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Introduction

Whether you are a visitor to our community, are researching your family roots, need background on an historic building or are just interested in local history, this website is your one-stop source of information on our heritage. 

The site offers you a glimpse of the history of Dufferin Municipality from the pre-settlement era to the post–1870 influx of homesteading families, and from the arrival of the railways to the rise and decline of the small towns and communities along its path.

You will also discover the wealth of historic buildings, cairns, plaques and other heritage resources that our communities have to offer.

Let us know of any omissions or errors. If you have information or photos you’d like to share, please contact us. Check out this site each month for our Special Features, including vintage photos from the area.

Please visit our Acknowledgements page, which recognizes the many people who contributed towards making the website possible, including the backbone of any endeavour—the volunteers who contributed material, researched, edited or proofread content, and gave in so many ways of their time and talents.

News & Events, June 2022

Archives. C/D MHAC has a mandate to identify, preserve and promote local heritage resources. As we note elsewhere on the website, much of our local material is housed in the museum, library, in our own C/D MHAC holdings, or available online. Through our ongoing Inventory of Local Heritage Resources we also have identified a wealth of material that is held by organizations or in private collections across the municipality.

Having located these resources, how do we ensure they are preserved? We also have received calls from local organizations concerned about deterioration of their records. Custodians of private collections are faced with the reality that families are becoming smaller, more dispersed and out of touch with their roots. Both have had questions about safe, secure places to store their documents, photographs and life stories, the goal being to ensure they are preserved for future generations. See our March 2017 News and Events for one such treasure trove of local heritage records that almost ended up in the trash.


A sample of the many community records and vintage
photos C/D MHAC has rescued

Without providing any embarrassing or painful details, let’s just say that one of the major challenges we face is that none of our local storage areas fully meet archival standards for environmental control, storage, handling and access.

This is why our recent Heritage Resource Management Plans (HRMPs) have acknowledged the need for an archival quality local repository to ensure safe, secure preservation of records, documents and other original heritage materials.

One solution that has been proposed is to move to digitlization of old records and photographs. An advantage of this approach is the current enthusiasm for digital media and the opportunity it presents to fulfil our mandate for wider promotion of local heritage. This is one of the reasons we share digital copies of reports, histories, newspapers and other C/D MHAC holdings with the local Dufferin Historical Museum and the Boyne Regional Library. Where possible, we share this information on our website and make a point of providing links to online resources. We also have been encouraging community groups to scan records such as local cemetery books and to store copies in a location separate from the original. The museum, in turn, has recently begun digitizing vintage photos to enhance accessibility and reduce handling.

Could digitization rather than archiving be the way of the future? For the family historian, seeing a copy of a family baptismal certificate or an ancestor’s naturalization papers, no matter how good the copy, is not the same as seeing the original. It’s a bit like having a museum without artifacts—just viewing pictures of the objects on a device. Would those grade-school students who thrill at trying on the old buffalo coat or touring the former one-room Boyne School get the same feel for local history viewing images on a screen?

Then there is that other complication. Have you tried recently to open those old 3.5” disks on which you used to store your material? Or looked for a website that’s no longer available online? Even tried to open files created a couple of program updates ago? Our heritage-biased thoughts are that digitization is a valuable adjunct, but not a replacement for the original records.

South-Central Regional Archive. Given these issues and concerns, it was timely that members of the newly formed South-Central Regional Archive attended our May meeting to bring the committee up to date on plans for building a regional archive in St. Claude.

While we were still in our ‘location of resources’ phase of preservation, the St. Claude Historical Society has been working for the past four years on plans for an archive to house local heritage records. From discussions with nearby communities such as Portage la Prairie, the group realized that the need for archival storage extends far beyond their own municipality. Consequently, they have expanded their vision and incorporated under the regional banner. The revised plan involves expansion and reworking of the original building plan to meet this new perception of their mission and catchment area. The intent of the SCRA is to meet the need for archival quality storage in South-Central Manitoba for family, business or organizational records, with access to be determined by contract with the donors.

