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Recent History News Items from 2021

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?

 

News & Events March 2021

March. One year since the pandemic first changed our lives. For many it’s been a dreary, even depressing, time of isolation from family and friends. Not to mention worries from job loss, hassles of working from home or virtual schooling. Anyone who has had family members in hospital, especially in palliative care, has experienced the depths of grief and loss.

The more fortunate among us have rediscovered the outdoors and gardening or maybe found time to catch up on all those DIY projects tucked away in the back of our minds for the ‘someday’ that finally arrived. Cupboards and closets have never been cleaner. Then there are a few seemingly natural-born recluses who look back at the last months as a sort of vacation from meetings and routine, a time to read, soak up nature, and just do what they want to do, when they want to do it.

The positive side to 2020—rediscovery of the outdoors. The Boyne River Keepers have spearheaded the return to use of the Boyne by clearing what has become a well-used skating and hiking trail. As Dennis Young reported in the Carman-Dufferin Standard (2021-01-14), “The Boyne River has found new life this winter with games of shinny, avid walkers and snowshoers. The old swimming hole area welcomes visitors.”

Photo: Dennis Young, Carman-Dufferin Standard

From requests we’ve received, it seems that for some folks, it’s finally an opportunity to dig into family history, to discover and preserve their roots. Last month, we mentioned a few of these initiatives. Thanks to pandemic closures, our search has been limited pretty much to online sources. That said, here is an update on what we’ve located so far in response to the request for information on the Carman Sons of England Lodge.

Sons of England. You’ll recall that we knew almost nothing about the S.O.E., other than their name on one of the more significant buildings in Carman. Newspapers from the early 1900s noted that the R.M. of Dufferin Council met in the upper chambers of the building and ads identified it as the location over the years of various business ventures. Photos from the 1970s record loss of the building to fire at the time when the Rex Café occupied part of the lower story [New & Events August & September, 2019]

The Sons of England Society was one of several benevolent societies from the pre-insurance era that provided support for its members in times of need.

“The Sons of England Benevolent Society was a fraternal society for English Protestants, founded in Toronto, Canada, during the year 1874. Its purpose was to bring Englishmen together for mutual support, social intercourse, and to provide financial security to them and their families in times of sickness, hardship or death. In addition to these aims, the society acted as a cultural organisation, aspiring to preserve and celebrate the Anglo-Protestant cultural heritage of its members.”amazon.ca/Early-History-England-Benevolent-Society/dp/1978374992

The Winnipeg and Western Canada Directory, p. 93 lists the Carman S.O.E. as Lodge No. 186. Newspaper items from 1898–99 give some insight into construction of their building:

“The Sons of England, of Carman, contemplate the erection of a hall for meetings and are looking for a suitable site.” (Carman Standard, 1898-09-02).

“The Sons of England have bought a lot from Butchart & Somersall and intend erecting a hall for the meetings of their society the first floor will be rented for a general store.” (Carman Standard, 1898-09-16). The same week, the Dufferin Leader (1898-09-15) reported that the lodge had formed a joint stock company and applied for incorporation. “When completed, it will not only be one of the best business stands but one of the best equipped of any in town.”


Sons of England Building early 1900s

The Carman Standard (1898-09-16) provided further details, including the names of the first directors.

 

 

 



The following year, the building was completed and the first-floor tenants had begun to move in [from the Carman Standard, 1899-09-21].

Over the years, changes in businesses can be traced through newspaper ads. So far, we haven’t located any records in family histories or the like of financial aid, however, newspaper reports do record some of the organizations’ social activities.

The Carman Standard (1898-06-24) reported that an S.O.E. excursion was being planned from Carman to Selkirk on July 7th. Tickets for the round-trip cost $2. The committee had arranged a three hour trip up the river for an extra charge of 50 cents. In addition, “Those who desire to take a trip up Lake Winnipeg to Cumberland House can, by taking in this excursion, make the round-trip from Carman for $15.70 including berths and meals on steamer.”

