Millford, the Assiniboine River, the Brandon Hills and Newcombe’s Landing

It was evening and growing dark, but we were still some distance from Millford. Our horses had worked very hard during the day and so it was impossible to continue. Therefore a turn was made to the west off the trail and, guided by a light, we soon arrived at the house of a settler, Mr. Johnson.i He gave us a hearty greeting and, in answer to our request for accommodations for ourselves and our horses, a reply in the affirmative. We were now in a different land district, the office of which is located at the junction of the Souris and Assiniboine at Newcombe’s Landing.

The settlers of this district come in by a different route. While all those located at the Turtle come by way of Emerson and West Lynne, driving by wagons over the great highway leading west from the Red River to the Rocky Mountains, those located in the Tiger Hills, the Assiniboine settlement and in the vicinity of Brandon and Millford take the other great western route via Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie. The latter have a choice of either steamboating or of driving overland.

The residence of Mr. Johnson was the first we met with on our trip, which had been constructed of pine logs. He informed us that there was quite a growth of jack pine and poplar in the hills we had just come through. Entering the house we found supper already prepared and the little extras in the surroundings promised us that we were to receive something a little different from the rugged hospitality of many of the pioneer bachelors settled on the western prairies. When we had completed our preparations for supper, we were greeted by our hostess and invited to take our seats at the table. This hospitable request was not one we were loath to comply with. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are a young married couple of Scotch descent who told us they were well pleased with the country, their own locality in particular, and their future prospects. Mrs. Johnson stated that the land from here to Millford, nine miles, was all taken up and settled.

In the morning, when we had a good view of the land around us, we found ourselves in the midst of a thickly settled district. We could count numerous teams at work breaking up the sod. The homes of the district’s pioneers could be seen dotting the prairie while to the north in the distance the timber along the Assiniboine was visible. The road from here to

Millfordii

was a good one although the last portion is a steep descent to the banks of the Souris River. We crossed the Oak River, which flows into the Souris at Millford, on a substantial bridge with graded approaches. Knowing that Millford sprang up almost overnight, we were suprized at its business-like appearance. Here is located a grist and saw mill, a general store, a registrar office in charge of M. McDonald, Esq., a post office, a blacksmith shop, shoe shop, two large boarding houses and numerous smaller dwellings.iii

Major Rogers, the founder of the place, is a man of considerable energy; indeed pluck and perseverance are stamped on his countenance. He informed us that he landed here on the 18th day of May of last year and chose a place for his mill site; there being no settlement in the country. Today there ………. settlers located within ten miles of the place and 2000 acres are under cultivation, one settler alone, of six months residence, having 120 acres ready for seed. Accompanying Mr. Rogers for a walk around the place, we were led to the top of a hill overlooking the village and being in itself part of the surveyed townsite. From this point we had a most beautiful view of the surrounding country. Only three miles to the north could be traced the windings of the valley of the

Assiniboine

heavily skirted by growths of timber long its banks. Right at our feet was the Souris River running with a rapid current through its deep valley and the Oak River with its valley thickly wooded with jack pine. Away to the west the

Brandon Hills,

now famous because of their proximity to the crossing of the CPR over the Assiniboine River, could be seen.iv The Moose Mountains were in the even more remote distance. Before going down the hill, we were shown Mr. Roger’s mill site on the Oak River where, in my opinion, water power can be utilized with a smaller expense than anywhere else I have ever seen.

The land office is two or three miles from Millford and to reach it you have to cross the Souris here. A free ferry is operated at Mr. Roger’s expense just as he also paid for the bridges and many graded approaches on the hill sides entering Millford. If his town does not make a name for itself in the development of the West, it will not be for the lack of perseverance and generous spirit on the part of its proprietor. A short drive landed us at the land office where we were received in a kindly manner by Mr. Mills, the assistant agent at the office. The agent in charge here, Mr. Newcombe, formerly in charge of the land office at Emerson, was absent. Mr. Mills was doing a rushing business here and there was a large group waiting in the office to make their entries.

Newcombe’s Landing,v

so called after Mr. G. Newcombe, the agent stationed here, is situated right at the junction of the Souris and Assiniboine. A ferry is located across the Assiniboine at the landing just above the mouth of the Souris, but beyond a shed for the reception of goods unloaded off the steamboats plying the Assiniboine, the house of the ferryman and the Land Office, there was nothing further to be seen at the Landing. At both the Turtle and here the want of hotel accommodations close to the Land Office is a serious deficiency, but time, we suppose, will rectify these things.

