmer with a strong team of hors­es. This Mr. MacK­ay came to the ware­house to see if the deal­ers had a wag­on which they would like hauled out to their agents at Rapid City. The firm were glad to sup­ply a new wag­on but they stip­u­lat­ed that it car­ry in its box, some small­er imple­ments as well. How­ev­er, Mr. MacK­ay made room to squeeze in Mr. Bam­bridge’s trunk as well as his own things, and so for what seemed to him the most rea­son­able fare of $7.00, he was launched on the next lap of his journey.

They trav­elled through water three to six inch­es deep most of the way to Portage, but the foot­ing under­neath was sol­id so they were able to dri­ve along at a good pace. After leav­ing Portage, they were caught in a very severe bliz­zard, and were storm-stayed for three days at what was called the Pine Creek stop­ping house, where they spent a thor­ough­ly dis­mal time rolled in buf­fa­lo robes on the floor of the tiny shack which shel­tered five men, two women, and three chil­dren, dur­ing the storm. Their jour­ney was thus extend­ed from noon on Mon­day until late Saturday.

Mr. Bam­bridge stayed at Rapid City for a short time and then moved east to Tan­ner’s Cross­ing (Minnedosa) to look over the land in that neigh­bor­hood. While there he found employ­ment in con­nec­tion with the, saw mill oper­at­ed by Armitage and McCul­loch and man­aged by William Her­riot. He was lucky enough to get work at the mill, for at the time there were many more men look­ing for work than there were places avail­able. His board­ing place at Minnedosa had a strange his­to­ry. It was a frame struc­ture about 10 feet x 16 feet which had been built in Win­nipeg and hauled west on skids. Mr. Bam­bridge and sev­er­al oth­er employ­ees at the mill lived in a large square tent which formed an annex beside the back door. While work­ing there, he and anoth­er man were sent up to Cameron’s mill at the big bend of the Lit­tle Saskatchewan, about 50 miles west to bring down 50,000 feet of lum­ber and 50,000 shin­gles to replen­ish stocks at Minnedosa. They made the lum­ber into rafts and loaded each with shin­gles, then added their tents and equip­ment to the last and largest raft to fol­low the oth­ers down­stream. They camped on the riv­er bank each night and com­plet­ed the whole oper­a­tion in 8 days.

Before start­ing work and in what time he could spare after­ward, he and two com­pan­ions tramped over miles of coun­try look­ing for suit­able home­steads. Their out­fit for this type of trav­el con­sist­ed of a small tent, a pair of blan­kets, ket­tle, fry­ing pan, teapot, tin plates and cups. Their food con­sist­ed large­ly of bread, but­ter and salt, but they could eas­i­ly sup­ply them­selves with all the eggs they could eat by rob­bing the wild ducks’ nests which bor­dered the innu­mer­able sloughs of that area. How­ev­er, they were not well impressed with the dis­tric­t’s farm­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, so in the fall of the year he and his com­pan­ions set out to see the Souris Coun­try. They crossed the Assini­boine by boat at Grand Val­ley and con­tin­ued south­west across the west­ern end of Bran­don Hills. One of the group turned back, but Mr. Hop­kins con­tin­ued on with him to the Plum Creek where they found Cap­tain Wood’s fam­i­ly and the Hicks broth­ers busi­ly prepar­ing for win­ter. Mr. Bam­bridge said that he has often been amazed since, when he con­sid­ers how quick­ly and well they com­plet­ed these preparations.

