Prior to the arrival of the settlers and fur traders in the area, the land was occupied by various indigenous groups through the years. For centuries, it was home to the Anishinabewaki and the Sioux, as well as various Cree bands that moved through the area.
The bison were a major food source to the Indigenous for centuries before the eventual decline of the species due to overhunting.
One of the most prominent Indigenous groups in the area were the Metis, who began to appear as fur traders arrived in the area through the 17th century thanks to the trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. One Metis family operated a trading post in the area of what would one day be Roblin around 1882.
San Clara, Makaroff and Boggy Creek
The Metis have had an immense impact on the history of Manitoba. Near to Roblin, just to the north, you will find that history in many places at San Clara, Makaroff and Boggy Creek. There is not much left of these locations, but they still have some hidden gems that you can enjoy. I am going to go through some of these historical locations and buildings in this section. Not everything is related to the Metis, but they would lay the foundations for the history of these locations.
Nearby to Boggy Creek, there is the Grand Prairie School. Originally built in 1918 using a loan of $2,000, this school house was only one room and operated near Boggy Creek. In 1920, it was expanded to 22 feet by 30 feet, with a stable added to the property in 1926. Through its years, the school was often too small for the number of students who used it. In the late-1940s and early-1950s, schools from the area would be repurposed and renovated to serve the needs of the students. In 1963, a larger multi-classroom school was finally built, and it would operate until 1971 when it closed and students were bussed to Roblin. The school still sits on the property to this day.
To the east of Boggy Creek, just west of the Principal Meridian, you will find a rock with a large plaque on it. This is located at the homestead of John Hamilton Layng, an early pioneer to the area. His home became a stopping place in the 1880s for travelers moving through between Carberry and Neepawa. They would cross at the creek just to the west, and it came to be called Layng’s Ford. That name was later adapted into Langford in 1890 to be the name of the newly created rural district.
The San Clara War Cemetery is located just off Highway 367 near what was the thriving settlement of San Clara at one time. The memorial honours those who gave their lives from the area in the First World War and Second World Wars. Also located nearby you will find the San Clara Parish Cemetery, which is the final resting place for the early Metis pioneers of the area.
The Makaroff Community Hall was built in 1922 as a simple rectangular hall that held dancers, meetings and public gatherings. At first, the hall was small but as finances improved for locals in the area, it would slowly grow, giving it a unique vernacular structure. The hall stands to this day, and is used on occasion, but it is the last remaining community building in the once thriving village of Makaroff. This makes it the most recognizable landmark in the village. In 1999, it was recognized as a Manitoba Heritage Site.
Founding Of The Community
Coming into the area was no easy task in those early days with roads mostly just being prairie trails and there were no fences so trail were the only way people knew which direction to go. Often settlers would arrive in the area traveling on foot, or through the use of oxen and horses. During these years when the first settlers were arriving, one old trail went through what would be Roblin, which at the time was only a tent. In that tent was a store owned by two men named Take and Crawford.
An interesting note about the formation of Roblin is that on Sept. 23, 1903, Tobias Norris would survey the future town site. Norris had served in the Legislative Assembly until that same year when he lost in his re-election by only 96 votes. He would come back through in 1907, serve until 1928 and during that time serve as the 10th premier of Roblin from 1915 to 1922. This makes Roblin a community surveyed by a future premier of Manitoba, and named for a different premier of Manitoba.
The first post office would be opened in 1904 by J.W. Atkey, around the same time that the railroad was being built through Roblin. One of the more amazing things about the post office is that generations of the Kines family have served as postmaster for 100 of the 117 years, including the currently postmaster of Larry Kines.
It was in that year that the first lots were sold for what would be Roblin, with T.A. Burrows serving as the auctioneer. A total of 367 lots on 104 acres of land were sold. With the selling of those lots, the population of Roblin skyrocketed through the year and into the next, going from 33 people to 623.
Originally, the community was called Goose Lake but soon after its founding, the decision was made to rename the community in honour of Sir Rodmond Roblin, who served as the premier of Manitoba from 1900 to 1915. His son, Dufferin Roblin, would also serve as premier of Manitoba from 1958 to 1967.
In 1912, the Board of Trade was organized and in 1913, the first council for the newly created village of Roblin was elected by acclimation. By this time, Roblin was a thriving business sector with 10 general stores, two real estate offices, three law offices, two butcher shops, three tailors, two garages, three oil company stations, two pool rooms and two churches.
The first fire engine would arrive in 1909, while the fire brigade would exist in a small capacity until it was reorganized in 1918, and then in 1922 the Roblin Volunteer Fire Brigade would be created.
