Shoal Lake Snapshots focus on the events of a particular year in Shoal Lake’s history.
SHOAL LAKE SNAPSHOT 1884
In 1884, there wasn’t a village formally known as Shoal Lake quite yet but the newly minted Rural Municipality of Shoal Lake was formed that year, part of the County of Shoal Lake and Russell. John Menzies became the municipality’s first reeve in January 1884, defeating Charles Findlay by five votes. Menzies was re-elected reeve three more times, holding the position non-consecutively until 1906.
Settlement began at The Narrows at the south end of the lake in 1875 when the North West Mounted Police sent a detachment to monitor traffic along the Carlton Trail. This little force with a barracks, stable and guardhouse by a shallow lake planted the seeds of Shoal Lake. It was the town’s genesis.
Once the Police arrived, settlers offered goods and services to support the force that sometimes reached several dozen policemen plus their mounts. An important role for NWMP posts in the fresh West was to act as mail depots. Mail arrived at The Narrows three times a week from Minnedosa, which also had the nearest telegraph, railroad station and express depot.
By 1884, Henderson’s Directory says the population at The Narrows was 35 people. The settlement around the NWMP barracks included a public school with one teacher, two hotels – Queen’s Hotel (operated by Graham Chambers and Hugh McKay) and Marshall House (Andrew Marshall’s inn) – two blacksmiths, a pump maker and two general stores – one run by Robert Scott, the other by Thomas Parkinson who was also the postmaster. Other businesses included two clerks, butcher, livery and feed stable, carpenter and real estate agent.
Education was available for the children of the pioneers. Edgehill #130 opened in 1881, Culross #185 in 1882 and Raven Lake #287, closest to The Narrows, in 1883.
The busiest man in the little settlement was A. R. McDougall who was secretary-treasurer of Shoal Lake Municipality, Justice of the Peace (one of two available), issuer of marriage licenses and secretary-treasurer of the Shoal Lake School Division. His homestead was just east of The Narrows.
A stagecoach line serviced the settlement providing rides and freighting to Minnedosa on Mondays and Fridays, returning the next day. Presbyterian Church services were held every two weeks. Besides the NWMP, a constable maintained law and order.
Although life was difficult and the amenities spartan, the little cluster of people at the bottleneck on the Carlton Trail foresaw their future among the rolling hills of western Manitoba.
SHOAL LAKE SNAPSHOT 1912
The previous year did not end well for Shoal Lake. On Christmas morning 1911, the urgent clanging of the fire bell awakened the citizenry. A fire north of the tracks destroyed several businesses including the Jubilee Hotel, Allan McDonald’s livery barn, Lizett Harness Maker and the Gareau Block, a business and residential building.
One effect of the blaze was to reaffirm the business section along Station Road while diminishing it north of the tracks. The settlement had first flourished along North Railway Avenue but several disastrous fires provoked the move southward.
In 1912, according to the provincial directory, 42 Shoal Lake businesses had telephones, of them, 19 were on Station Road. It was an impressive main street for a prairie village. The offices of Dr. W. H. Brothers, Dr. A. Leishman and veterinarian Dr. Robert Lawson opened onto Station Road. On the east corner at The Drive, the new Findlay Block accommodated Charleson’s General Store, W. E. Arens the druggist and Magistrate William Ingersoll.
Three hardware stores (Eakins and Griffin, Miller and Smellie and J. D. McLean), two general stores (Charleson’s and Smellie Brothers), Cann’s Restaurant, Coulson Jewelers, two solicitors (G. Eakins and Mervyn C. Markle), Findlay Lumber, Keyser the Butcher, and Greenwood & Son Harness, Leather and Shoemaker all operated on Station Road. Burned out in 1911, Frank Miller was rebuilding his block on Station Road. The Masonic Hall (where Choy’s is today), Municipal Office and Union Bank completed the Road.
The major employer was Shoal Lake Creamery, owned by the Smellie Brothers. Three implement dealers served the growing number of second-generation farmers in the area: J. H. McLean and Kennedy Implements on The Drive and Alexander Menzies on North Railway. There was also Herbert Sykes Livery on Fourth Avenue, Martin Bakery on South Railway, the Star Office on The Drive and two draymen, Bunn and Middleton.
Lined up along the horizon Shoal Lake had seven elevators with a 1912 capacity well over 200,000 bushels. Five were Manitoba Government elevators, leased to United Grain Growers who only operated three.
Since the railway provided the main access to Shoal Lake at the time, clustered around the CPR station were the Albion Hotel, Marshall House and, until they burned down, the Jubilee Hotel and Lakeview House.
