The History Of Glenboro

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Before any Europeans ever set foot in what would be Glenboro, the area of the future community was the land occupied by the Sioux and the Anishinaabe. They would follow the bison herds that came to the area, which formed an important part of their culture. The Sioux and Anishinaabe would be the first of the Indigenous of the area to encounter French and English explorers, and they would begin to trade furs with them, forever altering their culture.

As time went on, a new culture would start to emerge with the Metis, who would have a huge impact on the future province of Manitoba.

The early history of Glenboro in terms of settlement begins in the 1730s when the first French explorers were coming to the area. In 1798, legendary explorer David Thompson came through the area and noted the good quality of the soil in his journal.

It would not be until 1879 that the first European settlers would arrive. Jonas Christie and James Duncan were the first settlers, and they were followed by many other settlers, including many Icelandic settlers who arrived between 1889 and 1894.

In 1886, the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived and Christie and Duncan offered their land for a new townsite that would become Glenboro. The first building to be built was the Queens Hotel.

Steamboats were operated on the Assiniboine River between 1875 and 1885. The bow timbers of the last of the steamboats are now in the Glenboro Park and can be visited to this day.

Around the 1870s, the Millford Cemetery would be created to serve the community of Millford, which was a boomtown near Glenboro at the time. A bustling centre of 100 people, Millford had several stores, three hotels, three stables, two blacksmiths, three doctors and several more businesses. By the time the 1880s came along though, the Canadian Pacific Railway bypassed the community and the residents of Millford had to relocate, causing the community to die. The Millford Cemetery serves as one of the few pieces of that community to remain. The monument site is 6,000 square metres and consists of a large stone monument in a clearing with the cemetery nearby. The cemetery is still in active use and the monument features a dedication written by Nellie McClung, the women’s suffrage pioneer and author who spent part of her childhood in Millford. The site was made a municipal heritage site in 2001.

In 1888, work began on a church. That church stands to this day and is known for being the oldest Icelandic Lutheran Church in Canada still standing in its original form. It is the Grund Lutheran Church

On Nov. 25, 1888, a meeting was held to discuss building a church. It was decided that funds would be collected and used towards a church building and purchasing two acres of land at five dollars an acre. Things got off on a good start when the Ladies Aid donated $200 towards construction. With volunteer labour and carpenters Baering Hallgrimson and Arni Sveinson, the Grund Church began to take shape.

With the church completed, Halfstein Pjcturson was contacted in Iceland to come out and serve the parish. He would accept and would serve until 1893.

In 1911, the church would obtain a wonderful new organ. At the time, Hilla Johnson had been the organist since 1905 and would remain so (apart from a few years) until 1965.

On Sept. 15, 1974, the Province of Manitoba assumed custodianship of the church, maintaining it as a memorial to the Icelanders who came to the area and settled so many years ago. On Oct. 29, 1990, it was designated as a Manitoba Historical Site. It would be listed on the Canadian Historic Places Register on Nov. 1, 2005.

On Dec. 14, 1900, Ab Gowanlock would be born in Glenboro and he would go on to become arguably the greatest athlete to ever come from the community. Starting out early in life as a curler, he would form a rink with his friends and in 1938, they would win the Macdonald Brier, becoming the first team from rural Manitoba to accomplish this. Gowanlock would win a second Brier in 1953 when he was 52, making him the oldest skip to win the Brier to this day. Over the course of his life, he would win those Briers, as well as two provincial titles. He also won 57 consecutive tournaments, four Manitoba Curling Association Bonspiels and in 1984 he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. He would pass away on Sept. 27, 1988.

It was a story that shocked the entire area when news came down that Moran Mastiff, a Belgian farmer, who lived just southwest of Cypress River, was murdered on Jan. 1, 1916 by his hired man.

Newspapers give the name of the victim as both Moran Mastiff and A. Mastaugh. I have chosen to go with Mastiff.

The man, only identified as Alidor Nysson, was immediately taken into custody and admitted to killing Mastiff on New Year’s Day. Mrs. Mastiff stated when she was questioned of threats that Nysson had uttered in her presence at her husband, stating that he would shoot Mastiff because he was a German.

This was during the First World War, when anti-German hysteria was at its highest.

Nysson would state that the words were spoken in fun, and that the gun had accidently discharged. He stated he had been drinking, and that Mastiff’s wife had been quarreling with her husband prior to the shooting as well.

Mrs. Mastiff, she is never identified by her first name, would say that she had actually heard the men yelling at each other and as she walked downstairs, a gunshot was heard. She called out to her husband and Nysson stated, quote:

“You needn’t call him. You won’t get any reply. I have just shot him.”

He then told her to wipe up the blood and help him drag the body out or he would kill her too. She did what was asked, afraid for her life.

After Nysson became so drunk he passed out, Mrs. Mastiff ran to a neighbour’s home to report the crime.

Nothing else is mentioned of the shooting after Jan. 4, so it is unknown if Nysson was sentenced to death or life in prison.

There have been many important visitors to the rural communities around Glenboro, including athletes, politicians and media stars. One of the most important individuals to ever come to the area was the representative of the Royal Family, the Governor General of Canada.

It was on Aug. 20, 1932 when it was announced that Lord Bessborough, the Governor General, would be coming to the community for a brief visit while traveling through southwest Manitoba.

