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The Post Road (part 2)
by Conrad Stoesz
The first part of this article was published in the June, 2000 Mennonite Historian.
Before the Post Road was established, two expeditions made significant treks through the area. The Boundary Trails Commission began at Fort Dufferin in 1873. It went south to Pembina and then followed the Pembina River to what became Gretna. Here it split into two groups, one continuing to follow the Pembina River into the US, and the other going in a northwesterly direction. The latter group camped at the site where Reinland was later established. From here the Boundary Trails Commission made its way to Mountain City. The southern group, after coming to St. Joseph (now Walhalla) followed the foot of the Pembina Hills to meet the other at Mountain City. Here the two groups joined again and continued west.
The following year, 1874, the North West Mounted Police also began its inaugural ride through the prairies at Fort Dufferin. They hugged the 49th parallel and rode straight west, camping overnight near the present day town of Gretna, and then continued until they found another natural campsite, the location that is now Reinland. From here they continued in a northwesterly direction to Mountain City and further west. While these two treks proceeded through what became the West Reserve, both of them always stayed south of what became the Post Road.1
The Post Road was thus a road in its own right. It became more traveled and important with the instillation of the markers. There were stopping points along the way and some people opened up their homes to travelers. Most notably were the David Schellenberg family in Neuanlage2 and the Jacob Giesbrecht family in Reinland.3 The Schellenberg family did not lock their doors at night so that the weary travelers could enter the house, find a spot on the floor, and get some rest. When waking in the morning, the Schellenbergs never knew how many guests they would have on their floor.4 At times as many as fourteen people took refuge over night there.5 Further west, just outside the village of Neuhorst, William Brown established a hotel.6 This hotel and livery barn was considered the best accommodations anywhere in the west according to the Southern Manitoba Times.7 In an August 31, 1881 letter from the Land Surveyor office in West Lynn, A.F.A. Martin states that the Brown property had one large two-story hotel measuring 40 x 36 feet which cost five thousand dollars. The barn measured 56 x 32 feet and cost one thousand, six hundred dollars. Other buildings on the property measured 60 x 25 feet and 12 x 18 feet, which together were worth eight hundred dollars.8 Brown settled on the land in December of 1879, after he bought the land from a certain Mr. Stevenson.9 In 1881, Brown was given permission to erect a new “first class” stable and hotel on the property.10 The establishment of such a business in the heart of the Mennonite West Reserve did not sit well with the Mennonite leadership. They tried to have him removed from the reserve, but Brown retaliated by garnering over 350 signatures of people who supported him and his business, many of them from Emerson and West Lynn. The signatures show that there were many non-Mennonites who traveled the Post Road and believed that such a stopping place was of importance. In the end the government decided to allow Brown to remain on the land.11
The road’s importance as a trade route grew substantially. In an 1883 article the Southern Manitoba Times reports travelling “ . . . behind one of Shortreeds’s fast nags we were soon bowling along at a lively gait along the famous Post Road . . . ”12 Business men, farmers, and stage coaches all traveled along the road.13 Open prairie, fields of grain, villages, hotels and sawmills were found along the way. Teams of horses that hauled freight along the Post Road would pull an average weight of one to two tons. The distance they traveled was determined by various factors such as weather and road conditions, the maximum distance being about thirty miles a day.14
It did not take long for the mail service to take advantage of this new well-marked road. The route is marked on an 1882 federal postal map.15 Emerson was the central location for distributing mail as far west as Nelsonville, Manitoba.16 These circumstances together allowed the threefold increase in agricultural output to be brought to market in Emerson.17
While the Post Road facilitated better and faster travel, it also brought new issues to the communities. During the winter of 1882, travelers along the Post Road brought, and presumably helped spread, diphtheria in the Mennonite settlements. Many graves were dug in the frozen ground “by men who had hardly the strength to do it.”18 It also brought in a foreign language into the settlement. For Mennonites, the German language was important It provided a way of keeping separate from the world and holding church and family close together. David Schellenberg of Neuanlage states in his recollections that the English settlers as far west as Killarney took shelter in his parent’s home. These people, with their new language, gave the young David a chance to learn English.19
The people who traveled the Post Road soon realized that the oak20 posts needed replacing due to weathering and perhaps due to people needing firewood. Müller contacted the local representative in the provincial legislature for help in maintaining these posts. On May 25, 1881, the provincial assembly passed “An Act to protect guide posts along certain roads in this Province”.21 This legislation introduced by Mr. Greenway stated that anyone found destroying or mutilating the posts would be subject to a ten dollar fine. This is one of the first laws in Manitoba governing road travel.22
The eastern portion of the Post Road remains today, with the most easterly portion incorporated into the provincial road number 243. The western portion is no longer in use, having become parts of farmers’ fields and pastures. By 1930 virtually no trace of the western part of the Post Road is visible on aerial photography.23
It is unclear as to when and exactly why the Post Road came into disuse. Numerous factors should be considered. By 1883 the road was no longer used as a colonization route.24 In 1884, the newly established municipal government began to give more attention to roads and their upkeep.25 When the Post Road was established there was no land drainage. Each farmer drained his own land as he saw fit. Once firmly established on the prairies, the farmers were able to break more ground for crop production. In addition, new settlers and new machinery put greater demand for land to be cultivated. In 1885 the village system began to break down. This affected the trails which connected them. Farmers began to petition the municipal government to allow them to plow up the trails and roads on their property. While this was a slow process, farmers through the 1890s continued to plow up more and more land. Even the government road allowances were not safe. In 1891, notices were published in newspapers warning farmers to allow for the ninety-nine foot road allowance.26
Until about 1900, only main section roads, which were six to eight miles apart, existed. It is unlikely that the important Post Road fell victim to the farmer’s plow until more of the road allowances were established and graded, which began to happen after 1900, and was almost completed by 1914.27 The smaller trails to wells and other villages naturally would have been the first to be worked under.