Cap­tain Wood had to pro­vide shel­ter for his pony and two oxen, as well as build a house large enough, and suf­fi­cient­ly weath­er­proof to pro­tect his fam­i­ly and the big wag­on load of house­hold effects which they had trun­dled about the prairie all sum­mer long. The fall sea­son was well advanced when they reached Plum Creek with Thomas and Edward Hicks, who had joined them at Lang’s Val­ley. Wood’s house when com­plet­ed, was about 12 feet x 16 feet. It was in part, dug into the creek bank, poled up on the inside, and the front and side walls built of small poplar logs plas­tered with mud. The ceil­ing was made of poles and cov­ered with a thick thatch of prairie grass. Besides this work of build­ing, they had to har­vest enough hay to win­ter their stock, and even where the grass was waist high and thick as moss, the har­vest­ing process was quite an under­tak­ing with the crude tools avail­able. The whole feat so ade­quate­ly accom­plished was made more remark­able by the fact that Cap­tain Wood was not par­tic­u­lar­ly robust, and had come west from Kingston, Ontario, for the health of his only son who had been a near invalid. Mrs. Wood, from all accounts, must have been a remark­able woman of many accom­plish­ments. For­tu­nate­ly for her­self, and her fam­i­ly, she was a strong and effi­cient work­er, in a land where such endow­ment could mean the dif­fer­ence between com­fort and sur­vival or mis­ery and dis­as­ter. Thomas and Edward Hicks were young Eng­lish­men only recent­ly arrived in the coun­try; unac­cus­tomed to pio­neer­ing work, and unac­quaint­ed with Prairie ways and win­ters. How­ev­er, through dili­gence and com­mon sense, with which they must both have been amply endowed, they came through the win­ter of 1880 most successfully.

Mr. Bam­bridge returned to Minnedosa for the win­ter where he was able to get work at his trade of black­smith, and arrived back at Cap­tain Wood’s estab­lish­ment about the mid­dle of April, 1881. He pitched his tent not far from Plum Creek and set­tled down to await the arrival of the par­ty from Ontario. The North­ern group under the lead­er­ship of John Deyell had fol­lowed the old Yel­low Quill trail for a good part of their jour­ney from the Land Office, and they arrived at William Fal­lis’ home­stead three miles east of Plum Creek on the evening of Tues­day, April 27th. The next day some of the par­ty pushed on to Sec­tion 32–7‑21 where Wood’s dugout was locat­ed. And so final­ly, though they spent much of Wednes­day, April 28th, bogged down in a slough west of Mr. Fal­lis’ home­stead, the out­rid­ers of the Sow­den-Plum Creek par­ty had offi­cial­ly arrived.

Mr. Bain­bridge planned to home­stead on the E ½ 10–8‑21 and Mr. Hop­kins, who had remained with Wood’s dur­ing the win­ter, hoped to have the W ½ of this Sec­tion, but when Squire Sow­den arrived, they found that George Fos­ter and Mr. Hunter had this sec­tion reserved and Bill Coe and William Fal­lis had their sec­ond choice on Sec­tions 11 and 12, so they moved their claim north­east to Sec­tion 14–8‑21.

There was some jock­ey­ing for posi­tion in the mat­ter of pick­ing home­steads. There were quite a num­ber of men who had drift­ed in that spring seek­ing land, who knew noth­ing of the spe­cial arrange­ments made for these town­ships. James Wig­gins we have men­tioned ear­li­er; there were also the Flem­ings of Car­roll, and no doubt a num­ber of oth­ers who were squeezed out when there was no land that suit­ed them, left unclaimed. My grand­fa­ther men­tions that a John Vague had placed a sign at the cor­ner of his home­stead, the E ½ 22–7‑21 W. lst, but since the gen­tle­man nev­er appeared in per­son, he was per­haps try­ing to reserve land here and there as he passed through, so that he could shop around among his selec­tions before mak­ing a final choice. Hen­ry Leathers (father of Dr. Vic­tor H. Leathers of Unit­ed Col­lege), who lat­er set­tled near Fair­fax, was anx­ious to home­stead on 27–7‑21, and as the man who had entered for it did not want it, my grand­fa­ther hoped that this would be pos­si­ble. How­ev­er, the only way to pick up land on which the orig­i­nal home­stead­er did not wish to com­plete his reg­is­tra­tion, was to go to the Land Office with the reject­ing par­ty and snap it up quick­ly, as soon as they had with­drawn their ten­ta­tive reg­is­tra­tion. Nat­u­ral­ly these trans­ac­tions usu­al­ly took place between friends who pre­arranged the switch in reg­is­tra­tion. The­o­ret­i­cal­ly it should have been impos­si­ble to lose a piece of land for which a receipt was held, but how­ev­er this was man­aged, it appar­ent­ly did hap­pen at times. In his let­ter of May 1st, A. E. Het­her­ing­ton remarks: “We are lucky on the south side of the riv­er, as John Deyell, Robert Steel and some oth­ers have lost their lots and are search­ing the coun­try for more.”

