Indigenous and Early History
The first people to live in the area are believed to be the Assiniboine and Stoney people who came from the area of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Most often, they would follow the bison herds that moved through the area in huge numbers for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.
The Cree also occupied the area, originating from the Lake Superior area and moving out west as the trading and territory dynamics began to change with the arrival of Europeans in eastern Canada and the immense impact of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
As traders came into the area, they would intermingle with the Indigenous tribes, helping to form a new nation of Indigenous called the Metis. The Metis, of course, would go on to have a huge impact on Manitoba itself.
It is believed the first European to come to what would be Woodworth-Wallace was a man named Henry Kelsey. He would describe the huge bison herds that moved through the area, and the grizzly bears that were once found there. He traveled through between 1690 and 1691, with the goal of finding more Indigenous to trade with for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
For a century, the Hudson’s Bay Company was the only source of Europeans to the area, but that would change in 1794 when the North West Company built a fort near where the Gopher Creek enters the Assiniboine River. The fort, called Fort Montagne a la Bosse, would later just be shorted to Bosshill and it is the only known fur trading fort within the Woodworth area.
Daniel Harmon would visit the fort in 1804 and described it as such.
“The fort is well built and beautifully situated on the high bank of the Red River overlooking the country, a perfect plain and great buffalo country.”
Interestingly enough, the Wallace-Woodworth area would not be part of Manitoba when it was created in 1870, but rather in 1873 when the borders of Manitoba expanded.
The Early Settlers To The Area
With the arrival of the railroad, the settlement of the area quickly began and many new immigrants from Eastern Canada and Europe were coming to the area that would be Wallace-Woodworth seeking a better life. For many, they were able to find that life.
As those settlers came in, there were no roads to speak of. The first travelers would take a direct line to wherever they were going, avoiding sloughs, dips, rises and bluffs. Others would follow a distinct trail as it began to appear. For some lucky individuals, they could follow wagon ruts that had gone before them.
One of the earliest settlers to the area was a man named George Bridge, who had come to Ontario from England at the age of only 12. In 1879, he came out to the area and filed a homestead, then walked back to Portage la Prairie to work at a gravel pit for the CPR. In 1881, his wife Sarah Anne and his two-year-old son Mel joined him, traveling by ox and wagon from Rapid City. With their arrival, he would build a small log house. He didn’t have nails, so he would use wooden pins and holes in the wood to make their home. The family take their first wheat crop to Brandon by oxen. The couple would be highly active in the area for decades, until their deaths in the 1930s.
As more settlers began to arrive from Eastern Canada and the United Kingdom, the people of the area began to band together to form a community. The Canadian Pacific Railway reached the area in 1882 on its push west to the Pacific and John McLeod, one of the first settlers of the district, was appointed postmaster. The post office would open on Dec. 1, 1883. Elkhorn at that time served a very important purpose along the rail line, and it was a stopping point for all trains to take on coal and water. There were two coal docks during those early years, employing as many as 12 people in the winter. The wheat coming from the area was also of the highest quality, even taking the gold medal at a competition in London, England in 1892.
Another early settler was Richard Coombs Beamish, who came out to the area around the same time as George Bridge. He would file a homestead but sadly died in 1884 after he contracted typhoid fever. I include that to show that it was often hard for the people who came to the area and there were many challenges, but many succeeded and their families continue to live in the area to this day.
In 1885, as more children arrived in the area, the first school was opened. The population quickly grew and before long, the school was too small to continue serving in that purpose. It was sold in 1892 and became a residence that still stands to this day. In its place, a larger school was built in 1895 and since then, all subsequent schools for the community have been built on that land.
As time went on, the community continued to grow and in 1899, the first board of trade was organized, followed by the fire brigade in 1901. By 1905, the community had two general stores, a lumber yard, a drug store, two large hotels, a bank, four implement agencies, two butcher shops, a weekly newspaper, two tailor shops and much more, including three churches and a flour mill that produced 150 barrels a day. Not surprisingly, in 1906, the Village of Elkhorn was incorporated.