The group has now applied for charitable status and is preparing policies and by-laws. Meanwhile, members are visiting other municipal councils and heritage groups to assess potential storage needs and obtain letters of support for the regional concept. They also will be seeking financial support from participating municipal councils.

One of the complicating factors here is the rather fierce loyalty of organizations and individuals to their own towns and communities and the resulting preference to see their resources held in their own district. These biases are based on commercial competition for business and small town survival along, perhaps, with a bit of ‘why didn’t we think of that?’ These sentiments often have roots as well in our early history of differences in ethnic origin, religion and language.

We have a few options. We can essentially ignore the SCRA project and let them move forward without our support. Better to lose some of our heritage resources than have them go out of our municipalities? If we want to keep records locally, we could invest in enhancing our own storage facilities. Or we could work with the SCRA to develop a high quality, accessible regional archive.

The St. Claude folks have already committed a huge amount of time and energy towards initiating and organizing this project. It is one that should greatly benefit heritage preservation efforts across the South-Central Region. Who knows, getting to know our neighbours and working together with them on a joint project might even begin to write a new chapter in local heritage.


Natural History. Has summer finally arrived? The ducks are still swimming merrily about in that front yard pond, except that now the females are less often in sight. In this recent photo, the ‘men’, having done their ‘progenitive duty’ for the season, are hanging out together down at The Pond. The ‘ladies’ no doubt are busy keeping the eggs warm back on the nest.




Meanwhile, the plant kingdom is bursting forth with new growth and sweet-scented blossoms.


Native ferns beginning to unfurl

The ornamental crabapple - welcome for its beauty
and sweet scent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




We are fortunate to have four separate seasons, each with its own sights, sounds, and scents and each with its own special beauty.

News and Events, May 2022

Where’s Spring? This year Manitoba saw one of the top half-dozen heaviest snow falls since records were kept. A single day in April recorded twice the average precipitation for the month. Temperatures over the past month have been running around 15° below normal for this time of year. Now the month of May is being ushered in with local flooding, closed roadways and evacuation alerts. Mother Nature hasn’t done much to brighten the spirits of folks who are still grizzling away about their neighbours’ views on pandemic restrictions.

In the midst of this doom and gloom, a recent random act of kindness stuck out like a bright ray of sunshine. We were just digging out from that last big dump of snow, when a phone call came from someone we knew by sight and by reputation through heritage activities. The caller said she would be in the area—would it be alright to pass by and drop something off? This Good Samaritan drove bravely up the slushy, muddy lane and arrived at the door with a jar of homemade soup, muffins and - a big bouquet of soft, fuzzy pussy willows. “The pussy willows,” she said, “are a sign of hope.”


Sign of hope that Spring is coming?

I figure this is the closest you can come to getting a ‘warm fuzzy’. These are the moments we’ll remember long after the snow has gone.

History of the river. We mentioned last month that the Boyne River Keepers (BRK) had requested our help in writing a history of the river for their new website. The group’s interest in the past has been piqued in part by the ‘heritage moments’ Nikki Falk has been presenting at BRK meetings.

We’ve often mentioned the river on our own website, mainly because it has featured in so many aspects of local heritage. Now we’ve been going back over that content and pondering how best to present a history that would be meaningful to the BRK.

From what perspective should the story of the river be told? We recognize that histories are interpretations of the past, based on the narrator’s own experiences and view of the world. Most of our local sources—histories, life stories, photos and newspaper accounts—date from the post-1870 era and reflect the experience and viewpoint of early settlers and their descendants. These river stories speak primarily of floods, pollution, dams, bridges and recreation.

What if the story of the river were told by the Indigenous people who lived here in the centuries before 1870? Given their different perspective on nature, an Indigenous history likely would focus more on the life-giving importance of water, ceremonies, plants and animals native to the area, or the best places to find medicinal herbs. This part of our local heritage was passed from one generation to the next by oral tradition. So far, we haven’t retrieved these early stories of the river we now know as The Boyne.