The coun­try abound­ed with wild birds and ani­mals. The only real com­plaint was the scarci­ty of wood, and some cheer­ful souls like Bob Lang, felt they could get along very well with­out too much of that. Every lit­tle creek was full of beaver, muskrat, and mink, and some of the mink were thought to be much larg­er than the aver­age Ontario spec­i­men. There were Wavy geese, Cana­da Geese, ducks of all kinds, quan­ti­ties of prairie chick­ens, and what my grand­fa­ther believed were larg­er num­bers of vivid­ly coloured song birds than he had noticed in the woods around Mill­brook. He men­tioned too, one casu­al­ty of our civ­i­liza­tion, the Sand Hill Crane, which they observed in great num­bers all the way west from Portage; these spec­tac­u­lar big birds pro­vid­ed too easy and tempt­ing a tar­get for our pio­neers. Moose ranged in the Bran­don Hills, and Mr. Arthur Rose report­ed see­ing a large deer run past his door one morn­ing. The old let­ters also men­tion the prairie fire problem.

May 1st “It is a grand and awful sight to see the prairie on fire. I have read of prairie fires in books of adven­ture, now I have seen them in real earnest here, and I nev­er want to be in front of one. It is some­thing dread­ful to see the sky lit up from east to west for miles; and it is so light you could almost see to pick up a pin. Although the fire may be so far away that you can­not see flame, the reflec­tion from the sky makes it light. There was a great fire across the riv­er last night, and I think it was the most weird and beau­ti­ful sight I ever saw. There was a great strip or prairie between the riv­er and the Bran­don Hills that had not been burned last fall. It caught yes­ter­day after­noon, and the way that fire rushed along was some­thing terrific.”

A let­ter dat­ed May 29th describes the prairie trees:
“There is an abun­dance of every­thing except wood, and there is enough of that to burn for a few years when we will have lots of coal for almost noth­ing. There will be any amount of wood in a few years if it can be pre­served from fire. The lit­tle trees grow up every year with the grass and reach a height of three feet or so in one sum­mer, then comes a prairie fire and they are killed. Where the fire miss­es them for a sea­son, they grow to quite a size, but the grass grows so tall and thick that it seems impos­si­ble for them to escape for long except at the water’s edge, and even there they are not always safe.”

In this con­nec­tion the pio­neer’s favorite pic­nic ground “Oak Orchard”, which over­looked the Souris park from the south, pre­sent­ed quite a phe­nom­e­non. There, one can per­haps find the largest Oak trees of the prairie region. Right at the top of the hill beside the set­tlers old road, where the sand swal­lows used to nest, and where the dark­est and biggest of wild ros­es used to grow in tan­gled pro­fu­sion, stands a giant among prairie trees. Its trunk would mea­sure 12 to 15 feet in cir­cum­fer­ence at the ground, and it is 8 or 9 feet around at about 5 feet up from the base.

To return to 1881; each set­tler was now deeply involved in the tremen­dous amount of work which the ful­fil­ment of their set­tle­ment duties entailed. A cer­tain num­ber of acres must be plowed and back­set each year, and some sort of a start at build­ing must be attempt­ed. Lum­ber was expen­sive, rough plank­ing could be obtained at $30.00 per thou­sand from the Elliott set­tle­ment, but their hope was that when they could haul from the rail­way at Bran­don such things would be much cheaper.

Per­haps it was the result of camp­ing out, per­haps imag­i­na­tion, or, per­haps as they believed, it was the invig­o­rat­ing west­ern air; in any case, many of the par­ty felt that their health was much improved in the north­west. Many of the men report­ed enor­mous­ly increased appetites, and exam­ples were cit­ed of improved colour and more abun­dant ener­gy. My grand­fa­ther must have had quite a larder aboard his wag­on, for he men­tions num­bers of care­ful­ly packed fruit­cakes and short­breads, canned fruits and veg­eta­bles, dried beans and peas as well as a sup­ply of pota­toes. They would, of course, have oth­er sta­ples such as flour and salt, for the let­ters men­tion that one of their first acts on arriv­ing at the south town­ships was to unpack their sheet iron stove and bake a batch of ban­nock. Mr. Rose told me that he and his broth­er made ban­nock with any sort of fat, flour and a dash of water, then baked it in a fry­ing pan “slant­ed up along the fire”. It was often scorched or raw but always edi­ble. The Rose broth­ers built their first house of logs and were quite hap­pi­ly housed until the cold weath­er came, when they were forced to retreat beneath the shel­ter­ing bank of Hay­den’s ravine where a dug-out faced with thick prairie sod housed them in com­par­a­tive comfort.