There is no indication of the number of excursionists on this outing, however, the following year, the Dufferin Leader (1899-06-22) reported the S.O.E. excursion was “not as well patronized as it might have been” due to rain and mix-up in departure times. As a result, they had only 200–300 on board when the train pulled out. Wonder what the usual number totalled? On that excursion, the newspaper noted, the excursionists were “met by a reception committee of the Sons of England, of that city, and the trolley cars were in waiting, which conveyed the excursionists to the auditorium instead of Elm Park as previously announced. Here the crowd were entertained with music, etc., until 12 o’clock when they dispersed for dinner. Returning, the excursionists left Winnipeg at 8:30, all feeling that an enjoyable time had been spent.” They apparently were not a group to be daunted by a bit of rain.

The Winnipeg lodge also travelled to Carman. The Carman Standard (1898-06-24) coverage gave an account of the outing and the entertainment provided by the local lodge. Under the heading “S.O.E. Excursion” the newspaper reported that:

“The Sons of England came to Carman on Monday for their annual outing. The first train arrived at 10 o’clock, and the remainder of the excursionists came on the regular train at noon. Headed by the Citizens band the visitors wended their way to Clark’s Grove, where the athletic sports were held, a band concert was given and dancing indulged in. The sports were well contested, a number of fine athletes accompanying the excursion and carrying off most of the prizes…. Carman people took a great deal of interest in the tug of war between Carman and Winnipeg Sons of England. It only required two tugs to decide the superiority of the dwellers on the banks of the Boyne over those who pitched their tents by the Red….

The singing contest or rather the comic songs, created a good deal of amusement. There were about half a dozen entries…. The dancing platform was not well patronized, the day being too warm for that exercise. That antiquated old source of amusement, the Punch and Judy show, bobbed up on the grounds and seemed to draw as of yore. The Citizens band gave an enjoyable concert in the evening opposite the station. The Winnipeg Sons of England are a jolly outfit and seem to know how to get all there is in a picnic out of it. All we have to say to them is “come again”. “

An item in the Dufferin Leader (1899-06-01) gives insight into the patriotic roots of the organization. The article describes an S.O.E. service at St. Andrew’s Church. Forty members of the order paraded from the Orange hall to the church, led by the Carman band. Rev. H.C. Sutherland chose his text a theme from the Psalms, “I have a goodly heritage”. He “began by paying tribute to the greatness of England and the nobility of the Queen. He believed that the finest civilization the world had ever known found its highest expression in England”. Sutherland went on to speak of religion as the chief moulding force in the development of civilization and the key to England’s greatness.

Although we have little information on membership in the S.O.E., the following account from the Dufferin Leader (1899-05-18) gives a hint of the fellowship amongst lodge members. Salterville, to the east of the present-day town of Carman, was the fist post-1870 settlement and post office in the area. We gather from the earlier list of directors that Richard Salter was an early pillar of the organization.

Other early lodges. The SOE was just one of several lodges active in the area around this time. Among other organizations mentioned in local newspapers were the LOL (Loyal Orange Lodge), Masons or AF and AM (Ancient Free and Accepted Masons), IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows), IOF (Independent Order of Foresters) as well as women’s groups such as the IODE (Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire). Look for these initials or organization symbols on grave markers in local cemeteries.


 

The Orange Lodge figured most prominently in early history of this area. The order was named in honour of Protestant King William of Orange’s defeat of
Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne. Irish Protestants in Ontario, stirred up by a push to revenge Riel’s execution of Thomas Scott and secure the West from the Catholics, were strongly represented among the first waves of new settlers.

Samuel Kennedy, the first post-1870 settler to take up a homestead in the area was a staunch member of the L.O.L. He is credited with making a bold statement of his beliefs by renaming the Rivière aux Îlets-de-Bois the Boyne River. The first L.O.L. meetings were held in his home. As settlements spread, several local communities established their own branches of the Lodge.

On July 12, local lodges gathered to march in parades, accompanied by fifes and drums. They also sponsored local community events. The Dufferin Leader (1910-11-03) announced that “Loyal Orange Lodge No. 2137 Roseisle, will give a Grand Ball on the evening of Friday, Nov. 4. On the afternoon of the same day a Turkey Shoot will be held. Admission to ball, $1. Come and bring your girl.”The last remaining local L.O.L hall in Graysville has deteriorated to the point where its valuable records and artifacts have now been donated to the Dufferin Historical Museum. The museum also holds a copy of The Early History of Dufferin Loyal Orange Lodge #1514 Graysville, Manitoba, 1883–1959 by L.O.L. member Dr. T.J. Harrison.
A local RM of Dufferin lodge
 

March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day. One of the main celebrations in the month of March is St. Patrick’s Day. Given the strong Irish representation in our history, you might also expect to read early reports of parades and celebrations built around shamrocks, fanciful little green leprechauns and green beverages. The event as we know it today is celebrated by anyone with Irish roots or by organizations looking for an excuse to hold a community supper fund-raiser. The LOL, however, were not keen on ‘Saints’ and their association with Catholicism. St. Patrick’s Day events appear to be of somewhat later vintage in the area.

