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Pioneer Harvest at Dauphin, Manitoba

by Mrs. B. C. Goodhand based on reminiscences of Mrs. N. Bigham, a Dauphin pioneer

Manitoba Pageant, April 1958, Volume 3, Number 3

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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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“I passed by this field on a Monday”, said a man, speaking of V. H. Rampton’s farm in the Gartmore district. “The crop was standing. I passed again on the following Friday, and the field was black, having been combined, plowed and harrowed in the meantime.”

The modern speed in whisking off a harvest set us to thinking how the first harvest was taken off this farm, one of the first to be cultivated in the Dauphin district. It was the homestead of Tom Whitmore.

It appears that the honor of planting the first seed in Dauphin’s soil belongs to John Edwards, the first settler. But the first real harvest, according to Mr. and Mrs. Nat Bigham, two of the early pioneers, was taken off in the year 1887.

Tom and Harry Whitmore, Neil McDonald, John and Robert Bigham, Henry Hughes and Sam Perry had broken land that spring, and the yield was good.

The cutting was done with a “cradle,” a straight blade with a curved handle and five or six long fingers that gathered in the standing grain. The cut grain was laid in a long row, then raked into sheaves with a home made wooden rake similar to a garden rake, and tied with two wisps of long straw. Then it was stooked and later stacked and left to await the threshers.

Threshing in pioneer times was primitive indeed. The sheaves were spread on a threshing floor and pounded with a flail made by tying two sticks, one long, one short, loosely together at one end.

This was known colloquially as a “stick and a half,” or a “handle and a hit.”

When the sheaves were well pounded, the loose straw was removed, and the grain winnowed by tossing it in the air and letting the wind carry away the chaff. The cleaned grain was then bagged.

There were three “threshing gangs,” (1) the three Whitmore brothers, later to be joined by Alf Coombes, Geo. Barker Jr., and Donald McKillop, father of John and Lorne McKillop; (2) Neil McDonald and his three sons; and (3) the three Bighams, Sam, Perry and Henry Hughes.

But what to do with the grain? The nearest railroad was 100 miles away, for it was to be nine years before the railroad finally followed the settlers to Dauphin. Food and clothing had to be brought in.

There was a flour mill at Minnedosa and another at Gladstone. The settlers waited until November, so they would have good sleighing, and then they set out with loaded sleighs for the tedious two-week journey to a mill.

Edwards and the McDonalds went to Gladstone, as that had been their home, but the others went to Minnedosa. They went by the old Cameron road (a government road cut out by a man named Cameron) which led out by what is now the Banks district. They camped out until they reached Clanwilliam, where they found good accommodation.

Here the Dauphin grain made such a good impression that a Clanwilliam man, wanting some for seed, gave two bushels for one, taking a whole load.

The party arrived back safely, bringing a year’s supply of flour and eroceries, and Christmas goods and the mail, as well as bolts of cloth for women and children’s dresses and denim for the men’s overalls and smocks. There was no such thing as buying ready made dresses.

It was a great blessing when the Shaw brothers erected a flour mill on the Valley River in 1892. The settlers could then take their wheat to be milled and return the same day.

An old grinding stone from this mill may be seen on the riverbank near Oliver M. Quay’s house.

Page revised: 15 February 2016

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