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Overview

We have attempted to relate these site to the history of the region through a series of short articles on:

1. Historic Claims of the area
2. Analysis Critera - Where sites fit in terms of the Community Heritage
3. Community Layout
4. Noteable People (See the Melita Notable People project)

The project is intended as a "Beginning" rather than a Finished Product. Local groups and individuals are invited to amend and add to it. New information is always welcome and we will make every effort to add anthing that is sent to us.

One goal is to collect as much information about Melitas older buildings as we can. This will be found in the Sites section, and we would appreciate corrections, additions, comments and questions as we complete the project.

 
Community Historical Claims

Melita is one of numerous Manitoba towns that had its original location abandoned when a nearby site was chosen by a railway company. In this case the fledgling town of Melita, originally surveyed and promoted Manchester, had only a short way to travel. It is also one of dozens of towns that sprang up almost overnight when a railway station appeared in the middle of a well-populated farmland.

Several “townsites” had already been chosen in the region. Souris City (alternately, “Souriopolis” at 26-2-27, near the crossing now known as Sourisford, briefly was the location of the new Land Titles Office. A Post Office established at Sourisford in 1882 remained operational until the railway arrived at Coulter in 1903. Dobbyn City, a bit east of the current town at (32-3-26) was promoted by owner John Dobbyn, and lots were offered to speculators. Manchester located at NW 36-3-27 (and SW 1-4-27) on land owned by Dr. Sinclair, was also promoted and quickly had a general store and post office – which had to be re-named because the name “Manchester” was being used elsewhere. The new name was “Melita”.

With very basic services in place the setters turned their attention to the business of establishing farms while the railway company just kept making promises. By the time the current town of Melita appeared in 1890, the region itself had a long and interesting history.

Before the first train whistle sounded Mr. G.L.Dodds had moved his Hardware & General Store to the site of the new town and virtually everyone followed. By 1892 numerous business blocks lined Main and Front Streets.  An interesting item from a 1891 edition of the Melita Enterprise states that: “Most of the houses brought into Melita this year have found ready sale.”  P115 Hist. Quite a few of those early buildings, including a few commercial structures, made it into the modern era, and although one might not recognize them, both the former Morrow Pharmacy and the McMaster Insurance (Sears) Building date from that time. The current Presbyterian Church also dates from 1892.

In the early years of the twentieth century Melita consolidated its position as the primary trading centre for the region while to the east, Napinka, to the west, Pierson also prospered. Nearby Elva, Coulter and Tilston remained smaller service centres.

As Melita looks forward to the century ahead it has taken steps to preserved important aspects of its past, including the preservation of the Melita School as of the Antler River Museum.
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Analysis Criteria

Aboriginal Peoples

The nearby Sourisford Mounds, south of Melita are a significant link to the earliest inhabitants of the region as is the trace of the Yellowhead Trail, which crossed a ravine at W 15-3-27 a few km. north of the town.

Settlers and Defining Culture

The settlement of the Melita area began in 1879 with the arrival of a few settlers from Ontario who traveled along the Boundary Commission Trail from Emerson. The confirmation of the location of the railway station in 1890 caused the first location (originally called Manchester, to be abandoned in favour of the new location about a mile to the east.  Soon many settlers followed, also mainly from Ontario - with some from the British Isles as well.

Economic Engines

Farming formed the economic basis of virtually all prairie settlements and in this regard Melita was typical.

Commercial Growth

The much-anticipated arrival of the railway in 1890 in the midst of well-populated and productive farmland led to an initial burst of commercial enterprises. The usual banks, general stores, drug and jewelry stores appeared. Some of these would naturally be housed in quickly erected-frame buildings, many of which were replaced by more substantial structures over the first few decades. Although few of the earliest survive, several of those built near the turn of the century created the downtown streetscape, the general outline of which does still exist today.

Social & Cultural Development

As the first settlers in the Melita area established themselves in the years 1879-1884 three identifiable communities developed within a few miles of the current site of Melita.  Sourisford, home to the Goulds and Elliotts was situated near the mouth the Antler Creek soon had a post office and a store. Dobbyn City, a few km. east of Melita was one of dozens of speculative townsites in Manitoba during the Manitoba Boom of 1881-82. It failed to materialize but a Post Offcie, called Menota, did offer some basic services to the region. It was Manchester, a rival town promoted by Dr. Sinclair, that went beyond the paper stage and evolved into Melita, first by undergoing a Name change and then by moving a short km. or two to be alongside the C.P.R when it finally arrived in 1891.

In most Manitoba communities, the “Establishment” era is defined by the replacement of “Pioneer” log, sod and rough lumber buildings by more ambitious constructions of milled lumber. With that definition in mind the town Melita can be said to have had a very short Pioneer stage, as much of the town was created overnight as buildings were moved from the previous location just across the tracks or built quickly from readily materials readily available via the new rail line. Many of these building were substantial but few survive today. Within a few years they were supplanted and replace by more ambitious structures reflecting the beginning of the Establishment phase. The Consolidation period can be said to have started in about 1905 with the erection of the the Northern Bank and the I.O.O.F Hall  and the Crerar Law Office all of which survive today. It was in that period that many fine homes, of frame and brick construction, some near the core area but others on the perimeter. Owned by community leaders with names like Dobbyn, Ducan and Holden, several of these buildings have been well cared for and survive intact.




Community Form and Layout

The layout of the town of Melita was a direct response to the railway line to which it owes its existence. As with many such towns its Front Street parallels the tracks, with its Main Street running perpendicular to it. In Melita the main business section grew along Main Street residences following in a typical fashion. Many fine homes were soon erected to the west and east of Main Street, many of which still stand today. The memory of names such as Estlin, Sterling, and Dobbyn, Pope and Duncan evident in the reminiscence related to such dwellings.

It was predictable that Melita would grow quickly and confidently in that that the vital rail link placed it at the centre of an already well-established agricultural base. There was no speculation or uncertainty about its importance as a service centre.ty was almost a given, in that the vital rail link was in place and that it was at the centre of an already well-established agricultural base. There was no speculation or uncertainty about its importance as a service centre.




 

 

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