The Rural Municipality of Wallace would be formed on Dec. 22, 1883, eventually having the communities of Hargrave, Kirkella, Kola and Two Creeks in it. The second reeve of the RM, James Frame, would go on to serve the area as an MLA in the Legislature from 1892 to 1895. Prior to his arrival in the area, he served in the Collingwood Company during the American Civil War, protecting the border from raids. The third reeve of the community, Watson Montgomery Crosby, also served in the Legislature, from 1893 to 1896.
As for Woodworth, it was originally the Rural Municipality of Woodworth, incorporated on Dec. 22, 1883. On Jan. 1, 2015, an amalgamation between the RM of Wallace, the RM of Woodworth and the Village of Elkhorn would occur. It is believed that Woodworth was named for Joseph E. Woodworth, who was a Conservative candidate in the provincial election in the area.
In the 1890s, the community of Harding would grow and with the arrival of the railroad, it played an important role in providing a place for workers to stay. In 1900, the crew that was handling the ravine grading had a tent camp in the community and they were tasked with building five timber bridges. The first Harding station was nothing more than a box car and a freight shed, but one would eventually be built in 1919 at a cost of $4,400 and it was used until July 1964 when it was torn down. While the community is smaller today, at one time it boasted several stores, elevators and even tennis courts. It also boasts something that is a pretty big deal in the area, which I will get to later.
Over the years, the area has been a stopping point for dignitaries. In 1922, Governor General Lord Byng and his wife Lady Byng came to the community for a visit.
Schools were also very important and several were built in Wallace and Woodworth during the 1880s as the population grew. Ralphton, Anwoth, Educational Point, Ryerson and Breadalbane were all schools built in 1884, followed by Hagyard and Kinsmore in 1885, Galt in 1890 and Errol in 1892.
The 1942 Plane Crash
I always like to find unique stories from a town’s history, and there is a great one from this area in 1942. It was around 1 a.m. on a day that was not identified that year when a two Avro Anson Training planes were unable to land at the nearby Rivers Air Force Base because of fog. After wandering around for awhile, the plane was getting low on fuel and it was decided that the four crew members of the planes decided they should jump. A flare was thrown out and the crews leapt out of the planes. The first crew member landed near Fred Bowle’s farm, while two more fell near Jack Thompson’s farm, and the fourth landed in an oak tree. The first three were able to get help at the farms but the pilot in the tree had sprained his ankle when he fell out of his harness. He would wander through the night, coming across two abandoned farm houses, until he was found at 9 a.m. in the morning. As for the plane, one engine flew off and landed on the railroad track, and the rest crashed near a rural school.
Manitoba Antique Automobile Museum
As I have mentioned before, every community in the prairies has its own little flair when it comes to its local museum. One of the best museums for anyone who loves the history of automobiles is the Manitoba Antique Automobile Museum, located in Elkhorn. The museum is not just cars from the past 50 years, but some of the earliest cars to ever be put on the road in Manitoba. Included in the collection you will find farm equipment, steam tractors and unique artifacts from households of pioneers. Also included are automobiles that date back over a century including a 1904 Holsman, a 1909 Metz, a 1914 Briscoe and a 1918 Gray-Dort.
All of this is thanks to a man by the name of Isaac Clarkson, who had a dream beginning as a child to have a collection of cars to display so that future generations could see the vehicles that changed Manitoba and its landscape. Beginning back in 1946, Clarkson worked on a farm near to where the museum is today and it is there that the museum itself started. Successful as a farmer, Clarkson one day located a 1909 Hupmobile two-passenger roadster in a sad state. It was one of the first cars built by the Hupp Motor Car Company and if restored, it would be one of the oldest of its kind in existence. From here, he would begin collecting cars in about 300 kilometre radius of his home, traveling thousands of kilometres to find the early makes and models that were once prized vehicles on the road. At first the cars were stored at a nearby farm owned by Marguerite Ablett, where Clarkson worked on a shared-basis. By the time he had reached 60 cars, he offered the collection to the Village of Elkhorn, who quickly took him up on the idea. The museum would open in 1967 and Clarkson would continue working on old cars until he passed away in 1971 at the age of 58. After his death, Ablett turned over the entire estate to the museum and is now seen as the co-founder of the museum.
Today at the museum, you can find dozens of cars, through all the decades from the early 1900s all the way up to the 1960s. For anyone who loves cars, this is the place to visit.
