60 SL Minutes



 “In a Shoal Lake minute, everything can change.”

            While I was researching the feature articles about Shoal Lake history that ran in Crossroads This Week before and during centennial year (all of which you can find on this blog), I kept running into specific topics of interest that couldn’t support longer articles. Being a creative historian, I wrote a series of short pieces, each under 300 words, on the various topics. I called them Shoal Lake Minutes.

            The subjects of the Shoal Lake Minutes range from influential pioneers who left their mark on the community to the railroad to classic buildings to fun facts you never knew about the little town. Although every era is represented, I have arranged them more or less chronologically with emphasis on the early part of the town’s history 1870 to 1960. In the Minutes, I wanted to demonstrate the flavour, tenor and enthusiasm of Shoal Lake’s early citizens.

        Shoal Lake Minute Index

  1. Carlton Trail
  2. Prairie Fires
  3. Buffalo
  4. Fire Water
  5. Manitoba Pianos
  6. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 1
  7. What’s in a Name?
  8. The South End
  9. Advice About Coming West
  10. Things You Thought Shoal Lake Never Had
  11. Train Town – The Railroad Arrives
  12. Exodus – Moving North
  13. Train Town –Railway Stations
  14. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 2
  15. Marshall House
  16. Barnardo Boys
  17. Wheat
  18. Frank Dobbs
  19. Train Town – Early Tourist Ideas
  20. Cement Block and Brickworks
  21. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 3
  22. Frank Miller
  23. Shoal Lake Builders: Who Built What
  24. Major Boulton’s 1886 Report
  25. Village Blacksmiths
  26. Shoal Lake Firsts
  27. William Ernest Ingersoll, Writer
  28. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 4
  29. Train Town – Strange
  30. Jubilee House
  31. More Things You Thought Shoal Lake Never Had
  32. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 5
  33. Train Town – CPR Water Tower
  34. The Barr Colonists
  35. Shoal Lake Comfort Stations
  36. Who Were the Smellie Brothers?
  37. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 6
  38. The Last Scalp
  39. The Anemone
  40. Odds and Sods
  41. Grandpa Murchie
  42. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 7
  43. A Shoal Lake Charivari
  44. The Old Town Hall
  45. Even More Things You Thought Shoal Lake Never Had
  46. Welcome Home Day
  47. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 8
  48. Shoal Lake Brass Band
  49. J. H. McLean
  50. Grain Grower’s Picnic
  51. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 9
  52. Shoal Lake War Memorials
  53. Shoal Lake During the Depression
  54. ManCo
  55. A Prisoner-of-War Camp in the Fairgrounds?
  56. Federal Building/Post Office
  57. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 10
  58. Train Town – Bad Kids
  59. Still More Things You Thought Shoal Lake Never Had
  60. Shoal Lake By the Numbers Part 11 




            The Carlton Trail was the first highway into the Canadian West. Highway 16 roughly follows its course. Its Manitoba route began at Upper Fort Garry, passed by Deer Lodge, Whitehorse Plain, Portage la Prairie, Neepawa, Minnedosa, Shoal Lake, and Fort Ellice or St. Lazare as we know it today.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan sections of the Carlton Trail, image courtesy of Manitoba Historical Society.

        The area at the south end of the lake was known as The Narrows because it is the easiest crossing point through the three chain lakes that start with Shoal Lake and include Cook’s Lake and Raven Lake. The Carlton Trail crossed The Narrows, which meant everyone who used the trail had to pass by this strategic point no matter which direction they were traveling. That was the main reason the North West Mounted Police chose it for an outpost.

            Though historically connecting Fort Garry with Edmonton House during the fur trade era, the Carlton Trail is much older. Besides serving freighters, soldiers, settlers, missionaries, surveyors and adventurers, the trail’s ancient uses included the annual migrations of buffalo herds and their predators, human and otherwise. Since buffalo sought the path of least resistance for their migrations, they came to define the course of the trail and a practical one it was.

            Though daunting in length at about 1450 kilometers of open prairie, a good fast cart train could make the whole journey in six weeks. The average was closer to two months. Metis hunters from the Red River used it to pursue the buffalo herds and innumerable settlers plied its course in shrieking Red River carts seeking the new frontier. The trail had several names, often based on local sections – Battleford Trail, Hudson’s Bay Trail, Fort Ellice Trail and Edmonton Trail – but Canadian history generally remembers it is as the Carlton Trail. 

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            In the late 1800s and early 1900s, after the buffalo were gone and before the land was plow or populated with other grazing animals, there was a tremendous growth of prairie grasses, often five feet or taller, which made excellent fuel for fires. Locomotives on the main line of the railway started many fires; accidents and lightning caused others.

            The fires quickly grew to enormous proportions, often covering hundreds of miles and burning for weeks until they burned themselves out against a river or were doused by rain. At night distant fires glowed red and eerie.

            When they threatened crops or buildings, early fires were fought with wet brooms, grain sacks and water barrels. Every available container from chamber pots to kitchen pots was filled with water. A firebreak was hastily plowed and the house’s contents deposited there hoping to save them from the approaching fire. Battling the flames was a round-the-clock endeavour that sometimes went on for several days depending on wind conditions and the size of the blaze.

            An especially bad year was 1886, which had a dry fall. Charles Findlay and his family, homesteading east of the lake (their land included Crocus Hill) came within a few feet of losing their home to fire. Only through massive effort by the family and neighbours using whatever resources they had available were they able to save their house and most of their farm buildings.

            After more of the prairie sod was broken for seeding, prairie fires became less frequent, though in the fall they still ravaged some areas.

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“When the Buffalo went away, the hearts of my people fell to the ground and they could not lift them up again; after this, nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere.” – Last Crow 1848-1932

Technically they are called plains bison but buffalo suffices as well.

           In 1800, there were 60 million buffalo freely roaming the Central Plains. By 1865, only 15 million remained, just 7 million in 1872. By 1900, there were 1000 buffalo left in the world. The western area of the Manitoba Escarpment was among the first to completely eradicate the buffalo.

            Brought to the edge of extinction, the buffalo exists today largely because of the visionary efforts of a few people.  In 1900, just 23 plains buffalo lived in Yellowstone National Park. Michael Pablo, an American who purchased a few head from the priests of St Ignatius Mission who had received buffalo from a native hunter, owned another 88. Pablo offered his herd to the U.S. government. They declined.

            Frank Oliver, Minister of the Interior, advocated Canada buy the herd. He was whole-heartedly supported by Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier who said, “In so far as it is within the power of man, the buffalo shall not perish from the earth.”

            Canada’s largest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is Wood Buffalo Park in Alberta: 10,500 square miles of prairie and well-timbered land with plenty of food and water. The Park housed about 500 head in 1900 and became the new home for several thousand head in 1925. Protected, the same wild self-regulating herd still thrives in the park.

            Today there are over 20,000 buffalo in Manitoba, their status defined as “farmed but not domesticated.” About 120 farms, seven of them on First Nations, raise buffalo for their lean tasty meat.

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            Among the most destructive elements introduced by Europeans to North American aboriginals was alcohol. The instant bravery, murderous chaos and eventual impoverishment that ensued from “berry water” or “fire water” ravaged native families, bands and tribes. As memory, tradition, spirituality and cooperation became less critical to hunting the buffalo, in fact, to basic survival, the traditions faded too. This loss left aboriginals more susceptible to the whisky.

            In the early 1860s, the practice of trading whisky was discontinued at all Hudson’s Bay Company posts and, for a short while, at North West Company posts too. American adventurers and traders took advantage and began smuggling whisky into Canada. A compelling reason for the formation of the North West Mounted Police was to combat illegal hooch in the West.

            One of the central roles of the NWMP at Shoal Lake’s south end was checking the endless stream of traffic along the Carlton Trail for illegal alcohol. The smuggled liquor they found – there wasn’t much of it since the NWMP presence was well known – was dumped on the ground and the smugglers arrested. The post had a small but adequate guardhouse.

            Though it may have been called whisky or rum, the actual ingredients were quite sinister. Here’s a typical 1880s recipe for whisky: 1 keg of alcohol, 2 cups of Perry’s Painkiller, Hostetter’s Bitters, Castile soap, Blackstrap chewing tobacco, handful of red peppers, one bottle of Jamaica ginger, red ink, water. Mix well and boil until the strength is drawn from the tobacco and peppers.

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             Where the railroad tracks ended and the vast prairie began, the most common form of transportation to a homestead was the Red River cart. Thousands of them passed through The Narrows as the West was opening up.

            Red River carts were first built and used in Western Canada at Fort Pinancewaywining, a native word meaning “on the way down to the ford,” about 3 km southwest of Morden on the banks of Dead Horse Creek.

Red River carts could be pulled by oxen or horses.

            Linked directly to the Metis as their own invention, each Red River cart took about a month to build. Dense oak was used for axles, shafts and railings, willows for shakes, durable elm for the hub, all lashed together with wooden pegs and buffalo rawhide. Because of the nature of their design, a savvy freighter could find what he needed to fix a cart anywhere on the plains. At river crossings, the wheels were strapped under the box to provide flotation and the cart became a raft.

            Each cart carried about a half-tonne of freight. Pulled by an ox it could travel 3.5 km a day. The speed of the cart was the speed of the ox, never fast. Their Metis drivers were masters at going no faster than the animal could without threatening its health. 

            A common nickname for the cart was “Manitoba piano” so called because the cartwheel hubs and axles were never greased. Prairie grit blowing into the axle turned any lubricant into an abrasive. Above the shouts of the freighters and drovers, bellowing oxen and cracking bullwhips was the unending shriek of dry wood turning on dry wood. It could be heard for miles across the plains.

            The first industrial site to construct Red River carts in Manitoba was at St. Francois Xavier.

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  •  Average attendance at Shoal Lake’s first school in June 1885 was 15 pupils. Five years later there were 94 students enrolled.

    Located north of the tracks, Shoal Lake's first school later became the Smeaton family home.

  • In February 1900, local thermometers registered a low of 56 degrees below zero F.
  • Market price for hogs per hundred live weight in 1903 was $3.25.
  • The Village tax rate in 1912 was set at 30 mills per dollar.
  • In the September 9, 1915 edition of the Shoal Lake Star, there were 22 local businesses and professionals advertising their products and services to the community and area.
  • In 1923, a quart of milk cost 10 cents. In 1924, five pounds of apricots were on special at 95 cents.
  • The A. L. Girling farm near Kelloe had a sow that produced 17 piglets on January 29, 1926, 13 piglets on July 10, 1926 and 14 more on January 8, 1927. All the piglets lived making it a family of 44 in one year for the overworked sow.
  • Shoal Lake Locker Plant offered beef at 28 cents a pound in 1954.
  • The community banded together in 1960 and saved coupons from bags of Robin Hood flour. They saved enough to receive two 84-cup coffee urns which were used at the rink kitchen. Not sure how many coupons they needed.
  • A hundred years after the original was built, the Shoal Lake Historical Society laid out its plans to build a replica of the North West Mounted Police barracks at Lakeside Park in 1978. It was dedicated three years later.
  • The total operating budget for the Birdtail River School Division in 1987 was $6,008,324, an increase of 3.57 per cent over 1986.