The first gath­er­ing of a reli­gious nature took place in grand­fa­ther’s tent on Sun­day, May 8th, and was well attend­ed. He had with him his Church of Eng­land Prayer Book, Bible, and a col­lec­tion of ser­mons by promi­nent church­men. These meet­ings con­tin­ued each Sun­day until ear­ly July, with the excep­tion of May 15th, which was spent walk­ing to Mill­ford for mail. Some time dur­ing the spring, the Methodist min­is­ter from the Souris Mouth, Rev. Thomas Hall, spent the week­end at Cap­tain Wood’s and held a Sun­day ser­vice there.

They were not with­out com­mu­ni­ty spir­it of a prac­ti­cal nature, for in spite of their exer­tions on their own farms, two meet­ings intend­ed to fur­ther the gen­er­al wel­fare were held. One on May 18th, at the Mill site, formed an Agri­cul­tur­al Soci­ety to obtain infor­ma­tion as to the best farm­ing prac­tices in the west­ern grass­lands. W. H. Sow­den was elect­ed pres­i­dent, Richard Sta­ples, vice-pres­i­dent and Arthur Rose and A. E. Het­her­ing­ton, direc­tors for the south side of the riv­er. On May 24th, anoth­er meet­ing was held, this time to draft a peti­tion for the con­struc­tion of a bridge across the Souris, and to have a post office estab­lished there. Con­sid­er­ing that they had been in the dis­trict less than a month, they showed com­mend­able zeal in orga­niz­ing for pos­i­tive action in the bet­ter­ing of their community.

Mr. Bam­bridge did lit­tle with his home­stead in 1881, but he erect­ed the first build­ing in the town when he built a log black­smith shop on the bank of Plum Creek, north-west of the present mill. He burned his own char­coal for his forge and was kept fair­ly busy dur­ing the sum­mer. As win­ter approached he closed his shop and went to Portage where he found work, and returned to his home­stead the next spring. Only two oth­er build­ings were erect­ed in the town-site that year. Squire Sow­den put up a fair­ly sub­stan­tial log house just south of the mill bridge on the east side of Plum Creek, where John Dol­mage opened a small store late in the sum­mer. Thomas Carveth had a good sized place large­ly con­struct­ed of prairie sod where he kept boarders.

Mr. William Wen­man and his sons, who did not arrive until late June, achieved the most elab­o­rate per­ma­nent res­i­dence con­struct­ed in 1881. Before win­ter they had a large two-storey dwelling built north­west of town. The com­fort and solid­i­ty of the estab­lish­ment which they erect­ed in a very short space of time, was thought by Mr. Bain­bridge to be one of the out­stand­ing achieve­ments of that first year.

