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Manitoba Historical Society
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The Story of Deleau

by Bob Robson

Manitoba Pageant, January 1963, Volume 8, 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Situated in the southwest corner of Manitoba, approximately forty miles from Brandon, the small village, or more correctly, the hamlet of Deleau may be found. The residents of this town and the surrounding Deleau district are of distinctly different racial and religious back-grounds. Most of its European settlers were French or Belgian and thus Roman Catholic in religion while other settlers consisted of English Protestants from Ontario. The racial background of the people was reflected in names such as Baptiste, Blanchard, Collignon, Colleaux, Gatin, Marcq, and Deleau. Many of the European settlers were brought into the area in the early 1900s by an immigration scheme sponsored by the Liberal government. The policy in effect was that the government would pay that part of the fare which the settlers could not pay. (One crippled Belgian tailor was helped in this way and cried for hours when he heard of the death of the Liberal leader, Wilfrid Laurier.)

The area around the present site of Deleau was originally surveyed in May, 1881 and was subsequently occupied by settlers, many of whom were bachelors. One such bachelor was Tom Bird, whose land was one half mile east of Deleau. He came west and settled between 1881 and 1882. His land was considered by the CPR as a possible site for a station and it was proposed to call the station Bird’s Nest, after him. He valued his land too highly and an alternate site had to be chosen.

Sebastian Deleau, of Belgian stock, had settled in the area in 1889. When the first train arrived in December, 1892, he donated some of his land for the establishment of a station, and consequently the town was named after him. It was only a coincidence that the contributor’s name was Deleau, which, when translated from French to English, means “some water”. Nevertheless, water, which could usually be found by sinking a sandpoint, was readily available and this fact prompted the CPR to build a water tower there. The tower was recently demolished, with the advent of diesel engines.

When the immigrants arrived, the English-speaking Protestants settled on the east side of the town and generally the Belgian and French Roman Catholics settled on the west side. As a result there grew up to be a certain amount of discrimination and racial prejudice against the Europeans who tended to isolate themselves. The feeling was so strong on both sides that different schools were built. The gap was soon closed, however, when the two schools were torn down and the consolidated school was built in 1919. Another thing that tended to point up the differences between the two groups was the fact that two different churches were built. The Roman Catholic church was built in 1899. The Protestant Bethel Church was built in 1895 as a community affair. Before it was built services were held at the homes of many people in that district.

A brick factory was begun in 1892 and later another was established nearby. Bricks from the local industry went towards building many homes, besides the Roman Catholic Church and the schools. It has had three general stores in its history. The first store was started in 1894 by J. B. Abraham of Hartney, who ably maintained it for twenty-four years before selling it. The town has since had two other stores built while the original one is no longer in existence. The town was once graced with the presence of a Belgian tailor (previously mentioned) who was also janitor of the school. There was a blacksmith’s shop which was later replaced by a garage. There was a post office run by members of the community in turn. In the early 1900s a warehouse was built and operated by J. Kerr, who bought and sold grain. At one time, there were facilities for the loading of cattle along with a small station. Two elevators were built to handle grain storage. A loading platform was built after a short while. It was the general feeling among the farmers that the elevators were charging too much for the storage of grain so they banded together, and, in 1924 began loading grain with the Robson grain blower, purchased by E. P. Robson, buying agent for United Grain Growers. The population never was very great in those days. It would include only the few people required to look after the concerns mentioned. Such was the state of affairs during what might be termed the heyday of the hamlet of Deleau.

The important thing to consider is the original dependence of this community upon the railway as a means of transportation, communications, and shipping of grain and cattle. Two factors forced the hamlet to cut off this dependence and left it stranded, like a tiny oasis in the midst of a huge desert. The first factor was the building of good highways in the area and the increased use of motor vehicular means of transportation, shipping, and communications. The second factor was the change from steam to diesel engines. The diesel meant speed and became an express with no reason to stop in the hamlet of Deleau.

Consequently the town, which never was much, is even less today. The brick factories, the warehouse, the tailor’s shop, the blacksmith’s shop, the garage, and one store have all closed down. The two elevators, the stockyards, the water tower, and the station have all been demolish-ed. The future of Deleau as a town holds nothing. The school, churches, stores, and post office remain, but largely as a result of action taken by the people of the district who want to keep alive a central spot for their activities. The future of the people of Deleau district is indeed very bright. The light, sandy, loamy soil is very productive when treated properly. Mixed farming is most profitable and several herds of Herefords, Holstein, and Angus cattle have been developed. Such families as the Robsons, the Cannings, the Denbows, the Jaspers, the Fehrs, the Deleaus, and the Irelands now constitute the strength and future of the Deleau district. They have been successful where the town was unsuccessful, a story that is true of too many areas of rural Manitoba.


29 July 2012: Lucy Wedge notes that the general store in Deleau was owned and operated for many years by members of the Breen family: Louis and Eva Breen, and their sons Samuel and Leo. The Breens were of Jewish ancestry.

Page revised: 29 July 2012

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