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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 July 2021

Shades of the Past. Last month we took a break from the pandemic and other gloomy thoughts to look at the positive side of the world around us—our rediscovery of the outdoors, the beauty of changing seasons, returning wildlife, blossoms, some favourite memories of Spring.


Behind the Legion/Community Hall June 9, 2021

Shortly after that was posted, Mother Nature reminded us that she isn’t always a nice predictable lady—we had blizzards in the North while Southern Manitoba temperatures topped 40°C; tree-toppling winds, thunderstorms and heavy rain. On June 9, sewer lines in Carman weren’t able to handle a sudden downpour that flooded local streets, harkening back to earlier pre-diversion days when the Boyne River periodically inundated the town.

Since then, we’ve experienced record-breaking temperatures and destructive wildfires across the West. The contrast between last month’s idyllic images of nature and current weather patterns may serve as a harsh wake-up call to folks on the impact of climate change. Or not.


Lives and lot of local women (cont’d). As you know, during these past months our in-person heritage projects have been on hold. We’ve used this time instead to search through early newspapers and local histories for further insight into local heritage. What’s become evident is that our social history, like our natural history, hasn’t always been one of sweetness and light. One theme we’ve been exploring is the life and lot of women—societal attitudes to women, their work and their social lives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although Manitoba women were the first in Canada to get the vote, this and other aspect of social equality didn’t extend to all local women. This month we’ll begin looking at the timely and complex topic of societal attitudes and their impact on the lives the Indigenous women of Manitoba.


Local Indigenous presence. From our earlier glimpses of Indigenous history in the area [see News & Events, Feb. 2020, June 2020, July 2020] we know that early Indigenous history was transmitted orally from one generation to the next. Much of what has been recorded locally comes from the post-1870 writings of our non-Indigenous population. And by the time the first homesteaders arrived, decline in both the fur trade and local buffalo herds had driven many Indigenous hunters and gatherers towards the south-west. The 1871 census recorded only 558 ‘Indians’ along with 5,757 Métis in the new province of Manitoba.


J.B. Coleman collection

As a result, we have just a few accounts of interactions between local settlers and Indigenous migrants [see News & Events, Feb. 2020]. So far, only one photo of an Indigenous family has turned up in local photo collections. It was taken near the escarpment during the time when small groups of hunters/gatherers still migrated along what are marked on early maps as ‘Indian' Trails. It’s important to note that family stories from that era speak of contacts that were mutually friendly.

One of the few items in early local newspapers on Indigenous culture [Dufferin Leader, 1902-02-02, page 5 at the Pembina Manitou Archives], gives a glimpse into the difference in perspective that existed between the two cultural groups. It relates how a missionary was questioned by two chiefs of the Blackfoot tribe. Both were polygamous and, as was their custom, had purchased their wives with horses as currency. Asking in turn about the marriage practices of ‘white men’, they were highly amused to learn about the custom of dowries. To their minds, the notion that men got paid for taking a wife meant the bride must certainly be of little value.


Plaque on cairn at Îlets-de-Bois Cemetery
[To see a larger view, click on the image.]

By the 1870s, the local residents in the area along the Rivière aux Îlets-de-Bois were primarily of Métis origin. As we learned from McCullough’s study of the area,The Confrontations at Rivière aux Ilets-de-Bois by Alan B. McCullough, the confrontation of local Métis with newly arrived homesteaders played out on a number of potentially divisive fronts—the question of land ownership, race, and religion.

This Indigenous group settled initially in the Îlets-de-Bois community north-west of present-day Carman where they had a school, church, post office, and cemetery. In the ensuing years, many left for the still unoccupied lands of the Western Prairies. The cemetery at the site has since been marked by a cairn that lists families who lived here—albeit with an anglicized misspelling of the name.

Attitudes to Indigenous Women. To understand the lives and lot of local Indigenous women, we have to look beyond our limited local sources, deep into the roots of early contacts between European explorers/fur traders/settlers and First Nations as a whole. But we’ll begin by looking at the events of the past month.

This past week, July 1 celebrations were cancelled in many parts of Canada and flags flown at half mast. The statue of Queen Victoria the Manitoba Legislature was toppled, beheaded, and the head thrown in the river. Why?

This year, Indigenous History Month took on new dimensions as it coincided with the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites and more assertive calls for action on issues such as the Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. As hundreds more unmarked graves were found at other sites, the month culminated in organized marches and vigils as well in unprecedented actions such as defacing or burning churches. Not unlike our weather extremes, it’s been something of a stark wake-up call.

There is a rapidly growing body of literature addressing Indigenous history. We’ll look at just a couple of these writings to get a sense of the issues that evolved from the meeting of different cultures.