There seems to have been a fair­ly gen­er­al ebb tide back to Ontario for the win­ter; many returned to make prepa­ra­tions for more elab­o­rate estab­lish­ments, and bet­ter farm­ing equip­ment in the com­ing year. A large sod sta­ble was built near the present C.P.R. Depot, where many of their oxen were win­tered in the care of George Mof­fatt, John­ston Bran­don, and James Wall­worth Davies, a retired Angli­can min­is­ter, who died the fol­low­ing spring. Arthur Rose went to the bush coun­try east of Win­nipeg, where he worked at log­ging and brush cut­ting but returned to the dis­trict at the end of Jan­u­ary to pre­pare for the next sea­son’s oper­a­tions. Before leav­ing in the fall of 1881, he had walked to Mill­ford to buy seed grain for him­self and Jim Cow­an. He had, in fact, been over the trail to Mill­ford a num­ber of times dur­ing the sum­mer, so it was with every con­fi­dence that he and Mr. Cow­an set off by sleigh across the track­less white­ness in the gen­er­al direc­tion of Mill­ford, to pick up their seed grain. It was a clear beau­ti­ful win­ter day in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, but by after­noon they were enveloped in a dense white fog which cut vis­i­bil­i­ty to a few feet. They pressed on until night­fall, when, uncer­tain as to their loca­tion but still con­fi­dent, they pulled up beside a haystack and spent the night hud­dled in their sleigh. The next morn­ing the fog was as impen­e­tra­ble as ever but they plod­ded off with haste and deter­mi­na­tion. After half a day of hard dri­ving found them back at the same haystack they became alarmed for the first time. Con­vinced now that it was pos­si­ble to be thor­ough­ly lost, they retreat­ed along the trail they had bro­ken the day before, which most for­tu­nate­ly was still vis­i­ble as there had been no wind. So, chas­tened in spir­it and rav­en­ous­ly hun­gry, they arrived back at the south­east­ern out­post of the set­tle­ment, Pad­dy Burke’s shan­ty. They final­ly col­lect­ed their seed by fol­low­ing a more trav­elled trail into Bran­don and then out to Mill­ford as the greater traf­fic on these roads made it unlike­ly that they could lose their way in any rea­son­able weather.

For win­ter work and dri­ving, the usu­al garb includ­ed felt boots or moc­casins, heavy under­wear, over­alls, and a coat of some sort; styles in head­gear var­ied, but some such cov­er­ing plus a woolen scarf com­plet­ed their out­fit. Buf­fa­lo coats were the warmest avail­able but Mr. Rose said they were not too plen­ti­ful at $30.00.

There were two spe­cial trains from Mill­brook to Bran­don in the spring of 1882. They arrived in April just at the time of the spring break up and expe­ri­enced much dif­fi­cul­ty and delay through the all but impass­able trails, swollen streams, and brim­ming sloughs which made their pas­sage of some 30 miles to Souris a seri­ous ordeal now that they must trans­port no incon­sid­er­able amount of house­hold goods and farm­ing equip­ment. My grand­fa­ther’s car con­tained a team of hors­es, crates of Span­gled Hamp­burg chick­ens, quan­ti­ties of house­hold goods, and equip­ment, sawn lum­ber for a house 18 feet x 24 feet and 500 bushels of seed grain. Cross­ing the lit­tle Souris just north of the Bran­don Hills, his hors­es lost their foot­ing on the ice and his wag­on over­turned in four feet of swift water. He was more upset by the dam­age to their care­ful­ly packed library of books than by any oth­er loss from this adven­ture; the risks which he took in his fran­tic efforts to retrieve them from the icy water were reward­ed, as, with painstak­ing care in the dry­ing process, most of them were sal­vaged and read­able. As a result of their strug­gles, his hors­es became ill and the rest of the haul­ing from Bran­don was done by oxen, much of it in the pour­ing rain which con­tin­ued to aggra­vate flood con­di­tions that spring.

By 1882, most of the set­tlers for the south­west cor­ner of the Province (the Antler coun­try) were using the rail­road to Bran­don instead of the old Bound­ary Com­mis­sion trail to the south. Cap­tain Wood built a large scow and employed John Cum­mings to fer­ry them across Plum Creek west of his farm. Mr. Bam­bridge worked as a guide that spring (wages $2.00 a day and board ) and accom­pa­nied sev­er­al par­ties as far west as Gains­bor­ough, Saskatchewan.

Dur­ing the spring of this year, some 14 men, includ­ing Mr. A. Rose, were employed build­ing a dam at the pro­posed Mill site on Plum Creek. While the water was too high for much progress at this work, they built anoth­er scow on the Souris, large enough to car­ry a sin­gle wag­on; this was used by the set­tlers south of the riv­er, though the cross­ing was com­pli­cat­ed by the fact that all live­stock had to be trailed behind them in the river.