Roblin would continue to grow and prosper and by 1985 the community had 2,000 people, with 7,000 in the trading area of the municipality. Within the community you can find a snowmobile club, many cycling opportunities, hunting, fishing and relaxing days on the lake. One interesting fact about the community is that CN Rail actually has passenger service to Roblin and you can stop in the community, something that is incredibly rare these days of limited train travel. If you prefer to just walk and enjoy the surroundings, you can enjoy the Trans-Canada Trail, which goes right through the community and offers beautiful scenery of the not only the town but the surrounding landscape.
One of the things I love about rural communities is that they have wonderful stories to tell. These stories can range from the unique, the funny, the tragic and the downright strange.
In 1922, a great flood hit the area when a wet fall soaked the land, and the spring had heavy snow, creating the perfect situation for flooding. Water began to pour over the landscape, going into cellars and in various communities in the area people were moving through the streets on boats, rather than walking. The water pressure was so great that one railroad embankment gave way, including the track, shooting the water into the air and rushing it down the hill towards several homes. That embankment was not filled in properly for another two decades.
In 1927, a windstorm came through the Roblin area doing considerable damage and sending one person to hospital. The windstorm, described as having cyclonic proportions, passed through the farm of Dan Roberts in the evening just as he went into his house to prepare his evening meal. The windstorm hit, smashing his home into pieces and throwing Roberts to suffer a fractured jaw, several broken ribs and other injuries. Several more buildings on the property were smashed into pieces and three threshing machines were destroyed, with parts showing up several kilometres away.
The 1930s was the time for gangsters and a few gangsters even hit Roblin looking for a quick score. A group of men had robbed several places in Roblin, Inglis, Shell Valley and Gilbert Plains in 1934 before they were arrested on Sept. 30 of that same year. Through their robberies the men had stolen various goods and cash, which was eventually recovered upon the arresting of the men. John Sadoway was given three years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary as the ring leader, while Ted Gorda was given 18 months and Alec Titan 15 months. The lightest sentences were for John Potenko, who was given a two-year suspended sentence and Fred Gorda who was fined $25.
Another interesting story from the area, if it is true, comes in the form of legendary outlaw Jesse James. While Jesse James is known for his escapades in the south, there are some who claim that the legendary gunslinger and robber came up to Manitoba at some point. For some around Roblin, there are rumours that he buried some of his Wells Fargo boxes near the community.
Of course, where they would be and if it is true is lost to history, but it is a fun story to think about.
According to some stories, the James gang would hide out very close to the Canadian border, sometimes even crossing into the border. Some say one of the James brothers even settled in Manitoba and gave his pistols to a blacksmith.
Other places that James is rumoured to have buried gold is in Ontario, and near Portage la Prairie.
One man named Horace Forbes related when he saw Jesse and his brother Frank in the area. He would say, quote:
“There were the James Brothers, Frank and Jesse, on one of their trips into Canada.”
So, head over to Roblin and who knows, you might just stumble on an outlaw’s treasure.
Asessippi Provincial Park
Nearby to Roblin, straight to the south, you will find Asessippi Provincial Park. The area had been occupied by the Cree for centuries, which is where the name comes from. Asessippi name means stone river. The shape of the park was created by the Keewatin Ice Flow, which happened as the ice sheets melted 10,000 years ago, creating a glacial spillway and meltwater channel. In 1882, the town of Assessippi was built, and a dam was built to harness its power for a flour mill and a sawmill. The town only lasted 10 years until the railway came through, bypassing the community. On April 9, 1964, the park was officially created by the Government of Manitoba. Today, it offers several camping and recreational activities and is a beautiful spot to visit in the summer. In the winter, there is also a ski hill that is very popular among locals and tourists.
The Cockerill Mill
In 1912, Charles and Ruddall Cockerill began to operate a sawmill near Merridale, northeast of Roblin. In that first year they would harvest 159,000 board feet of lumber. Before long, the mill was growing in size and employed 35 people in the logging camps and 25 at the sawmill.
According to some legends, there are ghosts that hang around that old site, haunting the land that was once harvested by dozens of men over the course of the years. Maybe if you go up to that area late at night, who knows what you might see in the woods.
Mitchell’s Drug Store
Sometimes in communities, there are businesses that have been around for nearly as long as the community itself. Roblin has many such buildings, like Crosstown Motors, that dates back to the early years of automobiles in the town. Another business is Mitchell’s Drug Store, one of the longest running family businesses in Manitoba.
