Long before Europeans, and even the Indigenous arrived, the area of Carberry was covered by immense glacial ice sheets that covered the entire landscape. Over the course of 30,000 to 10,000 years ago, these ice sheets would move north and south depending on the climate. As the huge ice sheet began to melt around 13,000 years ago, the melt water would create a lake that covered southeastern Manitoba, northwest Ontario, northern Minnesota, eastern North Dakota and Saskatchewan. It was Lake Agassiz and at its greatest extent it covered an immense 440,000 kilometres, larger than any lake in the world and about the size of the Black Sea. Through the centuries, it would drain in different directions, including into Lake Superior, the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean. The huge amount of freshwater draining would actually impact early human civilization. There is some evidence, although this is disputed, that the influx of fresh water into the ocean currents caused the sudden decrease in global temperatures around 6200 BCE. Some believe that the immense draining of the lake may also play into certain flood myths of prehistoric cultures. The fertile soils of southern Manitoba are thanks to Lake Agassiz, as are the Carberry Sand Hills that I will talk about in a little bit.
Centuries before Europeans arrived, the Assiniboine River was a very important highway for the Indigenous who would travel through the area to hunt and trade with other Indigenous groups. The bison were found in the area and proved to be extremely important to the local Indigenous who would use the animal not only for food, but items used in their day-to-day lives. The primary Indigenous found in the area were the Cree and Assiniboine, with some Eastern groups such as the Ottawa and Ojibwa.
Today, the area sits on Treaty 1 and Treaty 2 land.
The first bit of European settlement in the Carberry area started in the late-1760s when Pine Fort was established by a group of independent fur traders out of Montreal. While most forts were started by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and later the North West Company, Carberry was already unique with its independent birth.
Originally called Pine Fort, it was at a central location for the trading amongst several Indigenous groups including the Assiniboine, Sioux, Cree, and Ottawa.
Eventually, the fort was taken over by the North West Company before it was abandoned in 1811 as the Pemmican War between the Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company kicked off.
With the fort abandoned, the First Nations people began to move through the area and reside there until the 1870s when Europeans began to arrive again.
As for Carberry, it would be incorporated as a community in 1882. Most of the early settlers were British, and they would name the community after Carberry Tower, located in Scotland. That same year, the CPR established a station at De Winton, a former town that was 3.5 kilometres east of Carberry. The town quickly grew and had stores, a post office, grain warehouse and hotel.
Unfortunately for De Winton, several CPR officials purchased much of the property of the new town in the hopes of gaining big profits when the town grew around the train station. This was against the rules of the CPR and once the ruse was discovered, the company hired 100 men to physically move the train station to the present site of Carberry in the spring. This move was done in the space of 12 hours, in the middle of the night.
This was the beginning of Carberry and the first building in the new town would be the CPR station.
As for De Winton, it would fade into history.
In 1890, the Carberry News Express Building was built and became an important part of the early community. At the time it was built, it did not house the Carberry News Express, that would come years later. First, it was occupied by a pool hall and barber shop, and over the years the building became an important part of the social and business life of Carberry. Made of brick, this structure is part of the line of historic buildings found in the downtown core of Carberry, which I will talk about later.
Canada’s greatest flying ace of the First World War, and a legendary figure in Canadian aviation, Wop May, was born in Carberry in 1896. After his family moved to Edmonton in 1902, May would enlist in the First World War and shoot down 13 enemy aircraft that are confirmed, along with five others. There is also the belief that it was he, not fellow Canadian Arthur Brown, who shot down the Red Baron himself. May was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1918 and left the Air Force with the rank of captain. May wasn’t done with his legendary exploits and he would play a central role in both the Race Against Death to deliver medicine to the north, and the hunt for the mad trapper.
During the period of 1882 to 1903, the downtown core of Carberry was built in two linear blocks. This district would consist of 39 commercial and institutional buildings that formed the commercial heart of Carberry. Covering 15,000-square-metres of land, the entire district is now the Historic Downtown Carberry Heritage District. Many of the original buildings still stand and the district today is an expression of the pride and sense of civic responsibility found in Carberry. Due to the historic nature of the district, it was made into a Municipal Heritage Site in 2008. Today, it is the only Designated Heritage District in all of Manitoba.
In 1907, the Old Town Hall was built in Carberry to handle the growing administrative needs of the community. The building would accommodate the town hall but also the local jail. It also served as a meeting place for the community through the years. The war memorial is also located at the building. In 2007, it was made a Municipal Heritage Site.
In 1909, Camp Sewell was established 10 kilometres west of Carberry. The military training camp would have its name changed to Camp Hughes in 1915 in honour of Major-General Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defence at the time.
With the outbreak of the First World War, the camp took on a new role in the training of recruits. Extensive trench systems, grenade and rifle ranges and military structures were built during 1915 and 1916.
The Edmonton Bulletin would write on March 30, 1915, quote:
“Camp Sewell in Manitoba will be opened May 1 and most of the western troops of the third contingent will be mobilized there. A mile of targets, 500 in number, will be erected. Col. William McBain will take charge. Col. McBain, who designed Valcartier Camp, says that Sewell will be patterned after the big military site at Quebec. He says there will be sufficient room for all western troops.”
