Manitoba Historical Society
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by Florence M. Brown

Manitoba Pageant, January 1960, Volume 5, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Odanah, meaning in the Cree language "a meeting place", is one of the historic sites of the Minnedosa district. For years before the white men settled there, the Indians had used it as a gathering place.

It is situated between the Little Saskatchewan River (now called Minnedosa River) and the range of hills which marks the first steep rise of the Riding Mountains, and is near "Odanah Pass", the natural break in the hills where men could reach higher land, and through which the old Hudson's Bay trail led from Winnipeg to Fort Edmonton. Here the Indians took shelter from the north and west winds and could rest during the winter months near running water and trapping places.

One pioneer settler tells that one winter morning after a bad snow storm, the only sign of life he could see was a thread of smoke rising from the tip of an Indian teepee nestled there in the shelter of a bluff. On one of the hills just east of the Pass there was an Indian cemetery.

It was at Odanah that the first Land Titles Office for the district was situated while this part of Manitoba was still in the North West Territories, and the early homesteaders from far and near had to apply there for their claims. Mr. Alfred E. Fisher was the agent and during the rush of settlers in 1879 and 1880 he had as an assistant Mr. John Jourlay who had filed his own homestead on the N½ of Sec. 7-15-18W1. There was a Post Office there also called Odanah and, as the white settlers came, quite a village sprang up around it. After eighty years the walls of the cellar of P. J. McDermott's store are clearly to be seen. Streets were laid out, a hardware store owned by R. Wilson of Brandon and Odanah was built, also a general store run by Messrs. Dennison and Griffith which stood near the foot of the Pass. W. B. St. John opened his first photograph studio in a log building there in 1884, and down by the river there was a sawmill run by Jas. Bolton and Mr. McFaddyn.

In 1879, J. S. Armitage came to the Valley of the Little Saskatchewan and a rival settlement was established about one and a half miles east of Odanah at the site where the Trail crossed the river on land homesteaded by a Metis named John Tanner. Mr. Tanner had a toll bridge near the ford and kept the Post Office called Tanner's Crossing. In 1880, the name was changed to Minnedosa. During the boom years of 1882 and 1883 settlers bought lots all along the Trail on both sides from Odanah to the Crossing. When the boundaries of the town of Minnedosa were laid out in 1883, the land on which Odanah village was situated was included within the limits, and it still is. When it was decided in 1883 that the Manitoba and North Western Railway was to put its station at the Crossing the people of Odanah began to move their businesses to the new site and by 1885 the last store was hauled to Minnedosa and the once busy village was deserted.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Tanner's Crossing (Minnedosa)

Page revised: 16 July 2011

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