by Bruce Cherney (part 3)
In his address to the 1882 Canadian Press Association excursionists (read by town clerk John McDougall), Selkirk Mayor James Colcleugh included the typical welcome, but he also told the story about the town’s loss of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) crossing over the Red River to Winnipeg. Apparently, Winnipeg’s victory through bribery was not easily forgotten or forgiven by Selkirk residents.
Winnipeg not only paid for the construction of the $300,000 Louise Bridge to serve the railway, but a July 1, 1881, resolution was approved that provided $200,000 in cash to the CPR, land for a railway station and an exemption from local taxes into perpetuity. In effect, the city had thrown money at the CPR to drop its plan to cross the Red at Selkirk, which left that community off the main line.
Until the reversal in favour of Winnipeg, naturalist John Macoun said: “Selkirk's future was brighter than (that of) any other place in the then comparatively unknown province of Manitoba.”
It was Macoun who convinced the Canadian government, at the urging of the CPR syndicate, that the southern potion of the prairies, which had been declared an arid, barren land, was actually “unsurpassed in fertility, and that it was literally the ‘Garden of the whole country’” (Manitoba and the Great North-West, 1882).
It was good news for the syndicate, who favoured a more southerly route and for Winnipeg’s cause, but it was bad news to Selkirk. The more southerly path of the rails across the prairies more or less made the rail crossing of the Red a matter of expediency for the CPR, with its positioning at Selkirk becoming a less important issue. Some historians have argued that because of the route change, it was only logical that Winnipeg became the crossing location, so it was unnecessary to offer bribes to the CPR. After all, Winnipeg was already the largest city in the province and the North West Territories, and had a vastly superior commercial infrastructure on hand when compared to the small town to its north.
“For many years Selkirk has been struggling against fate,” wrote the editor of the Selkirk Herald on January 18, 1884. “From the very first the town met with the determined opposition of those who, being interested in Winnipeg property, and who knowing well the many advantages in situation etc. that Selkirk possessed over the metropolis, felt that their only hope was in crushing the growing town to the north. They were the stronger in financial and political influence ...”
The Selkirk mayor said the change had halted the growth of his community, but a railway was to be built between Winnipeg and Selkirk along the west side of the river, as well as a rail bridge to cross the Red and a line to the Rockwood spur, which would link the town to the “Great North-West.” At the time, the Pembina Branch of the CPR only travelled along the east side of the river to East Selkirk, meaning that the town on the west bank remained isolated from a railway connection. The only link between the two communities was a ferry.
“Any of you who may have the desire to do so can examine the crossing located here by Mr. Sanford Fleming, and then you will be able to judge the wisdom of his choice,” Colcleugh told the touring group from the press association.
Fleming, the Canadian government’s chief engineer for the CPR, which at the time controlled the company until it was taken over by a private syndicate led by George Stephen and Donald Smith, had plotted the route to be taken by the trans-continental railway. His route made Selkirk the point of crossing over the Red River and from there the rail line proceeded to the Narrows of Lake Manitoba and westward toward Fort Edmonton. Fleming had reasoned that Winnipeg was too prone to flooding in the spring and that Selkirk, with its high ridge to anchor a bridge above the river, was a more appropriate selection. He called the proposed crossing at Winnipeg “folly,” but Fleming was overruled by the Canadian government. In fact, his surveyed route from Selkirk to the Yellowhead Pass would also be abandoned in favour of a more southerly track laid across the prairies to the Rockies and Kicking Horse Pass.
Fleming, who Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald considered a liability to the rapid progress of the CPR, was eased out of his position as the chief engineer in the Public Works Department.
Quite simply, as the Herald editor pointed out, Winnipeg had the money and the political power to influence the decision-making process, both of which were lacking in Selkirk.
The Free Press reported that the excursionists took a tour of Selkirk, noting its natural advantages: “Its height above the river precluded all danger of flooding, while the light soil refuses to become mud under the influence of the heaviest rains.”
On the other hand, Winnipeg was notorious for its Red River gumbo, making passage by pedestrians and vehicles through its mud-filled streets during times of heavy rains or spring run-off virtually impossible.
“The facilities for bridging the river are apparent,” continued the article, “and the hope of the people of Selkirk, that they may shortly see the accomplishment of this work is certainly now without foundation.”
Edward J.B. Pense, the president of the press association, who owned the Kingston Whig, avoided being drawn into a debate that had already been settled. Instead, he was content to acknowledge the hospitality of the town’s citizens and expressed the hope that their wishes for Selkirk’s future would eventually be satisfied.
In 1883, one hope of the residents was realized when their town was finally directly connected to Winnipeg by rail.
Rev. Matheson noted the good feelings for the community expressed by the press association, and “hoped they would carry away some sunny memories of Selkirk and the country generally, and that they would do what they could to make the great land more known to the outside world.”
The guests then boarded the steamer to cross the river to the train station at Colville Landing in East Selkirk, where they were transferred to a special train made available by the CPR for the journey back to Winnipeg, a trip that was accomplished in “quick time.”
While in Winnipeg, the press association members were invited to city hall on August 28, where they were the guests of Mayor Alexander Logan and city aldermen (now councillors). After introductions, they boarded “a goodly number of carriages” for a tour of the young city.
“Along Main street to the north was the first direction, but sad to say the rain of Sunday night and yesterday’s lowering sky tended to dampen the sight-seeing aspirations of the party (Free Press, August 29, 1882). Logan and Alexander streets west were next driven over, after which the route lay along Main to Broadway. A drive west on the latter thoroughfare and Assiniboine avenue gave an opportunity for seeing the most beautiful portion of the city. The attractions of Armstrong’s Point were viewed, after which the carriages were driven along Portage avenue to Deer Lodge, where an important part of the programme was to be gone through.”
H.A. Chadwick purchased the Deer Lodge property in 1882, and then renovated it as an elegant roadhouse, which included a zoo, known to Winnipeggers of the day as “Chad's Place.”
Unfortunately, the planned outdoor picnic had to be cancelled due to the inclement weather, and the guests moved indoors to the lodge’s dining room for their meal.
(Next week: part 4)