Now and Then. Here is the next picture of the Town of Caman from our rollover Vintage Photos. This is a view of the corner of Main St. and 2nd Ave. as it looked back in 1912. Since that time, these buildings have had many different occupants. As part of Shirley Snider’s research on early Carman businesses, she has managed to identify many of the past owners.

For more on the history of this part of Main St., go to our Now and Then Vintage Photo section.

Natural History. In February, we looked at the groundhog and his annual weather predictions. March also has its animal connections. If the month comes in like a lamb, we should expect it to go out like a lion—and vice versa. This year it came in fairly lamb-like, mixed sun and clouds, chill winds but with promise of a fine week to come. As far as animals are concerned, neither the lamb nor the lion is indigenous to this area. Carman/Dufferin folks have to go the Assiniboine Zoo to see a lion. Sheep are occasionally mentioned among new species being introduced by settlers but they aren’t a mainstay of the local economy. So let’s just check in see how our everyday wildlife friends are managing during our recent erratic change of temperature.

Squirrels. Local squirrels have been surprisingly visible this winter, venturing out of their winter hideaways each time the temperature soars above freezing and snow begins melting from the roof top. They can be seen scurrying up the trees to see if the spring buds are beginning to swell and rooting around in the snow for those caches of nuts they stored in the fall. If they are fortunate, like the one seen below, they may even manage to raid the birdfeeder.

Both red squirrels and their larger grey cousins can be found in this area. The reds are noticeably more aggressive and don’t hesitate to chase the greys from their territory. Although we are often amazed by their speed and climbing skills, we may not give them enough credit for some of their other abilities.




No way the birds need all those sunflower seeds!

Here's an excerpt from a local life story that gives a whole new appreciation of the talents of our wily little wildlife friends:

“One late autumn morning Grandad woke to find the ground covered with a thick blanket of snow. He decided it was time to put out more feed for the birds. So he made a big ball of suet and sunflower seeds. He put the ball into a mesh bag, attached a long cord, and hung it near the end of a tree branch where he could watch the action from the comfort of his rocking chair. All sorts of birds soon found the food—nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, juncos, redpolls, a blue jay, even a beautiful red-breasted grosbeak. And a squirrel. As he watched, a little red squirrel raced up the tree trunk and scampered out onto the branch. When it couldn’t reach the bag on the end of the cord, it just chewed through the cord and dropped the suet bag to the ground. Then it raced down the tree, grabbed the cord in its teeth and pulled the bag of suet towards the base of the tree—and settled in for a hearty meal.

Grandad was determined to outsmart the squirrel. He got a tall wooden post and dug a hole in the middle of Grandma’s flower beds. He nailed a feeding tray on top of the post and put out more seeds and suet. The squirrel watched closely from a nearby tree. As soon as Grandad was back inside, the squirrel raced down the tree, across the snow and up the pole. It stretched out, got its sharp claws around the edge of the platform and soon was enjoying another snack.

The wooden post was replaced with a metal pole. No way even those sharp little claws could get a grip on smooth metal. Have you ever watched a squirrel with its legs wrapped around a pole, using its strong thighs to shinny up, the way you climb coconut trees n the tropics? Believe me, they can do it like they’d been climbing metal poles all their lives.

The next try was a foil pie plate secured part way up the pole to act as a barrier. Tiny squirrel paws and sharp claws soon bent and twisted the flimsy aluminum plate enough to make a hole alongside the pole – then the squirrel was through the hole and back up enjoying its lunch.

Back to the drawing board. The next feeder was an impressive structure—a tall metal pole with a huge 4- foot square platform on top. If the squirrel climbed the pole – he still wouldn’t be able to stretch and reach the edge of the feeder. This seemed to be the answer.