The story of the drug store dates back to Irwin Mitchell, who was born in Stonewall, Manitoba on Jan. 10, 1882. In 1907, he would graduate with a degree in pharmacy. He would move into Roblin, where he met his wife Margaret, and would take over the Roblin Drug Store. For the first two years of their marriage, the couple lived in the back of the store, before moving into a bungalow nearby. Irwin was not just the local pharmacist, he would also serve on town council, beginning in 1913 when he was elected as a counselor. Later that year, he became the mayor, serving until 1915. Hew would serve as mayor again in 1923, remaining in the post until 1939.
Irwin would die on Nov, 19, 1956 but the business would not disappear. His son, Graham, would also get a degree in pharmacy and he would go to work at a drug store in Flin Flon where he met his wife Julie. In the Royal Canadian Air Force, he served as a pharmacist and in 1945 he returned home to Roblin. The next year, he took over the pharmacy upon his father’s retirement. His son, Jim, would take over the pharmacy himself in 1973, after also graduating with a degree in pharmacy. This process continues to this day, and you can still find Mitchell’s Drug Store in Roblin.
As for the building itself, it was built in 1914, with the store front changing many times. In 1952, the store was expanded and new fixtures and a new dispensary was added in. In 1963, the store was expanded on again due to increased traffic and the growing size of Roblin. In 1981, the lot next to the store was bought and the pharmacy was expanded to be twice its size.
Keystone Pioneer Museum
Within Roblin, you will find the excellent Keystone Pioneer Museum. This museum features pioneer agricultural artifacts, a large collection of old machinery, an original log cabin used by forest rangers in Duck Mountain, the Makaroff Church that was built in 1910, a working sawmill, artifacts from the old hospital and much more. There is also the Elaschuk Thatched Roof House, a general store, Boston Café, Roblin Review printing press, and displays from the Second World War. I will get into more detail about the Elaschuk House in the next section.
During typical years, the museum also features a Show Day with log sawing, flour grinding, brad making, a slow tractor race and more. There is also a pancake breakfast on the morning of opening day in May.
Within the museum, group tours are also available to see everything on the grounds.
The Bug Chucker Cup
If you like fishing, then Roblin has one of the premier fly fishing competitions in all of Canada. Called the Bug Chucker Cup, It runs typically at the end of May or beginning of June, taking place on the lakes around Roblin that are full of trout.
Roblin is actually known as the Fly Fishing Capital of Manitoba thanks to this tournament, and for decades people have been coming out to take advantage of the fly fishing opportunities in the community.
One of the legendary fishermen in the area, who has done well in the Cup, is Bill Pollock, and it is thanks to him that the event exists. It was originally launched in 2012 after Roblin hosted the Canadian Nationals in flyfishing, allowing him to see the potential for the event in the area. That first year hosted seven teams, who caught 19 fish, but the number of participants and fish would only grow. Typically, the tournament has as many as 25 teams coming out, with in some cases 100 to 200 fish being caught.
If fly fishing is not your thing, you can always come to Roblin to enjoy the gourmet honey that is offered through Wendell Estates. The origins of the farm go back almost 100 years, and it remains a family business since that day.
John Wendell began to keep bees in the area in the 1930s, always ensuring that his local customers received the best honey of the season. John had bought the first beehives and brought them to the area, and before long it was his main source of income.
In 1974 Tim Wendell left his teaching career to take over the Wendell Honey Farm from his parents when the farm had 600 beehives.
Since that point, he has helped it grow to become one of the best honey producers not only in Manitoba, but Canada. In 2011, the Wendell Estates brand was launched and the farm now has over 4,000 beehives, producing 1.5 million pounds of honey each year. The company has won several international awards, including the Platinum Award at the 2020 London International Honey Awards, the only North American honey company to receive the honour. The company also appeared on Dragon’s Den where it won praise from the judges. In 2018, Canadian Living magazine listed Wendell Estate Honey as an excellent Christmas gift.
In 1941, the Ukrainian Redemptorist Fathers arrived in Roblin and would establish the Redemptorist Fathers College. At a cost of $40,000, construction started on the building and by January of 1942 it was completed and seven students began attending, while also playing hockey and football and learning Ukrainian dancing. It was the only Catholic high school in Manitoba outside of Winnipeg.
The college would close from 1951 to 1956 while Canadian-born priests attended the University of Manitoba to earn degrees to become certified teachers. When they returned in 1956, they were hosting 22 students through several grades, with the first graduating class emerging in 1959. From the 1960s to the 1980s, the school averaged 40 to 50 students, reaching a peak of 65 in 1975.
The building also served as a meeting place for those who followed the Ukrainian Catholic faith, and a chapel was built next to the building, the Holy Redeemer Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1961. The dormitory was opened in the fall of 1961, accommodating 108 boys, by Premier Duff Roblin. The building and grounds continued to grow, including new renovations, a computer room and an expanded kitchen.
