Historic Sites of Manitoba: Davidson Ranch / Manitoba Dairy Farms (Marchand, RM of La Broquerie)
The Manitoba Dairy Farms Limited was established south of Marchand, in the RM of La Broquerie, by American entrepreneur Watson P. Davidson. Starting in 1909, he began to buy land, eventually holding some 100,000 acres of marginal land that had previously been considered unsuitable for agriculture. Davidson purchased three “walking dredges” to dig 121 miles of ditches over a period of 15 years to drain the area, and also constructed roads to access farmland. Over the next thirty years, he spent some $3,000,000 in land improvements.
In 1920, Davidson built six 230-foot dairy barns where more than 1,000 Holsteins were milked using machines powered by electricity generated in a building at the site. Another ranch about 19 kilometres to the southwest, called Meadowlawn, was connected to the main facility by a private telephone system. Davidson employed over 150 workers during the spring, summer, and fall, with a daily salary of 50 cents as well as meals (provided in a ranch dining hall) and tobacco. The labour force came from the surrounding communities but he also hired immigrants from Hungary, Poland, and Hungary. Davidson subdivided some of his land and, under the “Davidson Plan,” sold parcels to smaller farmers. These “package farms” included 160, 320 or 640 acres, a barn with one or two attached silos, house, ten dairy cows, and a team of horses with a wagon. He sent out advertisements and pamphlets to Europe and beyond, and attracted 70 families to homestead on his land, including the Carter and Schau families.
The Great Depression had a negative effect on the Davidson dairy operation and a labour shortage during the Second World War had an even more severe impact. The sale of package farms ended during the war and Davidson began to sell 160-acre parcels. The dairy herd and headquarters farm was rented out in 1942. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, the company did little new work other than rent out hay meadows and sell vacant farms and farmland. Before he died in 1954, Davidson donated 9½ square miles of land to the Manitoba government, which in 1961 established the first wildlife management area in the province, named the Watson P. Davidson Wildlife Management Area.
After Davidson’s death, his sons held the land until 1960 when they sold 54,000 acres to a consortium led by a man from South Dakota who intended to turn them into rangeland for cattle, later sold to a doctor from Kansas who also had visions of establishing a large ranch. The Davidson family still owned 3,000 acres as of 1970. Today, numerous hog barns occupy the region. The main “headquarters” farm on the west side of Marchand is owned by a local farmer. The dairy is no longer in operation. Most of the “package farms” are likewise abandoned.
Photos & Maps
“Watson P. Davidson’s 3,000,000 dollar dream” by Gerald Wright, [Steinbach] Carillon News, 13 May 1960.
“Extortion attempt at dairy farm stirred excitement in southeast” by Gerald Wright, [Steinbach] Carillon News, 20 May 1960.
“U.S. syndicate buys Marchand development,” [Steinbach] Carillon News, 22 March 1963, page 1.
Manitoba Dairy Farms Limited Collection, P7039, Archives of Manitoba.
The Dream: W. P. Davidson and the Davidson Era by Cynthia J. Faryon, La Broquerie: Prairie Gold Publishing, 2006.
We thank Eric Wiens, Tyler Wiens, Ernest Braun, and Glen Klassen for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 6 August 2017