Then, a day later, as he watched, Grandad saw the squirrel come bouncing across the snow and up a tall tree. The closest branch was about twenty feet from the feeder. The squirrel paused for a moment then raced full speed along a branch, took off with a flying leap, sailed through the air and landed with a thump on the platform.

Grandad watched in amazement as the squirrel ate a few seeds then proceeded to roll the suet ball off the platform onto to the ground. Then he jumped down and tried to push the suet ball towards the base of the tree. But the fresh snow was too deep and the ball wouldn’t move. After several tries the squirrel seemed to give up. He ran across the yard to the base of the tree and started digging in the snow. Maybe looking instead for nuts he had hidden away last fall? Not likely. He pulled out something orange from the snow. It was the mesh bag that had originally held the suet ball when he dropped it from the tree.

The squirrel grabbed the bag in his mouth and ran to where the suet ball lay in the snow. Taking the mesh bag in his paws, he spread it carefully over the top of the suet ball. Then he grabbed the cord and tried to pull the bag and the suet. The bag slipped off the ball. He smoothed it back and tried again.

Grandad’s mouth dropped open in amazement. “Will you look at that? Who said animals don’t know how to use tools? The squirrel remembered pulling the suet bag by the cord after he chewed it down from the tree. And he remembered where he hid the mesh bag. Now he’s trying to put the bag back on the suet ball so he can pull it through the snow. You know, if he’s that smart, he deserves to get fed too.”

So he put on his winter parka and warm winter mitts and went outside to scatter seeds all over the ground under the feeder. From then on, he watched both the birds and squirrels enjoy their food.

Later that year, I helped Grandad write up that story for his grandchildren. Years later, they still mention from time to time that they just re-read the story and had another good chuckle at his attempt to outsmart the crafty little red squirrel.”

For more information of squirrels see articles such as: orkincanada.ca/pests/wildlife/squirrels/


News and Events, February 2021

What’s up. What do committees do when the world around them goes into lockdown and face-to-face projects are on hold? It seems that C/D MHAC members have heeded the advice: ‘When nothing goes right, go left’. With the Province still under fairly tight pandemic protocols, Heritage Committee work is still going forward, but most of it is happening in the privacy of our homes or via email and telephone calls.

Our Treasurer Shirley Snider has picked up on a project she began a few years ago—identifying the location of the multitude of businesses that operated in the Town of Carman over the decades. At that time, C/D MHAC placed signs on several local buildings to outline their history. Shirley is trying to unravel a complicated, musical-chairs pattern of occupancy as the center of the growing town shifted north along Villard Ave./Main St. and as new buildings appeared, changed hands, burned, were replaced. We have been scouring early newspaper ads and enhancing old photos to try and read signs and identify locations—and of course, raising even more questions about our past.


Do you know where the first Carman post office was located?

A couple more of our members are working with the Boyne River Keepers (BRK) on revitalizing one of the key features that drew people to this particular area of Manitoba. C/D MHAC involvement to date has been mainly providing historical background on the river, its use and transformation over the years. Our research has documented early pride and concern over condition of river. Back around 1900, both local groups and excursions from as far away as Winnipeg held picnics in the many beautiful treed groves along the Boyne River. One of these outings was reported in the local Dufferin Leader, 1900-08-02:

Last April, we documented early concerns over the impact of growing human presence on water quality (News and Events April 2020)

Part of our interest in the river restoration has been towards encouraging reintroduction of native plants along the banks. This ties in with our current research on natural history of the area. Over the past few months, BRK has been working closely with the local Communities in Bloom (CIB) group to restore the riverbanks and create more attractive green spaces in Town. At a time when our municipalities and organizations are under increased financial pressure, it’s encouraging to see local organizations coming together to collaborate on these initiatives.

CIB also happens to be looking at greening a vacant town lot—the same one we were interested in developing two or three years ago as a showcase for local heritage. It was a large project, and was beyond our human and financial resources at a time when we also were installing signage to mark the Missouri Trail and Îlets-de-Bois heritage sites. We are now looking into the possibility of moving forward on the project in collaboration with CIB other local groups.

Another at-home project that has just been completed is scanning and organizing the Hopeland School material that was donated to us last year by former pupil Bob Briggs. We’ve just finished scanning, editing, organizing and collating over 600 files. These include the School history, an autobiography, school records (student enrollment and attendance, minutes of meetings, financial records) as well as photo collections of family and community activities. All this material is now on disks. A copy has been returned to the donor and others will be placed in our usual repositories. We are waiting delivery of another pioneer family album, as soon as services normalize.

