The History of Dauphin

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Due to its location just west of Lake Manitoba, Dauphin was a common spot for the Indigenous to travel through during the pre-colonial era. Due to the fact the area was near major bodies of water, with nearby rivers, it was also one of the first places Europeans came to when they began to journey to the west.

The Indigenous who occupied the land were the Anishinaabe and the Sioux. As time went on and fur traders began to intermarry with the Indigenous, a new culture would emerge in the area, the Metis.

Dauphin Lake was also an important stopping place for the Indigenous. The lake itself was part of the bed of a bay of the prehistoric Lake Agassiz.

Today, Dauphin sits on Treaty 2 land, signed in August of 1871 at Manitoba House.

When explorer Pierre Gaultier journeyed through the area in 1741, he would name the nearby lake Dauphin after the heir to the French throne at the time. Fort Dauphin would be established here as a Hudson’s Bay trading post, but it would not last long and eventually was abandoned.

It would be some time before settlement arrived through. While the Metis and others occupied the land for over a century, things would begin to change in the 1880s as new settlers started to arrive west from Ontario. Some of the first settlers to the area were Tom Whitmore, John Edwards, as well as others named Blackmore, Parr, Corie and McLaren. The group left with six weeks provisions, travelling 150 kilometres to get to the region. It was on their journey they came across the shack owned by the Neagle brothers who had come to the area in 1883 and spent time trapping. Only Whitmore and Edwards would stay in the community for the long term.

By 1887, the first general store was built by Captain David McIntosh, who was a veteran of the North West Resistance of two years previous. In 1888, a blacksmith shop was built by George Barker. Barker would become the first mayor of Dauphin, while McIntosh would become the Justice of the Peace for the area.

Two early settlements sprang up at this time. One was Gartmore, and the other was called Old Dauphin, after the lake and post that had been established decades previous. These two sites would co-exist for about a decade and a half until 1896 when the rail line came through. Rather than going to one village or the other, it went right between the two. At the same time, Ukrainian immigrants were starting to arrive in the area and the settlement of Dauphin would begin to see its population rise, while Gartmore faded away into history.

In 1894, a child was born named William Barker. Growing up on the family farm, he learned to ride horses, shoot and work hard at his father’s sawmill. An excellent shot, he was adept at shooting while on the move. As a child, he excelled in school but was often away because he was hunting for food for the workers at the sawmill or working on the farm.

In 1914, he would enlist at the start of the First World War and was sent to England in June of 1915, then to France in September. Transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, he would shoot down his first German plane on July 21, and another in August. For his actions, he was Mentioned in Dispatches for the first time. On Nov. 15, 1916, he observed German troops preparing for an attack during the Battle of the Somme and he had Canadian artillery fire on the target he provided, breaking up the German formations. He would be awarded the Military Cross for this action. In April 1917, just before Vimy Ridge, he spotted 1,000 German troops sheltering in nearby trenches and he ordered artillery fire on their positions. He would receive a bar on his Military Cross for that action.

Barker would continue to exemplify himself in the First World War, earning a Distinguished Service Order and Bar, another Bar on his Military Cross, two Silver Medal of Valors and two more Mentions in Dispatches. Then, on Oct. 27, 1918, while flying back to his aircraft depot, he attacked a German plane and shot it down. He then went into a dogfight with 15 German planes, something he called careless. Flying above the Canadian Corps, he was severely wounded and landed inside Allied lines where his life was saved by the men of the Royal Air Force Kite Balloon Section. The fuselage of his aircraft would be recovered and today sits at the Canadian War Museum. For his actions on that day, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Barker would stay in a hospital clinging to life until January 1919. In March 1919, he was not able to walk even a few paces to receive his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace. Over the course of the war, he is credited with one captured German, two destroyed balloons, 33 German planes shot down and he recorded the highest destroyed ratio of any pilot in the Allied forces. To this day, he is the most decorated war hero in the history of Canada, the British Empire and the Commonwealth of Nations. His wounds from that last dogfight would linger with him though. His legs were permanently damaged, and he had limited mobility of his arm. He would die in 1930 when he lost control of his biplane during a demonstration for the Royal Canadian Air Force near Ottawa, at the age of only 35. His funeral was one of the largest in Toronto’s history and was attended by over 2,000 soldiers, as well as three federal cabinet ministers, six Victoria Cross recipients, the mayor of Toronto and the Lt. Governor of Ontario. A total of 50,000 people lined the streets as his body was transported to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. In Dauphin, the elementary school and the airport are named for him.

In 1897, to celebrate the first Ukrainian Catholic Liturgy on Canadian soil, the Ukrainian congregation of the area erected a large Cross of Freedom that represents their freedom on the land. This was the first Cross of Freedom to be erected in Canada. Originally made of wood, a granite cross would take its place and is currently on display in Trembowla, which is just to the northwest of Dauphin. On the site where the cross rests, there is now the Trembowla Cross of Freedom Historic Site, which features the first Ukrainian Church in Canada, built in 1898, as well as a pioneer home and a school house.

On July 11, 1898, Dauphin became a village and George Barker was elected as the first mayor.

Three years later, Dauphin was a town and its importance in the shipping of grain from the plentiful fields of central Manitoba saw more settlers arrive over time.  

