Manitoba Historical Society
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Jacob Y. Shantz - Narrative of a Journey to Manitoba

Introduction by Lawrence Klippenstein

Manitoba Pageant, Spring 1973, Volume 18, 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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Jacob Y. Shantz (1822-1909) was a Mennonite from Waterloo County whose parents had moved there from Pennsylvania in 1810. He was a strong promoter of business enterprises in Berlin (Kitchener) where he made his home. Chief among his own ventures in this area was the ivory button industry out of which has grown the Dominion Button Manufacturers Ltd., still in operation there today.

In 1872 Shantz was asked by the Canadian Government to make contacts with the Russian Mennonite Delegation then visiting the United States to encourage the delegates to look at Canada as a possible new home for their people. The result was a trip of investigation by Shantz with Bernard Warkentin of South Russia to see what the Canadian prairies might offer to Russian Mennonites wishing to migrate at that time.

Shantz wrote an account of their findings, Narrative of a Journey to Manitoba which was printed by the Canadian government in 1873. This was translated into several languages and copies were widely distributed to prospective settlers. A noted student of these events, Ernst Correll, later wrote: “There was hardly an official or semi-official publication on Manitoba colonization prospects which did not from that time on over a longer period carry at least a major portion of the original narrative.” A “major portion” of the narrative follows.

Berlin, Ontario
28th February, 1873

To the Hon. J.H. Pope,
Minister of Agriculture, Ottawa


I herewith enclose to you a brief narrative of my journey to Manitoba, and my opinions respecting that Province. The readers of this Report may rest assured that it contains a true and impartial statement of what I saw and learned there. Tastes differ—some may like what others dislike, and some persons are so constituted that they can be content anywhere. Fish and game are abundant in the Province, but even these must be caught before they can be cooked and eaten. Of this one fact. however, I am certain, that Manitoba offers a splendid field for immigration, not only from Europe and Canada, but also from the United States, for those desirous of acquiring a good and cheap homestead for themselves and their family. Such are sure of becoming independent if they are only willing to go to work, to be industrious and to live temperately.

I have the honor to be,
Your obedient servant,
Jacob Y. Shantz (Signed)

Manitoba and the North West

On the 5th November, 1872 Mr. Bernard Warkentin, of Russia, and myself left Berlin by the Grand Trunk Railway to Detroit (en route for the Province of Manitoba); thence to St. Paul, Minnesota, and by the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railway to Duluth; thence by the Northern Pacific Railway to Moorhead on the Red River, a place situated immediately on the boundary line between the States of Minnesota and Dacotah, from which place we proceeded to Pembina on the borders of Manitoba.

Entering that province we travelled a distance of 72 miles by stage to Fort Garry and Winnipeg, the latter being situated contiguous to the Fort, and a rising place. A railroad is now in course of construction to Pembina, which will be completed during the present year. We might have saved about 230 miles had we taken the route via Breckenridge, but in order to avoid travelling far by stage, we took the longer route by railway. From Pembina we travelled about 50 miles along the Red River—a portion of the Province as yet entirely unsettled, with the exception of a few stations scattered every 15 or 20 miles, where relays of horses and refreshments for passengers are provided. Passing this district the Half-breed settlements commence, small white houses with stables attached dotting the scene, and which become more numerous the nearer we approach the Fort.

Seven miles from Fort Garry we passed a grist mill; the homes presented a better appearance, the farms being well fenced, and the Assiniboine River was reached, a tributary of the Red River. The former stream is navigable for a distance of 60 miles or more, and though not wide is deep. Red River is navigable some 280 miles to the south and 30 to the north, where it empties into Lake Winnipeg, with an expanse of about 1000 feet at the town of Winnipeg. Fort Garry, the principal trading post of the Hudson Bay Company, contains a small fortress with a garrison of soldiers. A large warehouse belonging to the Company is situated on the River’s bank, in which six clerks are employed. There is also a telegraph office, and several two storey houses around the fort. Work has been commenced upon the foundations of a new hotel to be erected this year at a cost of $14,000.