The website also received a request from a researcher in England inquiring about the local Sons of England Lodge. We have information on several businesses that operated on the ground floor of their building on Fournier Street (1st St. SW) and on meetings and events held in the upper lodge chambers, but so far, are having difficulty locating details of S.O.E. activities in the community. Does anyone out there have ancestors who belonged to the local S.O.E., know of existing memorabilia, even the local lodge number?


Sons of England Block in early 1900s

Now and Then. Last month we introduced the first in a series of ‘rollover’ photos with present/past views of local scenes. This month, we’re looking at the former St. Andrew’s Church on 2nd Avenue SW as it is today and as it appeared when it was built back in 1898–99. Be sure and check out the accompanying links for further information on this impressive structure.

Click on the image or go to our new "Now and Then" page of our Vintage Photos collection and see what was once there.



 

 


Riel Day. Each year on the third Monday of February, Manitobans now commemorate the part Métis leader Louis Riel played in the birth of our province. Locally, we’ve looked at this part of Manitoba history mainly as a prelude to the arrival of settlers in the area, the resulting tension between the new arrivals and local Métis population and the resulting changes in the socio-cultural and economic life of the area. A note in the Dufferin Leader (1901-11-21) alerts us to a forgotten closer contact with the military activities of that era.

Thirty years ago on Monday last the second Red River expedition reached Winnipeg in command of Capt. Thos. Scott. They were sent to quell a rumored Fenian invasion on Manitoba and consisted of two companies of 100 men each. A fact of local interest in conjunction with this expedition is that hearing the enemy were lurking somewhere in the southern part of the province, one company of these volunteers was sent out from - Fort Garry and were camped for a couple of weeks on the north side of the Boyne two miles east of here.

This would have been just east of the Missouri Trail—another tie with the past for what was once the main route of passage through this area.

Valentine’s Day. February 14th is a day when we put aside thoughts of rebellions and conflict and celebrate the warm, fuzzy parts of our lives. Remember back when everyone in your class made and exchanged Valentines each year? They all went into a big decorated box and were handed out by the teacher. It was maybe years later before you appreciated the pathos of the whole scene—big smiles on the faces of those who got the most cards; near tears for those who only got one from the teacher and a classmate or two whose parents insisted they send cards to everyone.

This year, COVID protocols will no doubt put a damper on the day. We’re being warned that exchange of cards is a possible source of virus transmission. In keeping with protocol, and since we’re focussing this winter on our natural history, here is a Valentine’s Day ‘card’ featuring one of our local ladies. She’s not wearing a mask, but she’s outside, properly distanced and virtual.

Happy Valentine’s Day to the rest of the herd.

 

 

 


Natural History.
Groundhog (woodchuck). Spring has its Easter Bunny, Christmas, its reindeer, but February is one month in which we recognize one of our real, live, native animals, the groundhog.

Groundhogs are native to many parts of North America. They are usually found in grassy, dry, open areas such as fields, clearings where they can dig their deep burrows and have close access to food. They are noted for their hole-digging ability, huge appetite for fresh green vegetation, love of lying in the sun and hibernation practices. The groundhog’s main claim to fame is its supposed ability to predict the weather. For more details on their lives and habits, visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation's website.


The clover patch is eaten, now it’s time for a sunny nap

Our animal of the month has the distinction of having a day named in its honour. On February 2, Groundhog Day, ceremonies are held at locations in the U.S. and Canada to find out how long winter will last. By tradition, if the local groundhog comes out of hibernation on February 2nd and sees its shadow, we’ll get another six weeks of winter. No shadow, we’ll have an early Spring.

Several locations have joined the prediction business with their own pet groundhogs. The most famous of these prognosticators Pennsylvania's ‘Punxsutawney Phil’, made his predictions virtually this year. He called for six more weeks of winter.

His Canadian cousins are more optimistic. This morning (February 2), Nova Scotia’s ‘Shubenacadie Sam’, was the first to make his prediction. He apparently was reluctant to emerge from his den, no doubt sensing the huge snowstorm that’s approaching from the south. However, he failed to see his shadow and predicted an early Spring, so he may be confused by the weather reports.

