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The Fabulous Scot

by A. F. (Dick) McKenzie

Manitoba Pageant, September 1959, Volume 5, Number 1

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

Paul Bunyan, that mythical figure of the American Northwest, has been the subject of many tall tales. It has been said that he was so big and strong that when he dragged his axe the Grand Canyon was formed, while his fabled Blue Ox measured four feet between the eyes.

But many years ago, in the district to the east of Neepawa, Manitoba, there lived a real flesh-and-blood man who was the principal character in many stories that have been told, but not often recorded. He has been referred to as "The Fabulous Scot", although he was born near Guelph, Ontario, in 1848. His name was Adam McKenzie.

Coming west in 1867, Adam homesteaded south of where the village of Arden stands today. From that time on, for fifty years or more, he was to make history. By his enormous drive, his capacity for hard work, his innate honesty and his commanding personality, he carved a niche in the hearts and memories of his contemporaries that can never be erased.

The second crop of wheat that Adam McKenzie grew was hauled from his holdings at Arden to a grist mill at Palestine, now Gladstone, some seventeen miles distant. Here it was gristed into flour. Having heard that flour was commanding a high price at Edmonton, the young settler, to whom such a prospect was merely another challenge to be accepted and overcome, loaded thirty-two carts, twenty sacks to the cart, two oxen as the motive power for each cart, and started over the Old Indian Trail for Edmonton, 900 miles away. It took two months to complete the journey, over a wet, mosquito-infested terrain.

Adam sold his whole cargo to the Catholic Mission at twenty dollars a sack. Returning to Manitoba with the $12,800 thus obtained, he bought all the land he could get at two dollars an acre. Before long he owned 14,000 acres, about ten sections of which were in the Oberon District, known as the Carberry or Big Plains. His nephew, the late Morgan May, used to say: "All Uncle Adam wanted was just the land next his own."

Because he was always an early riser, Adam once found himself involved in an embarrassing situation which became, as well, one of the most amusing incidents of his career, albeit not amusing to him.

His working day began before daylight and continued until well after dark. Each and every one of his gang of men was expected to be up and on the job as soon as the boss. In those days, too, there were no churches, but occasionally a preacher would travel from settlement to settlement holding services where a group of people gathered and a place was available.

One morning before dawn Adam missed one of the hired hands in the barn. Going to the man's sleeping quarters in the semi-darkness, he pulled aside the bedclothes and administered the palm of his hand to that part of the man's anatomy customarily reserved for the operation of spanking. Having taught his employee a lesson, as he thought, Adam returned immediately to the barn. The first man he encountered was the hired hand whom he thought he had seen in bed only a few moments before. Imagine Adam's surprise and chagrin when he was informed that he must have spanked an itinerant preacher who had spent the night at the McKenzie home and had been assigned to the bed usually occupied by one of the help! It is said that Adam disappeared forthwith and didn't return home for days.

Adam was a big man, physically and in mental outlook. No challenge was too great to be met. He liked his men strong and spirited, and his horses the same. He was an astute business man, but not one to exact his pound of flesh. In buying, he always paid cash. He was well established before the great influx of settlers in the late '70s, and he sold them oxen, horses, hogs, seed grain and other commodities. Although the current rate of interest was eight per cent, Adam charged six; and when notes owing to him were paid at maturity, he always knocked off the interest. He used to say: "I wouldn't want to pay that dirty interest myself."

Hardy pioneer, bold adventurer, indefatigable worker, Adam Mc-Kenzie was the central figure in many stories of those early days. While some of them may have lost a little through the passing years and others may have been embellished in the retelling, most of them are true. Perhaps it was Adam who gave a name to this part of the province. Maybe he was the man who, on reaching what is now known as the Arden Ridge, looked westward into the setting sun and exclaimed, "What Beautiful Plains!"

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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