|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
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
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.