In Quebec, Fred La Marmotte also is reported as reluctant to leave his cozy nest. Ontario’s albino groundhog, ‘Wiarton Willie’ wasn’t even disturbed as local dignitaries went virtual. They followed the original tradition of throwing a fur hat in the air and called for an early Spring.

Even though Winnipeg has just recorded the second warmest January since records were kept, it seems unlikely we’re through with our snowy season anytime soon. And, from the groundhogs I’ve known, it seems they’re a bit too smart to wake up this early during a Manitoba winter just to see how much longer they should sleep. Wildlife folks found that the biggest challenge in making a prediction for Manitoba was finding a groundhog. That problem has been settled by having hand-puppet ‘Merv’ proudly do the honours. This year Merv appeared wearing a COVID mask. He didn’t see his shadow so it looks like an early Spring. We’d like to believe him. However, in this little corner of the province, the resident groundhog has yet to be seen, the sun is shining and shadows abound. I think I just heard Mother Nature chuckling.

If we’re really interested in our heritage, we should be asking how and where this tradition began. The likely assumption is that belief in the predictive abilities of groundhogs was a product of indigenous knowledge of the natural world or the observations of early settlers. The IrishCentral website (February 2, 2021) speculates that, because February 2 is situated halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, Groundhog Day may have deeper roots in pagan Celtic rituals. As with other aspects of pagan ritual, elements may have been incorporated in Christianity, now reflected in Candlemas and St. Brigid’s Day.

The site also points to a precedent for Groundhog Day in early Roman pagan divination based on the hibernating hedgehog. If the hedgehog came out of his den on February 2 and saw his shadow, it meant six more weeks of winter. The tradition spread to other countries such as Germany; German migrants brought it to North America where, in the absence of hedgehogs, the groundhog inherited the starring role.

Whatever the origin, it’s useful to explore how deeply the roots of our beliefs and practice really go, in this case, the origins of what might now be seen as largely an entertaining tourism ploy.

Gleanings from Local Life Stories. Remember when groundhogs were known locally as woodchucks? And schoolkids tried to see how fast they could recite “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He’d chuck all the wood a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” Who said kids in rural schools didn’t get a well-rounded education?

Then there’s this groundhog memory:

Since early childhood, whenever someone mentioned my uncle’s name, I had a vision of a bed of brilliant orange and yellow nasturtiums. I don’t really remember their house, but back in the years after the 1930s depression, most farm families didn’t plant flower beds, just things you could eat. Years later, I tilled up a new flower-bed in a sunny area of the lawn—it was a no-brainer what should be planted there. The nasturtiums that year outdid memory and we often took our coffee outdoors just to be cheered by their brilliant show. Then, early one morning, I looked out, I blinked and looked again. There was nothing there—except a fat groundhog, stuffing the last plants into his mouth. I’ve never planted nasturtiums again. And I still find it hard to really warm up to the groundhogs that still appear from time to time to feed on the big patch of clover growing in our front yard.

In spite of that sad story, I’ll likely still end the day by watching Bill Murray’s 1993 bizarre movie ‘Groundhog Day’. Wonder what March will bring?


News and Events January 2021

Ring in the New Year. The world has been impatiently waiting for 2020 to end. The rapid development of vaccines gives promise of a safer year ahead—after most of us get vaccinated. It’s likely to be a few months yet before we can resume some of our heritage projects that depend on face-to-face contact. Or we can change our strategies.

Our small group life-story sessions are on hold right now, but what about all those long conversations most of us are having these days with isolated family members and friends. You’ve probably talked about some of the Christmas traditions they’ve had to forego or modify this year.

Did you ask how long has this been part of their family traditions? Do any of them date back to the ‘old country’ before the family came to Canada? What was their childhood Christmas like? These memories no doubt helped fill a lot of lonely hours. Be sure to keep notes and share their stories with other family members. If your family is like ours, you’ll likely get the family network sharing stories, checking family trees and digging out old photos.

Christmas village 2020 – restaurant (no lights) in lockdown;
carollers ignoring distance protocols?

“The Past” is relative. Sharing stories across generations also helps put your own life in perspective. A colleague shared the following story: “In a clinical teaching group, we were talking about our outside interests. The students asked me what I liked to do to relax. I told them I like to watch old movies. Their response was that ‘they sure made some good movies in the 70s.’  (Actually I was thinking of the 40s).”