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             It’s a wonder there is a town called Shoal Lake at all. Between 1875, when the North West Mounted Police sent their first officers to Carlton Trail at the Narrows, and the arrival of the railroad ten years later, other plans had been drawn up for developing both ends of the lake.

            Once the Police arrived, settlers offered goods and services to support a force that sometimes reached several dozen men plus their mounts. Around the barracks sprouted boarding houses, blacksmith and carpenter shops, stables, houses and a general store. An important role for NWMP posts in the fresh West was to act as mail depots, another reason settlements occurred around them.

            So encouraged were the settlers, who thought the railroad would follow the trail, they surveyed and named streets and avenues running east and south of the beach for a new town called Burlington.

            Meanwhile at the other end of the lake, pioneer John Eastcott, who had claimed squatter’s rights for the area around the north end in 1879, sold his claim to William Watts for $3500 cash three years later. Watts wanted to start a town called Nottingham City, the centre of the newly formed Municipality of Shoal Lake. Both dreams rested on the location of the imminent railroad.

            After referendums and “bonuses” of $90,000 paid to the railroad, the Manitoba & Northwestern Railway line ran north of the lake. The municipality called the settlement Shoal Lake and on May 1, 1886 The Shoal Lake Echo newspaper published it first issue, firmly bestowing the name on the community.

            In 1950, an editorial by local Bernard Friesen promoted a name change to Shoal Lake City to distinguish it from other Shoal Lakes in the Interlake and eastern Manitoba. It didn’t fly.

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            After the settlement was moved north in 1885, the south end of Shoal Lake became somewhat of a resort known as Burlington Beach. It was so named because the original intent had been to build a town called Burlington on the site. In the summer, the lake attracted swimmers, fishermen and boaters. Summer cottages were built along the east side of the lake. For a few summers starting 1908, two local businessman operated the Anemone, a 25-passenger motor launch that ferried people up and down the lake, to and from the South End.

Early 20th century tinted postcard depcting Shoal Lake's South End.

            The South End Restaurant was a seasonal operation that served visitors during the summer season. It served fruit, ice cream, cigars, soft drink, tobacco and meals.

            When the Depression of the 1930s came along with its droughts, the water level in Shoal Lake dropped precipitously causing many of the cottagers and visitors to abandon the area.

            Once the lake water rebounded, the South End became more of an attraction. On July 11, 1938, 63 acres along the lakeshore were dedicated as Marshall-Chambers Park, honouring early pioneers Andrew Marshall (of Marshall House) and William Chambers and their families. The cairn unveiled on that day still stands at the South End on the site of Marshall House. Over 2000 people attended the picnic and ceremony.

            Thereafter the South End served as a summer recreation and resort area, attracting large weekend crowds.

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             This article, aimed primarily at easterners considering moving west, appeared in The Manitoba Free Press on April 7, 1882:

            Do not come west with a family unless you have enough money to make a fair start. Do not borrow money to come west. The majority of those who have failed have come on borrowed money or without enough funds.

Typical poster touting the benefits and potential in Fruitful Manitoba to Europeans.

           After reading this article, select a region you think you will like best. People generally like to keep in the latitude they have lived in. Come in the spring and get acclimated. Bring as little luggage and as few heirlooms as possible. They cost money for freight and are very likely to be an encumbrance in a new home.

            If you are able to do so, come out and explore the country before bringing your family with you. Do not attempt to explore too much. Decide upon the climate and locality and then select your land.

            Do not come west expecting not to be homesick for your forests and streams which present such a contrast to the monotony of endless prairies. It may be very lonely at first but you will soon plant your own trees, have pleasant surroundings and near neighbours.

            Do not come expecting to be rich immediately. Several years of good crops may be required to place you in easy circumstances. If you are a clerk on a small salary in the city and have a few hundred dollars ahead, give up your clerkship and strike western lands. If you have abundance of money, settle in the lands in the near west. If your funds are comparatively limited, go on further as good land can be purchased at lower figures.

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             A Cricket Club? Blimey right. Immigrants bring their culture and sports with them. Herbert Short arrived from England in the early 1900s. He had a passion for cricket and got together a local team. They played in the fairgrounds for a few years but interest and Englishman waned and the club folded.

            A Chinese laundry? Ready by 5. And lucky for fashionable local bachelors, too, since starched shirt fronts required a professional’s touch. In the early 1900s, Lee Wing ran his laundry out of a space about where the Drop-In Centre is now on 4th Avenue. It was a well-patronized business for almost forty years until Wing retired in 1957. He rests in the Shoal Lake Cemetery.

            A Toastmaster’s Club? Oh yeah. In the 1960s, the high school principal, Andrew Legebokoff, organized a local Toastmaster’s club. It only lasted a few years.

            A Trap Shooting Club? Bang on. About 1929, T. W. Miller and D. W. Findlay formed a club with its shooting range on Miller’s property a few miles south of town. They attracted 30 members but the sound of the repeated gunfire proved to be unsettling for livestock in neighbouring fields and complaints were raised. Thereafter peace returned to the pastures.

Shoal Lake Rovers soccer team, 1904

            A Soccer Team? Scored. The Shoal Lake Rovers were a sight in their white short pants, knee socks and long-sleeved navy pullovers with SLR emblazed on the front. The twelve-man team kicked the ball around before and a little after 1900.

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             Speculation had gone in both directions. Some people thought the railroad would follow the Carlton Trail and pass through the Narrows, south of Shoal Lake. Others bet the line would pass north of the lake. At the north end there had been some land speculation and a small settlement developed. In 1882, William Watts bought John Eastcott’s large property to start a community called Nottingham City. Matthew Thompson, “The Father of Shoal Lake,” owned the western share of the section.

            After meetings, referendums and cash persuasions that determined such things, the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway came through town in 1885.

The little town in its early stages, looking west with businesses along both sides of the tracks.

           The railway brought settlers to the West and moved their products to a hungry world. As an indication on how quickly the area developed, in 1901 there were serious shipping problems after a banner crop year.

            In 1903, passenger service on the line through Shoal Lake increased from three times a week to daily. Passenger trains brought fans to Shoal Lake hockey games and the annual Grain Grower’s Picnic.

            Harvest time was busiest for freight trains. One Sunday in October 1927, twenty-four trains passed through town. The next Tuesday afternoon there were five trains at the station at one time. The railway was a boon for Shoal Lake with its bulging elevators lined up against the rolling horizon.

         In 1936, the CPR Jubilee Train, a streamlined art deco locomotive with air-conditioned cars and the capability of traveling at 110 miles per hour, was on display at the depot.

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             All the land speculation and political urging came to no avail for residents at the south end of Shoal Lake in 1885. The Manitoba and Northwestern Railway line would run north of the lake, making it the scene of local opportunity.

            There wasn’t much development at the north end of the lake. Squatter’s rights had turned into clear land ownership for some early settlers and a few log buildings had been erected.

            The Carlton Trail running south of the lake and the presence of the North West Mounted Police had spawned a small service community, with a store, livery, blacksmith, boarding house and few other buildings. To take advantage of the railway, the settlement had to be moved north.

            The fall of 1885 saw preparations to haul the buildings over the lake ice. Most of the buildings were log construction and, though some were skidded north on the ice, most were just disassembled and left.

            Two of the major businesses at the south end were Robert Scott’s general store and the Andrew Marshall Boarding House. Scott, sensing the future, ran his store out of a tent that was easy to relocate. The boarding house was more of a challenge.

            A week before Christmas, dozens of men and 8 teams of horses attempted moving the place. They managed to get it off the foundation but couldn’t get it onto the ice. The solution was to cut the building in half and move each half separately. By Christmas Eve, the house was reassembled onto its new spot just west of the train station.

            The village quickly grew with development centred north of the tracks. The south end’s role changed into a recreational area.

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            Manitoba and Northwestern Railway built Shoal Lake’s first railway station in 1885 when the railroad was laid through town. When the CPR bought the line in 1900, they replaced it with their standard Type 4 station, a relatively small facility like the ones in Mather, Boissevain, Douglas, Holland, Pilot Mound, Roland, Cypress River, Killarney and Morris.

CPR 1926 Railway Station in Shoal Lake

            In 1926 at a cost of $7365, the CPR replaced it with their Standard A3 wood-frame station, a larger building with more freight capabilities that reflected Shoal Lake’s growing significance as a train town. Lac du Bonnet, Darlingford, Newdale, Foxwarren, Inglis and Dominion City all had the same type of station. The CPR made improvements to this building in 1943.

            Stations typically had a large waiting room with a ticket wicket, an agent’s office, telegraph services, freight area and living quarters upstairs. The agent and his family lived on site.

            Besides the station, a large freight shed and water tower completed the CPR’s necessary buildings.

            Depot grounds featured flower gardens and in 1916, when G. F. Burkholder was station agent, Shoal Lake won several prizes for best-kept gardens.

            Like passenger service, the railway buildings are now gone. The water tower was demolished in 1939. Hugh Millar of Strathclair bought and moved the CPR freight building in 1940. The station became a residence in 1974 when Roger Lowe purchased it and moved it to North Railway Avenue. It is now the Jim Kennedy family home.

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  •  After three years of waiting, Shoal Lake finally got its first Lotto 6/49 machine in 1984, thanks to Henderson’s Pharmacy.
  • In 1972, Joe Sytnyk grew a turnip that weighed 17 lbs, 14 oz or just over eight kilograms.
  • The Canadian Mathematical Congress and the Actuaries Club of Winnipeg held a mathematics competition in 1967 and Gordon Findlay of Shoal Lake won his district, placing 39th out of 566 competitors. Another local lad, Ted Hart, came in 45th, earning an honourable mention.
  • At the 1949 Brandon Fair, Len Hetherington entered two white Plymouth Rock hens, two white Plymouth cocks and two white Plymouth Rock pullets. He won first and second prize in each entry, garnering another first for his Toulouse gander.
  • Ten pounds of white sugar was selling for 74 cents at Thornbeck’s store in 1940.
  • In 1934, Ed Arnold sold his prize-winning horse Croydon Gaiety to Alex Goodfellow of Ontario. The three-year-old horse won second place on two occasions in Toronto, first place four times in Brandon and grand champion yearling in Brandon.
  • Shoal Lake’s population in 1928 was 770.
  • In 1917, gasoline cost 36 cents a gallon.
  • The local vital statistics for 1911: R. M. of Shoal Lake: 16 births, 6 deaths and 1 marriage. Village of Shoal Lake: 19 birth, 5 deaths and 7 marriages.
  • The auditor’s report from 1904 states the R. M. of Shoal Lake had a $182.21 balance on hand. The report claimed 1240 people lived in the municipality with 15,000 acres under cultivation. 