What if the river were to tell its own story? What would it have to say about its use and abuse by human cohabitants?

Identifying and preserving local heritage is an ongoing process. We’ll continue trying to fill in the gaps in our knowledge by seeking out oral histories and memories of the past. We’re also taking careful note of the new chapters of river history being written by groups such as the BRK. That said, here is an outline of what we know so far about the history and heritage of the Boyne River.

History of the Boyne River. The story begins centuries ago when glacial Lake Agassiz receded, leaving behind an expanse of rich prairie soil and a winding stream that drained the land between the western escarpment and the Great Marsh1 east of present-day Carman. From there, the water flowed into the larger Red River drainage system. Although the Great Marsh itself was drained in the early 1900s, the river remains a key factor in local water management and a major feature of the Carman/Dufferin landscape. Of equal significance is the role the river has played in our local heritage.

The river, with its heavily forested banks, was a source of fresh water, fuel, wild fruit, medicinal plants and small game for early Indigenous hunter-gatherers. During the era of the fur trade and western exploration, larger rivers and waterways provided the fastest and most efficient means of transportation. Although our river was too shallow and meandering to serve as a major transportation route, it played a crucial role in the history of that era.

The Missouri Trail2 was the major pathway followed by early Indigenous peoples, on their way to gather and trade at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in the north and the headwaters of the Missouri River to the south. It was the route to the sacred site at Calf Mountain and the pathway later used by fur traders and buffalo hunters. The trail followed the western shore of the Great Marsh, passing through miles of swampy land and open prairie before crossing the river about a mile and a half east of present-day Carman. The wooded crossing provided an oasis where travellers found water, food, and fuel as well as wood for repairing their Red River carts. In springtime, maple syrup was harvested. By the 1830s, a number of Métis families were living in the area. The name they gave to the river was the Rivière aux Îlets-de-Bois (‘islands of wood’), possibly a translation of an earlier Indigenous name.

Most of our local written histories date from the 1870s. This leaves a huge gap in our knowledge and understanding of the earlier centuries of Indigenous interaction with the river, making it a part of our heritage that remains largely unrecorded and unrecognized. We know from a large volume of other oral histories and Indigenous writings that water, as a giver of life, was sacred, that it held a central, spiritual place in Indigenous cultural belief systems.3 We can only hope that local oral history projects will capture some knowledge and understanding of these beliefs and their significance to the river’s story.

Settlers arrive. In 1870, Manitoba became a province of Canada and was opened to homesteading. Given the rich local resources, it is no surprise that the first settlers to this area chose land near the river.

Samuel Kennedy, the first arrival, settled at the key point where the Trail crossed the Rivière aux Îlets-de-Bois. A staunch Irish Protestant Orangeman, he is said to have renamed the river the Boyne, in honour of the defeat of Catholics at the Irish Battle of the Boyne.4 The river thus became a factor in the tensions that arose between the local Métis and the new arrivals around differences in culture, language, religion and attitude to land ownership5—issues that have remained part of the broader context of local history.


Clendenning Mill

With the arrival of this new population, the story of the river began to change. In 1879, William Clendenning built a dam and flour mill on NW 24-6-5w, later adding a lumber mill.6 The local mill saved settlers from long trips to settlements at Nelsonville or Emerson to grind grain for flour and feed.

It also provided lumber for building and helped pave the way for development of the Town of Carman.

Early newspapers and memoirs are among our richest sources of information about our past. Many of these news items refer to the Boyne River and affirm its importance in local life.