In spite of a rather late start, occa­sioned by these dif­fi­cul­ties, grand­fa­ther had what Mr. Rose admired as a very respectable, cosy house erect­ed by the end of June. It was set on the east bank of the lit­tle stream known local­ly as “Hul­l’s Ravine”, and his first kitchen was a size­able sod dugout right in the bank itself. This was con­nect­ed to the bed­rooms and liv­ing room (con­tained in a frame struc­ture 18 feet x 24 feet on the top of the bank) by a stair­way which led to a trap door in the kitchen ceil­ing. My Aunt Jessie, who was aged four when she arrived with my grand­moth­er ear­ly in July, felt that this was quite the most beau­ti­ful and fas­ci­nat­ing of all pos­si­ble hous­ing arrange­ments; in her child­ish eager­ness, she delight­ed in tak­ing the out­side pas­sage, down­hill from the “par­lor” to the kitchen.

The machin­ery for the Mill had been ordered from Goldie and McCul­loch, of Galt, Ontario. It had been deliv­ered to Bran­don in the fall of 1881, about the time of the gen­er­al exo­dus back to Ontario and dumped off the train there appar­ent­ly unclaimed. By the spring of 1882, the Com­pa­ny wea­ried of fruit­less inquiries and sent George McCul­loch and William Her­riot to deter­mine what had become of their machin­ery, as well as, when, where and by whom it might even­tu­al­ly be installed. They found it in Bran­don and after build­ing a shel­ter in which to store it, they pro­ceed­ed to Plum Creek to inspect the Mill site. They found some work was in progress at the dam and a large pile of black poplar logs from the bluffs north­west of town were the pro­posed build­ing mate­r­i­al for the main struc­ture. They were well impressed by pos­si­bil­i­ties rather than progress, so McCul­loch and Her­riot went into part­ner­ship. They pur­chased the site from W. H. Sow­den, and with some finan­cial assis­tance from Wood & Kells, pro­ceed­ed to rebuild the dam and erect a sub­stan­tial mill. The build­ing was com­plet­ed by Decem­ber of 1882, the machin­ery installed in Feb­ru­ary of 1883, and their enter­prise in oper­a­tion clean­ing seed for the set­tlers of a wide area by the spring of 1883.

There was a large influx of set­tlers in 1882. More farm­ers and their fam­i­lies from Ontario, chiefly from Mill­brook and its envi­rons, but their num­bers were swelled by oth­ers of a more var­ied back­ground. W. H. Lis­ton a Scot­tish gen­tle­man (cousin of the Mar­quis of Lorne) came from Cey­lon and bought Tom Carveth’s home­stead (E ½ 4–8‑21), when he moved to town to become the first butch­er of the local­i­ty. Alfred Lowatt and his fam­i­ly, orig­i­nal­ly from Eng­land, came from south­east­ern Man­i­to­ba, where they had farmed since the late 1770s, and set­tled in the Hebron dis­trict not far from the south­west cor­ner of the Bran­don Hills. Saun­der­sons set­tled west of town, and Christo­pher Bran­don came with his fam­i­ly from Mill­brook to set­tle a short dis­tance east of the present town­site. The first Post Office was estab­lished in 1882, with John Dol­mage as Postmaster.

There was also a fair­ly large group from the old coun­try, par­tic­u­lar­ly from Ire­land, which had arrived more or less under the aus­pices of R. B. Kirch­hof­fer, broth­er of J. N. Kirch­hof­fer, of the Mill­brook syn­di­cate. One of these, A. J. Jame­son, a broth­er of Dr. L. S. Jame­son of the famous or infa­mous South African raid, com­plet­ed a sub­stan­tial liv­ery barn by 1883, and import­ed some fine hors­es and a com­pe­tent horse­man, John Mey­ers, to look after them. Oth­ers of the Irish par­ty includ­ed, Dr. J. C. Stoyte, John Burke, the Starr broth­ers, and Messrs. Buck­ley, Cronin, and Cree­don. Dr. Stoyte took up land south of town, though he made no attempt to work it him­self; by 1883, he had a sub­stan­tial frame house which is still occu­pied and well pre­served, as well as the town’s first brick struc­ture, his drug­store, now used as the Orange Hall. The Robert Mof­fat house, a small frame struc­ture on the road to the iron bridge, is the only build­ing erect­ed in 1882, which is still exist­ing, and it has been con­tin­u­ous­ly occu­pied since that date.