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             To some people it was known as Marshall’s Boarding House or, simply, Marshall House. One of the area’s earliest pioneers, Andrew Marshall built the place at the south end of the lake originally as a stopping place for travelers plying the Carlton Trail. Later the South End would be named Marshall-Chambers Park after early settlers.

            Attracted by the railroad, the settlement moved north over the frozen lake in the winter of 1885 and Marshall House went with it. Just before Christmas, dozens of men and eight teams of horses attempted to move the place. They managed to get it off the foundation but couldn’t get it onto the ice. They cut the building in half and moved each half separately. By Christmas Eve, the house was reassembled onto its new spot west of the train station where Woodworth’s is today.

            At its new location, Marshall House served as both a hotel and a boarding house Apparently, its long-term residents often developed an aversion to bread pudding and salt pork. They also needed an aversion to alcohol because Andrew Marshall ran a temperance house that strictly forbade booze.

            Marshall Livery Stables served travelling clients and locals in need of a horse and rig. For many years, Marshall’s Livery drove the local doctor to patients, often as far away as Rossburn.

            After 25 years in the business, Andrew Marshall retired in 1909 and his hotel closed. Malcolm McLean reopened it in 1910 and ran it until about 1916.  Marshall House served those from home and away for 32 years before it was torn down in 1917 to make way for J. H. McLean Garage and Implements.

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            Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905), a Dubliner, is a classically Victorian figure – evangelical, entrepreneurial and philanthropic. His crusade to rescue orphans, waifs and strays from the streets and workhouses was one of the best-known social interventions in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Barnardo House in Winnipeg.

            Beginning in 1886, among Barnardo’s initiatives were “ragged schools” that taught destitute children, and “boarding out,” placing children with foster families in more rural settings. He also sent children to Canada, initially to homes and then to be boarded out. Most Barnardo Boys were between five and nine years old.

            He expected high standards from his foster parents and made them sign strong agreements. However, this didn’t prevent bad management, cruelty and neglect in some homes from tarnishing Barnardo’s endeavours.

In Russell, MB the organization ran the Barnardo Industrial farm.

            His homes extended throughout the British Isles. After the railroad reached Manitoba in 1881, he was interested in placing boys in the new frontier. A Barnardo Home for Boys was established in Winnipeg with Russell, MB having a training farm for older boys.

            When boarded out the boys usually turned up alone with a nametag around their necks on strange railway platforms being met by unknown farmers.

            At the time of Dr. Barnardo’s death, there were nearly 8,000 children in the 96 residential homes he had set up. Around 1300 of these had disabilities. More than 4,000 children were boarded out, and 18,000 sent to Canada and Australia.

            Shoal Lake area Barnardo Boys included Fred Cole, Cyril Hammond, Joe Stimpson and brothers Joseph and William Crowther who came in the late 1890s. Joseph was a local carpenter and William farmed near Kelloe.

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             Now sounding rather quaint, the prairies were known as “the breadbasket of the world” because of the vast fields of grain, particularly wheat. In retrospect, we earned that name through enormous hardships, challenges, physical labour and strokes of both good and bad luck.

Threshing gang early 1900s.

            The Canadian West had been settled and turned into farmland incredibly quickly. One gauge of this is wheat production on the prairies. In 1896, about 8 million bushels of wheat were grown. Five years later, it was over 26 million bushels and in 1921 over 150 million bushels were grown, a twenty-fold increase in 25 years.

            Some settlers brought their native wheat with them. The Galicians brought their Red Fife wheat with them when they arrived in the area in the 1890s.

            A 1931 report stated that Europeans value Canadian wheat because of “its ability to confer strength in a blend.”

            The year the Canadian Wheat Board was created to stabilize grain prices, 1935, was a very wet summer. Marquis wheat was a popular choice that year but with the rain came the rust to which Marquis had no resistance. The crops that survived usually were cut for chicken feed, the rest burned.

            In 1936 a new rust resistant wheat, known as Thatcher wheat, was introduced to the area by the George Sytnyk family who brought it in from Minnesota. By the end of the Second World War, Thatcher wheat dominated prairie production.

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             Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1855, Frank Dobbs came to Canada at age 16 to work on land survey crews in southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In 1874 he joined the North West Mounted Police and went west on their famous trek. During his tour of duty, he took part in the Riel Rebellion in 1885, resigning from the force in 1886. In 1902, he was awarded a silver medal from the Dominion of Canada for services rendered during the 1885 Rebellion.

            For his duty in the NWMP, Dobbs received a free half section of land seven miles south of Shoal Lake and started farming. Realizing farming was not for him, Dobbs took up selling real estate and insurance and bookkeeping. Shoal Lake Rural Municipality hired him as secretary treasurer in 1899, a position he kept until 1933. He held the same position for the village from 1909 to 1931.

Ad from 1905 Henderson's Directory.

            Frank liked being busy. He was secretary-treasurer of the Shoal Lake Agricultural Society from about 1900 to 1925, Clerk of the County Court from 1885, agent for eight insurance companies, real estate agent with Hudson’s Bay Land Development and a Mason. An ad he ran in the 1905 Henderson’s Directory says in addition  to real estate and insurance, Frank has “money to loan” and improved and unimproved farms for sale.

            In 1909, Dobbs, as village clerk, received over a hundred applications in response to an advertisement for a constable that appeared in Winnipeg papers. The village’s new constable would be Donald Findlayson.

            Frank and Mary Dobbs moved into Winnipeg where he died in 1940, laid to rest New year’s day, 1941. Frank, his two daughters Kathleen and Norah and wife Mary are all buried in the family plot in Shoal Lake Cemetery. 

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             Let’s see. It’s 1885 and railroad companies are expanding their reach further across the prairie everyday. That year the Manitoba and Northwestern Railway came through Shoal Lake partly because of the spot’s tourist prospects.

            M & NWR saw the north end of the lake as having excellent potential for a resort and recreation centre. A fresh flowing stream fed the lake, which was shallow and reasonably warm, the lake sometimes produced 15-pound catches and the new townspeople appeared to be an industrious and inventive lot. A tennis court and other facilities were built and the annual M & NWR picnic was held on the flats, now the park at the north end.

            The railway planners were encouraged by the area’s existing reputation as a good location for hunting beast and fowl. But the locals wanted something more than shooting so the railroad began making plans for Shoal Lake’s new role.

            The M & NWR’s manager, Mr. N. R. Baker, visited the village in 1885 to assess its tourist potential, especially along the east side of the lake south of First Avenue.

            While the railroad was successful at creating massive hype about its resort plans – newspapers even began calling Shoal Lake “Saratoga of the North”, a reference to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York that attracted the wealthy and famous – it wasn’t so good on the follow-through.

            Nothing became of the M & NWR’s grand plans for Shoal Lake. No spas, casinos or racetracks sprang up along the lakeshore, no millionaires smoking two-dollar cigars stepped onto the station platform but the trains kept rolling through town and the people kept coming. For a brief dreamy moment, Shoal Lake had established itself as a recreational retreat, a bit of paradise on the Escarpment.

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              In the late 1800s, when cement became a readily available commodity, some builders bought cement block and pressed brick machines and started local brickworks. Shoal Lake’s earliest brickworks was Myers Brick Company where Harry Jenkins was the brick maker. The depression near Ivan Woods house is the quarry where they got their materials. Sand from the lake was also a large component of the business.

Many buildings along Station Road were constructed of cement blocks made on site. Signage for Dandridge's business shows various textures of blocks they made.

            John Dandridge, who farmed near town, started a cement block and pressed brick business in 1906 on the Myers site. He purchased a brick machine that could produce 6,000 bricks a day, making nine bricks with one impression.

            Dandridge ran the business until 1913. Among the buildings made from Shoal Lake bricks and blocks were the Masonic Hall, later the Nychuk Block (where Choy’s is today), Dr. Leishman’s office located across the alley north of the Masonic Hall (page 304 of Ripples Vol. 1 has a good picture of these two buildings), Culross School, Sylvester Hill School and the Armstrong house at the South End, the only one left standing.

Two kinds of made-on-site cement blocks - textured and smooth - on the Armstrong house at the South End.


             On a 2008 visit to the Armstrong house, it isunoccupied and somewhat dilapidated but the cement blocks stand out. The rear of the house has plain smooth blocks. The other three sides sport textured blocks. They have attained a steely grey patina over the decades.

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  •  Local municipal councilors were given a pay raise in 1909. Because of an amendment in the Municipal Act, instead of the $2 they received per meeting, they now received $3 plus mileage.
  • It took seven issues into 1913 before Shoal Lake Star editor H. J. Newman realized he hadn’t changed the date line on the paper. It still read 1912. The February 20 issue listed the proper year.
  • In 1919, Village Constable Huett caught Franka Dowasha making and selling whisky. She was fined $200 for selling, $100 for running a still and $100 for having mash in her possession.
  • A dozen oranges at Jack Zivot’s store in Shoal Lake set you back 25 cents in 1932.
  • In 1935, Red Rose coffee was 37 cents for the one-pound tin.
  • Eddie Chockman announced in 1938 that he was delivering the Brandon Daily Sun every morning to houses around town. The cost was 10 cents a week.
  • On October 21, 1942, an artillery convoy from Camp Shilo put on a display in town to encourage people to buy Victory Bonds. It was quite a show with 32 trucks and 8 gun carriers.
  • In 1957, you could buy 60 tea bags for 69 cents at the Locker Plant.
  • At the start of the school year in September 1964, Shoal Lake Elementary School enrolled 246 students.
  • A Mother’s Day special at Grieve’ Hardware in 1969 featured bone china cups and saucers for $1.45, regular $1.75.
  • In the first two months after it opened on January 6, 1987, the Shoal Lake Community Library enrolled 256 people as members.

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             Like many of Shoal Lake’s earliest pioneers, Frank Miller arrived here because of the North West Mounted Police and their little post at the south end of the lake. Miller was a commissary contractor, supplying goods and rations, mainly beef, hay and feed, to the NWMP at The Narrows. Before the railway came through in 1885, Miller operated a stagecoach line carrying mail and passengers between Tanner’s Crossing (Minnedosa) and Shellmouth (Russell) and hauled freight by ox cart from Winnipeg to Fort Pelly, now Pelly, SK.

            Miller’s marriage in 1879 to Annie McBain was the earliest recorded wedding in the area. He and Annie homesteaded south of town, buying the first threshing machine used in the district. The Miller family moved into a house on North Railway in Shoal Lake in 1899, continuing his cattle operation.

The cement block building Frank Miller built on Station Road, replacing the one that burned down in 1907.

            Frank Miller invested in Shoal Lake, building a commercial block where Choy’s is now on Station Road. It housed the village’s first telephone office starting in 1906. In return, Frank Miller was awarded telephone number 1. Unfortunately, his block burned to the ground in the spring of 1907, taking with it the telephone office, the Masonic records since the lodge met there, not to mention the new town bell installed just a couple of years before. Miller replaced the block with a cement block building that later became the Masonic Hall then the Nychuk Block.