The 1912 Shoal Lake phone book listed 170 numbers, 96 in town and 74 farms. The previous year farms started to be connected on a large scale with 67 hooking up. In town, listings included 53 residences and 43 businesses.
Village telephone numbers started at 1 and went up from there. Frank Miller’s phone number was 1 since his block housed the telephone office. Rural numbers were on party lines so, in order to know who should answer the call, there was a higher base number, say 114, then ring 13, meaning one long and 3 short rings. If you were “ring 13,” you answered. If you weren’t 13 but snoopy, you might listen in.
Five years before, the passing of a “benzene buggy” might have elicited cries of “Get a horse!” from bystanders. By 1912, Shoal Lake Municipality, which included Strathclair, Oakburn and Solsgirth, boasted 32 automobiles. An everyday sight, 19 of them were in Shoal Lake, eight in Strathclair, four in Oakburn and one in Solsgirth.
In order to get a driving license, you had to supply a great deal of information about yourself, including full name, birth year and place, marital status, ethnicity, religion, occupation and address. Thanks to the Manitoba Historical Society, I obtained the 1912 list of all the car owners in Shoal Lake Municipality: models, license numbers plus the above information about each.
Cars were an obvious status symbol at the time and their owners were the successful elite in the district. Of the 32 cars in the municipality, farmers owned 14 of them, the next largest group was merchants with 6 cars among them. Farmers expressed a strong preference for Ford vehicles. Three lumbermen (all the owners were men), two implement dealers, a bailiff, hotelkeeper, physician, butcher, baker and livery operator owned the rest. The average owner’s age was just over 40 with the youngest driver being 22 and the oldest 61.
The most popular model was Ford, not surprising since Shoal Lake had a large Ford dealership on The Drive run by Wicks and Kennedy. Of the 32 cars, eleven were Fords, six were EMFs (Everitt, Metzer and Flanders), five were McLaughlins, with two Overlands, two Cadillacs and two Regals. As well, there was a Tudhope, a Reo, an International and a Mitchell. The only person to own more than one car was Oakburn storekeeper Donald A. Menzies who owned two Cadillacs.
Presbyterians were most likely to be car owners (they tended to drive McLaughlins). Anglicans and Methodists were next with a couple of Baptists tempted as well. Scotsmen, listed as “Scotch”, owned the most cars followed by Englishman, Germans and Irish. Most of the drivers were married with six single men and two widowers also reported.
In the early 1900s, there was influx of young people from Ontario. Many had sought farms there but arable land was at a premium. Most of it had been bought up and was under cultivation. Many second or third generation Ontario farmers headed west to seek their own farmland. Sixteen of Shoal Lake car owners were born in Ontario. Five Brits and 5 Manitobans were next with Scotland, U.S.A. and New Brunswick filling in the rest. Vehicles licenses were sequential using only numerals. Shoal Lake municipality license numbers ranged between 224 (James McTavish’s McLaughlin) and 3805 (Daniel McMurachy’s Ford).
Shoal Lake’s 1912 population was about 700 people. The political landscape saw William J. Short as Reeve and Alfred S. Arnold as mayor, his second non-consecutive term. The newly incorporated village had a different mayor every year from its inception in 1909 until 1913 when Frederick W. Wicks, co-owner of the Ford dealership, won election and held the position until 1919. Long serving Frank Dodds was secretary for the municipality, village and agricultural society. The postmaster was E. C. Castell.
One of the pressing issues village council needed to address in 1912 was a new town hall for the freshly designated community. They tried to pass a by-law to create the building but it needed to be legalized by the Law Amendments Committee of the Local Legislature. Though there was some opposition, the bill passed with help from Huntley Malcolm, M. P. P. and the local council. The council opted to build on the site of the small and inadequate municipal office at Station Road and The Drive.
Other noteworthy events in 1912 included council setting the village tax rate at 30 mills on the dollar. Shoal Lake’s first school newspaper came out in 1912, edited by the senior class. Mayor Arnold had the first electrical system in town installed in his house.
In 1912, the Dominion of Canada purchased seed grain from several local farmers – William Short, Fred Findlay, Frank Wherrett, Alfred Nicholson and John Hurst – because it had been highly praised for its cleanliness by the government inspector.
In April, many of the churches held services mourning the huge loss of life when the Titanic sank. Shoal Lake Star Editor H. J. Newman was moved to comment, “The bravery of the men who obeyed the ‘women first’ rule on the lost Titanic is the brightest ray which has pierced the dark cloud which hangs over the Newfoundland Banks.”
