|Excerpts from "Early Settlements and
Townsites along the Souris River"
by H. H. Saunderson
Five years residence on the banks of the Souris River in the 1880's
brought me tales of various town-sites that had been laid out along its
shores in the early days of white settlement.
Of these townsites, Melita, Hartney, Souris and Wawanesa still
flourish, and their early history either has been written or will, no
doubt, be written by people much more competent than I. Consequently, I
purpose confining my attention in this article to a few other townsites
that were located along the course of the river in the early days, and
subsequently passed out of existence.
It is a well established fact that from the very early days of white
settlement in Manitoba, and even before that era, the Souris River was
used as a high¬way of travel. During the later 1840's a joint
Com¬mission, appointed by the British and United States Governments,
was engaged in surveying and mark¬ing the boundary line between Canada
and the United States of America across the prairie region, and the
supplies required by that Commission were trans¬ported by horses and
wagons, which established a well-beaten trail as the Commission
proceeded far¬ther and farther West. An inquisitive Canadian once asked
a British member of that Commission why this Commission Trail seemed to
lie for most of its length on the Northern side of the boundary line
instead of the Southern, and was informed that it was from
considerations of safety. Shortly prior to the com¬mencement of this
work American troops had been engaged in a desultory war with the Sioux
Indians, and the red man lost no opportunity to get even with the
Americans. On the other hand the relations be¬tween representatives of
the British Government and the Indian tribes had been usually quite
friendly. Not knowing much of the character of the soil of this region
or its capabilities, the British Government was anxious to get as much
information of this nature as possible, and sent Inspectors along with
the Com¬mission to take field notes of the country for twelve miles
North of the boundary line day by day as the survey progressed. The
members of this branch of the service usually started out alone each
morning with no protection save a red cloth around their hats for
identification, and it was reported that every man returned at night in
safety. On the other hand if an American strayed even a mile from the
survey line he was almost certain to be shot at, although the
Com¬mission was accompanied by a regiment of American soldiers.
While rivers such as the Souris were of great assistance to those
engaged in the fur trade and
exploration, they were a real obstacle to the Bound¬ary Commission
teamsters; consequently a careful survey had to be made of each stream
for a suitable ford. When they came to the Souris River they were
fortunate in finding a spot about ten miles North of the border where
there was not only a gravel bottom all the way across, but where the
soft banks on each side of the stream seemed to have been worn down by
the immense herds of Buffalo that were still roaming the plains,
furnishing an easy approach to the ford from each side of the river.
For this reason Sourisford became well known to all Boundary Commission
teamsters, and subsequently to the incoming settlers both East and West.
The records of the Post Office Department of Canada show that a Post
Office was opened under the name of Sourisford on June 1st, 1884, but I
can find no record of any townsite of that name. However, a townsite
was surveyed a short distance North, on Section 26-2-27, and a Plan of
Subdivision of the S'/a and NW'/2 of that section, made by Carbert
& Lett, D.L.S., was filed in the Souris River Registry Office on
March llth, 1882, under the name of Souris City. The records of the
Manitoba Legislature mention an Order-in-Council being passed on July
6th, 1882, for the removal of the Registrar's Office for the Electoral
Division of Souris River from Deloraine to the town of Souris on the
NW/4 of Section 26-2-27. Mr. J. P. Alexander, who was Registrar at the
time, built a house and office on this new townsite and he and his
family took up residence there, but this apparently was the extent of
the town, although it was reported that lots in this townsite were
being sold all the way from Manitoba to the Maritime Provinces. The
pub¬lished prospectus said "being in the midst of a splen¬did
agricultural district it will soon become an important manufacturing
centre" and "situated as it is on the banks of the Souris River, it is
connected by water with Brandon, Winnipeg and Emerson". As there was
already a townsite further down the Souris River registered under the
name of Souris City, the one situated in 2-27 never became well known
and soon passed out of existence. On September 26th, 1916, John Crerar
obtained an Order from Judge Cumberland cancelling this Plan.
* Editor's note:
According to some of the old timers and refer¬ences in the old papers,
this embryo town was also called "Souriapolis".
As settlement spread Northward from Sourisford a secondary settlement
was formed near the con¬fluence of Graham Creek and the Souris River.
Amongst the early homesteaders in this vicinity were Messrs. A. M.
Livingstone, Dr. Sinclair and John Dobbyn, who arrived in 1881. In the
spring of 1882 Messrs. H. J. Archibald, John Findlay, George and Edward
Sterling and J. W. Modeland moved West from Morden. Dr. Sinclair had
part of the NW!/4 of Section 36-3-27 surveyed as a townsite and a Plan
of Subdivision was registered in the Souris River Regis¬try Office on
March 28th, 1882, as Plan No. 2, under the name of Manchester. We are
told that lots in the town of Manchester were sold in Winnipeg. In 1883
Mr. R. M. Graham started a small store in the town, and in 1884 the
residents of the district petitioned the Dominion Government to have a
Post Office opened in this embryo city. The petitioners were advised
that a Post Office would be opened there, but as there was already a
post office named Manchester, a different name would have to be chosen,
(see Post Office history). When eventually a railway line was built
from Brandon to the district and crossed the Souris River just East of
the Manchester townsite, a station was placed on Section 1-4-27 and
named Melita, and the buildings which had been erected in the town of
Manchester were moved over to the new townsite which sprang up around
the railway station. In due course Plans of Subdivision of the townsite
of Melita were registered in the Souris River Registry Office as Nos. 5
and 6, and the town of Manchester ceased to be.
One of the enterprising pioneers who came to the Melita district in
1881 was John Dobbyn, who was accompanied that spring by his adult son,
Richard, and selected a homestead on the East side of the Souris River
on Section 32-3-26. After spending part of that summer on the homestead
the two Dobbyns returned to Ontario in the autumn. The following spring
John Dobbyn returned, bringing other mem¬bers of his family and a
quantity of household goods, and detrained at Brandon. His son,
Richard, who was already a married man and comfortably estab¬lished on
an Ontario farm, did not return with his Father, though he came to the
Melita district some years later and spent many years there.
It was the general belief of the settlers around the Manchester
district that a railway line would be built from the vicinity of
Brandon Southwest along the Souris River, and John Dobbyn estimated it
would cross the river nearly opposite his homestead; — why not
establish a town there in anticipation of its arriv¬al? — so being a
man of action he had a townsite surveyed, but apparently a Plan was
never registered in the Registry Office. However, it was duly
adver¬tised, and in the Manitoba Free Press on March 20th, 1882,
appeared the following news item: "The spot light of real estate
interest was now turned upon a place called "Dobbyn City", Manitoba,
where as-siduous auctioneers were selling lots as low as $40.00 and as
high as $85.00."
The railway was afterwards built nearly as antici¬pated, but the river
was crossed about a mile further North, and the station was located on
the West side of the river instead of the East side. As a consequence
Dobbyn City became another of the "has beens."
Forty Years Ago Today— 1882 Jas. Whan sold 105 Dobbyn city lots at
prices ranging from $40 to $65. — Harvey C. Simpson purchased two lots
in block 17, Ross street, for $1600.
Taken from Free Press, March 20,1922.