Kawartha Lakes Public Library Digital Archive
Manitoba and the North-West
Fenelon Falls Gazette, 4 Sep 1880, p. 2, column 2
Full Text

This week we have come into possession of some information with reference to Manitoba and the Great North-West which will no doubt prove of interest, especially as it is derived from individuals with whom a great many of our readers are acquainted.

In February last Mr. Arthur Torrance, of this village, left for Manitoba, and finally settled in Winnipeg, and a short time ago his father, Mr. Thomas Torrance, received from him a letter which now lies before us. Arthur has two opinions about the country, one formed in the rainy season and one in the dry. In the former, he says, the streets are in an awful state with first class Red River mud, which from the alkali in it sticks to everything it touches worse than any shoemaker's wax he ever saw, and all the roads in the country are in the same state. The spring rains flood the greater part of the Province, making travel impossible; many of the farms look like lakes, and all out-of-door labour has to be given up. But, now that the wet season has been over for some time, what appeared to be lakes a few weeks ago have been transformed into the prettiest gardens imaginable, and the alkali "lets you know what it is good for." The land in places is too rich, and the best farms are those which have a fair sprinkling of limey gravel, as they dry more quickly after the spring rains than those which are all pure soil. The city of Winnipeg and the surrounding country is so level that Mr. Torrance tells us he can see a distance of nearly thirty miles, or as far as if on the ocean, and he adds, enthusiastically, "I can only say, as others have said, 'If there is a Paradise in any place on the face of the globe, it is here." In the spring a newcomer would not, judging by appearances, take the valuable farm as a gift; in the fall even the wild land is lovely, for it is a perfect garden of flowers--pansies, French marigolds, butter-cups, gowans, Scotland's bonnie blue-bells and hundreds of others--all blending their colors together and making the air heavy with their fragrance.

On Tuesday last we had a visit from Mr. Wm. Read, Jr., of Bobcaygeon, who in June, 1879, went to Winnipeg on a pleasure trip, and while there engaged with Mr. W. L. Orde, Indian Agent, as an assistant in his office at Battleford, 700 miles west of Winnipeg, where for several months his principal intercourse was with aborigines of the Cree tribe, with whom, before he left, he was able to converse to a limited extent in their own language. Within twenty miles of Battleford there are three reserves, the Indians on which visit the agency for supplies, of which they are supposed to get enough to support them for a month, although they drop in any time provisions run out, and they also receive a small pecuniary grant. They subsist chiefly on pemmican, bacon, flour, tea and "last though not least," tobacco; but they will not take either sugar or milk, nor season their food with salt. The flesh of dogs is eaten when nothing better can be had, and as this is frequently the case, the Crees' stock of these animals is very limited. During his residence at Battleford, Mr. Read of course saw all the different phases of the aboriginal character, and the impression made was so unfavourable that he says he doesn't want to set eyes on another Indian as long as he lives. But the strangest sight he saw was in July last, when about 2,000 Indians, some of them from distances of nearly 300 miles, assembled near Battleford to hold their grand annual religious dance and also to "make braves." The religious ceremony is conducted on the Tanner principle, nothing being eaten or drunk during four days, which are spent in vigorous dancing to the music of native instruments, at the conclusion of which period eating and drinking is resumed and Tanner's gluttony is beaten all to nothing. The "braves" are made by sticking wooden skewers about the size of ordinary pencils through the flesh of the candidates breast or shoulder, and then fastening him by a long lariat to the centre-pole of the "church" or attaching him to the halter of an old used-up horse. In the former case the skewered buck dances and jumps, and shouts hallelujah, and flings himself about until the flesh gives way or the skewer breaks; and in the latter he walks off, without looking back, with the old horse--which stops occasionally and jerks him tremendously--until the same result follows. Sometimes flesh and skewer hold out until the Indian faints; in which case he is released and becomes a brave just the same. All this Mr. Read saw, and he saw other things far too numerous, and some far too nasty, to mention; for the orgies in which the Indian in his native impurity indulges at the conclusion of his religious ceremonies cannot be told in print, and ought not to be narrated in any other manner. Among other things he saw a squaw beating her husband with a club, which is a very unusual circumstance, and he saw an Indian chastising his squaw with a similar instrument, which is not an unusual circumstance at all. In going from Winnipeg to Battleford, Mr. Read journeyed to Lake Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan River; but his return journey, which commenced on the 12th of July, was made overland in carts to that city, and hence by the Duluth route to Sarnia. Speaking of the North-West Territory as a place of residence, he says that, in the language of the advertisers, it will furnish "homes for thousands," but that, like Ontario, it has plenty of bad land as well as good. The climate is terribly severe in winter, and in summer the black flies and mosquitoes are almost unendurable. There are no wells, and the pond water, which has be used for drinking and cooking, is strongly impregnated with alkali. This year's crop of grain and vegetables is very good both in the North-West and in Manitoba; but he doesn't think much of the latter country, as it is so low and the rains are so heavy that frequently farmers can only pass over their land in canoes. If he returns, which he thinks of doing, he intends to go to Edmonton, 180 miles from the Rocky Mountains, as from all he has heard it is a fine district with scarcely any drawbacks. While in the North-West he visited Duck Lake, (where there is a Roman Catholic Mission) and Fort Pitt, both posts of the Hudson Bay Co., and Prince Albert, 150 miles form Battleford, which is the largest settlement in the territory, as it contains over 1,000 families and expects to add 50 per cent to that number.

Media Type
Genealogical Resource
Item Type
Date of Publication
4 Sep 1880
Personal Name(s)
Torrance, Arthur ; Torrance, Thomas ; Read, William, Jr ; Orde, W. L.
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Kawartha Lakes Public Library
WWW address
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190 Kent St W.
Lindsay, ON K9V 2Y6
(705) 324-5632
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Manitoba and the North-West