Local churches and other organizations reported on annual picnics held in wooded groves along the river. In the summer of 1900, the Dufferin Leader carried this glowing account of a local picnic:

On Friday, July 27th, the members of the Old Maids’ Society of Orr, together with a few invited guests, spent an enjoyable afternoon in Mr. Usher’s grove, on the banks of the Boyne. Repairing to the rendezvous, the pleasure-seekers first amused themselves by wandering through the lovely greenwood, admiring the many beauties of the spot and plucking the luscious cherries that hung so temptingly on the branches of trees. After roaming around some time the party gathered together under a majestic maple where they enjoyed a recherche repast of sandwiches, cake and other delicacies, Songs and other amusements were then indulged in and in the evening the party returned to their respective homes after having spent a most pleasant and profitable afternoon.7

Another small item in the local paper gives a hint of the age of the woodlands along the banks of the river. In 1889, the Carman Dufferin Leader reported that “H. Clendenning has on his premises an oak tree which measures twelve feet in circumference two feet above the ground”.8 How many decades would it have taken for a slow-growing oak tree to each that size? What became of the tree? These popular picnic groves and immense trees are largely part of our past. Could this part of our heritage be revived for future generations?

Wildlife. Like our present-day boaters, early residents of Carman were intrigued by wildlife in and along the river. They were aware of beavers and the impact of their upstream dams on local water flow. This was knowledge they used during periods of drought when they built man-made dams to ensure a water supply for the town.

Beavers and turtles that boaters now are thrilled to see along the stream were part of the early habitat. Back in 1907, the Carman Standard reported that:

 A very large turtle, or tortoise was captured by Mr. Leary, of Roseisle, the other day, and exhibited in Carman on Monday. It weighed over 30 pounds, and opinion was divided as to whether it was a tortoise, a terrapin or a snapping turtle. Its shell was strong enough to support a man.9

Around the same time, the paper also reported that wolves were “plentiful along the river west of Carman”.10 With the arrival of settlers in the area, these predators were seen as a danger to livestock and substantial bounties were put on their heads.

Recreation. From early stories, it’s clear that recreational use of the river and interest in its environment were a rich part of our past.

Boating. This vintage photo from the Dufferin Historical Museum collection suggests that the BRK weren’t the first enthusiasts to discover the joys of boating on the Boyne.


Boating on the Boyne: sisters Allie & Mabel Clark boating ca. 1900

Skating was a favorite winter pastime. Flora Sexsmith (1896-19490) recalled:

I remember one night in particular when I skated with my brother Freddie on the river all the way downtown to Browning Avenue and back to the mill dam and back home in the moonlight. I was maybe twelve years old. I still remember that magic night.11

The length of the early skating trails might offer a challenge to today’s enthusiasts. Under the heading “Skaters Busy on River”, a 1926 edition of the local paper reported that:

The freezing temperatures of the nights of the past week have resulted in a good sheet of ice forming on the surface of the waters of the Boyne and this, with the absence of snow, makes things very nice for those who like to skate. A party of boys went up the river yesterday to a point about six miles west of town and found the going fine.12


Carman Swimming Hole

Swimming. From the time of early settlement, swimming holes along the Boyne River were popular areas for fun and recreation. The most notable of these was the Carman Swimming Hole. Opened in the mid-1940s by the Carman Swimming Club, this was one of the most popular gathering places in the town. Annual swim meets drew crowds of up to 2,000 people.



The Carman Band entertained the crowds from a bandstand on the south side of the river.


Cooling off in the South Boyne

The site was a major recreational centre until the 1960s when the Kinsman opened the pool in Kings Park. In 2014, C/D MHAC installed a sign at the site to commemorate this important part of local heritage.

Less formal swimming holes, like the one here, were found the length of the river.



 


Railway pumping station beside
S. Boyne River at Roseisle

Railways. When the railways arrived in Carman/Dufferin area, the river served as a source of water for the steam-driven engines. Dams were built at key points, such as Carman and Roseisle to ensure adequate water for the pumping stations.


Midland Railway trestle













Trestles, such as the one that marks location of the BRK dock, are among the few reminders of the importance railways played in transforming this part of Manitoba from a traditional hunting/gathering/trading area into a settled, agricultural market economy.


