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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 2021

June 2021 in MB. Our optimism of past months that we would be back to normal by June hasn’t been borne out. Instead, Manitoba currently has the dubious distinction of having the highest incidence of COVID per capita in North America. Not a record we can be proud of, only one where we can each do our part to help get past these uneasy times.

If you look hard enough, you can usually find something positive about even in the most trying situations. In the case of the pandemic, one cheerful note is the growing interest in outdoor activities. And what could be more rewarding than being outdoors during the transition from Spring to Summer?


The new BRK dock

Boyne River Keepers. This new interest in the outdoors has had a positive effect on the activities of the BRK, the group that is working to revitalize the local river. We’ve seen this winter how their activities made the Boyne a center of outdoor fun. The group recently received funding for a dock from which folks can launch their canoes and kayaks and enjoy a summer of outdoor family fun. The aluminum dock is now in place just north of the old Midland Bridge.

Ideally, this is where we should add one of our ‘Now and Then’ rollover photos, showing the river as it was a century ago. Unfortunately, these photos are another temporary casualty of the pandemic. You’ll have to use your imagination, along with this photo from the Dufferin Historical Museum to flip back to earlier days of recreational boating on the Boyne.


Early 1900s outing on the Boyne River


Natural History. One of the remarkable features of the local environment is the way in which our seasons change so quickly and so dramatically. Spring is a time of blossoms, sudden greening of trees, reappearance of hibernating animals and arrival of migratory birds. Fortunately, Mother Nature is one visitor who’s not subject to pandemic restrictions. We’ve asked folks to share their photos and to recall their favourite memories of Spring. Here are a few gems from local life stories. All respondents are known to us; some choose to remain anonymous.

Poplar leaves. One of the first trees to burst into leaf each Spring is the poplar or trembling aspen. A local life story relates how one family always associates poplar leaves with the arrival of Spring:

“Bright new trembling aspen leaves were always one of our first signs of Spring. They seemed to just pop out overnight. Our family members still smile when they recall our mother, standing out on her front veranda in the early morning, looking up at the hillside and the greening poplars and announcing to the world 'The valley is popping. Spring’s here!' Years later, our family members are spread around the world. Those of us ‘at home’ continue to announce the arrival of Spring each year—via email or telephone—with the message “The valley is popping…”

White poplar/trembling aspen and leaves

The same family recalls a three-year-old’s sheer delight when she looked out the window one morning at her grandmother’s home and saw the poplar leaves fluttering in the breeze. ‘Look, Grandma!’ she exclaimed. ‘The leaves are dancing!’

For more information on this native harbinger of Spring, including why they seem to ‘dance’, check out this University of Manitoba article.

Apple blossoms. The sweet scent of apple blossoms is a reminder of how we’ve changed our natural environment over the last century by introducing new species of fruit trees and ornamental shrubs. The old native standbys—saskatoons, chokecherries, cranberries, pincherries, wild plums—the wild fruit that local folks relied on in earlier days, are disappearing across much of the countryside. Many of the small experimental orchards that dotted the countryside during the early years of settlement also have run their course. In their place we rely in large part on local fruit farms and stores and grace our properties with ornamental flowering trees and shrubs.


Apple and ornamental crabapple blossoms delicately perfume the Spring air

Ferns. One of the intriguing sights of early Spring is the sudden unfurling of delicate green fronds of the native ostrich fern. This fern is found in local wooded areas and in gardens where it has been transplanted as a low-maintenance backdrop to lawns and flowering plants.


Fiddleheads unfurling with brown spore-bearing fronds; a patch of maturing ostrich ferns


For more on these fascinating plants, visit Wikipedia.



Dandelions. Dandelions are at the top of most people’s list of pesky weeds. But here’s a different memory of these ubiquitous plants:

“This is one of my fondest memories of Spring. One day I was supposed to be cutting the grass. But I was just sitting on the mower, looking at a huge patch of dandelions that had burst into flower in the front yard. They were glowing in the morning sunshine and I wondered if it was really necessary to mow down something that beautiful. Suddenly there was an explosion of yellow as a flock of goldfinches took flight from among the blooms – it was like the whole patch of flowers coming to life. I said to myself, ‘Look, a weed is just a plant that’s growing where you don’t want it. Why cut them?’ We still have one of the finest patches of dandelions around—and each Spring I watch hopefully for another flight of goldfinches.”

If you relate to this little story, you may appreciate a much-repeated ‘dialogue’ that has circulated for some time on gardening and other websites, such as God and The Great Heresy of Lawn Care.