Work began on a new building in Dauphin in 1904, with construction continuing until 1905. Once completed, Dauphin had one of the most impressive town halls in the entire province. The solid brick structure with a large square tower became a defining feature of the community. Designed by local man Stuart Geekie, it has served the community for decades, including as the municipal offices, a courthouse, jail, fire hall and even the RCMP detachment. The building still stands to this day and is now a Provincial Heritage Site.

In 1912, the Canadian Northern Railway built a new train station in Dauphin to handle the growing number of settlers who were arriving from across Europe, Canada and the United States. The previous station had burned to the ground on Jan. 15 of that year. The Calgary Herald reported quote:

“The entire building was gutted, but it was an old one.”

It was believed that the fire started in the baggage room. By the time the fire was out, it had also destroyed the telegraph office.

When the new station was built, and even today, it was considered to be one of the best pieces of Manitoba railway architecture thanks to its decorative brick, turrets, picturesque roofline and beautiful stone work.

Due to its heritage, the rail station was turned into a Provincial Heritage Site and today, it houses the Dauphin Rail Museum. At this museum, you can look through the artifacts, pictures and archival materials that relate the 100 years of railway history in the region. At the museum, you will also find a model railroad depicting Dauphin in 1954, a caboose and a 15-stall roundhouse and turntable. The roundhouse, which was built in 1906, is one of the last remaining roundhouses in all of Canada.

By 1921, Dauphin was exploding in size. Building permits had doubled from the previous year, and the community had six banks, along with three more coming in, as well as hundreds of cars in the district. There was also a modern theatre that could hold 700 people and was one of the most up-to-date theatres in Western Canada. One reason for this explosive growth was the British American Oil Company, which had erected oil tanks and filling stations around Dauphin. Around Lake Dauphin, cottages were popping up with 35 built in 1921 alone.

Beginning in 1936, the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Resurrection was built, taking three years before it was finished in 1939. As one of the most prominent buildings in Dauphin, it would become a landmark in the community. The church was designed by Father Philip Ruh, who designed churches for more than four decades in Canada. The church was built completely by volunteers, even as The Great Depression raged. The inside of the church is absolutely stunning and absolutely should be a stop for you in the community. The paintings inside were all done by Theodore Baran in 1957. The church continues to stand in the community today and is a Provincial Heritage Site.

At the end of June in 1947, Dauphin would go through arguably its worst disaster when a terrible flood hit the area, as well as many other areas of Manitoba. The flood took out crops, highways and rail lines, and killed huge amounts of livestock in the fields. All travel into the community ended due to the flood waters for several days. While no one was killed, there was the story of a hero. On June 24, 14-year-old Cyril Demeria saw five-year-old Garry Zawada drowning in the rising waters. The water was flowing two feet deep over the road near the skating rink, and Garry had been on his tricycle trying to follow older boys on bikes. Cyril saw the boy fall into the deep water and he immediately dove into the water and grabbed Garry and his tricycle, swimming him to shore. By the time the flood was done, it was estimated that damages were $2 million, or $26 million in today’s funds.

On July 12, 1970, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip would stop in Dauphin for a short visit as part of the 100th anniversary of Manitoba. The visit was brief, and Prince Charles would visit a site along Lake Winnipeg 55 kilometres to the north, traveling by helicopter. This wouldn’t be the only visit by the Queen though. More on that later.

In 1973, Manitoba decided to conduct an experiment, along with the Canadian government. The project was to see what impact a basic annual income would have on a community, and what changes would be seen. Along with a controlled trial in Winnipeg, the saturation site would be Dauphin. The experiment randomly allocated lower-income households to one of seven treatment groups in the community and one control group. The treatment groups received a certain amount of money, each month, depending on their family size. Dauphin was chosen because it had a population that was large enough to generate enough data, but not so big it would cost too much. It was also near to Winnipeg, which was important. While no official report was created, later studies found that hospital visits dropped 8.5 per cent, a reduction of psychiatric hospitalization and several other social benefits to the program.

On October 5, 1984, the Queen returned to Dauphin for a longer visit than her brief stop over 14 years previous. Prince Philip had left the previous day, but the Queen would enjoy Ukrainian food at a lunch in the community. She would also dedicate a new site for the National Ukrainian Festival in the community. She also enjoyed a 20-minute show of ethnic dancing, old songs and more. Seven men, dressed in Ukrainian Cossack costumes, arrived on horseback and planted four flags in the ground at the Queen’s feet. The Queen, a horse lover herself, chatted with the riders briefly.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Dauphin, then a visit to Fort Dauphin Museum is in order. You can explore what it was like when early fur traders were coming through the area through the buildings that have been restored on the museum grounds, including a one-room pioneer log house. In addition, over 80,000 artifacts have been catalogued at the Parkland Archeological Laboratory at the museum.

Learning about the Ukrainian heritage of Dauphin is fascinating, and you can step back into the past to see that heritage first hand at the Selo Ukraina Heritage and Festival Site. The heritage village is a living museum that depicts what it was like for Ukrainian settlers on the Canadian prairies between 1896 to 1925. The village features three pioneer homes, farm buildings, a church, a prairie school and a store, along with many artifacts. As well, you will find Rhodes Hall at the site, which is the location for the Ukrainian Musicians Hall of Fame.

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