At a distance of about a quarter of a mile or so lies the Town of Winnipeg, the capital of the Province, only founded a few years ago, but which already contains 12 stores, 5 hotels, and a large saw-mill, capable of cutting from ten to fifteen thousand feet of lumber per day. There are also a planing mill, and four printing offices. The houses are mostly frame, brick being the exception, though they are now being manufactured there. Stone and lime are procurable within six miles. The roads, as well as the streets, are in bad order, with very little sidewalk, but the building operations continually going on and teaming in connection therewith will cut them up for some time to come. Winnipeg also contains a Savings Bank and a Wesleyan church.

On the eastern side of the Red River lies the village of St. Boniface, containing a Roman Catholic cathedral, Church of England. Presbyterian Church and a school house. Further down the river is St. John’s (Church of England) College. After seeing Winnipeg we started for the Indian Mission about 60 miles to the northwest. For a distance of some two miles are the houses of the Halfbreeds, after which nothing was to be seen but the unbroken prairie, till we arrived at “Cattle Farm” 20 miles distant, where we saw 100 head of cattle grazing. The farm buildings consisted of a small dwelling house with large out-buildings, and a stack of hay containing about 100 tons. When we left there on the 23rd November, the cattle were still in the fields and the pasture was good ...

For the rest of the distance to the Indian Mission, the country changes, the prairie being dotted here and there with belts of woodland known as “bluffs” containing from one half to ten acres, for the most part poplar. This timber is used by the Half-breeds for building purposes, for fences, and for fuel. On arrival at the Mission we found about twenty families of French Half-breeds, who live by hunting and fishing. Here we met Mr. William Wagner, Provincial Land Surveyor, who takes great interest in encouragement of immigration to Manitoba. Immigrants arriving, especially Germans, would do well to apply to this gentleman for information as to the most profitable and desirable lands on which to settle.

Leaving the Indian Mission we journeyed south-west along the eastern shore of Lake Manitoba, and found fine prairie land there, dotted as before with “bluffs”. For 40 miles we traveled without seeing a house till we reached a spot called “Poplar Point” on the Assiniboine, where we found a farm of about 90 acres under cultivation belonging to a Mr. Taylor, who has a large number of cattle. In the vicinity of the settlement of the English Half-breeds, chiefly Protestants, and possessing three churches, English, Presbyterian and Methodist. Proceeding still further westward along the banks of the River, which are settled by small farmers, we arrived at “High Bluffs”, a place with three churches and a School House. Here we stayed at a farm belonging to a Mr. Allcock, an Englishman, who came here from Ontario three years ago. He showed us as fine a sample of spring wheat as I had ever seen, and told us that he had harvested 40 bushels to the acre. He also exhibited a splendid sample of oats, flax seed, potatoes, turnips, cabbage and other vegetables.

Seven miles further on, in a westerly direction, we came to the village of “Portage la Prairie”, with six stores, a grist mill, four saw mills and quite a large number of mechanics. We next visited Messrs. Grant and Mackenzie, whose farms lie about eight miles distant from “Portage la Prairie” both of whom came from the Province of Ontario.

Mr. Grant showed us a sample of wheat which had turned out 30 bushels to the acre, and some very fine oats. His potatoes also were of a very large size and superior quality, such as I have never seen surpassed. Mr. Mackenzie’s wheat yielded 32 bushels to the acre. He also showed us about 100 bushels of onions, measuring from two to five and a half inches in diameter. The turnips also were of a very large size, of which three bushels would weigh 60 lbs. He stated that he had taken 1,200 bushels of potatoes off of four and three quarters acres of land—prairie land broken up, and the potatoes ploughed under. He also showed us young apple trees which he had raised from seed, that looked very thrifty. This gentleman also possesses a herd of ninety head of cattle, amongst which I remarked a full-bred Durham bull, and some Durham cows. I am thus particular in mentioning all I saw on this farm, that the reader may form some idea of the richness of the soil. The distance from “Poplar Point” to Mr. Mackenzie’s farm is about 22 miles up the Assiniboine River along which there is a good strip of timber, and the land well settled, partly by English Half-breeds and immigrants from Ontario.