The fol­low­ing year filled the dis­trict com­plete­ly, and the least desir­able loca­tions north­west of town were occu­pied. In a sense, the Syn­di­cate’s town­ships had become, in 1882 and 1883, an island of rea­son­ably acces­si­ble land still avail­able for home­steading; for on March 11th, 1882, the Depart­ment of the Inte­ri­or with­drew from home­stead entry “all even-num­bered sec­tions next to and along both sides of the C.P.R. rail­way and its branch­es” and anoth­er direc­tive dat­ed July 5th, stat­ed “that since the lands between the south­ern lim­its of the main line belt of the C.P.R. and the inter­na­tion­al bound­ary have attained a great val­ue, the Min­is­ter there­fore rec­om­mends that even-num­bered sec­tions be with­drawn from home­stead and pre-emp­tion entry and offered for sale at pub­lic auc­tion at a price not less than $2.00 per acre.”

The Col­o­niza­tion Syn­di­cate sys­tem of attract­ing and estab­lish­ing set­tlers worked well in this dis­trict. It was filled, and filled rapid­ly. Most of the orig­i­nal home­stead­ers remained for many years, and those farms which were aban­doned were quick­ly tak­en up by more per­sis­tent or bet­ter qual­i­fied farm­ers. Wood & Kells, because of larg­er finan­cial resources, were able to buy up more options in odd-num­bered sec­tions, than oth­ers of the group, and their mon­ey was freely invest­ed in farm mort­gages, which pro­vid­ed the set­tlers with improve­ments, or tid­ed them over the first lean years. For the first years were lean indeed, lit­tle grain was pro­duced in 1881, 1882 was dif­fi­cult because of flood­ed con­di­tions in the spring, and 1883 was on the whole, a very poor year. In view of all this, the appar­ent­ly thriv­ing state of the town by the fall of 1884 rep­re­sents no incon­sid­er­able achieve­ment. By this date, there were fifty build­ings in the town-site, Sow­den’s, Dr. Stoyte’s, and J. N. and R. B. Kirch­hof­fer­’s homes being the most elab­o­rate. There were three stores, oper­at­ed by George Crosth­waite, Hall, George and Co., and John Dol­mage, and four hotels. The Cres­cent Hotel, built by Lt. M. S. N. Bryan, a retired Naval Offi­cer, and oper­at­ed by Brown and McKen­nett, was report­ed to be “the best in style and first class in all its equip­ment.” The Bruce House, owned and oper­at­ed by James Hop­kins, also pro­vid­ed a com­fort­able stop­ping place, While Jame­son and Kirch­hof­fer­’s liv­ery sta­ble was report­ed “equal to the best”. The school occu­pied a house built at a cost of $3,000.00 by William Hull. Mary Ann Het­her­ing­ton, who lat­er became Mrs. John Dol­mage, was the first school mis­tress. (Mrs. Dol­mage was not relat­ed to my fam­i­ly). Thomas Carveth was the vil­lage butch­er; William Het­her­ing­ton, the shoe­mak­er, (also unre­lat­ed); W. Mac­Gre­gor was the car­pen­ter while James Har­riot and R. Mof­fatt car­ried on their trade as blacksmiths.

This expan­sion in com­merce and par­tic­u­lar­ly the numer­ous stop­ping places, was made nec­es­sary by the Mill, which attract­ed busi­ness from a very wide area as far west as the Man­i­to­ba bound­ary. One sto­ry tells of an immense­ly pow­er­ful man by the name of Hen­der­son from near Carn­duff, Saskatchewan, who car­ried a sack of wheat over 90 miles on his back to have it grist­ed at the Mill. He returned laden with flour, bran, a side of bacon, sug­ar and sundry oth­er sup­plies. The large stor­age capac­i­ty which their new ele­va­tor afford­ed attract­ed many more, at times when stor­age or cars were not avail­able at Bran­don. This 90,000 bushel ele­va­tor is still in use; it now belongs to McCabe Bros. Grain Co. The Mill also pro­vid­ed an out­let for oth­er farm prod­ucts. Mr. Bem­bridge said that William Her­riot was a real farmer’s man, and tells of his activ­i­ties as a cat­tle buy­er and drover. On at least one occa­sion he drove a large herd of pigs across coun­try to the main line of the C.P.R. at Alexan­der. He used to buy frozen grain, and there was plen­ty of frozen grain in those years, and then use this unsaleable grain to feed pigs which they kept on the flat across the creek from the Mill.