Dandelions


The common dandelion is said to have been introduced to North America from Europe and Asia. The name is a corruption of the French «dent de lion» or lion’s tooth from the jagged leaves. To learn more about these flowers/weeds check out online sites such as Wikipedia.

For information on edible and medicinal use of dandelions and other local plants see: Wild Plants of Central North America for Food and Medicine by former Dufferin artist /author/environmentalist Steven Jackson and co-author Linda Prine (Winnipeg, MB; Peguis Publishers, 1978). As always, we urge caution in the use of wild plants for food or medicinal purposes.

Birds also are an important part of the Spring scene. Here are a couple of local bird stories.

Ravens. We’ve all grown up with the common black crow as part of our natural environment. The last few years, however, we’ve begun to see their larger cousins, the raven, in this area. Their nests are hard to miss—a large rough platform of branches, and sometimes other objects, in the crotch of a tree or rafters of an open building. Even harder to miss are their loud, harsh cries—‘like someone strangling a goose’ was one description. For more information on ravens— their habitat, nests, eggs, prey—see sources such as Breeding Birds of Manitoba.

C/D MHAC member Shirley Snider got a close-up look at a hatch of young ravens this past month when she came across five young birds on the floor of the hay barn. The nest had collapsed and the youngsters, still far from ready to take flight, had dropped to the hay below.


Young pre-flight ravens and two weeks later


Shirley followed their progress. Two weeks later only two birds were still there. She watched them hopping off through the grass, and so far, she hasn’t spotted them again. Have they fallen prey to the local cats or other predators or will they appear in flight one day to feed on the local chipmunks, newborn cats and other small prey?

Although the ravens aren’t especially welcome, Shirley has been keenly awaiting the arrival of our migratory birds. She had just put out orange halves on her rather elaborate bird-feeder and settled down to watch for the arrival of orioles when she spotted this unwelcome visitor devouring the bird-seed. Banging on the window didn’t disturb this pesky racoon, she settled for getting us this picture.


Racoon and hummingbird feeder


Shirley tells us that his incident touched off another memory of racoons and bird-feeders. At one time she had the hummingbird feeder attached to the railing of her deck. She looked out one morning to check on the level of the liquid, only to see a racoon, holding the feeder in its paws and tipping it up to drink the sweet nectar. She says she was so ticked off, she didn’t even think of grabbing the camera to take a photo. So you’ll just have to imagine the smile on the face of the racoon and the fury on the face of our story-teller.

Meanwhile, we haven’t forgotten our research on the lives and lot of local women. We’ll try to get back to that topic next month. Until then, enjoy the outdoors—knowledgeably, safely and at a distance. And don’t forget to carry your camera. All photos and stories welcomed.

 

News & Events May 2021


May Events. Does anyone remember when we were school-kids, chanting: “The 24th of May, it’s the Queen’s birthday; if you don’t give us a holiday, we’ll all run away”? It sticks in memory as always being a day of sunshine and the promise of long summer holidays to come.

Now we celebrate May 12, Manitoba Day. Can you believe it’s a whole year since we unveiled the Missouri Trail sign, one of the last times we met as a group?

May 12 also is recognized by nurses around the world as Florence Nightingale’s birthday. This year May 12 would be a good time for all of us to honour a profession that has provided health care to the community for over a century and has been right there on the front lines for us throughout the pandemic. Thank you.

Heritage Happenings. A third wave of variant-fueled viral infections continues to restrict our meetings and other face-to-face heritage activities. This hasn’t put a damper on our behind-the-scenes activities.

The search continues for information on early local businesses. This has paid off well in helping us identify buildings and background information on our website manager’s intriguing ‘Now and Then’ rollover photos.

We also continue to receive requests for help with family research. This is one of the few positive outcomes of our isolation—more folks finding time to follow up on family histories. The present owners of the former Roblin home in Carman are diligently researching background on the house and family members who lived there over the years. There is an abundance of information on Rodmond Palen Roblin, less on the rest of the family. R.P.R. and his brother-in-law Malcolm E. DeMille owned much of the land on which Carman was built and were among the main movers-and-shakers in the local business and political world of the day. If anyone has stories or photos to share, we’d love to hear from you.

Since we are looking this month at the lives and lot of local women, I wonder how many of you have seen a photo of Adelaide DeMille Roblin (1853–1928) who married R.P.R. in 1875?


Adelaide DeMille Roblin
R.P. Roblin’s declaration that “Nice women don’t want the vote” provided Nellie McClung with a potent battle-cry in her campaign for the vote for women. Roblin’s wife Adelaide was clearly one of the ‘nice women’. The irony is that “In the rank and file of the suffrage movement were to be found the wives and daughters of successful men, newly leisured and eager to assert themselves outside the narrow domestic sphere.”
(Gutkin & Gutkin, 1996)

We are left wondering how Adelaide felt about voting after Manitoba became the first province to grant women the franchise in January 1916. Or how local women reacted to being granted the vote.