Now and Then. Nothing brings the past to life like a good photograph. One of the most exciting projects we had planned for 2020 was a series of photographs showing local scenes from the early days alongside the same location today. The project is the work of our website manager. It involves taking a current photo from exactly the same location and angle as the original picture. If the match is perfect and the technology is in place, a simple scroll across the photo instantly transforms it to the corresponding view. Prepare to say “Wow!”

Recognize this location?

Click on the image or go to our new "Now and Then" page of our Vintage Photos collection and see what was once there.

We planned on adding these bits of magic to our Vintage Photo collection as well as using them as highlights in the several displays planned for the 2020 celebration of MB150. The pandemic put an end to those displays and to completion of the project. We hope to present one in each of our next few monthly updates. They will be added to our Vintage Photos collection, along with a brief background on any changes over the years.

Natural History revisited. In the meantime, the pandemic has given us more time to focus on other aspects of local heritage such as our natural history. Over the past couple of months, we’ve been looking at our historic relationship with local animals as one of either food or sport. We know that our early settlers relied on hunting as an important part of the family food supply (Recent History, October, 2017). Another local account gives some insight into the importance of wildlife as food during another global crisis, the 1930’s Depression.

This life story describes how, as the depressions settled in, a lot of local families were hard pressed to survive. In those days, families were often large, with maybe ten or more children. There was little outside work to be found other than municipal projects like cutting brush along road-ways. Men who were lucky enough to get these jobs were paid about 50 cents a day.

The storyteller notes that, as newlyweds, she and her husband were just starting their family and they also had a large garden. So she always made sure she had a big pot of thick soup on the back of the cook stove each afternoon. She said “The men, when they were walking home from brush-cutting, always made a point of stopping in ‘just to see how our family was doing.’ And we always said ‘We’re just sitting down for some soup. Will you join us?’ So it was never taken as charity, just being neighbourly. But that was maybe the only hot meal some of them got for the day. Anything local families could trap or snare went into providing a bit of protein for the family. By the end of the Depression years, there wasn’t wildlife of any sort—including birds, rabbits, even squirrels—to be found in this area. It took years for wildlife to recover."


Seasonal change. Besides providing food or sport, wildlife and nature in general have always served as indicators of the changing seasons. The Dufferin Leader (1907-10-10) alerted its readers to the onset of winter:

It does not take the shortening of the days nor the lowering of the thermometer to warn us that winter is near; all nature, birds, animals, trees and flowers alike tell us the season is changing; and bid us, with them, make preparations for the reign of the Frost King.

These changes are so much a part of our lives that we pretty much take them for granted. It’s over a month since most of our plants vanished under the first snowfall and our migratory birds headed south. Hummingbirds were amongst the first to go, finishing their final frenzied feed before vanishing overnight for warmer climates. Robins were close behind, their cheery chirp replaced by the harsh voice of blue-jays and other winter residents.

By now, all have left except that other sad group of annual migrants, our ‘Snowbird’ retirees, whose migration to escape northern winters has been halted at the border this year by COVID-19 restrictions. This year they’re an extra grumpy lot, given the well-publicized holiday travel of several politicians.

Meanwhile, most of our animal population stick around for the winter, hibernating or adapting to the change in environment. Among the most noticeable seasonal changes we’ve been observing over the past couple of months are the highly visible changes in the coat of white-tail deer. Note the sleek, reddish-brown summer coat of the deer in the first photo. The fawn in front still has its camouflaging spots that help it blend in with foliage.


White-tailed deer in summer coat with spotted fawn

The young buck in the second photo is losing his winter coat and growing new antlers. The ‘velvet’ covering on the antlers nourishes growth of underyling bone, supplying blood, oxygen and nutrients for rapid growth. As autumn approaches, the velvet dies and sloughs off. The buck helps this process by rubbing against trees and other surfaces. The bone then hardens and it also dies. The antlers drop off during the winter months, ready for regrowth the following year.

     
Young buck in velvet, losing winter coat    Warm winter coats that blend in with barren trees

Some local animals such as squirrels and groundhogs, hibernate for the winter. Others, notably rabbits and weasels trade in their dull brown coats for white winter camouflage. These are just a few of the fascinating signs of changing seasons that are all around us, adding another rich dimension to the study of our natural history.