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         Robert Chambers originally operated a bicycle shop in Shoal Lake but went to farm near Togo SK. Shortly he returned and became a carpenter, building many houses and barns in the early 1900s. Chambers built Bob Henderson’ house, Ivan McLaughlin house, worked on the red brick high school now demolished.

        George Reid Sr. and Allan Gordon were local masons who worked on many local buildings. James and Charles Findlay built Robert Scott’s store in Hamiota along with his three-storey house overlooking the lake.

        Thomas Hurst built the first house after the railway came through in 1885, hauling the lumber from Patterson’s Lake, north of Oakburn. Located across from the United Church at South Chestnut and Maple, it was Vera Stimpson’s house for many years. The house still stands making it one of the oldest buildings in Shoal Lake.

        John Simpson, as well as being a carriage maker, built many of the homes and businesses in the district. Thornbeck’s Store, the Creamery, Simpson-Miller Block, Captain Johnson’s elegant three-storey house on Lake Street South facing the lake, now demolished.

         Nick Nychuk bought the Masonic hall on Station Road in 1945 and converted it into suites, doctor’s offices (Dr. Prus’ office was on the main floor.) and a shoe repair shop. Thereafter it was known as the Nychuk Block. Nick built the Anglican Church rectory in 1963 using much of the old Frank Dobbs house which was being torn down.

         Dawson Findlay built the Federal Building in 1952 to 1954, the Avalon Theatre in 1945 which had a seating capacity of 350.

         Edward Schneider was awarded the tender to build the new town hall in 1912/13, he also built many homes and the two storey schoolhouse. After it burned, he duplicated the Presbyterian Church, used as the United Church into the 1970s.

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            In 1886, Major Charles Boulton of Russell MB, Commander of Boulton’s Scouts of Northwest Rebellion fame, made this report about local development. 

            “The progress of the Province of Manitoba has been very rapid since its acquisition by Canada. In addition to the Canadian Pacific Railway, it has several lines of railway branching out into the interior, notably the Manitoba and Northwestern, projected to run on the route originally surveyed by the Dominion Government to Prince Albert. This branches off northwesterly from Portage la Prairie, through a most fertile district, well watered, with large tracts of timber and a most productive soil. It has this year reached as far as the Bird Tail Creek, seven miles north of Birtle, and it is expected next year to reach Shell Mouth, on the Assiniboine River, the northwestern boundary of the Province of Manitoba.

            “The whole district traversed by this railway is well settled on the even-numbered sections; the odd-numbered sections generally being for sale at an average price of from three to five dollars per acre. To those people who turn their attention to this country, it is better to settle within five or ten miles of a railway station, paying a moderate price for their lands, than to go a greater distance to obtain free grants. It is even better to settle for a year upon a rented place before determining upon a permanent location. Above all, don’t spend your money on purchases until you know your wants. I have known people come in, and before they have gone on to their land, expend a large portion of their means on agricultural machinery which would not be required for two or three years.”

            Thank you Major.

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            As a child growing up in Shoal Lake the most exotic and dangerous place in town was the blacksmith shop.

Bert Wyatt's blacksmith shop, gone now, on The Drive.

Seldom did I get this close to perfect fire. Bert Wyatt was the big man in the black apron wielding enormous hammers that clanged on the anvil, a white-hot piece of metal receiving their blows, sparks skittering away. The bellows wheezed; the air was filled with tiny floating ash and the smell of hot cinders. With good reason, Bert didn’t like kids hanging around his shop so my visits were always short and exciting.

            Shoal Lake offered many blacksmiths over the decades. Thomas King had a blacksmith shop at the south end during the time of the NWMP. Thomas Clark had farmed near Shoal Lake until 1890. He moved into the village and opened a blacksmith shop. He was also a farrier and president of the Shoal Lake Agricultural Society 1901-1903. Bob King had a blacksmith shop around 1886.

            McGregor’s Blacksmith Shop was one of the businesses to go up in smoke in Shoal Lake’s first big fire in 1889, which wiped out most of the commercial section of the settlement.

                The Shoal Lake Star ran ads for two blacksmiths offering their services in March, 1900. Neil McFadyen and Son specialized in horseshoeing with repairs “promptly attended to.” Their shop was located north of the railway station. A new smithy named William Allport moved into the village and posted his ad with satisfaction guaranteed. He occupied “R. Craiks old Stand.”

            Other blacksmiths were Cowan, Webber, Perkins and Giumeny. The last blacksmith in Shoal Lake was John Slater who purchased Bert Wyatt’s welding and blacksmith shop in 1970. He closed the business when the family moved to Saskatchewan.

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             Everything happens for the first time some time.

  • Reeve John Menzies headed the first municipal council of Shoal Lake, elected in 1884. In true Victorian fashion, their first by-law prohibited gambling within the municipality.
  • Mayor D. C. Fleming, elected in 1909, led the newly incorporated village’s first council. That year, after advertising in British newspapers for a police constable, Shoal Lake council received over a hundred applications. Council selected Donald Findlayson (possibly Dan Finlayson) as the village’s first constable. Findlayson had been a Glasgow, Scotland dock policeman. Another popular move of the newly elected council was ordering a car of cement to lay cement sidewalks over the summer.
  • Shoal Lake was a pioneer in many amenities that other towns waited years to acquire such as electric lighting, a creamery, hospitals, rinks, recreation opportunities and newspapers. Shoal Lake’s first newspaper was The Echo, published for six months in 1885. The Shoal Lake Star first appeared on May 25, 1899; its first publisher was W. A. Myers.
  • The first cream pasteurizing plant in Manitoba was operated at the Shoal Lake Creamery in 1896.
  • Shoal Lake voters decided in favour of the village having its first beer parlour in 1899.
  • In 1905, Norman Solomon bought one of the first gasoline threshing outfits in the area.
  • Though now an expected and easily dealt with pest, potato bugs made their first appearance in Shoal Lake in 1910.
  • One of the first families in the district to grow Thatcher wheat, use a one-way disc and a 32-volt windcharger was George and Mary Sytnyk of Oakburn.
  • The first satellite dish in Shoal Lake brought the world into the living room of Peter and Marge Charney in 1983.

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             Though Shoal Lake has spawned an occasional writer, the earliest is William Ernest Ingersoll, born at the

William Sr. offering his services in 1905 Henderson's Directory.

south end in 1879. William’s father, William M., was among the earliest settlers at the Narrows, offering his services as an agent to the growing area population. William Sr. handled real estate, loans, conveyance and insurance, eventually becoming the local police magistrate, working out of an office upstairs in the Union Bank then in the new Findlay Block on Station Road.

            Will grew up in the family home on The Grove. In 1908, he started with the Winnipeg Free Press as a reporter. He edited the paper’s church page from 1935 til 1960 and wrote a regular ornithology column called “Bird Life.” Ingersoll Street, between Portage Avenue and Notre Dame Avenue in Winnipeg’s West End, is named for him.

            Besides his newspaper career, Will wrote two acclaimed novels, The Road Which Led Home: A Romance of Plow-land (1918) and Daisy, Herself (1918), the latter a picture of early Winnipeg life, which offers this account of early motorcycle etiquette:

            “The streets were filling with the promenaders of evening, each in his or her best “bib and tucker,” enjoying the worker’s well earned off-hour of spooning or strolling. Motorcycles darted in and out…exploding like machine-guns; in the seat of each a happy youth with either smile or cigarette or both, and often behind him, a girl with the happily needed arm placed about him. Sometimes the girl was in a sidecar, but then she was generally the motorcyclist’s wife.”

            A skillful wordsmith, Will’s short stories often appeared in year’s best anthologies. He had a short story in the first anthology of Canadian writing (1929). An avid boxing fan, he began collecting Elvis Presley records at the age of 80. Will died in Winnipeg in 1968.

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  • It had been 13 years since the last one but finally Shoal Lake had a New Year’s baby! Robyn Elsie Tully was born to Randy and Joyce Tully at 12:28 p.m. on January 1, 1982.
  • In 1980, Armor Girling had two hole-in-ones in a month at the Shoal Lake Golf Course. He aced the 5th hole first, later the 9th.
  • Two Shoal Lake teams entered the 1978 Fire Fighters Rodeo held in Virden. One team finished second out of 33 teams in the ladder competition.
  • The 1970 season ticket price for a single person at the Shoal Lake Golf Course was set at $25 with a share, $30 without.
  • The Shoal Lake Lion’s Club sponsored a Two-Minute Shopping Spree in 1968. Miss F. Smith of Strathclair won and spent her time filling almost four shopping carts with items from Rene’s Grocery. Her total was $76.20.
  • Representing the Shoal Lake Chamber of Commerce in 1964, Nelson Wyatt finished 17th out of 81 contestants in the 21-mile Dauphin Walk-a-Thon.
  • As part of the celebrations in 1959, the Shoal Lake 75th Anniversary Beef Barbeque was held July 13 in the fairgrounds. Tickets cost $1.
  • In 1946, Miss Lillian Alfred of the Shoal Lake Creamery received a certificate for her general proficiency of 86% when grading eggs. She was 6th out of 64 egg stations in Manitoba.
  • A recruiting meeting in the Shoal Lake Town Hall on August 2, 1915 attracted potential soldiers for WW I. Volunteers had to be 5’ 5” or taller with at least a        34-inch chest. It wasn’t long afterward the requirements changed to 5’ 2” and 33-inch chest.

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             The Manitoba and Northwestern Railway line through Shoal Lake was only a few months old when a bizarre event occurred just as the passenger express was nearing Kelloe west of Shoal Lake. Here is how The Shoal Lake Echo describes the peculiar circumstances in 1885:

            “An expectant mother, Mrs. Lang, was on the train at the time. As the train neared Kelloe, passengers were aroused by screams proceeding from the lavatory to which Mrs. Lang had retired.

            “It seems a child was born to Mrs. Lang which had been accidentally dropped down the pipe onto the tracks. When the train pulled up in Kelloe, Charles McLennan, on hearing the state of affairs, sprang on his horse and rode over a mile with all possible speed. He found the child kicking and crying at the bottom of a seven-foot grade. He pulled his shirt off and wrapped it around the baby.

            “Dr. Oliver of Shoal Lake heard the story and hurried off to Kelloe where he found the poor woman in critical condition and the child bruised, scratched and bleeding. Upon examination, it was found no internal injury was sustained. The baby was well and strong two days later after falling from an express train moving at 40 mph into the cold morning air the moment after being born.”


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            Travelers knew early Shoal Lake as a place with adequate lodgings, most of them clustered around the railway station, the major form of travel after 1885. Looming large and white against the prairie sky was Jubilee House on North Railway, its impressive welcoming façade beckoning new arrivals.

Jubilee Hotel and Annex on North Railway, handily across from the station.