This month, C/D MHAC members have been looking through our local histories and family stories to locate information on the lives of our early pioneer women. Not surprisingly, the findings underline some of the common limitations of recorded history. One of those limitations is the lack of information history provides on the lives and thoughts of everyday women. It’s difficult for present generations who have grown up with either the Feminist movement or the ongoing struggle for ‘human’ equality to imagine a time when women were both voiceless and invisible.

Given the societal norms at the turn of the 20th Century, nice women, like children, were best seen and not heard. In Laurel Ullrich’s much-quoted words “Well-behaved women seldom make history”. So, unless you were a Mary Queen of Scots or a Lizzie Borden, your story and your political or other views probably weren’t recorded in the local newspaper. If you browse through local history books and family stories from that era, you’ll find accounts of women’s household duties but less about their thoughts and attitudes.

A second limitation to history that it is recorded from the perspective of the writer. The information depends on who is doing the writing or telling. You’ll recall that most of our local histories date only from the post-1870 arrival of the first ‘white’ settlers. With these points in mind, let’s look at a couple of these early accounts.

The Kennedys, Sexsmiths and McCulloughs, were all related and were among the first homesteaders in what they renamed the Boyne River area. These families came with the early wave of settlers from Ontario, making the long journey to the Forks or Emerson before travelling by ox-cart to their Boyne area homesteads. They have left us with some of the more detailed accounts we have of early pioneer life in the area.

For a better notion of the homes in which pioneer women set up housekeeping, visit the reconstructed George and Flora Sexsmith log cabin at the local museum. It was built with “oak logs chinked with blue clay. The roof was of poplar poles covered with sod. Later a frame lean-to was built on and the entire building shingled” (History of the R.M. of Dufferin, p.726). Flora’s daughter describes how her mother did “all the sewing and knitting necessary for her family. She made all the clothes for both the boys and girls and did all the washing and ironing too.” Ironing was done with “sadirons” like those seen below “which required a hot stove summer and winter.” They were called sadirons from the obsolete word ‘heavy’. The handle was interchangeable and one iron was used while the other heated on the stove-top.


Sadirons
We are told that Flora also made butter and raised chickens and geese. The butter and eggs were exchanged at the store for groceries. Down from the geese was used to make feather ticks and pillows. Wild fruit—plums, cranberries, wild grapes, raspberries, pin cherries—were gathered to make jams. She also made pickles, cured pork in brine, and baked the family’s bread supply. Vegetables from the garden were stored in a root cellar. In the days before electricity, the house was lighted with candles made at home from tallow, later by coal oil lamps and a mantle lamp.

George and Flora were parents of fifteen children, which wasn’t too unusual at that time. Births were usually at home, with perhaps a neighbour in attendance. Four of the children died in infancy, another hazard and source of grief that was not unusual at a time when typhoid and other diseases often struck the community. Several members of their extended family were victims of an outbreak of typhoid fever and are buried in the Kennedy Burial Site.

As more settlers arrived, the hard work and loneliness of pioneer life were tempered by house parties, cards, games and music and by church services. The earliest services were held in homes, later in schools that soon became the focal point of social life in rural districts. As the railways came through and small towns grew, women’s lives outside the home centered around church and women’s groups, organizing picnics, concerts and socials along with ‘good works’ in the community.


Roseisle Ladies’  Aid ca. 1905

It was a labour-intensive life for both the women, men and children in the family. In later years, as the farm prospered, a ‘hired girl’ and a ‘hired man’ were employed to help. By 1901, the family was able to built a new 12 room home designed by local architect Edmund Watson.

Other stories provide information about the nature and process of women’s work – everything from soap-making to baking bread. One of these sources describes in more detail what wash-day and bath day were like down on the farm:

“Household duties were labour intensive. Women had to slave over hot stoves for all the cooking and in the heat of summer, temperatures in the kitchen could easily get to 100 degrees or higher. The laundry process would begin by hauling of water before dumping it into a copper boiler. It would sit on the wood stove overnight and by morning, boiling water would be ready to be transferred from the boiler to the washing machine. As soon as the soap was added you were ready to begin. “You’d start with hot, hot water and your whites. As the water cooled, and got dirtier, you’d move on to your colours, then dirty stuff like overalls. You just kept using the same water and by the time the last load was done it was black like tar.