For most communities, agricultural fairs were a common annual tradition a century ago. Not only was it a time to show off the livestock of the area, but families would come out for sporting competitions, dinners, dancing and much more. It was the chance to be able to meet with friends, and have some fun during the busy summer farming season.
The problem is, many of those fairs slowly faded away and only a few communities host fairs anymore. One of those communities is Harding, located in the RM. The origins of the fair dates back to a ploughing match held by the Landowner Electoral Division Farmers’ Institute. Thomas Jasper then encouraged others to learn to judge livestock by organization a competition, which was first held in 1904 on the farm of W.H. English. C. McTaggart had been given the task of creating a ploughing match in 1901 and three years later he would succeed in organizing it, and a tradition was born. For ten cents you were able to get into the grounds, and another 10 cents got you into the exhibits.
Tom Hammond would recall the first fair saying that he and his brother were given half a day off from school to attend the fair. In his recollection, he stated that the horse pull competition made use of a stone boat upon which stones were piled on with each round, with Tom Jasper competing against Jack Blackwell to see who would win.
It would not be until 1907 when the newly named Harding Agricultural Society started holding the fair every summer. A large tent was rented and home-cooked meals were cooked under it. In 1912, a terrible hail storm approached the fair but changed course at the last minute, saving the fair but destroying crops throughout the area. In 1914, an Agricultural Hall was built and a huge basket lunch was held at the fair to celebrate. In 1919, a wheat crop competition was introduced.
In 1922, a news story about the fair greatly praised it, saying:
“The task of catering for the vast crowd was this year efficiently cared for by Mrs. Blackwell and her sons. It is not the first year she has undertaken the tremendous task which she does so well.”
In 1923, the success of the fair resulted in a second fair being organized. This fair, called Harding Fair B Class, would be highly successful and by 1926 it was called Manitoba’s top stock fair, with 321 horse entries and 352 cattle.
Tough times would hit the fair during The Great Depression and a one year suspension in 1931 turned into a four year suspension. It would come back though and in 1936, through government grants, the fair had returned and would stick around from this point.
As the years went on, the fair grew and by 1966 there were cattle sheds, pig pens and new exhibit buildings. By this point, people such as Isaac Cormack, J.A. Bastard and R. Cummings had helped the fair grow to be one of the premier events of the entire area.
Today, despite Harding being a relatively small village, the fair is now one of the biggest one-day fairs in the entire province. Each year the community sees roughly 20 times its population come out to the community. Harding is now the smallest Manitoba town to host a fair and many consider it the best one-day fair you can find. A great thing to check out.
Historic Buildings and Places
In an area as large as Wallace-Woodworth, you are going to have some great historical places to visit. There are a lot and I can’t possibly cover them all here but I am going to look at several.
Within the district, you will find an absolutely beautiful stone church, something that is not as common as you would think. The Breadalbane Presbyterian Church, which was built by stonemason C.B. Murphy in 1898, is located north east of Virden and also features a large stone monument that listst he names of the pioneers who came to the district, along with their date of arrival, between 1880 and 1900.
If you go into Elkhorn, you can come across the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building, which was built in 1912 to replace the original bank branch that had opened in 1903 and was sadly destroyed by fire in 1912. Located on Richhill Avenue, it was one of 70 of the same type of building built between 1906 and 1912, and one of the few times that a bank occupied such a building. It would serve as the location for the bank branch until 2017. At the bank, a man named Rowland Henderson Brotherhood would serve as the manager for a brief time, and also served as the mayor of Elkhorn in 1912. The building was bought in April 2020 by a local resident and is currently going through renovations.
Also on Richhill Avenue in Elkhorn you will find the Dominion Post Office, which is a two-storey post office that was built in Elkhorn in 1935 and operates to this very day.
It can be incredibly rare to find an original school from the dawn of the 20th century. Rural schools used to be everywhere but as they shut down and students went to larger schools, those original buildings were moved to other properties, turned into homes or demolished. While the Hargrave School District was established in 1886, the current building dates to 1909 and served as a school for 60 years until it was closed down. Located on Highway 1 northwest of Virden, it is now in use as a community centre and can be visited. Two of the principals of that school would go on to have an impact on the area and Manitoba as well. From 1933 to 1936, William John Schultz served as the principal, and had been principal of other schools including Mowat, Oakburn and Oldenburg School. After he retired he would end up traveling the world for the rest of his life. From 1937 to 1939, Ralph Ernest Mayes would serve as principal of the school. The school is one of 11 that he would serve as principal of from 1919 to 1957. He was also a former soldier during the First World War, serving in France with the Canadian Army Medical Corps.