            Calvin Westover built the Jubilee in the 1890s. The hotel was three storeys tall, wood frame with plenty of four paned rectangular windows and a central entrance. An elaborate and attractive porch spanned the first floor, its roof a balcony for the second floor. In two-foot black letters between the second and third floor windows was emblazoned “JUBILEE HOUSE.” To the west of the main building stood Jubilee Annex, a two-storey building of similar but less elaborate design with rooms on both levels.

            In early 1899, the Jubilee applied for a retail liquor license but was turned down because they hadn’t filled out the application properly. By the end of the year however, the hotel got its license and opened a pub. Reports of public drunkenness became more frequent in The Shoal Lake Star in subsequent years.

            The Jubilee’s first operator was Sandy Brown followed by Mrs. Taylor, then Wilson and Coleman who ran an ad in the 1905 Henderson’s Directory offering “new sample rooms, first-class accommodation and the finest liquors and cigars.” With its handy location near the station, the Jubilee did a booming business, becoming a Shoal Lake landmark.

1905 Henderson's Directory ad for Jubilee Hotel and its amenities.

            Jubilee House, its Annex, livery and several other businesses burned to the ground on December 25, 1911 when a stiff northwesterly wind blew the fire down the street, erasing much of the village’s business section. By the end of Christmas Day, Jubilee House was just ashes and a memory.   

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            A bird sanctuary? Sort of. When the Smellie Brothers bought the creamery in 1904, they hired John Nesbitt to run the operation, which included a farm. Nesbitt was fond of gardening and the farm and creamery grounds were always beautifully kept. He also loved birds and maintained a flock of about 50 wild geese and some ring-necked pheasants on the grounds and nearby lake.  The area was a sanctuary for the birds to live and nest in but many didn’t return during hunting season.

Shoal Lake's Salvation Army Charioteers Van, 1930s.

            A Salvation Army band? Noted. The Army operated a mission in Shoal Lake into the 1950s with their most visible aspect being the band. The band was often enjoyed on village street corners, in parades and at special events.

            A square dance club? Do si do and swing your partner. In the 1950s and 60s, the local square dance club, now defunct, kicked up its heels on a regular basis.

            A lawn bowling club? Pastorally. An early institution situated just south of the United Church, the Shoal Lake Lawn Bowling Club, open to adults and children, had a luxurious green to play on and produced several provincially recognized players. Its 1928 tournament saw 18 rinks entered. In 1931, Shoal Lake bowlers captured the Adams Trophy from the Brandon Octette, the first time any small town had owned the trophy!

            Chautauqua? Huh? Not a term you hear much today, chautauqua was often the highlight of a small town child’s summer in the days before silent movies. In Shoal Lake, a large tent was set up on the northwest corner of Station Road and The Parade with a wooden stage and bench seating. Children delighted to music, comedy, puppets and animals including Rin Tin Tin.  

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  • In 1885, a keg of beer sold for $3.50 in Shoal Lake.
  • During Industrial Fair Week, the train fare from Shoal Lake to Winnipeg was $4.15 one-way.
  • W. A. Myers, enumerator for Shoal Lake and editor of the Shoal Lake Star, reported in 1903 that the population was 634 people, housed in 113 residences for an average of six people per household.
  • Prominent area farmer Norman Locke purchased a 30-horsepower Geiser engine and an 8-furrow Massey-Harris engine gang plow in 1911. He could plow 22 acres a day drawing a 12-foot land packer behind. No word on what he paid for this modern equipment.
  • In 1926, the Shoal Lake Co-operative Poultry Association shipped 4325 birds, 1497 of them turkeys. Total weight was about 30,000 pounds.
  • The Shoal Lake Open Bonspiel in 1952 attracted 61 rinks who curled on eight fine sheets of ice.
  • In 1962, the Shoal Lake Agricultural Society reported that 86 light horses and 34 heavy horses were entered in that year’s fair.
  • On special at the Shoal Lake Locker Plant in 1965, twelve large tins of tomato juice for $4.29.
  • On October 14, 1982, nearly 140 people turned up for the first-ever Ducks Unlimited fundraising banquet at the Buffalo Plains Inn.
  • Gas prices had decreased in January 1983 and Shoal Lakers were paying between 43.5 and 45.9 cents per litre.

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             Steam trains require two things to run: coal and water. The coal car behind the locomotive supplied one ingredient. Rail-side tanks every fifty miles or so provided the water.

            Shoal Lake’s water tank was built in 1904 on the south side of the tracks west of the station. Built to CPR’s standard plan, it was a tall, octagonal wooden structure that held about 40,000 gallons of water pumped from the lake. Getting the water to the tank was a major engineering accomplishment for the village. It required laying almost half a mile of pipe below the frost line. A housed engine at the lake pumped the water to the tank, gravity delivered it into the locomotives’ boilers.

            Trains weren’t the only ones using the tank. After a deal with the CPR in 1909, the village used water from the tank to fight fires.

            Just as the afternoon train was pulling away from the station on May 26, 1920, the water tank suddenly burst. The tank’s roof sank and the slate sides crashed down on the tracks. The rush of water swept away anything in its path. Subsequent investigation showed defective bands around the tank gave way, an unsafe condition that had previously been reported.

            The rebuilt tank managed another 19 years of service to passing trains and frequent fires. It was demolished in 1939 and an era came to an end.

            Only one of the 75 tanks the CPR built remains standing in Clearwater, MB. The Historic Places Initiative deemed it a heritage site. In 2008, the original water tower in Glenboro burned down due to arson.

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            It was either an outright swindle or the result of sheer incompetence. History tells it both ways.

The executive group of the Barr colonists en route to Saskatchewan. Isaac Barr seated in middle.

            Two Church of England clergymen, Isaac Barr and Exton Lloyd, were responsible for one of the largest colonization enterprises in the Canadian West. After pamphleteering around England in 1902, Barr found almost 2,000 people eager to immigrate to Canada and willing to pay him a variety of fees for the expedition.

            The boat Barr hired, ironically the S.S. Lake Manitoba, was an old troop carrier designed for 700 soldiers that carried 1960 men, women and children plus their possessions when it set sail from Liverpool on March 31, 1903. Mainly townsfolk with few survival skills and little foreknowledge of their prairie destiny, they brought sewing machines, sets of china, carpets and even pianos but not one plow.

            The journey across the Atlantic was harrowing with a shortage of food. When the boat docked in Saint John, New Brunswick, Barr had disappeared along with most of their money. The passengers went into revolt and were calmed only by promises from Reverend Lloyd. He got them on trains to Saskatoon. Some settled in Manitoba. Barr suddenly reappeared in Saskatoon but not with their luggage which was never recovered.

            The railroad ended in Saskatoon so the colonists used Red River carts to travel through two hundred miles of mud and bush to their settlement. This trek began their transformation from tinkers to farmers.

            Though Barr was the main instigator of the scheme, it was Lloyd who led their settlement and is immortalized in Canadian history. Lloydminster, located near the Barr colony, is named after him.

            Among the families to jump off the Barr colony train in Manitoba was William Hadland from Banbury, England. He farmed and raised his family near Solsgirth retiring to Shoal Lake.

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            Before the days of easy communication, the Women’s Institute supplied country women with the latest home-making ideas including childcare, recipes, food preparation and storage. Sometimes called Home Economics Societies, they also satisfied the need for female companionship, sharing and self-respect. Nearly every woman belonged to WI.

            One important aspect of the WI was running a well-baby clinic every year at the Shoal Lake Fair. Another was providing small town comfort stations or restrooms for women and their children. There were no service stations or restaurants with public access to washrooms so the comfort station was a boon to women traveling into town, perhaps in a buggy or on foot with babes in arms, and needing a place to rest, relax and clean up. They were sometimes referred to as “the most humane institution in the village.”

            Shoal Lake’s restroom was located on Station Road, offering relief, relaxation, a cup of tea and even a lending library, which cost 2 cents a week to access. M. C. Markle constructed a new facility in 1920. The Shoal Lake Star noted in 1935 that lunch and coffee were served in the restroom. It provided service til the late 1940s. 

            After the restroom closed, it was a few years before another service organization would emerge to fill the gap.

Built by the Shoal Lake Lions Club in the early 1950s, Shoal Lake's Restroom and Playground as seen from South Chestnut.

            In May 1953, the newly formed Shoal Lake Lions Club got busy building a rest room and playground that opened onto South Chestnut with the rest rooms also accessible from the alley behind the Royal Bank. It opened in August 1954 at a cost of $6,000. After providing years of relief to residents and visitors, the comfort station and playground are both gone but a few WIs still operate in rural Manitoba.

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             Their parents emigrated from the Orkney Islands. Their father was a pioneer Presbyterian minister. Born in 1862, Albert Smellie came from Fergus, ON to the Russell area and bought out John Brown’s store, forming Smellie Brothers in 1987. His brother,  Doctor Thomas Smellie, though supportive of the company, was never an active partner, leaving that to Albert. They soon opened another general store in Binscarth.

Styling, design and dimension comingle on a street corner in Russell, MB. It's the store the Smellie Brothers built.

            In 1906 on Russell’s Main Street, they built an elegant store that swept around a corner and featured classical detailing and an angled entrance. The Smellie Brothers Building is now a Municipal Heritage Site and included in the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

            One of the most successful entrepreneurs in early Shoal Lake was Robert Scott who opened the creamery. He built and operated a large general store and hardware side by side on Station Road. The general store included dressmaker and millenary. (Later it was known as Thornbecks, then Menzies.)  In 1904, the Smellie Brothers bought him out lock stock and barrel, even taking over his house.

            At the height of their empire building, Smellie Brothers had eight branch stores and five creameries around west central Manitoba. In 1928, they built a new brick and concrete creamery in Shoal Lake.

             In 1922, Albert Thornbeck and Richard Scholes bought out the Smellie Brothers store. Good thing too because a week later, fire destroyed their own store with just 65% of it insured. The next year Smellie Brothers sold their Shoal Lake hardware store to Manning Hardware Company. They hung on to the creamery until 1960 when Manitoba Dairy and Poultry Pool (Manco) purchased it, thus ending their 56-year association with Shoal Lake.

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  • Before the railway came, provisions were obtained by trips into Winnipeg using a team of oxen and a noisy Red River cart. Sugar was 6 pounds for a dollar, salt 4 pounds for a dollar and flour sold for $4 a sack.
  • Oak River teamed with fish when Shoal Lake was being settled. In 1885, four men with spears each caught 72 fish in the stream just north of town. The largest pike, jackfish and mullet were 19, 17 and 13 pounds.
  • In 1892, the bushel price for wheat was 25 cents, oats 14 cents. Chickens sold for 7 cents. Coal oil cost $1.80 gallon and tea was $1 a pound.
  • During the 1930s farm families did plenty of adjusting the grocery list according to the arrival of the egg and cream cheques from the creamery. Eggs sold for 5 cents a dozen and cream was $1.25 for a five-gallon can.
  • In 1933, the doctor’s fee for an appendectomy was $100 with the hospital stay costing $1.50 a day. Many families paid for medical services by supplying fresh vegetables to the hospital.
  • Perhaps better called Oakburn By the Numbers, between 1940 and 1983 the price of membership in the Oakburn National Home went from 25 cents to $10.
  • On June 25, 1982, a class of 16 Grade 12 students received their high school diplomas at the annual graduation exercises.
  • During the rural municipality’s centennial year celebrations, 170 floats participated in the parade held on July 18, 1984.

