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Overview of Local History

History is an account of events from the past. Heritage deals with the outcomes of human activity —buildings and monuments, culture and folklore, beliefs and traditions—the products, it is often said, of the hands, head and heart. Heritage is created within the context of history so that knowledge of both history and heritage is essential to understanding our past.

Understanding our past is further complicated by the recognition that history doesn’t occur in a vacuum—it was the product of interaction of local people and circumstances within the context of provincial, national and international events. One of the most significant dates in the history of Carman/Dufferin area is 1870. This is when Manitoba became the fifth province of Canada, land was surveyed into townships and sections and opened to private ownership, and settlers flooded into the area to take up farming. Our system of local government was part of that 1870 heritage.

We’re fortunate in Carman/Dufferin to have a rich body of written history. However, most of it has been written since 1870 by our early settlers and their descendants; like other histories, it reflects the experiences and viewpoint of those who lived it. Our own work with Carman/Dufferin Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee identifying and preserving heritage inventories, life stories, local records and artifacts has been limited to pretty much the same time frame.

Where can you locate the broader background information to fully understand our past? Over the last several months we have been exploring the wider context of local history in several key areas. Check out our findings through the following links to the News and Events section of our website:

January 2020 - Where to Start? Suggests general histories, questions to ask.

February 2020 - Land, Trails and People. Early land, trails and peoples pre-1870.

March 2020 - Britain vs France. How relationships between Britain, France and their colonies in North America help lay the foundation for their activities in the West.

May 2020 - Fur Trade. The role early explorers and fur traders played in opening up the West.

June 2020 - Indigenous Peoples. Early hunters/gatherers/traders of this area.

July 2020 - July 15 Unveiling Ceremony. Transcript of main address gives an overview of major themes from local history, including history of Missouri/Hunters’ Trail and early Métis presence/settlement in area. For the impatient learner, this offers a ten minute sweep through early local history.

We will continue to add links as they become available. With this background, you are now ready to read a brief history of our two local municipalities, the RM of Dufferin and the Town of Carman as gleaned from local records.

A Brief History of Carman/Dufferin Municipalities

The Rural Municipality of Dufferin lies in the rich agricultural region of South-Central Manitoba. The Town of Carman is centrally located and serves as the commercial hub for the area. It is here that the Dufferin Historical Museum and many of our local heritage resources are located.

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When the Province of Manitoba was formed in 1870, waves of new settlers came in response to an opportunity to homestead the unbroken prairies. In the absence of roads, the accessible and fertile area near the Missouri Trail became a prime destination for the first homesteaders and for those who followed to provide services to the new communities.

The Rural Municipality of Dufferin is thought to have been named for Lord Dufferin, Governor-General of Canada. When it was first organized in 1880 the then municipality of North Dufferin extended south to Nelsonville near present-day Morden. After various attempts at restructuring, the present boundaries of the RM of Dufferin were established in 1908.

The first wave of settlers to the Rivière aux Îlets-de-Bois came primarily from Protestant Ontario. In response to the ensuing disagreement and tension over land ownership, many Catholic and Métis families abandoned the area. Evidence of their heritage lives on in the St. Daniel area. Historical accounts differ on exactly how and when the river became known as the Boyne. They agree, however, that the change marked the arrival and ascendancy of Protestant ‘Orangemen’ in the area. See also: The History of the R.M. of Dufferin in Manitoba 1890–1980, pp. 2-3; The Confrontation at Riviere aux Ilets de Bois; and the River Boyne.

Later, as the Boyne Marsh was drained, Mennonite settlers from Russia and post-WWII Dutch immigrants enriched the population mix and strengthened the agricultural base in the eastern part of Dufferin. Pockets of Francophone and Ukrainian settlement in the north-west, followed since the 1950s by an influx of Mennonite families from Southern Manitoba, have made similar changes in the western part of the municipality. More recent arrivals from around the globe have further enriched the multi-cultural heritage of the area.

Agriculture has remained the driving force in the local economy and is a key element of our heritage. From the early years on, Dufferin farmers were active in local agricultural societies and, fired by local politicians, such as R.P. Roblin, were vocal in pressing for land drainage, lower grain tariffs, rail lines, elevators and improved transportation.

man on plow with oxen

A.A. Brooke painted scenes of early Dufferin. His paintings are a feature attraction at the Dufferin Historical Museum.

The Carman/Dufferin area also is well known for its superb recreational and sporting facilities. Bounded on the west by the Pembina Hills, attractions in past included downhill skiing at Snow Valley and more recent interest in the area’s fine cross-country trails and in boating, fishing and camping at Stephenfield Provincial Park. The Town of Carman has a strong heritage in sport, notably in team sports such as baseball, hockey and curling; harness racing, or golfing at the excellent Carman Golf Club facilities.

Settlers Arrive

When the first permanent settlers arrived in the late 1800s, this area was covered in the east by the great Boyne Marsh. The Missouri Trail skirted the western edge of the wetlands. It was travelled by nomadic Indigenous Peoples, trappers, buffalo hunters and later, by early settlers to the area. Prairie grassland and densely wooded areas extended west to the escarpment that once formed the edge of Glacial Lake Agassiz.

In 1870, Manitoba became a province. This opened the floodgates to a wave of new settlers. As the land was taken up by homesteaders, the area was gradually transformed by cutting trees for building and fuel, breaking the prairie grasslands to plant cereal crops and draining the swamp. The latter project was undertaken by one of Dufferin’s most notable native sons, R.P. Roblin, premier of the province from 1900 to 1915. Further impetus for settlement and agricultural prosperity of the region came from the arrival of the railroads.


Rail lines were the lifelines of new settlements, connecting them with larger centres, bringing in mail and supplies and transporting grain and livestock to market. Communities lobbied and offered bonuses to competing rail companies. In 1882, the Manitoba Southwestern Colonization Railway (later the Canadian Pacific Railway) was built southwest from Winnipeg. Unfortunately, it stopped short of Carman at End-of-Line (Barnsley) until 1887 when the CPR extended the line the final six miles to Carman.

farmers bringing grain to elevator

A.A. Brooke painting of farmers bringing grain to local elevators early 1900s

From 1906 to 1926, the Midland Railway ran from Portage-la-Prairie to Carman and south to the US border. And in 1901, the Canadian Northern (later the CNR) reached Carman from the east, continuing westward through the escarpment. Small villages grew up along the railway as existing schools, churches, stores and post offices relocated beside the rail lines. Railways, with their stations, elevators and loading platforms, opened access to new markets and allowed farmers to ship their grain to the East and around the globe.

Population Centres

The Town of Carman (population around 3,000) is now the main commercial and retirement centre in the Carman/Dufferin region. A few hamlets—Homewood, Graysville, Stephenfield, and Roseisle—lie scattered in an east-west line across the RM of Dufferin, the last of a number of small, vibrant communities that once dotted the rural countryside.

Other early communities were bypassed by the rail lines and gradually disappeared. Such was the fate of several settlements in the RM of Dufferin such as Almasippi, Bates, Bradburn, Campbellville, Salterville, St. Daniel, Barnsley and Lintrathen. This is an important part of our heritage that now is evidenced only through cairns or signs erected over the years by the CD MHAC or local community; some are unmarked.

See also: Communities