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4.The First Settlers by A. B. Estlin

The first white settler we have any record of was Charles West. He was living, or rather existing, in a dugout shanty on the west bank of the Souris River, near, or in, the grove, when Walter F. Thomas and his companions, James Kinley and Alfred Dugay, arČrived there in December 1879.
How West had managed to live is a mystery, as he had no provisions of any sort, and not even a gun. It was said he had fallen out with the Hudson's Bay Company, and was a fugitive. Nothing more is known of him, as he left the vicinity the next spring. Thomas located a claim, and he and his two companČions built a log shanty, and lived in it that winter, until their provisions got low, when Thomas had to make the long journey to Fort Garry to replenish them. During the winter a gang of men arrived at the camp on their way to Roche Percee. Roche Percee, or the Pierced Rock, is about 100 miles nearly due west of Sourisford on the Souris River, which crosses the International Boundary line a few miles south of Roche Percee, runs south, and then turns east, makČing a big semicircular bow called by the Americans the big bend of the Mouse River, Souris being the French for Mouse. It then runs north again, and re-enters Canada about ten miles south of Sourisford. The country round Roche Percee was found to be underlaid with lignite coal, which, in places, came up to the surface. It was mixed with clay, and prairie fires had burned away the coal, leaving the clay in mounds and pillars of all sorts of queer shapes, one large mound has a large hole in it, hence the name "Pierced Rock".

This gang of men was sent by Hugh Sutherland of Winnipeg and some of his associates. They were to build three scows, dig enough coal out of the river, or creek banks to load them, and float them down the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers to Winnipeg. They needed more help, and wanted Thomas to go with them, but as the country had all been burned over by a prairie fire the previous fall, Thomas was afraid there would be no feed for the ponies on the journey back. Finally Alfred Dugay agreed to go, taking one of Thomas' ponies, which the foreman of the gang agreed to return in good shape, or replace. Shortly after this Thomas left for Fort Garry, or Winnipeg, got his provisions, and came back via Emerson, along the Commission Trail. When he got to the shanty, he found that he had new neighbours, as Alfred Gould and David Elliott had come in, bought West’s claim and taken possession.

Meantime Sutherland's men had got safely to Roche Percee, built their scows, loaded them with coal, and started on their long journey into Dakota round the big bend, finally arriving at Sourisford with one scow, the other two having found a watery grave. This seems incredible in view of present river conditions, but the Souris was a mighty rushing river in those days, being half a mile wide in many places. At all events the remaining scow made the remainder of the trip to Winnipeg with West, Kinley and Dugay, which is the last heard of them.

The industry pioneered by Mr. Sutherland and his friends, has become the sheet anchor of the prairie dwellers, as Souris coal is used in enormous quanČtities in city plants and homes, as well as by farmers, giving work to hundreds of miners, as well as freight to the railways.

During the summer of 1880 the lands in this district were surveyed by the Dominion Government, and settlers who had gone on land in advance of the survey, or squatters, as they were called, were alČlowed to enter for their claims, but the land was not opened for others until 1882.
Among the first settlers were Philip and Nicholas Rowe, who with a younger brother and Tip Helliwell located on 33-2-27. In 1881 John B. Elliott, a brother of D. Elliott, joined the little settlement at Sourisford. and A. M. Livingston. Dr. Sinclair and John Dobbyn located themselves near where Melita now stands, and Amos Snyder and his two sons, John and Henry, a little northwest of Sourisford, while R. J. Took went further west and south.

Dr. Sinclair and John Dobbyn both got busy, and built cities (in their minds). The former had a town-site surveyed on the west side of the river, on NW 36-3-27 which he called "Manchester", and the latter, on the east side, on 32-3-26, which he called "Dobbyn City". Lots in both townsites were sold in Winnipeg, and no doubt as far east as Ontario. Keen rivalry existed between the two embryo towns. This was increased when a post office was established, near Dobbyn City called "Menota", and the river rose to flood proportions the following spring, givČing the easterners an apparent advantage, but DobČbyn City died a natural death, and "Manchester", after it too had got a post office and built a ferry boat, lost both its name and location, and became "Melita" - of this I shall have more to say later on, meantime the mail was brought from Brandon by E. P. Snider and his brother, Milton, (who kept the post office of "Menota" on 4-4-26,) with a team of mules, the C.P.R. main line having reached Brandon on September 25th, 1881.

Another embryo town was surveyed on the "PenČinsula" a stretch of table land lying between the Souris and a deep wide ravine, which was flooded every spring by the overflow of the Souris, called the "Blind River". This town was on 26-2-27 and was called "Souris City". It was extensively advertised and large maps printed, shewing the lots, 2,088 to be exact, piers, and steamers, plying up and down the river. These were also sold in considerable numbers. Many of them were registered in the local Registry Office, then at Deloraine, to the joy of the Registrar, and to the sorrow of the owner of the property when he had to pay the lot owners, later on, to relinquish their claims, in order to clear up his title.

Yet another townsite, further east, between DeloČraine and Whitewater, was also surveyed, but when some of the "fortunate" purchasers attempted to locate their properties, they found they could not get near them, as they were under water. This town was called "Moberly". It faded away, or should I say, floated.