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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 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

 

News and Events April 2021

Boyne River Keepers. Last month we mentioned how the Boyne River Keepers (BRK) group has made the past winter a happier time for many local folks by clearing a river trail and helping them rediscover the joy of being outdoors.


Photo courtesy BRK

With the early arrival of Spring, winter fun on the Boyne is now a fond memory. But if you visit the BRK Facebook page you’ll find a great assortment of photos such as these two as well as video clips that will keep these memories alive over the coming months. You’ll also find photos from last summer that will make you begin to look forward to months of kayaking and canoeing through the revitalized heart of Carman.


Photo courtesy BRK


Women in local history
. On a more sober note, recent media reports around International Women’s Day have focused on the pronounced impact the pandemic has had on women. Many are struggling to maintain their own physical and mental health while trying to juggle home, family and work responsibilities. They are experiencing more job loss, often from already lower paid, service sector positions. Many who still have jobs are front-line workers who fear taking the virus home to their families. Women who work from home have taken on greater responsibility for child care, homework and home management. Other data show an increase in spousal abuse as well as the higher levels of depression and general stress experienced by socially isolated families.

Over the past months, we’ve been doing a lot of searches in early newspapers for information on such diverse topics as the Sons of England lodge, early businesses, the river and water supplies, and natural history. One reason it’s been more time-consuming than intended is because of all the other interesting but distracting bits of local news—from politics to prohibition to women’s role in society. One question these news items raise is: just how much has the lot of women changed over the past century?

At the dawn of the 20th century, the Dufferin Leader (1901-02-14) challenged its readers to predict what we might see in the century to come. Among their own speculations were the following:

Will the housemaid be a houseman? Will men wear frilled shirts and women trousers? Will college girls carry a cane and smoke a pipe? Will women bosses run politics as they now run the home? Will men wear birds on their hats and crochet? Will the wife kiss her husband goodbye before starting off to business?

An earlier article on education of women, reprinted in the Carman Standard (!890-09-25), suggests that equality with men, let alone role reversal, was not likely to happen in the near future.

A decade later, the Carman Standard (1902-01-23) printed the following advice on teaching girls:

Where there are two or three girls in a family, it is an excellent plan to allow each one, in turn, the responsibility of housekeeping for a certain time. It does not hurt girls to be made to take a measure of responsibility concerning household tasks, far otherwise, it does them a world of good, and it lifts much of the burden from the overworked mother’s shoulders. Let them, in succession, have a week at a time, charge of the chamber work, the mending, the cooking, the buying even, for the family; all of course under proper supervision, and their faculties of reason, perception, judgement, discrimination and continuity will be more developed in one month of such training than in six months of common schooling.


Another article reprinted in the issue of the Carman Standard (1890-09-25) titled “The Pecuniary Servitude of Wives”, addressed the matter of household finances:

Men who are rated as honest, upright citizens, dealing justly with their fellow men; will, when the question of money comes up, treat their wives, the mothers of their children, with less honesty than they do the tax assessor, and with much less consideration than they do their office boys. They children, when not granted a weekly allowance, are ‘tipped ‘occasionally, but nothing goes to the wife without some haggling, duplicity or humiliation on her part. Let it be understood that reference is made solely to the pitiable state of things that so widely prevails in the disbursing of money in the household and the wife’s private purse.” The article goes on to describe an example of one wife’s stoic acceptance of the situation, of which ‘She was proud in a certain way, and she believed the existing state irrevocable.’

It appears that women working outside the home a century ago didn’t fare much better than their at-home counterparts (Dufferin Leader 1901-05-30):

It’s also interesting to note how current the complaint sounds more than a century later.
The authors of the “Twentieth Century predictions” (Dufferin Leader 1901-02-14) ended their article by asking readers:

Now, candidly, wouldn’t you like to know what sayers will be saying, thinkers thinking, writers writing, doers doing, and plotters plotting at the end of the next hundred years?

Now here we are, over a century later, able to answer that question—and to ponder whether gender issues will still be making news at the end of the 21st century. It’s important to note that these articles reflect the views of society in general at that time. Next month we’ll pick up on this theme and look further at what we know about the activities and the lot of local women.



#40-1st Street SW

Now and Then. This month’s rollover photo features the NW corner of 1st Street and 1st Avenue SW, formerly the corner of Fournier St. and Maple Ave.

The site is best known for the clothing stores located here since before 1900. The following ad appeared in the Dufferin Leader (1898-12-22).


The original two-story Victoria Hall block was later replaced by a single-story building. For an earlier view of this location as well as more information on businesses located here over the years, see the rollover photo under Vintage Photos Now and Then.


 

 

 

 

 

Natural History. Spring has officially arrived. It’s warmer and drier than normal this year. But no matter how mild the winter, we always get a lift from seeing the snow start to melt, the creeks and ditches fill with run-off water and from being able to put aside the heavy winter clothing. An email last week from one of our members summed it all up:

“Wasn’t that gorgeous weather yesterday?  I heard some geese honking and it brought me a jolt of joy! We saw a beautiful fox walk right past the house yesterday morning just as the sun was coming up.  The sun’s first rays lit up its healthy red coat.  Maybe I should have taken a picture but sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the moment.”

With Easter arriving in April, we likely should be following our ‘animal of the month’ theme looking this month at the habits and habitat of our local bunny rabbits. But for now, let’s just welcome Spring with our memories of outdoor winter fun, the joyful sound of returning geese and those special moments of insight into the beauty of nature. What is your favourite image of Spring?


Recent History

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