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            Frank Dodds (Shoal Lake Minute #18) was a sergeant with the North West Mounted Police, stationed at The Narrows at the south end of Shoal Lake. This story about Dodds comes via John Robertson Stalker, Shoal Lake resident and observer from 1909 to 1956. Stalker says, “Dodds claimed to have received from an Indian the last scalp taken in Manitoba while with the NWMP. The climax to this scalp is interesting. Having been born in Ireland, Frank made the trip home in the early days, taking the scalp with him.

            When entering the USA, his baggage was examined by Customs Officers and the scalp was held up with the inquiry as to what it might be. When told of its origins it was hurriedly dropped by a shaken officer – it was too near the time of the Custer massacre – and the scalper of Indians was hastily passed without further ado. The same examination was made at Liverpool with the same dramatic result. A visit to the Dublin Museum will show this scalp with the inscription, ‘Presented by Sergt Frank Dobbs of the NWMP. The last scalp taken by Indians in Manitoba, Canada.’”

            More recently there has been some action regarding retrieving the scalp and displaying it closer to its origins and historic significance. However, at least 135 years after it was taken, what remains of the scalp isn’t likely to be very impressive.

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            The handiest place for Shoal Lakers to escape the summer heat was Burlington Beach at the south end of the lake. Since few cars existed in town, getting there was the problem.

The Anemone's dock at the north end of Shoal Lake.

            In the summer of 1908, two of the village’s more enterprising spirits bought a boat to take people down the lake! T. W. Miller, a successful merchant and block owner, partnered with F. W. Wicks, part-owner of the first Ford dealership in town and Shoal Lake’s mayor from 1913 to 1919, and bought a 35-foot motor launch capable of carrying up to 25 people. It had a canopy top and open sides that offered an expansive view of the lake

The Anemone docked at the south end of Shoal Lake.

and shore as it cruised leisurely to and from the south end. When the Union Jack was flying over the boathouse, you knew the Anemone was out. If there was no flag, the boat was inside.

            With great diplomacy and public spirit, the naming of the new boat was left to Sunday school children who submitted their suggestions. The winner was little Mary Arnold, Mayor A. S. Arnold’s daughter, who chose the Manitoba flower, the Anemone. Her whole Sunday school class got a free ride in the boat as a result of her excellent naming.

            The boat was well used by the community but the season proved too short and, after a few years, the Anemone’s viability waned. One winter the boat was left on the south end shore and the ice damaged it beyond repair. It was a disappointment and the end of the Anemone.

Calm water, romantic evening, the closeness, the Anemone was often the scene of courting and sparking.

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            Every town has its quirks. Here a few from Shoal Lake’s past.

            The first Anglican Church service in Shoal Lake was held in 1886 in the waiting room of the railway station, led by a chaplain from the NWMP. Anglicans got a boost that year from a visit by Bishop Robert Machray (later Archbishop), Primate of All Canada, who came to set up services for Anglicans in the school, private homes and the room above the Hudson Bay store. He persuaded the Presbyterians to let them use their church for communion and baptisms.

            The Star commented in 1901 that local dogs had taken to accompanying their owners to church, often playing a prominent part in the musical program.

In 1905 edition of Henderson's Directory for Manitoba, The Shoal Lake Star ran this ad.

            That same year Shoal Lake’s first safecracking occurred. Burglars struck George Manson’s store netting over $1000 cash. The thieves were caught in Hamiota and Manson got his money back.

            Miss Manitoba 1933 was Miss M. Peden who worked at the Shoal Lake Royal Bank. Judged the most beautiful woman in the province, Miss Peden received $25. Since Firestone Tire Company sponsored the event, she was photographed with a Firestone Tire surrounding her head.

            Hometown baby boom? It was 1950. Dr. George Oliver reported there were twenty more births in Shoal Lake Hospital that year than in any previous year. The Frisky Fifties were underway! On a related note, Shoal Lake Collegiate boasted 103 students in 1966.

            Finally, in the Social and Personal section of the March 21, 1974 issue of The Shoal Lake Star, it was noted that streakers had been seen on The Drive on Friday night.

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            Unfortunately, I never knew either of my grandfathers but I do carry their names: James from Grandpa Dickie and Reid from Grandpa Murchie. I beg your indulgence as I’d like to share some stories about Grandpa Murchie.

            Alexander and Mary Murchie farmed just south of Ipswich. Of their six daughters, my mother, Helen, was the fourth. All that’s left of the homestead is an old spruce tree in a pasture.

            Alex was a large, ebullient man who possessed a special knack with technology and an expansive curiosity. Widely known for his ingenuity and skill with anything new and mechanical, Alex could look at a brand new binder and immediately tell you three ways to improve it.

Grandpa Murchie and his prize-winning four-horse hitch of Clydesdales, Shoal Lake Fair, 1920. That's Grandpa squatting in front of the team.

           The Shoal Lake Star dutifully reported his adventures.

            In 1916, Alex and bank manager Sewell went hunting, each bagging an elk. The head of Grandpa’s elk was mounted and won a prize at the Brandon Fair. Thereafter, it adorned the walls of the Shoal Lake bank.

            Grandpa Murchie surprised family and community by flying home from the 1919 Brandon Fair to inspect his farm then flying back to attend the rest of the fair. No word on who the pilot was.

            For a while, Grandpa Murchie held the record for highest price paid for beef in the district. He paid T. Badger $185 for a steer in 1920. G. D. Poole later bought a steer for $200. It was realized that both records were moot since J. H. McLean paid the highest price, $218 to W. J. Short, the previous fall.

            Alex Murchie died in Vancouver in 1942.

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  • In early December 1982, the History Book Committee, working on Volume 1 of Ripples on the Lake, sent off the first 183 family histories to the printer. The book was available for sale starting March 23, 1984 when editor Isobel Nicholson presented the first copy to Reeve Mike Antonation.
  • On August 3, 1976, Peter Charney delivered the first grain of the season to the elevator. His barley tested dry and weighed 48 pounds per bushel.
  • Starting on May 3, 1968, Shoal Lake merchants made a major change in their retail hours. Instead of opening Saturday nights, which had been the case for decades, merchants opened Friday nights until 9:30 instead.
  • Known as the Conscription Vote, on April 27, 1942 Canadians voted on this proposition: “Are you in favour of releasing the Government from any obligations arising out of any past commitments restricting the methods of raising men for military service?” 2.9 million Canadians voted yes, 1.6 million voted no. In Shoal Lake, 443 voted yes, 19 voted no.
  • In 1939, of the 54 branches of the Manitoba Egg and Poultry Pool, Shoal Lake made two Top Ten appearances: 7th in volume of business and 3rd in low operating costs.
  • From the Local and General column of a 1930 Shoal Lake Star: “It takes 1500 nuts to hold an automobile together but it takes only one nut to spread it all over the landscape.”
  • A five-pound carton of raisins sold for 78 cents in 1924 at Smellie Brothers General Store.
  • On unpleasant morning in January 1905, Shoal Lake thermometers registered 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

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             Marriage customs serve all sorts of purposes.

            Colloquially “rough music,” the charivari, as it is called in French and English Canada, or shivaree, a literal American spelling, is an old French folk custom dating from the Middle Ages. It entails a noisy mock serenade of newlyweds, usually outside their bedroom window on their wedding night. Some people called it belling or horning because, after quietly sneaking up to the window, pots and pans, bells, metal objects, horns and kettles caused a sudden discordant racket. Its early use in pagan times was an accepted marriage custom intended to drive evil spirits away from the marriage.

            Later masked or disguised participants employed charivari to protest socially disapproved marriages. A widow marrying before completing the socially acceptable period of mourning or an older person marrying a very young person might invoke such a charivari.  

            Charivari has been practiced in most of Canada, the American Midwest, New England, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana, and rural northern Pennsylvania. Its practice in Canada and the American Midwest returned the charivari to its celebratory roots, as a joyful send-off of the new couple.

            The Shoal Lake Star reported in 1918 that, when newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Charles Dandridge left for their honeymoon to Winnipeg, a large group of their friends greeted them at the Shoal Lake station with a good old-fashioned charivari. Ringing cowbells, banging pots and creating a great ruckus, the crowd grandly and good-naturedly sent the new bride and groom happily, if self-consciously, into their future. The couple went on to have four children.

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            One pressing issue Shoal Lake needed to address in 1912 was a new town hall to replace the small, inadequate municipal office at Station Road and The Drive. Council tried to pass a by-law to create the building but required legalization by the Law Amendments Committee of the Local Legislature. Despite some opposition, the bill passed with help from the local council and Huntley Malcolm, MPP

            Local contractor Edward Schneider was awarded the tender to build the new town hall for $11,850. In 1913 Council passed a bylaw providing another $4000 to complete and furnish the new building. Local craftsman Alfred Matcham molded and carved the stone and cement decorations. In April 1932 the final debenture on the town hall was paid.

Built in 1913, Shoal Lake's glorious old town hall with the bell tower to the right.

            The town hall was an imposing two-storey buff brick building with an elegant tower entrance protruding from its eastern façade. A smooth flowing dome topped with a tall flagpole crowned the entrance pavilion. The entrance was accessible by a wide stone staircase with domed lampposts. A bracketed pediment surmounted the exterior entry. Inside, the first floor contained town offices in dark well-oiled wood and frosted glass windows. A wide wooden staircase on the left led to the second floor, a large open room with surrounding windows offering a panoramic view of the town. The large room was used for council meetings and other important gatherings.

          In 1934, substantial renovation and upgrading was done to the interior of the town hall but the increasing upkeep and repair of the old place meant that by the 1980s, it was ready for demolition, which occurred at the end of August and early September 1985. The current town hall opened on October 1, 1986.

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            A model car club? Boss, Rat Fink. The mid-1960s was the time of hot rods, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Beach Boys car songs. A group of motor-minded Shoal Lake teenagers formed the Road Knights Car Club to meet and build model cars. The group’s core was Dennis Lewycky, Andy Edmundson, Ted Hart and Morris Twerdochlib. Their names are inscribed on the brass plate on a painting hanging in the lounge of Morley House. The Knights held a well-attended model car show on December 19, 1965 in the basement of the Buffalo Plains Inn, showing model cars and offering prizes. Jim Kennedy had the champion car. The profits went toward purchasing the picture for the soon-to-be opened retirement complex. The picture still hangs in Morley House. Emerging interests shifted the Road Knights’ attention and the club soon disbanded.