In the 1940’s the new washing machines would agitate the clothes, but then you would have to work each item through the rubber wringer on the machine. Items would fall into the rinse tub, where a blueing agent was added to make the clothes whiter—only if you could afford the product. After you had rinsed the clothes and put them through the wringer again, they’d be ready to hang on the outdoor clothes line. The clothes would flutter in the breeze in summer, or freeze like boards in the winter. They’d also be strung up on makeshift lines in the front room or put on a wooden clothes rack. In the early days all clothes had to be ironed requiring may hours to complete, even with the children helping. Forget the trip to the gym as we do today. These women were getting a total body workout and burning calories like crazy.

Water for the bath was hauled once a week, again with the same process for washing clothes, with the girls bathing first and the boys next with the same water. Things sure have changed as soon people now shower twice a day.”

From Maurice Cox, The Clearwater Family History - 1813-2004, p.145 (Copies in library and the Dufferin Historical Museum).

From this account, we realize that, for many local families, the life of rural farm women really didn’t change that much over the first half of the 20th Century. Some families came after the first land rush and acquired more marginal agricultural land. After the ravages of WWI and the ‘Spanish’ flu, optimism of the 1920s was dampened again by the Great Depression and WWII. At war’s end, electricity, indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, and central heating were still a luxury on rural farms as well as in most small Dufferin towns. Whatever the reason, for many local women the same lifestyle of hard domestic work persisted well into mid-century.

Note that these accounts focus primarily on the women’s side of the story. Looking at pioneer histories as a whole, one feature that stands out is a sense of the hard work underpinning rural farm life. All family members—men and women and children—worked from dawn till dusk at physically challenging tasks. While his wife slaved over a hot stove, the husband was engaged in back-breaking work of clearing the land, planting, harvesting, and tending the animals. Women were far from equal when it came to the vote or being able to own property, but from the perspective of hard work, rural farm life has always been a great equalizer. And while these excerpts give some notion of the heavy workload of rural women, many other topics were taboo. Back in the days before Facebook and Twitter, women didn’t talk much within the family, much less publicly, about such matters as pregnancy and childbirth, bodily functions, female complaints, intimate or abusive relationships. They may have shared some of their concerns with other women but they didn’t record the ‘personal’ aspects of their lives in the written histories they left for later generations.

Gutkin & Gutkin also point out that one of R.P. Roblin’s issues with women’s suffrage was that if women got the vote, others “might shortly come to us for the extension of the franchise to servant girls, on the plea that servant girls have as good a right to vote as any other class of women.” In at least some minds at that time, not only were women inferior to men but not all women were equal. We’ll explore that perspective further next month when we look at the rights of local Indigenous women.


1st Ave. SW (formerly Maple Ave.)

Now and Then. Last month we looked at the history of the building in the background of this photo—the one-story building that now houses Nine Lives clothing store.

For a view of this avenue during the WWII era, go to Vintage Photos, Now and Then.




Natural History.
Spring is in the air and the buds are staring to swell on the trees. It’s a reminder of one of our early pastimes as children—tapping local Manitoba maple trees to make maple syrup. One of the reasons the Métis along the Assiniboine came south to the Boyne River area—then the Rivière aux Îlets-de-Bois—was to make maple syrup. This activity was later carried on by local pioneers.


Making Maple Syrup – Coleman farm ca. 1900

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A local life story relates how:

“When we were kids, at the first sign of swelling buds, we gathered up the empty tin cans and lids that we saved up during the winter months and got ready to make maple syrup. We used a nail to make holes near the rim of the can and secured a piece of wire through the holes to make a handle. The lids were bend into a v-shape to make spouts. Saturday morning after chores were done, we headed out to the grove of Manitoba maples in the back yard. Using a brace and bit, we drilled a hole through the bark about three feet from the ground. The bent lid was tapped into the bark below the hole to form a spout and the metal can hung on a nail to catch the sap. We kept checking the cans all weekend. When Monday rolled around, we raced to check and empty the cans before school, then again at noon and after school was out for the day. As the clear sap was collected, it went into a boiler on the end of the cook-stove where the heat kept up a slow evaporation process. We collected something like a half boiler of sap before the novelty wore off and the urge to taste the final product took over. As it gradually boiled down the sap took on the characteristic brownish colour of maple syrup. We could never believe the small amount of final product left when it got to the proper stage of condensation. It never had the rich sweetness of commercial maple syrup but it was our own making and it quickly disappeared on top of stacks of pancakes we insisted on having for supper the day it was ready to use.”

For more on making maple syrup see: Manitoba maple syrup … on tap! at Prairie Shore Botanicals


Recent History

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