The roots of non-Indigenous perceptions date back to archaeological theories about the early inhabitants of this area. In her informative article on local mound builders, The Manitoba Mound Builders: The Making of an Archaeological Myth, 1857-1900, Gwen Rempel notes that back in the 19th C, archaeologists became intrigued by the 100 or so burial mounds located across Southern Manitoba. One of these sites is the sacred Calf Mountain mound that Indigenous people visited south of us on the Missouri Trail. Over the decades, origin of the mounds was subject to changing interpretations, based on what were often armchair theories about comparable structures in the United States. The conclusion of local writers was that the contemporary Indigenous residents of this area were incapable of building the mounds. This led to a myth that our they were the product of an earlier and more advanced civilization.

One local theory held that Mound Builders had been a peaceful race of agriculturists who culturally resembled European Canadians more than they did local Indigenous peoples. The assumption was that agriculture was more ‘civilized’ than hunting and gathering. Although later archaeologists rejected these earlier views, Rempel points to the significance of the Manitoba Mound Builder myth in providing a ‘scientific’ justification for the European-based perception and treatment of Manitoba’s Indigenous peoples. We see these perspectives reflected in the treaties that established reserves and the promise of agricultural equipment and training as a means to a ‘better’ way of life for Indigenous Manitobans. Residential schools were perhaps the most potent tool for assimilation of the Indigenous population.

The many factors leading to marginalization of Indigenous women in Canada are summed up in this article.

Just as new European arrivals made these assumptions about our First Nations, they viewed the lives of Indigenous women from the same egocentric perspective. Early European arrivals in North America related how native women had to till and tend the land, doing all the work while the men had nothing to do except hunt, fish, and wage war against their enemies.

Because Indigenous women performed what Europeans considered to be men’s work, many viewed them as “slaves” to the males of the tribe. In fact, at the time of contact with Europeans, men and women had different but complementary roles and Indigenous women had more autonomy and social and political power than European women. Their authority steadily declined because of cultural assimilation and because the new arrivals, given their patriarchal background, insisted on dealing with Indigenous men in trade negotiations.

The authors point out that Indigenous women experience challenges and discrimination that are not necessarily shared by non-Indigenous women or by Indigenous men. They face a “double burden” of being discriminated against as women and for being Indigenous. In addition to the early mischaracterization of women’s roles, the European egocentric view of gender relationships, kinship and family systems further undermined the roles, status and treatment of Indigenous women.

The Indian Act of 1876 enacted these biases in law. It denied women the right to possess land and marital property. A later amendment that remained in effect until 1951, allowed men to will their estate to their wives, if the Indian agent determined she was of “good moral character.” In 1851, the federal government ruled that to have Status rights, “one had to be an Indian male, be the child of an Indian male, or be married to an Indian male.” If a woman with 'Indian' status married a non-status person, she lost her status. This no doubt applied to many Métis women in our area. This meant loss of treaty benefits, health benefits, the right to live on her reserve, the right to inherit her family property, and even the right to be buried on the reserve with her ancestors. However, if a man with status married a woman without status, she would gain status.

The federal government also introduced a band structure as a new form of Indigenous government. This eradicated traditional hereditary leadership and facilitated federal influence and control. Under this system, Indigenous women also lost any political power. They were no longer able to become chiefs or band councillors. Until 1951, they were not allowed to vote in band elections or to hold office. In 1960, the government of Canada finally gave all Aboriginal peoples, male or female, the right to vote federally but it was not until 1985 that Indigenous women in effect gained equal rights with Indigenous men.

Within this context,  the announcements of Mary Simon as the first Indigenous Governor-General of Canada and the selection of RoseAnne Archibald as first female national chief of the Assembly of First Nations mark a significant milestone in our history.

The above sample of writings on this topic just scratches the surface of the complex and difficult issues shaping the lives of Indigenous women. We leave it to your curiosity and drive to understand the roots of current events and interest in local heritage to search out some of the other articles on this important topic.

Post-script. Nikki Falk just forwarded an article she came across on the unique accomplishments of an early Manitoba woman. In his article Sadie Grimm: First Canadian Woman Motorcycle Medalist, author Ross Metcalfe tells the story of “a remarkable young woman motorcyclist who, in 1914, did something exceptional on two wheels that no man could accomplish. And, for the record, this was two years before women achieved the right to vote.” Sadie probably didn’t fit into R.P. Roblin’s category of ‘nice women’ who ‘didn’t want the vote’. She wasn’t from our local part of Manitoba, but we encourage you to read on and applaud the life of this remarkable woman.

 

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.

 


Recent History

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