Click to see article and picture of the car club from Brandon Sun

The names in the caption are out of order. From the left, Ted Hart, Dennis Lewycky, Andy Edmundson and Morris Twerdochlib.

            An iron lung?  Gratefully. The Englishman man who designed MG and Morris Minor cars, William Morris, later Lord Nuffield, was a great philanthropist. He created Nuffield College, later part of Oxford University. Medicine was of keen interest to him and he gave endowments for health services to be provided far afield. The Shoal Lake Star reported in 1940 that the iron lung donated by the Nuffield Foundation had arrived from England. It would help those stricken with polio. However, the machine was too large for the hospital and had to be installed and operated in the town hall instead.

            A Munitions Factory? Boom boom. World War I was raging and the troops needed ammo. The paper reported in March 1916 that the Shoal Lake munitions factory was operating overtime to keep up with the demand from overseas! I don’t know what they built and have never found another reference to it. Anyone have more information?

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             War brings out the best and worst in people. Returning soldiers, the survivors, need the compassionate care of their community to help heal from the horrors of their ordeal. After both World Wars, Shoal Lake held special events that honoured returned soldiers.

The menu and program for the 1919 Welcome Home Banquet for returning veterans of WWI.

            On April 21, 1919, the local chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) held a banquet in the Masonic Hall to honour the returning troops. Under the kind and considerate toast master and chairman Mayor Ross, the evening included many toasts to the King, guests, departed heroes, our town, and, of course, the IODE ladies. Local entertainers performed musical numbers. The menu included Waldorf salad, sugar cured ham, young spring turkeys and chickens, hot rolls and tarts, cakes, jellies and desserts including ice cream and homemade candy.

            Largely due to the efforts of lawyer and police magistrate George Lauman, soldiers returning to the Shoal Lake district after WW II were welcomed with a special day as well. It was held June 5, 1946 in the Shoal Lake fairgrounds. There was a gala parade to the fairgrounds with a band, veterans and schoolchildren marching down Station Road, turning west along The Drive to the event. The Honourable R. F. McWilliams, Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, was on hand and made presentations to the ex-servicemen and woman.

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  • The Hudson’s Bay Company store in Shoal Lake was paying 15 cents a dozen for farm fresh eggs in 1899.
  • There were 38 births in the village and rural municipality of Shoal Lake in the first six months of 1913. A virtual baby boom!
  • An acre of land in Shoal Lake Municipality set you back $31 in 1916.
  • Stanley Hargreaves picked himself up a new cream separator at the Manitoba Cow Testing Association contest in 1924. He had the best grade dairy cow which gave 10,806 pounds of milk resulting in 474 pounds of butter. Stanley also won $25 for the best grade dairy herd.
  • In the 1930s, oats sold for 10 cents a bushel, barley for 12 cents and wheat for 36 cents. George Reid recalls winning the first prize heavy steer at the Birtle Fat Stock Show in March 1936. It sold for 5 cents a pound!
  • In the annual Shoal Lake Star largest potato contest, the 1936 winner was Wes Strong with a tater tipping the scales at 2 pounds 4 ounces.
  • For the 1937 Shoal Lake Agricultural Society fair, a prize was offered for the largest family attending the fair. Joe Boyer won by bringing all 10 of his kids.
  • In 1953 when hydro arrived in Oakburn, the bill was $3.60 a month. Telephone arrived in 1958 with a $2.25 monthly bill.
  • In July 1986, the Western Bar Association presented retired Shoal Lake lawyer George Lauman with a plaque for his 66 years of service.
  • That same year the Shoal Lake Lions Club donated $7,000 towards building three new baseball diamonds at the fairgrounds.

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        This might fit better under Things You Thought Shoal Lake Never Had, but for a good many years after 1899, the Shoal Lake Brass Band entertained Shoal Lakers at  many events. It was reported in 1899 that the newly formed band would be performing weekly concerts for local citizens.

            It is believed the first band was started by Henry

The band played on. Shoal Lake Brass Band.

 Pearce, a bandmaster with the British Imperial Army who had been posted around the world, usually to warmer climes. He came to Shoal Lake and ran a dray operation but always maintained his interest in music. He created the first Shoal Lake band and for a number of years thereafter, ran the band with the strict discipline of a British Sergeant Major.

            The Brass Band played an important role at the annual Grain Growers Picnic which attracted thousands of people to Shoal Lake in early July. The Brass Band met arriving picnickers at the station and played them through the decorated streets to the fairgrounds for the picnic.

            One of the major fund-raising events for the Shoal Lake Brass Band was an elegant ball. The tradition started in 1902 and was so successful it became an annual event.

            Mr. Lathrope took over leadership of the fourteen-piece brass band and ran it for a number of years starting about 1915.

            The Shoal Lake Brass Band contributed more than just music to the community. They were somewhat of a service organization and, reportedly, donated “ham, pies and tarts” to the Cottage Hospital in 1903.

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            Born in Ontario in 1873, pioneer Alexander McLean’s son John Henry was an enthusiastic sportsman and horseman who, in his youth, raced standard bred horses and showed hackney horses. Leaving the family farm in 1901, he ran a cattle and butcher business in Hamiota. In 1903, J. H. moved to Shoal Lake. That same year he married Ruth Westover and raised a family of six in a house on South Chestnut. J. H. served on the town council for several years and managed Shoal Lake’s winning 1913-14 hockey team. He gained a wide reputation as a cattle and horse buyer, and automobile and implement dealer.

J. H. McLean and his family from Ripples on the Lake Volume One

            J. H. unloaded a huge shipment of farm implements in April 1907, making him one of the largest dealerships in western Manitoba. After a number of successful years, disaster struck in 1916 when a fire wiped out his office and warehouse. J. H. needed new digs. Marshall House, one of the oldest buildings in the village, was being demolished so J. H. purchased the land and opened his new garage and implement dealership on The Drive in August 1917.

            In 1923, J. H. sold the business to John Morrison & Sons of Winnipegosis then, two years later, in partnership with W. Hunter, bought the business back from Morrison. The business then stayed in the McLean family for almost fifty more years. J. H.’s son Clarence ran the company after he passed away in 1952 after a long illness. The business stayed in the family until 1974 when long-time employee Bill Stebnicki purchased it. 

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             Organized at a meeting in Brandon in March 1903, the Manitoba Grain Growers Association aimed to unite and educate disparate prairie grain farmers so they could defend themselves against the large grain marketing companies. Influential on several fronts – after 1908, the GGA published a farm newspaper called The Grain Growers Guide to air the concerns of farmers – many of their recommendations became provincial policy.

            Shoal Lake’s central location and other amenities attracted the annual Grain Growers Picnic, held the first week of July every summer from about 1903 until 1927. Special excursion trains brought hundreds of picnickers from 20 regional communities to the picnic.

The Drive festooned with bowers welcoming visitors by rail and by car to the 1912 Grain Grower's Picnic.


           One of the important jobs of the Shoal Lake Brass Band was to greet arriving picnickers at the station and march them down The Drive under arched, decorated bowers. Dozens of families drove to the event, which was held in the fairgrounds with its sports facilities and lively view of the lake and the little town beyond. Attendance steadily increased until a record-breaking crowd of 4200 people attended the picnic in 1917.

            As their major fundraiser, the Anglican WA served thousands of meals to the picnickers from 1909 to 1927. Full course meals including cream and lemon pies cost adults fifty cents, twenty-five cents for children. Athletic activities – baseball, races and events for all ages – worked up appetites.

Some of the thousands who attened the Grain Grower's Picnic in 1916.

            In 1920 an airplane was the main attraction at the picnic with Mr. & Mrs. A. S. Arnold taking the first thrilling flight. The next year the airplane, on its first flight, crashed causing itself $800 damage and a few scrapes for Mr. Arnold.

            For the duration of the Grain Growers’ Picnics, Thomas Hurst was the official gatekeeper, vigilant and thorough.

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  •  The price of wheat in Manitoba in 1899 opened at 54 to 58 cents a bushel.
  • F. W. Wicks was offering money to loan for approved first mortgages at 8% interest in 1922.
  • One of the more popular features at the 1925 Shoal Lake Fair was a Dynamometer. It tested the pulling ability of teams of horses. Fair winner was Neil Simpson’s team which pulled 3350 lbs.
  • Sweet clover was a popular forage crop in the 1920s. Eight thousand pounds of its seed was sold to area farmers in 1928, a 100% increase over the amount sold just two years before.
  • Thornbeck’s General Store ran an eye-catching and unusual display is their store window in 1931. One group has two sacks of flour representing $31 in 1921. The other group had six bags of flour and a number of other items representing what $31 would buy in his store today.
  • In 1932, to keep your icebox cool, the Nunn Brothers would cut and deliver a load of lake ice for 75 cents, 50 cents if you picked it up yourself.
  • For the second year running, in 1982 the Shoal Lake Star was the top paper in the under 1500-circulation class in Manitoba. It was judged to have the best editorial page and the second best front page and typography.
  • The 16th Annual Shoal Lake School Science Fair, held in March 1986, drew 65 individual projects.

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            Against a backdrop of mature spruce trees and overlooking the lake, Shoal Lake’s war memorial stands on The Drive south of the old hospital. The cenotaph features the names of 44 men from WW I and 23 men from WWII, all from Shoal Lake and district, who died in combat. 

Shoal Lake's War Memorial

            Shoal Lake Legion Branch No. 72 raised $2500 after WWII for the cenotaph. Ada Mary Beaton, whose son Herbert J. Beaton was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and perished in WWII, willed $1000 for the cenotaph in 1952.

            To commemorate her lost son and others who died in the war, Ada Beaton bequeathed the large clock, which adorned the high face of the old town hall’s entry pavilion. The unveiling of a memorial plaque and official dedication ceremony for the clock was held on January 20, 1955. Don Kennedy presided over the occasion, which featured full attendance by Legion members and Ladies Auxiliary.

Herbert J. Beaton

             The town clock gave fairly reliable service for nearly three decades before the demolition of the old hall in 1983/84. Part of the clock was moved to the new town hall and is displayed on the façade of the current building.

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             As the 1920s ended, Shoal Lake was on the upbeat. It had a new school, new hospital and new elevator; all built over two years to serve a population of 770. Highways 42 and 21 were under construction.  However, 1928 was “the winter of no snow.” Subsequently farmers were lucky to harvest one load in 1929. Cash was getting scarce. Passenger rail service cut from daily to three times a week in 1931 signaled national hard times.

            In summer 1932, large numbers of transients passed through town on their way to nowhere in particular, many seeking scarce harvest work, others just drifting.

            Shoal Lake Fair was the only fair between Neepawa and the Saskatchewan border in 1933, a symptom of the depth of the depression. Local farmers fared slightly better than those in southern Manitoba where drought, rust and grasshoppers destroyed every crop. A number of people moved from the Deloraine area to Shoal Lake.

