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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 and Events November 2019

Website Queries. We’re always pleased to get inquiries for information about local people and events. Sometimes the persons inquiring give us more information than we provide. Such is the case with a recent email from John Burchill, Vice President of the Winnipeg Police Museum and Historical Society. He is writing a history of the Manitoba Provincial Police (MPP) and was looking for information on a Christian Hansen who served as Carman’s town constable from 1908-12 before joining the MPP. We quickly discovered that this is a part of our local heritage that is sadly lacking in local accounts. Kernighan lists the town constables whose names he recalls but neither he nor other local historians speak of the duties or other aspects of the position.

Early newspapers provide a bit more information. Monthly reports from the Town Council note that Hansen was selected from among 56 applicants for the post of town constable, at a salary of “ $1,000 and uniform a year, all fees to revert to the town.” (The Dufferin Leader, 1908-05-14, p.1). Hansen had served in the Boer War 1900–01 and was living in Galt, Ontario at the time he was hired in May, 1908. By the time the next edition of the weekly newspaper came out, Hansen had arrived in Carman to assume duties as town constable. Later that year, he was invited to join police from Winnipeg in investigating a store robbery in Roseisle. In January 1909, the Dufferin Leader reported that Hansen was appointed Chief of Police including duties of building inspector, sanitary inspector and chief of the fire brigade — at the same salary.

Constable Hansen served in the Boer War
from "War in South Africa between the British and the Boers"

This is where John Burchill’s information was most helpful. He explained in part that “Town police had jurisdiction in town but could make arrests and other duties outside town on a fee for service basis. By giving local constables additional police powers to operate outside their town, it gave the province good coverage without having the unnecessary expense of salaried employees. They would only be paid on a fee for service basis so if they didn't do anything, they didn't get any money…. At the time Hansen came in 1908 there were only 12 full time provincial police officers…. Hansen's salary was equal to the Provincial Police.” In this case where his contract stipulated that “all fees revert to the town”, he didn’t benefit personally from outside duties.

Our local genealogy sleuths also checked for background on Christian Hansen. Turns out that John Burchill is away ahead of us on that research. Besides the basic birth, marriage and death records, we’ve jointly learned that Christian Hansen served in the Boer War, received a land grant for service, and was a police constable in Galt, Ontario before coming to Carman. Like every good search, we are left at this point with a few more questions than when we started. Can anyone help us answer the following questions:

  • Christian Hansen married a Margaret Kennedy in Ontario. Any possible connection to our early Kennedy settlers? Could this be how he heard of the position?

  • The Memorial Hall wasn’t built until 1919. Where were municipal offices and the Town Constable’s office located in the early 1900s?

  • Has anyone seen a photo of Christian Hansen — preferably in uniform?

  • Any family stories about run-ins with the local constabulary?

No doubt other stories about local law enforcement will surface as we delve deeper into the local newspapers from that era. The problem with old newspapers is that there are always so many distracting snippets of local history in each edition that the search through four or more years of weekly papers is going to take a while. We promise to provide updates as we go on any interesting findings. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear from anyone who can provide further information about our local police services.

Footnote. In the above photo, we see the S.S. Sardinian of the Allan Steamship Line embarking from Canada, carrying soldiers like Christian Hansen to serve in the Boer War. In the days before airplanes, ships were the only way for new immigrants, soldiers and other passengers to cross the ocean.

We are always amazed at how many links or connections we find among seemingly unrelated bits of our history. At the moment we are trying to find out whether Constable Hansen’s wife, who was a Kennedy, might be related in some way to our early Kennedy settlers on the Boyne. And in the case of the S.S. Sardinian, it just happens that this was same the ship on which my father was baptized a few years before it made its voyage to South Africa.

In 1895, our family was travelling back to Canada from Ireland where my grandfather had just served a term as Dominion Land Agent. His task was to persuade potential Irish immigrants that there were no opportunities like those in Western Canada. A newspaper account noted that an Allan Steamship Line representative was at one of his presentations, no doubt from a business perspective. Our grandfather spoke from experience, having headed west from Ontario in 1874 and walked the Missouri Trail to Nelsonville where he and his brother laid claim to homestead lands. He later ended up in the Treasury Branch of the provincial government and must have made the case that he was the man to make the trip back to the old sod. My father was born while the family was in Ireland and he was baptized on the ship coming home. His middle name ‘Alan’ was in recognition of the steamship company.

Baptismal record signed on board the S.S. Sardinian July 4, 1895 [Leary family files]
for a larger version, click here

Just imagine the stories ships like the S.S. Sardinian could tell – of new births and baptisms, immigrants seeking a new life in new country, soldiers off to war and facing loss of life, as varied as the people who sailed the seas.