Early McKnight Bridge, near present-day Boyne Lodge

Bridges. As the Town of Carman grew, building bridges became a major focus for the town. Town Councils reports note ongoing debates about funding for a Fournier Street (1st. Street) bridge, repairs to the Villard Street bridge, or rebuilding the McKnight Bridge to allow for better access to settlements in the west.

 

Pollution. Many of the Boyne River stories were less affirmative. We may think of concerns about the environment and pollution as modern issues; items from early newspapers suggest otherwise.

As the local population grew, the Boyne River served as a handy source for water and ice. This soon was offset by concerns for the presence of sewage, garbage, dead animals and other sources of pollution, as well as litter along the river banks and the presence of slimy green summer scum.

As early as 1898, warnings were being issued abut use of river ice, which was the source of summer refrigeration:

The practice of cutting ice on the river below the town should be looked into by our health authorities. A number of stables are located along the river banks, and the offal from these pollutes the water to some extent and renders it unfit for use for dairy and other household uses, and those who store such ice for summer use are laying up a first-class disease breeder. We throw out this hint in hopes that steps will at once be taken to stop cutting ice except above the town.13

An item from a few years later suggests that little progress had been made:

A number of citizens make the river a dumping ground for garbage, manure and other debris. The town authorities should shut down on this practice at once. It is not only a violation of sanitary laws, but a breeder of contagious diseases. Very soon the cutting of ice will be in progress and the crop will be beautifully flavoured with the juices of manure, dead animals and even more revolting refuse. The public health should not be subjected to the selfishness of a few who have no regard for sanitary rules.14

Concerned citizens petitioned the council to have the river banks cleaned and laws against dumping enforced. They were worried about the image this gave the town, that it did “not fit in very well with the advertised beauties of the town and its surroundings. For very shame’s sake if not for sanitary reasons, making river banks a dump heap ought to be abated.”15

It would seem that some civic action was taken; no further complaints of this nature appear until around 1907, when water and sewer systems were being installed in Carman and concerns were raised by residents who objected to having sewage flowing into the river near their property.

Thanks to growing awareness of the cause of disease and enforcement of sanitary laws, as well, perhaps, as growing pride in community, news items of this nature become less prevalent. Later references to river bank trash more often speak to efforts to clean up branches and debris or, as one reporter remarked following a severe drought, it was to be hoped at least that the river would “rise high enough to obliterate some of the superfluous junk lying on the river bank.”16

There is little documentation of what happened outside town limits. One life story relates how:

We used to pile the manure we cleaned from the barn on the bank of the river. When it flooded in spring, the bank was swept clean, ready for the next pile. We did that until the garden and fields started getting overworked. Then we started spreading the manure on the land to fertilize it. Nowadays the concern is about all the pesticides and chemicals that leach from fields into our water systems. A bit of manure doesn’t look so bad anymore.17

Concern about the state of the river is one aspect of our heritage that persists to this day—one of the many ways in which history repeats itself.


Flood on Villard Ave, (Main Street) 1893

Floods. Until recent years, flooding was an annual concern in the Town of Carman. The Town experienced major floods in 1893, 1923, 1970, 1974, and 1979. Floodwater caused millions of dollars of property damage.

Floods also resulted in irreplaceable loss, including municipal records prior to 1924, which were destroyed when waters flooded the basement of the Memorial Hall.


Finally, in 1991, a diversion was built to redirect flood water from west of the town through a six-mile ditch into the Norquay Channel northeast of Carman.


Spring breakup on the Boyne River

Floods also affected properties along the course of the Boyne and its branches. In the spring of 1933, flooding along the river destroyed railway tracks and bridges, bringing rail service to a
temporary halt. This excerpt from a life story describes one family’s experience:

There was thick ice on the river that year. We were sleeping upstairs one night when we were wakened by the crash of ice and logs on the walls of the house. Downstairs was flooded and we could hear the clink of glass jars as they floated up from the storage area in the basement. We could see though the windows that the house was already surrounded by fast-flowing water and ice. It turned out that an ice dam had formed upstream from us and when it broke, the water rushed down-river, taking everything moveable with it. [Our son] was just 18 months old at the time and we couldn’t tell if the house would stay on its foundation. We were trapped upstairs until morning when the water went down enough that we could wade out back to higher ground. We lost all the cordwood the men had spent the winter cutting and hauling. The water took out the railway trestle and a lot of the track. The folks across the road slept through it all and never even knew we were in trouble.18


1933 flood damage to railway

In other years, drought and water shortages were a concern. This prompted the Carman Council to introduce water restrictions and plan for building dams.

