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Memories of My First Christmas Eve in Manitoba

by Henry Rose

Manitoba Pageant, Winter 1976, Volume 21, Number 2

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.

Note: My father, Henry Rose, who homesteaded near Tanner’s Crossing in April 1879, was a local preacher of the Methodist Church and was appointed that fall by Dr. John McLean, pioneer missionary in the west, to open up mission work on a circuit which included Rossburn, Birtle and Shoal Lake. Shoal Lake was then the North West Mounted Police barracks at the South end of the lake, on the Edmonton Trail. In his late years Mr. Rose wrote many memories of those early days. Florence Brown

It was the 23rd of December and I was at the home of Richard R. Ross on the upper Birdtail Creek and was to be in Birtle to speak at an entertainment on Christmas eve. The snow was fully two feet deep on the level, with no road, and twenty-five miles for me to travel. There was one house on the way, about nine miles down, on the east side of the creek and two others eight miles further, on the west side. The mercury had dropped into the ball of the thermometer several mornings lately only to rise a little in midday.

Soon after dinner I was away for the first nine miles, where I expected to stay for the night. I had on my feet two pairs of socks and two pairs of moccasins—the inner pair quite light—otherwise moderate clothing and a cloth overcoat, cloth cap and homemade gauntlet mitts. For two or three miles there was a bit of a road and then I turned onto a footpath where two or three men had gone, each stepping in the same track for the rest of the nine miles where I arrived about sunset. To express the hospitality of these people would exhaust my vocabulary. Their name was Todd and they gave me their best.

The father and oldest son were away in the north bush getting out timber for building the next summer, and there was a younger boy at home to do the chores and furnish wood for fires. They had a good log house built the past summer but the logs and mortar had shrunk from each other leaving free ventilation! I slept in a part of the house that had no artificial heat, and to say the least, I had plenty of fresh air. The boy and I slept in the same bed and we had plenty of quilts and shaggenappie skins but to get into bed and get warm and to get up and dress — oh, say! But I made myself presentable and had breakfast before daylight. Though seated beside the stove, my cup and saucer were frozen together before I left the table. Do not think I am speaking disparagingly of the house or of the fire! But it was cold. I left there just as the sun rose above the horizon—no foot tracks now and the nearest house eight miles away. I went down across the valley perhaps half a mile wide and two hundred feet deep.

The thermometer registered -56°—a most beautiful day with air so still I could hear the boys chopping wood at both houses when I was midway between. Prairie chickens were all along the way.

I arrived at Mr. Thompson’s at 12 o’clock noon. Every stitch of clothing next my body was wringing wet with perspiration. There I met a young man just up from Birtle with whom I got a ride the rest of the way, but with my damp clothes and exhausted system, I thought I would freeze to death before we got there. However, the weather favored us as the temperature rose to -35°, which was milder. We arrived in Birtle soon after sunset, put up at Mrs. Chamber’s boarding-house, had supper, and made ready for the entertainment.

The evening was spent in Mr. J. H. Wood’s home which was then the largest place in town for such a gathering, and the program consisted of a debate, recitations, short speeches, music, etc. Mr. C. M. Copeland, Presbyterian student minister, and everyone from far and near that could come were present, and all enjoyed themselves. At 12 o’clock we all sang “For Auld Lang Syne” and separated, wishing each other a Merry Christmas. So passed the first Christmas Eve gathering in the history of the Birdtail.

Page revised: 16 July 2011

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