            The May 12, 1934 issue of the Star reports dust and more dust with the volume increasing over the previous few weeks. That week the town experienced its most severe dust storm. In a freakish bit of weather, on August 23, 1934 Shoal Lake received snow flurries.

            The drought left water levels on the lake extremely low. Unattractive without a beach, the south end went into decline; most cottages were moved away. With no money for gas, horses staged a resurgence of use during the 1930s.

            Patience, perseverance and ingenuity paid off and Shoal Lake shook off the dust and carried on.

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            After owning and prospering from the Shoal Lake Creamery for 56 years, the Smellie Brothers sold the business to the Manitoba Co-Operative Dairies Ltd., locally known as ManCo, in 1960.

            The Shoal Lake Creamery had been a financially successful enterprise for many decades, employing large numbers of local people and supporting many farm families. Eventually new production methods and technologies caused ManCo to centralize, moving operations to Brandon. In  September 1989, Shoal Lake Creamery closed for good.

Manco's fleet of refrigerated trucks from Shoal Lake Creamery.

            What was ManCo anyway?  

            The Manitoba Co-Operative Dairies Ltd. was incorporated in 1920 with its purchase of the Manitoba Creamery Company. In 1927, ManCo merged with the Manitoba Poultry Marketing Association to form the Manitoba Dairy & Poultry Co-Operative Ltd. ManCo continued acquiring creameries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. By 1940, they were one of Manitoba’s largest producers of dairy products and distributors of poultry and eggs.

            In the 1950s, the Co-Operative expanded their operations to include several cheese plants. By 1976, ManCo’s sales were almost $28 million with net earnings of over $6 million. In 1982, the Co-Op’s name was changed back to Manitoba Co-Operative Dairies, then, in 1986, to Co-Operative Dairies Ltd. In 1996, ManCo became a subsidiary of Dairyworld Foods (Dairyland).

            The University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections preserves a once-common element of farmer’s lives. In 1994, Nellie McComb donated a laminated certificate identifying James E. McComb of Shoal Lake MB as the owner of two one-dollar shares of Manitoba Dairy & Poultry Co-Operative Ltd.

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            The simple answer is yes.

            During World War II, many German military captives were sent to Canada and lived in camps “for safekeeping.” Riding Mountain National Park was the site of a large Department of National Defense prisoner-of-war camp. It had already been used for similar purposes with the work camps during the Depression.

            As an extension of the Riding Mountain camp, in 1946 the Shoal Lake Fairgrounds was turned into a POW camp with the men using the fair buildings for cooking and dining and sleeping in tents.

            Every day farmers would come and take a few men to do the stooking, some had the men live on their farms during the harvest. Paying the POWs was not allowed so they were rewarded with cigarettes, beers, candy and so on. The farmers or companies paid the camp personnel for the prisoners’ work.

            This was a handy and ironic situation. The POWs relieved the shortage of men to work on farms, lumber camps and other industries because Canadian men were all in Europe, creating POWs to do their jobs back in Canada.

            The camp aroused much public curiosity in Shoal Lake and district but stringent regulations ensured everyone’s safety.

            In the fall of 1946, the Germans were returned home, most arriving in time for Christmas with their families. Some former POWs sent Christmas cards to their new Canadian friends for years afterward.

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            The original building on this site was the Hamilton Block built by Robert Smiley Hamilton about 1899. The first Hamilton Block was north of the tracks but burned in 1889. The Hamilton Block’s main floor housed several businesses; the upper floor was residential. It would have looked impressive next to the distinguished town hall. When the Hamilton Block was torn down in 1951, it was the second oldest building in Shoal Lake.

            In accordance with the designs and materials of the time – the early 1950s – Shoal Lake’s new Federal Building has a boxy International architectural style in dependable red brick. Called American bond, every seventh row features the heads rather than the sides of the brick. The flat roof and front overhang give further horizontal movement complementing the prairie horizon. Local contractor Dawson Findlay built the Federal Building.

            The post office moved into the new Federal Building in September 1954 with the official opening October 22. Over 500 people turned up to witness the Honourable Stuart Garson, Minister of Justice, cut the ribbon and hand the keys over to postmaster Les Stimpson. Campbell Findlay was custodian of place for 25 years working for Department of Public Works. Over the years, the building has housed RCMP officers and their families and offered meeting rooms for 4-H Club, A. A., Al-Anon, and other organizations.

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  • Shoal Lake Pharmacy advertised Beef, Iron and Wine, a good Spring Tonic, at $1 a bottle, or six for $4.50. It was 1906.
  • In 1918, the quota for Shoal Lake Municipality in Victory Bonds, to support the war, was $125,000. As of November 14, just $80,000 had been bought.
  • As a token of respect to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who had died two days earlier, at 9:30 AM on February 19, 1919, the business and trains of the Canadian Pacific Railway can to a halt for one minute.
  • A couple of weeks after the 1932 summer fair, a fire wiped out two horse barns, 22 pigpens and about 200 feet of fence at the fairgrounds. Cost of the loss was $800.
  • Her name was Primrose DeKol Wayne, she was five years old and a prized member of the team. She was a purebred Holstein cow, one of Nesbitt and Martin’s outstanding herd. Over the 1943 test year, Primrose produced 19 quarts of milk every day.
  • The first births of 1953 at Shoal Lake Hospital were the twin boys of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Twerdun. Bob and Barry arrived on January 3. Coincidentally, the last births in the hospital in 1952 were also twin boys to Mr. and Mrs. Wilber Cassells.
  • Five thousand yearling rainbow trout were released into Shoal Lake in 1965.
  • The Shoal Lake Minor Sports Association held a skate-a-thon on Boxing Day 1969. The event raised $1200 with just three skaters out of 65 completing the grueling 14-hour event: Myles Buchanan, Delwin Wiberg and Mari-Ann Fowlie.
  • In January 1986, Mike Kachan caught  a 6 ¼ pound jackfish through the ice on Shoal Lake.

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             My Dad, Bruce Dickie, was the Texaco fuel consignee in Shoal Lake in the late 1950s and 1960s. His office and fuel tanks sat right along the tracks. The fuel came in by tanker cars, delivered more or less to the site where they could be pumped into the storage tanks. Using a huge heavy pinch bar, Dad and I maneuvered the full tank cars into exact position, always with some short two by fours nearby in case the car gained its own momentum and had to be stopped.

            Standing on the Texaco loading dock when a fast freight sped by, I could smell the hot cinders in the track bed mixed with the acrid aroma of diesel smoke and the swirling dust in the train’s wake, the howl of its whistle echoing in my ears as it disappeared in the distance.

            Working with Dad next to the tracks gave me a familiarity and comfort with trains. From that sprang the idea of hitching a ride in an empty boxcar down the tracks to Strathclair ten miles away, hoping the train stopped, then jumping out and hitchhiking back to Shoal Lake. When I was around 12 or 13 I secretly did this a time or two on my own but found it much more satisfying with an accomplice. My cohort-in-danger shall remain nameless but suffice it to say when his parents discovered our escapade and shared it with mine, our train-hitching days ended abruptly and sternly.

            I do not recommend this activity to anyone.

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            A stagecoach line? You ride shotgun. In the 1870s, before the railway arrived with its passenger service, stagecoaches plied the rough prairie roads, often little more than rutted trails, delivering loads of supplies and people. Early Shoal Lake entrepreneur Frank Miller operated an area stagecoach line and his brother-in-law Angus McBain drove the coach between Minnedosa and Shellmouth via Shoal Lake. During the 1885 Rebellion, the local aboriginals were especially dependent on the stagecoach for their supplies. After railways provided freight and passenger service, stagecoaches disappeared into the movies.

            A tractor club? Darn tootin. Wilbert Short organized a 4-H Tractor Club in 1953 that taught about a dozen boys the fundamentals of  farm tractors including operating, maintaining and understanding their operation. Members attended rallies and did public speaking.

            A Hudson’s Bay store? Decreed so. Originally just a small trading post at the South End, The Company saw the potential of growing villages like Shoal Lake. Opened in 1886, their store sold general household and farming goods. As with many early commercial buildings, the store occupied the first floor and the second floor was an open, general-purpose area used for meetings, church services and shows. A fire wiped out the Hudson’s Bay store in 1902, ending The Company’s presence in Shoal Lake.

            A Mother’s Club? Luckily. Mothers banded together in the early 1950s to provide preschoolers with kindergarten lessons. Once the school system adopted kindergarten as part of its mandate, the Mother’s Club began providing nursery school. This is a fine example of citizens leading their communities into the future by providing necessary education then watching government play catch-up.

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  • The United Grain Growers inland terminal style facility in Shoal Lake’s Industrial Park, which opened in July 2000, is 131 feet high and has eight silos. Its capacity is 25,000 tonnes or one million bushels.
  • In late 1987, a Manitoba Traffic Board ruling called for an 80 km/hr slowdown zone to be established along Highway 16 on both sides of Shoal Lake. Mayor Bill Lewycky called it “a major victory.” One month later, the slowdown zone was implemented.
  • Shoal Lake Collegiate athletes Pat Doan and Ray Cochrane set records at the Divisional Track Meet in 1969. Doan set a record for primary boy’s high jump at 5 feet 3 inches. Cochrane broke the 100-yard dash record with a time of 11.1 seconds. He also won the 200-yard dash with a time of 25.6 seconds. At the provincial meet, Cochrane brought home two fourths and a fifth.
  • At the Avalon Theatre in Shoal Lake in the early 1950s, adults paid 60 cents and students 40 cents to see a movie. Children under 13 were admitted free. Students were only allowed to sit in the first seven rows from the screen.
  • In 1912, Shoal Lake boasted seven elevators. Two were owned by private grain buyers Charles Morgan and A. S. Arnold. The Manitoba government owned the other five which brought their total to 174 province wide.
  • A ton of coal cost $5.25 and two cords of wood cut and ready for the stove set you back $8 in December of 1904.

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3 Responses to 60 SL Minutes

  1. Toni Ireland Raugust says:

    My father grew up in the area. (John Ireland) William Walter Ireland joined the British Royal Navey as a ships steward at 13. he later obtained the rank of second Captain withthe title Esquire by the kind. william brough settlers from ireland, Scotland and England to Canada to start a colony that would be the town of Binscarth. They came on a ship called the HMS Pheonix. We understand that the Ireland family owned a fleet of ships. Confirmation regarding the Irelands of Binscarth was confirmed by two passengers of the ship Mrs Hilda Workman (Corder) and Louis Smyth. If you would like more information on this family or pictures please contact me Toni (Ireland) I may add that my grandfather was a friend of John Tanner. My dad shared stories and a gift that was given to my grandfather by John Tanner.


  2. dorothy wakely says:

    very interesting write up . i do not know schoal lake mb., but i used to go to school at kelloe mb., town is not there that is in 1936/ 1940 is there anyone around that would remember the school i was told there is a percy ewanation living in wpg., that went to school there in 1935, can anyone fill me in i would sure appreciate it.


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