The Past Revisited? You can be sure the Dominion Land Agent didn’t hand out copies of the 1884 book “A Lady’s Life on a Farm in Manitoba”  when he was singing the praises of life on the Prairies to potential Irish immigrants. The following is from page 78:

The cold is so great that you have to put on a buffalo coat, cap, and gloves, before you can touch the stove to light the fire…The snow on the prairie is never very deep, but it drifts a good deal, and was to the depth of twelve feet on the west side of the house.

On Thanksgiving weekend, we were hit with an unseasonable dump of wet, heavy snow that downed power lines, cut telephone service and blocked roads. Suddenly, we went from enjoying brilliant autumn leaves to whiteouts and immense snowdrifts. If, indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a 4,000 word summary of the event.

Day 1- October glory

Day 2 - Going…

Day 3 - Going…

Day 4 - Not going anywhere

Local Manitobans found themselves back in the days before hydro power, telephones, television and internet service, not to mention loss of hot and cold running water, refrigeration, and flush toilets. For those without power, this meant no electric appliances – no electric ovens, microwaves, dish washers, garage door openers - all those amenities people take for granted each day of their life.

How did people react to this experience? Although this area was pretty much shut down for up to four days, no casualties were reported. Most people had the good sense to stay put until the ploughs, tractors or snowmobiles arrived. Fortunately, outdoor temperatures remained around zero C; indoors without heat at around 12C.

In retrospect, it seems the main outcome of the storm was that everyone had a story to tell. People without backup supplies (generators, alternate heat sources, wells, bottled water, or lanterns) described how they managed without heat, water or warm food. Refrigerators and freezers were off and food began to spoil. Dusk falls early at this time of year, leaving families not just without television and computers but without light for reading. For some folks, ‘hardships’ were limited to having no hot coffee and no long, hot showers. A common theme among parents was that their children nearly drove them crazy because they had ‘nothing to do’ (no TV, video games, telephone). There didn’t seem to be a lot of sympathy for the fellow who told how he had to get to town for cigarettes, got badly stuck and ended up slogging some 3 miles home through heavy, wet snow.

In the midst of these stories, one question kept coming up – how on earth did our parents and grandparents survive back in the days before power, telephones and the like? Thinking back to childhood days, before hydro or telephones reached our little corner of the world, the simple reality was that we didn’t miss what we never had. This is one factor we often forget about when hearing or reading of the past - the importance of context. What was life like back then and how did it affect the way people coped when a storm hit?

There were some things every family had in common. We all heated our homes with wood which was still abundant on every farm in the area. Drinking water came from wells, was pumped by hand; and when ‘soft’ water froze in the rain barrel, we melted snow in a boiler on the cook-stove to do dishes, wash our hair or scrub the floors. If the roads were badly drifted in, everyone had a sleigh and a horse or two to get us through.

Early 1900s – winter travel with horses and sleigh [Photo: J.B. Coleman]

Then as now, there was no one story of how people coped with the arrival of snow. Our home, for example, had a Delco plant – gas-operated with battery storage. So we had lights and we had power to operate pumps that filled an indoor cistern and provided hot and cold running water. We also had central heating, fueled by a wood burning furnace. And there were no breaks in the supply of hot food, thanks to the kitchen cook-stove (and, of course, our mother). Most of our food was home-grown. We had at least a cow or two to provide dairy products and the makings for smoked ham. I recall one year counting 450 jars of preserves, jams, pickles, and meat that our mother had canned for the winter. We had a bin full of potatoes and root vegetables. A few staples such as flour, sugar and tea were purchased in bulk.

When the first big storm was on the way, my father and brothers made sure the farm animals were safely in the barn, watered and fed and that the wood box was full of wood. After supper, my brothers and I hauled out our skis and started waxing them. Snow meant we could ski to school. We lived in a valley and our one-room school was about a half mile distant up a winding trail near the top of the hill. Skis meant not having to plod through the snow. At recess we skied on the school-ground hills; at lunchtime and after school we buckled on our skis at the back door of the school and glided down through the trees almost to our own back door. We could laugh at those oft-told tales of how, in grandfather’s day, school-children walked three miles to school, through deep snow, uphill both ways.

But, recall that everyone had their own story. Several of our school-mates lived on top of the hill on the opposite side of the valley from the school. They also had a wood-heated home, but without the Delco plant and hot and cold running water. A large family, they didn’t have skis. To get to school, they walked about three miles - down one side of the valley, through our yard and up the long hill to the school. At the end of the school day, they trudged the same route back home. In other words, they walked some three miles to school and back, through the snow, and they did have to walk uphill both ways. Memories get reshaped over years of telling, but usually there’s at least a grain of truth.

Meanwhile, you have to wonder what, if anything, will be remembered a generation from now about our recent Thanksgiving weekend storm? Which of those stories will survive, how will they be reshaped over the years? Will anyone leave a written record as part of their life story? Writing personal accounts of the storm might be a fun warm-up exercise for participants in the life-story workshops C/D MHAC is introducing in 2020.


Recent History

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