To get ready for the visit, a group of business owners came together to discuss plans for the reception, and it was decided that a welcome ceremony would be held on the lawn of the CPR station agent G.L. McQueen. Five constables were also appointed to assist Provincial Constable Alex Johnson to regulate traffic.

When the big day arrived a change of plans was in order due to the high heat already hitting the area by 10 a.m. It was decided to move the event over to a shaded area where it was much cooler.

Throughout the town flags were set up and an artistic arch was put on the CPR lawn. It was also decorated with sheaves of grain to add an agricultural touch to the festivities.

The Glenboro Band was in attendance and they began playing as the motorcade arrived with the RCMP on motorcycles. As soon as the Governor General left his car, the band began playing the national anthem. Several local dignitaries were there to greet the Governor General including the Honourable Robert Rogers, Brigadier T.V. Anderson, the Lt. Governor J.D. McGregor, Premier John Bracken and Mayor Ralph H. Webb.

The Governor General then gave a brief speech and thanked everyone for the kind welcome and mentioned that now that the ice was broken, he would probably have similar further visits.

A local boy named Gerald Ferg was wandering around on the yard and the Governor General picked up him and posed for the camera.

Soon after, the Governor General got back into his car and left as the band once again played O’ Canada.

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In 1933, near to Glenboro, Northfield School would be built on school land that had been used for that purpose since 1882. That school burned to the ground, so the new Northfield School was built in the same style as the original school. For the next three decades, that school would be used by the children of the area until 1960 when it was closed as a school house. That was not the end of the school though. It would continue to operate as a community centre, which it does to this very day. You can visit the site today and see this school, which serves as a reminder of the schools that were used so many years ago.

On May 23, 1957, a farmer named Don Rogers near Glenboro had a very sudden surprise when a rocket crashed into his yard. Rogers was digging a well on the property when the rocket, which also carried six pounds of TNT, landed and exploded in the yard, shattering barn windows and injuring one of his horses.

The rocket, when it exploded, would leave a hole about 2.5 feet deep and five feet wide. As for the horse, it had been struck in the neck but would survive the close call with a rocket.

Rogers would say, quote:

“It was just one of those things. We’ve never had any trouble from planes or rockets before.”

The Royal Canadian Air Force would investigate but it was believed that it was a rocket from a Royal Canadian Navy Banshee jet in Rivers, Manitoba that had accidently misfired during an exercise near Shilo, Manitoba, a firing range just north of Glenboro.

The RCAF would state, quote:

“The rocket apparently was late and it missed the target.”

At the time, the plane was shooting at ground targets when it misfired, launching a rocket towards Rogers and his farm, who were unaware of what was going on.

Thankfully, apart from the injury to the horse, no one else was injured.

On Aug. 5, 1964, Bjarni Benediktsson, the prime minister of Iceland visited the area, meeting with several residents who had come from Iceland years ago. The highlight of the day was the gathering at the Grund Lutheran Church, where Prime Minister Benediktsson spoke to 200 people. At the time, Icelanders made up 35 per cent of the population of the community and were happy to see him visit.

He would state that he was greatly impressed with what he saw in Canada and especially the accomplishments of the Icelanders who emigrated to the country 90 years ago.

“The Icelandic people have every reason to be proud of the people who have left the country. Canada must be proud of these citizens.”

He then said:

“You can be proud of being good sons and daughters of the old country and proud of being good citizens of this country.”

He would go on to say that he hoped the friendship which has been strong between western Icelanders would remain strong.

His visit to Baldur was preceded by visits to the Icelandic communities of Gimli and Winnipeg. His son would attend a CFL game in Winnipeg while his father traveled around the province. Along with visiting the church, Benediktsson would also visit two local farms and he would comment on the wonderful landscape and agriculture of the area.

This was the first tour of Western Canada for Benediktsson, although he had been in Canada in 1952 on a visit to Ottawa.

Following his visit to Baldur, he would go on to Edmonton, Red Deer, Banff and then back to Iceland a week after he had visited Baldur.

Benediktsson, who served as Prime Minister from 1963 to 1970, would die while in office after a fire broke out at his summer home, killing him, his wife and his grandson.

In the summer of 1978, Sara arrived as a defining part of Glenboro. Sara isn’t a person though, but a camel sculpture that has become the most recognizable part of the community. Serving as a symbol of the Spirit Sands or Manitoba Desert, Sara The Camel was created by George Berone from Winnipeg. The idea for the statue came from the Chamber of Commerce as a way to also promote the community and become a symbol of Glenboro.

Sara was shipped to Glenboro in two pieces on the back of a flatbed truck. She would be reassembled and mounted on concrete in the community on Oct. 12, 1978.

In all, Sara the Camel is 17 feet high, weighs over one ton and cost $9,000 to construct.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Glenboro and the surrounding area, you can visit the Burrough of the Gleann Museum. This museum opened in 2000 and today provides a glimpse into the lives of early settlers of the Glenboro area from the late-1800s to the 1950s. In the museum, you will find a general store and living quarters that includes a kitchen, dining room, bedroom and parlour. In the lower level of the museum, there is a recreated dental office, memorabilia from baseball and curling, and a recreated school house. There are also old photographs, post office boxes, a telephone switchboard and much more.

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