 

 

 

 

Water management. The Boyne River also serves an important role in the growing concern for water management. In 1963, a dam was built near the junction of the north and south branches of the Boyne River, at the west end of the R.M. of Dufferin. This created Stephenfield Lake in what is now Stephenfield Provincial Park, a popular recreational centre and site of a water treatment plant. Water levels at the dam help regulate use of the river for irrigation of local farm crops.

Since piped water has largely replaced the time-honoured practice of hand-pumping and carrying water from wells, facilities such as indoor plumbing, automatic washing machines and dish washers have become ‘necessities’. They also increased water consumption. When we add to this more efficient drainage systems and growing demands for irrigating farmlands, it’s clear that water has become one of our most precious commodities.


Stephenfield Provincial Park

The lake also provides an important habitat for migratory birds. Local drainage projects have reduced the number of ponds and sloughs, and wildlife management has become an increasingly important consideration. There also is a growing awareness that the Boyne River watercourse is the one remaining wildlife corridor in the Carman/Dufferin municipalities.

The river was here long before the land was settled and converted to farmland. Knowing the history of the Boyne River helps us understand why protecting the river and its environment is so significant for all facets of our lives—from the joys of outdoor recreation and wildlife management to water management and the quality of life for future generations in the Carman/Dufferin municipalities.

Endnotes

For the purposes of this brief overview of the Boyne River history, we’ll draw primarily upon a
couple of sources that are readily available locally and online. The most comprehensive source of information on local heritage is the The History of the R.M. of Dufferin in Manitoba, 1880–1980, compiled and edited by June Watson and committee and published by the Council of the R.M. of Dufferin. The book is available online through the University of Manitoba digital collection of local histories. Early newspapers are another rich source of local history. The Carman Standard, Dufferin Leader and Valley Leader can be accessed online through the Pembina Manitou Archive website.

       1. Watson, June. The History of the RM of Dufferin in Manitoba 1880-1980, (Council of the R.M. of Dufferin, 1982), pp. 145–150
       2. Ibid., pp.4–7
       3. See, for example, https://www.resilience.org/stories for an account of the role of Indigenous women and water.
       4. Watson, June. The History of the RM of Dufferin in Manitoba 1880-1980, (Council of the R.M. of Dufferin, 1982), pp.2–3
       5. See The Confrontations at Rivière aux Îlets-de-Bois, by historian Alan B. McCullough for an account of the implications and impact of the arrival of post-1870 settlers to the area.
       6. For more information on the Clendenning mill, see Nicholson, Karen. A Review of the Heritage Resources of Boyne Planning District (Heritage Resources Branch, 1984), pp. 101–102. Available online https://carmandufferinheritage.ca/ (search ‘Nicholson’)
       7. Carman Dufferin Leader, 1900-08-02
       8. Ibid., 1889-09-08
       9. Carman Standard, 1907-06-20
       10. Ibid., 1906-12-06
       11. Watson, June. The History of the RM of Dufferin in Manitoba 1880-1980, (Council of the R.M. of Dufferin, 1982), p. 728
       12. Dufferin Leader, 1926 -11-11
       13. Ibid., 1898-12-15
       14. Ibid., 1901-11-21
       15. Ibid., 1903-05-13
       16. Ibid., 1920-11-04
       17,18 Note that persons agreeing to share their life stories may opt to remain anonymous.


Recent History

Earlier news items are stored on a separate "Recent History" page.