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A Brief History

The Rural Municipality of Dufferin lies in the rich agricultural region of South-Central Manitoba. The Town of Carman is centrally located and serves as the commercial hub for the area. It is here that the Dufferin Historical Museum and many of our local heritage resources are located.


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When the Province of Manitoba was formed in 1870, waves of new settlers came in response to an opportunity to homestead the unbroken prairies. In the absence of roads, the accessible and fertile area near the Missouri Trail became a prime destination for the first homesteaders and for those who followed to provide services to the new communities.

The Rural Municipality of Dufferin is thought to have been named for Lord Dufferin, Governor-General of Canada. When it was first organized in 1880 the then municipality of North Dufferin extended south to Nelsonville near present-day Morden. After various attempts at restructuring, the present boundaries of the RM of Dufferin were established in 1908.

The first wave of settlers to the Rivière aux Ilets de Bois came primarily from Protestant Ontario. In response to the ensuing disagreement and tension over land ownership, many Catholic and Métis families abandoned the area. Evidence of their heritage lives on in the St. Daniel area. Historical accounts differ on exactly how and when the river became known as the Boyne. They agree, however, that the change marked the arrival and ascendancy of Protestant ‘Orangemen’ in the area. See also: The History of the R.M. of Dufferin in Manitoba 1890–1980, pp. 2-3; The Confrontation at Riviere aux Ilets de Bois; and the River Boyne.

Later, as the Boyne Marsh was drained, Mennonite settlers from Russia and post-WWII Dutch immigrants enriched the population mix and strengthened the agricultural base in the eastern part of Dufferin. Pockets of Francophone and Ukrainian settlement in the north-west, followed since the 1950’s by an influx of Mennonite families from Southern Manitoba have made similar changes in the western part of the municipality. More recent arrivals from around the globe have further enriched the multi-cultural heritage of the area.

Agriculture has remained the driving force in the local economy and is a key element of our heritage. From the early years on, Dufferin farmers were active in local agricultural societies and, fired by local politicians, such as R.P. Roblin, were vocal in pressing for land drainage, lower grain tariffs, rail lines, elevators and improved transportation.

man on plow with oxen

A.A. Brooke painted scenes of early Dufferin. His paintings are a feature attraction at the Dufferin Historical Museum.

The Carman/Dufferin area also is well known for its superb recreational and sporting facilities. Bounded on the west by the Pembina Hills, attractions in past included downhill skiing at Snow Valley and more recent interest in the area’s fine cross-country trails and in boating, fishing and camping at Stephenfield Provincial Park. The Town of Carman has a strong heritage in sport, notably in team sports such as baseball (Carman Cardinals), hockey and curling; harness racing, or golfing at the excellent Carman Golf Club facilities.


Settlers Arrive

When the first permanent settlers arrived in the late 1800s, this area was covered in the east by the great Boyne Marsh. The Missouri Trail skirted the western edge of the wetlands. It was travelled by nomadic Indigenous Peoples, trappers, buffalo hunters and later, by early settlers to the area. Prairie grassland and densely wooded areas extended west to the escarpment that once formed the edge of Glacial Lake Agassiz.

In 1870, Manitoba became a province. This opened the floodgates to a wave of new settlers. As the land was taken up by homesteaders, the area was gradually transformed by cutting trees for building and fuel, breaking the prairie grasslands to plant cereal crops and draining the swamp. The latter project was undertaken by one of Dufferin’s most notable native sons, R.P. Roblin, premier of the province from 1900 to 1915. Further impetus for settlement and agricultural prosperity of the region came from the arrival of the railroads.


Railways

Rail lines were the lifelines of new settlements, connecting them with larger centres, bringing in mail and supplies and transporting grain and livestock to market. Communities lobbied and offered bonuses to competing rail companies. In 1882, the Manitoba Southwestern Colonization Railway (later the Canadian Pacific Railway) was built southwest from Winnipeg. Unfortunately, it stopped short of Carman at End-of-Line (Barnsley) until 1887 when the CPR extended the line the final six miles to Carman.

farmers bringing grain to elevator

A.A. Brooke painting of farmers bringing grain to local elevators early 1900s

From 1906 to 1926, the Midland Railway ran from Portage-la-Prairie to Carman and south to the US border. And in 1901, the Canadian Northern (later the CNR) reached Carman from the east, continuing westward through the escarpment. Small villages grew up along the railway as existing schools, churches, stores and post offices relocated beside the rail lines. Railways, with their stations, elevators and loading platforms, opened access to new markets and allowed farmers to ship their grain to the East and around the globe.


Population Centres

The Town of Carman (population 3,082) is now the main commercial and retirement centre in the Carman/Dufferin region. A few hamlets—Homewood, Graysville, Stephenfield, and Roseisle—lie scattered in an east-west line across the RM of Dufferin, the last of a number of small, vibrant communities that once dotted the rural countryside.

Other early communities were bypassed by the rail lines and gradually disappeared. Such was the fate of several settlements in the RM of Dufferin such as Almasippi, Bates, Bradburn, Campbellville, Salterville, St. Daniel, Barnsley and Lintrathen. This is an important part of our heritage that now is evidenced only through cairns or signs erected over the years by the CD MHAC or local community; some are unmarked.

See also: Settlements