Historic Sites of Manitoba: Brookeville Granite Quarry (East Braintree, RM of Reynolds)
In 1911, British-born John Henry Brooke (c1864-1950), who had come to Canada in 1905 and worked for a marble and granite dealer in Winnipeg, founded his own company, taking his two sons into the business four years later as “J. H. Brooke & Sons.” The firm specialized in “granite and marble monuments, statuary, fonts, memorials, tablets, vaults, etc.”
In 1918, Brooke learned that, during the course of constructing the Greater Winnipeg Water Didstrict Railway (GWWDR), granite deposits had been discovered about 1/3 mile north at Mile 79, near the present-day community of East Braintree in the Rural Municipality of Reynolds. Brooke bought the railway construction camp at Mile 79, consisting of a bunkhouse, cookhouse, and equipment, as well as cranes, narrow-gauge railway, and steam engine, and quarrying of stone began either in late 1918 or early 1919. Construction of the millhouse, a large L-shaped building measuring 5,800 square feet, where the rough rock was to be cut and polished, was completed in 1919. Cost of developing the quarry was said to be $125,000.
Blocks of rock weighing up to 135 tons were drilled then blasted from deposits nearby. Chunks up to 20 tons in size were lifted by a steam-powered crane onto a horse-drawn railcar, and moved about one-quarter mile on a narrow-gauge rail into the millhouse. There, the rock was cut into regular shapes and polished or sand-blasted. Electricity to power lights and run the machines was provided by an engine standing beside the millhouse. Workers were initially accommodated in the construction camp but the company announced plans to build cottages for married workers next to the Birch River. There was an ice house to store ice for refrigeration during the summer, Midwinter School provided education for the children of workers, and there was telephone service to the outside world. Brooke predicted confidently that the area was primed for development and would eventually support a population of 18,000 people. He claimed the area had “more granite than all Scotland” and it was the only granite quarry “west of the Great Lakes.”
In early 1919, Brooke advertised the “Brookeville Red and Grey Granite Quarries.” Unfortunately, his plans to name the community after himself failed when the local postmaster instead chooses Braintree after a town in Masschusetts where he once lived. (“East” was added by postal officials.) In late 1920, a spur line at the GWWDR was constructed that allowed Brooke to load stone from a narrow-gauge railway between the millhouse and the GWWD line. Just days after it was completed, the quarry closed for the winter. In early January 1921, Brooke completed the incorporation of his company as the Brookeville Granite Quarries Limited. It had five shareholders: Brooke, lawyer Alexander S. Morrison, undertaker Arinbjorn S. Bardal, financial agent John Crichton, and manager George J. Seale.
Unfortunately, the quarry did not reopen in 1921. Some claim the cause was the 1919 flu pandemic in which numerous people died and Mr. Bardal could not collect on a large number of burials. Nevertheless, J. H. Brooke & Sons remained in business until 1950 (later operating as Brooks [sic] Memorials under different ownership) but the quarry was abandoned. J. H. Brooke & Sons continued to advertise “Brookeville Manitoba Granite” in newspaper advertisements in 1922 but they might have been selling the backlog of previously quarried stone. In October 1922, Brooke led a tour of prominent citizens to the quarry, including “ladies interested in work in connection with war memorials.” None of these initiatives panned out and the facility never reopened, having operated for just a couple of years. A resident caretaker looked after the site into the late 1920s. The site fell into tax arrears in 1927 and the narrow-gauge railway was removed in 1929.
What is left at the Brookeville quarry is the concrete foundation for its millhouse. Brick walls that at one time stood on this foundation were used all over the region, including to construct buildings at the Manitoba Prison Farm. Large trees growing inside the building attest to the long period of time for which it has been abandoned. Also present, a short walk from the building, is the quarry itself, where large granite boulders presumably deemed unsuitable for processing were abandoned.
Photos & Coordinates
Pioneer History of Glenn, East Braintree and McMunn by Pioneer History Book Committee, 1989. [Manitoba Legislative Library, F5649.G541 Pio]
“The story of Brookeville Quarry” by Walter Loewen, 2003, copy provided to Gordon Goldsborough by Lorna Annell.
We thank Lorna Annell for providing information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 4 May 2021