It was here that we had to bid adieu to our travelling companion who would take the steamboat to Portage la Prairie from this point and thence go to Winnipeg by rail. Standing on the banks of the Assiniboine before departing, my companion expressed himself feelingly on the vastness and richness of the land we had travelled over together. The independent pride and spirit of its people, their thorough conservatism and contentment with their lot afforded him a striking contrast to the state of things in Ireland. He expressed strong hopes of the Government doing something towards aiding immigration from Ireland. For himself he was satisfied; his lot was thrown in for the future of the Turtle Mountains, the district that received his preference, and he parted from us with the full intention of being back early next spring.

With a hearty handclasp, we bid goodbye to our friend and companion leaving him, while he awaited the arrival of the boat, to enjoy the hospitality of Mr. Mills. A short drive brought us to Millford where we camped for dinner and bought a supply of oats at $2.50 per bushel. Then on again to our old friends, the Johnsons where, although we arrived early in the afternoon, we concluded to camp for the night in order to be able to face the poor road through the Tiger Hills to Lang’s Valley the next day.

i

. Messrs. Tennant and Gauvreau were likely the guests of Mr. and Mrs. T.W. Johnson, who filed for N 1/2 12-7-17 in June 1881.

ii

. The founder of Millford was Major R.Z. Rodgers from Grafton, Ontario,

….who had travelled on the first steamboat up the Assiniboine in the spring of 1880. The Major, a “man of considerable means”, had acquired the land in 1879 on the advice of his brother-in-law, F.C. Caddy, who was a Dominion Land surveyor. Caddy had surveyed Millford into 500 lots complete with public squares, a steamboat landing and, most important of all, a railway line which Rodgers expected the CPR would run through the town. – Ghost Towns of Manitoba, Helen Mulligan and Wanda Ryder, 1986, pg. 62.

The townsite of Millford was located on parts of sections 3-8-16W and 34-7-16W at the junction of Oak Creek and the Souris River, three miles south of the junction of the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers. The homestead of Nellie McClung’s parents was located three miles southwest of Millford at a bend of Spring Brook, a tributary of Oak Creek. The Yellow Quill Trail passed directly through their homestead.

iii

. Tregent and Beck of Turtle Mountain City, late Whitewater, have purchased the Milford sawmill and intend to move it to their place at once. – Manitoba Free Press, 16 September 1881

iv

. The location of the crossing of the CPR over the Assiniboine River was Grand Valley, 19 miles to the northwest of the junction of the Souris and Assiniboine rivers. On 2 May 1881, a week before Buckboard set out west along the Commission Trail, the newly formed CPR began work on the main line west towards the Rockies. General Thomas Lafayette Rosser, chief engineer, had turned the first sod at Portage la Prairie, the end of the line built the previous year.

It was generally assumed that Grand Valley, 130 miles west of Winnipeg, (according to a note in th e 26 August 1881 edition of the Manitoba Free Press this crossing was to be renamed Niagara), would be the first principal division point of the CPR. For the details why Brandon, two miles west of this crossing, received this distinction see Chapter 1 of Pierre Berton’s The Last Spike.

v

. In April 1880 federal Orders-in-Council ordered the closure of the Dominion Land Office in Emerson and provided for the establishment new land ones in the Turtle Mountain Country and at the junction of the Souris and Assiniboine Rivers. Mr. George Newcombe, (a native of Ontario and no relation to Mr. G.F. Newcombe of the Turtle Mountain Land Office), long time Dominion Land Agent in Emerson, and his assistant, Mr. William Mills, were to be transferred from Emerson to Sourismouth.

Mr. Martin McDonald, clerk of the newly organized Turtle Mountain judicial district, set about securing temporary quarters for this office, a warehouse in the newly-established town of Millford. (Mr. McDonald, a pioneer of the Pembina Mountains and the first postmaster of Lorne post office near Swan Lake, was the son of the federal Minister of Juctice; his sister was married to a son of Sir Charles Tupper.)

Mr. Newcombe made his way to this new office from Winnipeg via river steamer and arrived in time to take part in the 1880 Dominion Day celebrations and served as judge for some of the day’s athletic events. His wife and children remained at Emerson where in October the Newcombe’s first son, S.S. Newcombe, was born. In mid May 1881, after being suitably entertained by her Emerson friends, Mrs. Newcombe departed for the west. In July 1881 the Newcombe’s little son passed away at Millford at the age of nine months.

According to By Section, Township and Range, Major Rodgers had been anxious that the land office be located permanently in Millford but a site on the Assiniboine upstream from the mouth of the Souris was chosen “so that those from the west did not have to cross the souris River and pay a toll to do so.” In 1882 the Dominion Land Office at Sourismouth was moved to Brandon.

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