The History of Gladstone

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For centuries, the land that Gladstone was the traditional territory of several Indigenous groups, including the Anishinaabe, but primarily the Cree and Ojibwe people. The bison would migrate through the area, providing an important source food and supplies for the Indigenous.

Today, Gladstone sits on Treaty 2 land.

When Europeans first arrived in the area of Gladstone, it was given the name of Third Crossing, as it was the third crossing over the Whitemud River.

By 1872, the community started to grow and a new name was chosen, this time it was Palestine. That name only lasted for seven years until 1879 when a third, and final name, was chosen, Gladstone.

The community would be named for William Ewart Gladstone, who was the prime minister of Britain at the time

In the 1890s, a terrible blizzard hit the area of Gladstone, which was relayed in the book I Lived In Paradise by Margaret Galloway. In the story, Roger Galloway begins to hear customers talking about the snow that was starting to fall in the area. His two daughters were still in school and he began to worry about them making it home. Since the school was not far he decided to venture out but soon found himself lost in the blowing snow. He couldn’t see any tracks and the buildings around him were obscured. Thankfully, he reached the school just as his daughters were getting ready to leave.

With his daughter Nina holding onto his hand, and Margaret riding piggy back on him, he made a short cut across the prairie towards the blacksmith shop but had to turn back. They would struggle through knee deep snow in the dark until the sun went down when they finally reached the door of their home.

Meanwhile, back at the school, the teacher waited until every student had been picked up before she attempted to walk to her boarding house.

She tried her best to get home but fell in the snow exhausted. Thankfully, another man happened to be making his way through to his home and tripped over her. He carried her to his home, saving her life in the process.

Sadly, that school would be destroyed by a fire two decades later on Oct. 9, 1918. The building was completely destroyed, resulting in $18,000 in damages.

Born in Gladstone, Manitoba on June 1, 1899, William Claxton would enlist to fight in the First World War as a member of the Royal Flying Corps on his 18th birthday. After completing his pilot training, he was sent to the Western Front.

In short order, he became the most successful airman of his squadron, claiming 37 victories in the air in only 79 days. This was accomplished by shooting down several planes in a single day, multiple times. From June 27 to June 30, he shot down 13 aircraft and on June 30 alone he shot down six. Due to his free-wheeling style in the air, his planes were often the worse for wear. He would often return back to base with his planes shot up, and on at least one occasion, crash landed.

On Aug. 17, 1918, Claxton was shot down behind enemy lines. Suffering from a serious head wound, his life was saved by a German doctor who performed cranial surgery.

The Kingston Weekly British Whig would report quote:

“With 33 enemy planes to his credit in less than four months, Flight Lt. William Claxton now a prisoner of war.”

Captain Frederick McCall would say of Claxton quote:

“I doubt if there is an airman living who can touch my little fighting partner’s record for within four months in France, he officially downed no fewer than 33 enemy planes of all sorts.”

Over the course of his flying career, Claxton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar and the Distinguished Service Order.

Claxton remained a prisoner of war until the end of the war. He would return home to Canada in December of 1918. He spent rest of his life working as the financial editor for the Toronto Telegram and as the manager of the Claxton Financial Digest.

He would die on Sept. 28, 1967.

In 1902, work began on the brick Galloway Brothers Department Store in Gladstone. This two-storey structure continues to occupy a deep lot in the community and has become one of its lasting landmarks. The building was built as one of the earliest facilities of its type outside an urban centre in the province. With large windows and fine interior metal detailing, it was meant to emulate the large stores of Eaton’s at the time. It was also built where it would have access to rail transport and it has been occupied by several commercial businesses over the years. The building became a provincial historic site in 1989.

In 1905, the Smith/Arthur Farm Elevator was built. This small grain storage building sits on farmland near Gladstone and is an example of a grain handling facility built for the large progressive farms at the time. The building continues to stand to this day, despite being made of wood in a rural area, and is still used by the farmer who uses the land. Due to its historic nature, the elevator was made a municipal heritage site in 2004.

If you visit Gladstone, the first thing you will notice is a very large rock smiling at you. That is Happy Rock, the symbol of the community. Happy Rock dates back to the 1970s when the provincial government was looking for ways to develop and implement strategies to increase tourism traffic in rural communities.

Since Gladstone was referred to as Happy Rock by locals, the decision was made to create a symbol of that to draw in tourists. In 1984, the Chamber of Commerce decided that a mascot was needed and a logo contest was held. Jerry Wickstead, a student at William Morton Collegiate in Gladstone submitted the winning entry.

In 1988, Gladstone registered Happy Rock as a trademark. From 1991 to 1993, fundraisers were held to raise money to build a roadside attraction and by 1993, this was successful. Happy Rock was created out of fiberglass, taking four months to complete. The statue cost $92,000 to make, and stands at 36 feet high and weighs over 3,000 pounds.

The statue was unveiled to the public on July 1, 1993 and has since become the lasting symbol of the community. In 2010, Canada Post released a stamp depicting Happy Rock.

If you would like to learn more about the history of Gladstone, then you should visit the Gladstone District Museum. This museum contains many artifacts from the pioneers of Gladstone, as well as a replica of the town constructed by a local resident. There is also the Royal Canadian Legion Room, the Masons display, a Church display and a school display. Outside the museum, there is a Signal Man’s Shack, the 1914 Boyd House, and a CN Caboose to explore.

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