Drainage on a large scale began in 1902, when the Rural Municipality of Rheinland undertook a large drainage project, which was completed twelve years later in 1924.28 It is possible that with the drainage of the land, people could now travel along the road allowances and farmers could cultivate all of their land. Wherever the Post Road was not a part of the grid system, it was cultivated and put into agricultural production. The one thing that appears to have survived from the western portion of the Post Road, is in the village of Reinland where, in a pasture, one bridge piling remains from a bridge that was on the Post Road.
People in the area still refer to the eastern portion of the road as “the Post Road”. When asking for directions, to a certain house, people would explain that it is a certain distance from the Post Road. Over 100 years after the Post Road was established, it still plays a part in the life and history of the people and the area.
Conrad Stoesz works as part-time archivist at the Centre for MB Studies and the Mennonite Heritage Centre in Winnipeg.
- John Rempel and William Harms, Atlas of Original Mennonite Homesteaders and Some Burial Plots of the Mennonite West Reserve Manitoba (Altona, Manitoba: John Rempel and William Harms, 1990), p.4.
- Enns, pp. 4, 6.
- Ens, p.47.
- Telephone interview with Ingvar Lundin.
- The Altona Echo, Progress Edition, (Altona Manitoba, September 7, 1949), p. np.
- Enns, p.ll.
- John Dyck, “From Paper on Isaak Müller”, January 8, 1999, p. 1.
- Copy of letter from A.F.A. Martin, August 31, 1881, in author’s possession.
- Copy of “Statement made by Mr. W. Brown with reference to Section 11, Tp.1R3W.”, December 28, 1887, in author’s possession.
- Enns, p.11.
- Letter to Mr. Brown from the Department of the Interior, and research done by the late John Dyck, now in the author’s possession.
- Enns, p.36.
- Enns, p.11.
- Enns, p.11.
- J. Dewr, Chief P.O. Inspector, “Map of Manitoba Showing Post Offices and Mail Routes”, Ottawa, December 1882, at the Provincial Archives of Manitoba, H3 614.2 gmd 1882.
- John Dyck, “From Paper on Isaak Müller”, January 8, 1999, p.1.
- Enns, p.10.
- Henry J. Gerbrandt, Adventure in Faith, (Altona, Manitoba: The Bergthaler Mennonite Church of Manitoba, 1970), p.139.
- David Schellenberg, “Highlights of My Life”, 1944, translated by Susan Schroeder at Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives, Volume 4673, File 25.
- Elizabeth Bergen “Gretna Was Once Bald Prairie”, in Red River Valley Echo, June 14, 1972, p. 4.
- Enns, p.12.
- Enns, p.12.
- The Natural Resources, Aerial Photography branch has aerial pictures of the area as early as 1930. No trace of the Post Road could be found around the villages of Neuhorst, Osterwick, and Reinland, except for a hint of a path or road on the south side of Schoenwiese. It looks like a short cut that ran diagonal to the road allowance.
- Warkentin, p.253.
- Warkentin, p.255.
- Warkentin, p.255.
- Warkentin, p.256
- Mel Reimer, “Rheinland RM incorporated in 1884 with 1,895 People”, in Centennial Section, The Red River Valley Echo, Wednesday December 20, 1967, p. 15.
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