An estimated 38,000 soldiers from the Canadian Expeditionary Force trained at the camp and the camp was for a time the largest settlement in the entire province after Winnipeg. Many of those soldiers would later take part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Most of the men would join B Company of the 226 Battalion.
The sight of all those men at the camp had a long-term impact on those in the community, as described in the local history book of the community.
“The writer well remembers being there with my father and seeing 4,000 men marching in from west of the camp, four abreast. Their uniforms had red tunics, left over from the Boer War. The uniforms were changed to khaki at that time.”
There were 18 battalions and two drafts of 100 officers in total sent overseas from Camp Hughes. During the war years of Camp Hughes, Harry Reid and Alfred Ashton served as the caretakers of the camp. Annie Neighbour, whose husband was the caretaker of the camp, had a coffee shop for the troops at the camp from 1920 to 1934.
In regards to the camp, it would continue to operate until 1934 when it was closed. It would re-open in the 1960s as a Cold War remote transmitter station until it was closed in 1992.
Today, the camp is a National Historic Site of Canada thanks to the intact World War 1 battle terrain. It currently has one of the only World War One era trench systems in the entire world.
On Jan 12, 1911, a local woman named Hazel Margaret Ireland would marry a man by the name of Robert Young Eaton. That young man would go on to become president of Eaton’s and he married Hazel at St. Agnes Church in Carberry. The event was described as such in the local history book, Carberry Plains.
“The T. Eaton Company brought a special train from Toronto, with dining car, sleeping cars and parlour car, as well as personnel silver, china, etc for the reception, which was held on the train. The train was stationed on the side track at the south end of Selkirk Street. Quite the event for our small town.”
By the time of the Second World War, Carberry was once again an important spot for the military. In December of 1940, troops from the Royal Air Force arrived and established the Service Flying Training School Number 33, which would be known as RCAF Station Carberry.
The base would be part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and thousands of pilots from the Commonwealth would go through Carberry to train. The first contingent of the RAF would arrive on a cold day in December of 1940, followed soon after by the wives and children of the ground staff and instructors at the camp. Like during the First World War, residents would remember the training and soldiers for many years. As related in their local history book, “The first planes were Harvards and were very noisy. They were followed by Ansons. Pilots from all over the British Empire got their wings here and were soon sent overseas into combat.”
Following the war, the base was disbanded and today is the site of the McCain Foods processing facility.
Richard Burton, one of the greatest actors of the 1950s and 1960s, who was nominated for seven Academy Awards, was posted in Carberry as a Royal Air Force instructor during the Second World War.
In 1942, the Carberry Pentecostal Church was built as a modest-sized brick veneer structure. Standing on Main Street, it serves as an example of the congregation’s commitment to establishing a permanent place of worship and community resource in the community. Part of the historic downtown core of Carberry, it was made a Municipal Heritage Site in 2007.
In 1964, a beautiful provincial park was created named Spruce Woods Provincial Park. This park, located in the Carberry Sandhills, occupies one of the few places in Canada where you can find sand dunes. It is not a true desert but the remnant of a sandy delta of the Assiniboine River from the era of Lake Agassiz. Within the sand dunes there are many very unique flora and fauna to the area including cacti and hognose snakes. Measuring at 269 square kilometres, it has also been designated as a Dark-Sky Preserve by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Within the park, there are several historical plaques that honour the Assiniboine, the role of entomologist Norman Criddle in the study of the natural history of the area and of Manitoba and Pine Fort’s role in the growth of the area centuries ago.
In 1970 the Royal Family, stopped in Carberry in a very unique way. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne stopped for a rest period near the Bailey Farm.
According to the local history book quote:
“The Royal Family spent the morning riding the RCMP horses from the Musical Ride, which were there for the occasion. Later, a cup of coffee was shared with the Bailey family at their home.”
While the stop at the Bailey Farm may have seemed rather impromptu, it was planned in June of 1970, with the visit happening on July 13.
Roy Bailey rode a horse from the RCMP Musical Ride at the head of the group that went to the station to meet Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. Queen Elizabeth joined Roy for a ride around the farm, along with an officer of the RCMP. Roughly 40 minutes was spent relaxing and talking with the Royal Family, while enjoying fruit juice, coffee and coffee cake. Before leaving, the Queen was presented with a plaque from the Baileys and brooch in the form of a crocus, the floral emblem of Manitoba, which was presented by Kim Bailey, the granddaughter of Roy and Nora. The Queen then presented the family with an autographed picture and Prince Phillip suggested pictures of the family together.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Carberry, then you should visit the Carberry Museum and Gingerbread House. Within the museum, there are paintings, items owned by former residents like Tommy Douglas and Wop May. Several exhibits highlight the sports memorabilia of the various eras, and several decade-specific collections to show how Carberry has changed over the years. The museum itself is located in the former sash and door factory that was operated by local man James White. He would sell the building in 1939 and in 1979, it became the museum. Next door to the museum you will also find the full-restored Gingerbread House. This unique building with fanciful architecture is one of only three in all of Canada of its style.