Unfortunately, by 1995, with a lower amount of priests coming in, the decision was made to have lay teachers rather than priests come in. Student enrolment continued to decline and in June 2002, the last class of seven students graduated and the building closed. In 2007, it was purchased and turned into a university-entrance instruction building for students from South Korea.
One-room school houses were a staple of education in the early history of the prairie provinces. Most of those schoolhouses are long gone, but Roblin still has one that can be seen and even visited, which is relatively rare. The Cromarty School was built in 1904 and was typical of the one-room multi-grade schools that existed in rural Manitoba at the time. Interestingly, while many one-room schools operated for decades, the Cromarty School only operated for seven years before its proximity to Roblin made it unnecessary. The building then became a church for a time, before it was remodeled to be a community centre, including a hardwood floor that was recovered from an old dance hall. Unusual for these old buildings, the Cromarty School is still used on occasion and the grounds operate as a wayside stop on the highway. In 1999, it became a Municipal Heritage Site.
The Elaschuk House was built in 1910 and today is a rare example in the province of a Ukranian vernacular-style residence with a traditional grass-thatched roof. The house is also one of the best surviving examples in the province of Ukrainian folk architecture. Built by Metro Elaschuk using natural materials obtained from the homestead itself, the home was used by the family for over 40 years until they left in 1951. Eventually, it was purchased by the museum and restored in 1987. Today it sits at the Keystone Pioneer Museum Complex and was listed as a Provincial Heritage Site on March 14, 1988. Interestingly, the house never had a chimney, which was common among Ukrainian folk housing. Instead of having a chimney, a cookstove’s smoke was directed up to the ceiling and then filtered through the thatched roof. This allowed the attic to be a smoke-chamber, where meats cured be cured to preserve them for the winter, while also keeping the meat free from vermin.
The railway station in Roblin was a vital link to the outside world for the community. Most rail stations have disappeared in communities, but Roblin is lucky enough to have one still in the community. As the Canadian Northern Railway was coming through, spurring on agricultural development in the area, a new station was designed by the company’s architectural division. The station was built in 1906 as a Third Class Station, which included a freight room and coal shed. The structure is located at First Avenue south of the intersection of Main Street and features a single-storey design under a high pyramidal roof as was common in the Third Class Design at the time. In 1991, the station was recognized as a National Historic Railway Station and today currently houses a restaurant.
One of the earliest churches that still exists in Roblin is the Knox United Church, located on Third Avenue. It was originally built in August of 1908 and then opened one year later. Prior to being constructed, church services were held in the CNR freight shed and in the upstairs of Newton’s Hall. In order to build the new church, 100 loads of stone had to be brought in for the foundation. When it was finished, it was considered one of the best examples of a rural church in the entire province. The church operated for some time as a church until a new church was built nearby. Today, the building still operates but is now home to the Roblin Life and Art Centre.
If you go just south of Roblin, you will come to the Tummel United Church, which was built in 1907 to replace a previous log church that was built in 1887. The church was built using volunteer labour and completed as funds became available. In addition, it is the oldest operating church in the entire area. The church was built originally as a Presbyterian church but in 1916, a decade before the creation of the United Church of Canada, it merged with the Methodists to create a United Church. The church stands to this day on a plot of farmland and was made a Manitoba Historical Site on Sept. 14, 1993.
Frederick Young Newton
One notable person from Roblin is Frederic Young Newton, who was born on April 7, 1870 in Ontario, and would move out to Manitoba in the 1890s. After time in Winnipeg and Dauphin, he would settle in Roblin in 1904 and open a private bank, while serving as the president of the Roblin Loan and Investment Company.
Serving as the Reeve of Shell River in 1909, in 1911 he was elected to the Manitoba Legislature, representing the Roblin riding in the government of Rodmond Roblin, the person who the town is named for. He would serve as an MLA until 1917, and then again from 1923 to 1932. In addition to serving in the Legislature, he also served as the mayor of Roblin from 1920 to 1922 and from 1940 to 1943. He would pass away on May 17, 1959 and is buried at the Roblin Cemetery.
William James Westwood
Another notable individual from the community was William James Westwood. Born in Rapid City on Aug. 19, 1887, he would attend the Brandon Baptist College and then serve as the manager of the Union Bank of Canada in Roblin from 1906 to 1917. He would replace Frederic Newton as the MLA for the area in 1917, and served until 1920. He would again be elected in 1933, serving until 1936 in the Manitoba Legislature. Like Newton, he also served as mayor of Roblin, with his term running from 1944 to 1946. In 1946, he moved to Russell, Manitoba, and would pass away in 1962.