Their lives were not easy, and those who dreamed of wealth quick­ly achieved, were soon dis­il­lu­sioned; but for most of these, dis­il­lu­sion­ment did not degen­er­ate into despair, and they became well con­tent with their new lives. Though back­grounds were diverse a rea­son­able amal­gam was soon achieved, and a fair spir­it of basic com­mu­ni­ty loy­al­ty appeared. They became good neighbors.

The old coun­try men had their crick­et and horse rac­ing; Anson P. Cartwright built a good track in the ear­ly years and some of the Ontario peo­ple too, were inter­est­ed in har­ness rac­ing. It is also alleged that, as a group, they were the bars’ most faith­ful patrons.

The Mill­brook boys still played lacrosse, and the team that won in 1887 was in a sense, a trans­plant­ed east­ern team.

There is an inter­est­ing account in the Bran­don Sun of the Beaver Swim­ming Club, whose annu­al race meets were events of 1883 and 1884, at the Mill pond. The offi­cial notice of one meet stip­u­lat­ed that con­tes­tants must appear in cos­tume, but cos­tumes var­ied. One gen­tle­man wore a long flow­ing night­shirt and anoth­er his Sun­day trousers.

House par­ties with danc­ing were fre­quent in the Lily dis­trict, and con­certs or debates in town pro­vid­ed a dif­fer­ent type of enter­tain­ment. One win­ter night my grand­fa­ther walked to town to recite “The Island of the Scots” at one such affair, and was very near­ly lost in a bliz­zard on his return journey.

It appears that the North West Rebel­lion of 1885 occa­sioned very lit­tle stir. Mr. Rose could remem­ber no way in which it dis­turbed their com­pla­cen­cy, though my aunt had vivid mem­o­ries of the Indi­an run­ners who passed the farm with news for their brethren far­ther south. On one occa­sion three of them led by an impos­ing chief, com­plete with head­dress stopped to demand a drink of water, but my grand­moth­er, appar­ent­ly in fear of kid­nap­ping, frus­trat­ed curios­i­ty by deposit­ing her most reluc­tant lit­tle daugh­ter in a clothes clos­et until they were on their way again. When the rebel­lion end­ed, the Sioux from Gris­wold and Pipe­stone enter­tained the cel­e­brants at the vic­to­ry bon­fire on the cres­cent with a mag­nif­i­cent Pow-wow to empha­size the fact that they were, indeed, good Indi­ans — most loy­al to the great white Mother.

Souris today, is for­tu­nate in hav­ing a num­ber of cit­i­zens who are inter­est­ed in gath­er­ing togeth­er and pre­serv­ing the mea­gre records and rec­ol­lec­tions of its ear­li­est set­tle­ment and devel­op­ment, which remain. Mr. Gor­don McMor­ran, the edi­tor of the Plain­deal­er has done con­sid­er­able research in con­nec­tion with the loca­tion of ear­ly trad­ing posts. Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Haig, who farm the old Gilbert Wood home­stead, have an old scrap book which belonged to the Woods, and have also gath­ered valu­able infor­ma­tion from inter­views with local res­i­dents. Miss Eve­lyn Bran­don, grand­daugh­ter of Christo­pher Bran­don who came in 1882, is most inter­est­ed in the dis­tric­t’s his­to­ry and has Kel­l’s scrap book and some very inter­est­ing let­ters from T. G. Kells. In addi­tion to Mr. Rose, there are a num­ber of oth­ers whose mem­o­ry goes back to the very ear­ly years. Mrs. Wes Fal­lis, daugh­ter of W. H. Lis­ton, came as a girl in 1882, and Mr. Char­lie Stiles also came as a young boy in that year. Mr. Carter Brindle, whose fam­i­ly home­stead­ed ear­li­er near Vir­d­en, came to the dis­trict in the ear­ly 1880s and drove the stage from Souris to Bran­don in the pre-rail­way era. All of these can make a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to our knowl­edge of the ear­ly days.

Page revised: 9 Sep­tem­ber 2011