Summer in early Shoal Lake offered many diversions for young and old with the summer fair, chautauqua and, in the first week of July, the annual Grain Grower’s Picnic. The winter of 1912 kicked off carnivals, ice fishing and the Shoal Lake hockey team’s season.
One oddity about 1912: there were 38 births in the village and municipality of Shoal Lake in the first six months of 1913. A virtual baby boom!
In 1913, the Shoal Lake hockey team’s winning streak took them all the way to the provincial amateur championship beating Brandon for the title. At a cost of $11, 850, council hired Edward Snider to build the new town hall, a very distinguished stately building for a small village. (Shoal Lake’s third town hall stands on the same site.) In a move of grand foresight, council also passed a money by-law for $15,000 to install an electric light plant to serve the village with hydro. The plant building still stands behind the town hall and has served in many capacities over the decades. The lights went on in Shoal Lake and so did life.
SHOAL LAKE SNAPSHOT 1961
As 1960 ended, the topics Shoal Lakers debated over coffee at Patterson’s Grill and Gim’s Café included the Smellie Brothers selling the creamery to ManCo, the Mounties starting to use radar to catch speeders and whether or not to become “a village with water.” That meant spending $199,000 to bring water and sewer service to a good portion of the community.
In a special edition of The Shoal Lake Star, devoted completely to the waterworks issue and published a week before the referendum on January 6, 1961, Mayor Cassel Snyder wrote a long piece supporting the plan. Snyder touted the benefits as bringing industry to the town, lowering insurance rates while raising property values, encouraging people to build new houses in town and bringing local sanitation into the 20th century. A well-attended public meeting in the town hall on January 4 convinced people, resulting in a positive outcome for the plan. (The new water and sewer system was a deciding factor in my family building a house on Fourth Avenue in 1962.)
The Shoal Lake Hospital received a grant for $15,120 to convert to the new water and sewer system. By June, the trenching to install the pipes was underway all over town. Star editor Elgin Hurst commented that after a long hot summer much of the community could look forward to “the first winter not having to make unpleasant trips to the town well or even more unpleasant journeys to the backyard.” By fall, a majority of the homes in Shoal Lake had hot and cold running water and flush toilets. The outhouse was on the way out.
Typically, towns with newly opened waterworks commemorate the event with a biffy burning. While some places gathered dozens of outhouses into a pile for burning, Shoal Lake took the more symbolic path, burning just one biffy in the park at a well-attended and joyous ceremony in the fall of 1961.
Voters returned to decide in another referendum on March 6, 1961, this time regarding a debenture of $140,000 to build a new eight-room elementary school plus an auditorium. On March 3, the Shoal Lake Star published another special issue with Mayor Snyder, Chairman of the Civic Betterment Committee C. W. McLean, Reeve Mike Antonation and R. B. Stevenson, Chairman of the Shoal Lake Consolidated School Board writing in support of the spending. They needn’t have worried. The by-law easily passed 360 for, 20 against. Construction began and, before the Christmas holiday closure, classes were being held in the new building.
The Shoal Lake Figuring Skating Club gave its first performance at the 1961 ice carnival. That spring the town’s first sportsman’s dinner was held, honouring Winnipeg Blue Bomber Joe Zaleski, Chicago Black Hawk Billy Mosienko and baseball coach Curly Hass.
In 1961, the biggest day of the week in Shoal Lake was Saturdays, especially Saturday nights. Farms families came to town on Saturday night to shop, go to the movies, attend a wedding, knock back a few at the hotel, gossip or just generally enjoy the company. Parked vehicles lined Station Road all day and all night on Saturdays. By 1961, after decades of trying to get motorists to park at a 45-degree angle, drivers got the hang of it, making parking somewhat less chaotic on Saturday nights.
The new elementary school and newly renovated high school (the red brick building) had their official openings in 1962. Business growth included four new rooms at Hunter’s Paradise Motel; Shust Motors added an auto body repair and paint shop and Snyder’s Hardware completed their warehouse facilities.
In 1962, the Shoal Lake Improvement Association formed to expedite expanding the park and recreation facilities in the town and district. The Lions’ Club started construction of the 800-foot dam spanning the lake in September and installing a pumping station, at a cost of about $1700.
The outcomes of the two 1961 referendums and the other Shoal Lake initiatives, while having obvious and needed benefits for the community, also reflect a sense of optimism, which ignited as the 1960s began and flourished as the decade proceeded.