Near to Hargrave, you will find the Knox Presbyterian Church, a beautiful stone church that was built in 1900. In 1902, the Methodist congregation built a church one mile south. After the First World War, it was decided that the churches should unite and that would happen in 1922, three years prior to the formal creation of the United Church of Canada. At the time, the church was called the Wallace United Church. The church continues to stand to this day and is an excellent example of early stone church architecture from the turn of the century.
Grain elevators are extremely rare these days but you can see one, at least from a distance as it is on private property, north of Hargrave. It was built by W.W. King for the Lake of the Woods Milling Company of Winnipeg in 1910. It would operate until 1962 when it was officially closed. Today, it serves as a place for private grain storage. If you want to see a grain elevator up close, even though it is not as old, you can go to Elkhorn and see the Manitoba Pool Elevator, which was built in 1965 and operated until 2002 when it was closed. Today, it is under private ownership but you can see it up close in the community.
Ravine School was built in 1900 and amazingly, stands to this day and is one of the oldest surviving schools from that era in the area. The school was not only used for education but it was an important social centre for the area as well. It would operate until 1964 when it was closed for good and students were bused to Lenore School. The school, while abandoned, still stands on its original site and in 1990 a cairn was erected to honour the students, pioneers and teachers of the area. The school is located northwest of Kenton.
Wood schools were very common during the early 1900s but the River Valley School was built of stone, rare for the time, and has existed since 1896. Located northeast of Virden, the school opened with 33 students and operated until 1955 when it was closed and students went to Virden. The school would go through renovations to fix it up after it had seen some decay, and today the school is surrounded by a campsite and picnic area and operates as a tourist site through the River Valley Historic Society.
In Elkhorn, you will also find the St. Mark’s Anglican Church, which was built in 1887 and features the burial site of Private William John Rodgers, who was a man from the area that lost his life during the First World War. Rare to have a one spot devoted to a person, his grave is located at the front of the church in a flower garden.
Mary Carter spent part of her early life in Elkhorn before moving to Saskatoon in 1938 and then studying law at the University of Saskatchewan. Called to the bar in 1948, she opened up a law practice and was named a provincial magistrate in 1960, becoming only the second female appointed to the position in Saskatchewan. In 1978, she was elevated to the Saskatchewan District Court where she worked on developing the Unified Family Court. In 1981, she became a judge on the Court of the Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan, serving until 1998. She would pass away on Oct. 1, 2010.
Travis Sanheim was born in Elkhorn on March 29, 1996 and would find his way to the NHL after he was drafted 17th overall in 2014 by the Philadelphia Flyers. He would score his first goal in only his 28th game and made his debut in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018. In 2019, he signed a two year $6.5 million contract with the Flyers. Prior to playing in the NHL, he represented Canada West in the 2013 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, and led Canada to bronze at the 2014 IIHF World U18 Championship, where he led all defenseman in points and was named one of Canada’s top three players in the tournament and the tournament’s best defenseman. In all, he has 70 points in 200 games in the NHL so far.
John W.M. Thompson was born in Elkhorn on July 18, 1908 and after attending the University of Manitoba to earn a law degree, he came back to his home town to set up a law practice. While in Elkhorn, he became heavily involved in politics, serving as a municipal councilor from 1933 to 1939, and then turned his attention to federal politics, losing in the 1940 federal election. After serving from 1942 to 1945 in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Thompson would come back to Elkhorn and turn to local politics once again. He served as a school trustee from 1945 to 1947 and then as mayor of the Elkhorn from 1947 to 1953. His father, Wellington John Thompson, was also the mayor of the community 25 years previous. In 1953, John was elected to the Manitoba Legislature and would begin for the next decade, including as the Minister of Public Works, Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Labour Minister for the province. After resigning on Oct. 24, 1952, Thompson became a County Court Judge and served the judicial districts of the area for 20 years until his death on Dec. 15, 1986.