Returning to “Poplar Point” we resumed our journey in an easterly direction by the main road towards Winnipeg, and at a distance of 12 miles we reached St. Paul’s Mission. Six miles further we came to Pigeon Lake one mile distant from which is the Hudson Bay Company’s post, known as “White Horse Post”, where the Company carries on farming on an extensive scale, 9,870 bushels of grain having been raised in 1871 on two hundred and ninety acres of land. The Company also maintains here about 500 head of cattle. Twelve miles further we came to Headingley, a small village, and four miles distant from that is Sturgeon Creek, where there is a steam mill and distillery. Passing “Silver Heights”, where the Hon. Donald A. Smith, Governor of the Hudson Bay Company, resides, we came to St. Paul’s Church (Church of England), and after a further distance of five miles reached again our starting point. Our road lay on the north side of, and along the Assiniboine River: the soil consists of good rich prairie land, and belts of timber consisting of elm, basswood, ash and poplar.

Leaving Winnipeg again in a north easterly direction, we proceeded along the Red River to the Hudson Bay Company’s post, known as the Stone Fort, where there is a small garrison. The whole distance from Winnipeg to the fort is thickly settled. Respecting the weather, whilst travelling in the states of Minnesota and Dakota, from the 10th of November to the 1st December it snowed continually with drift, although the snow was not over eight inches deep on the plains; on reaching the Manitoba line, however, we found little snow, and on arrival at Fort Garry on the 17th November, there was not enough snow to cover the ground. From the 18th to the 28th November there was no snow of any consequence in Manitoba and on the 1st December leaving Fort Garry on our return we had beautiful weather, travelling by stage, on wheels, 140 miles. The further south we came the more snow we found, till on our arrival at St. Paul, it was fully a foot in depth. This confirmed the statement made by the people in Manitoba that they do not experience as much snow as falls in Minnesota and Dakota. Apparently the further westward you travel in Manitoba, the less snow is met with, and the milder is the climate.

Size, Growth and Development of Winnipeg,
the Capital of Manitoba and the North West

A general desire being felt to know the exact increase of the population of Winnipeg during the last summer, much speculation existed, based upon all kinds of random suppositions. Judging from the ordinary indications of trade and building, few towns can boast a more rapid growth. In the fall of 1870 the population was 300, whilst in the fall of 1871 it had increased to 700, and in the fall of last year, a careful enumeration made showed a population of 1,467, thus giving an increase of nearly 800 during the past year. The number of houses erected during the last building season were stores, dwellings and warehouses of one storey high, thirty-four; of one and a half storeys, thirty-three; of two storeys, fifty-six; and of two and a half storeys, one; making a total in all of 124 new buildings. In addition to this there are now under contract a brick hotel to contain 100 rooms for Mr. A. M. Brown; the Canadian Pacific Hotel, with a frontage of 90 feet, and to contain 100 rooms, whilst numerous stores and ware-houses together with private residences are being erected. There remains to be mentioned the Receiver General’s office, Custom House and Post Office to be erected by the Dominion Government at an average cost of $15,000 each.

With respect to wages, although varying according to circumstances and place, the average prices may be set down as follow: Carpenters, $3.50 per day; bricklayers and masons, $4.00 per day; painters $3.50 and labourers $2.50 per day. These rates of wages, though higher perhaps than elsewhere, are not the only advantage, for the sober and industrious may, out of the savings of one or two months, secure, by making their first payment, a lot of their own.

The market rates as far as we could ascertain them, where the supply is so irregular and uncertain, were: wheat, $1.25 per bushel; oats, $1.00 per bushel; barley, $1.10 per bushel; potatoes, 62 cents; onions, $2.00; carrots, 75 cents; turnips, 50 cents; and beets 50 cents per bushel. Hay was selling from $7.00 to $8.00 per ton; butter, 30 cents per pound; eggs 30 cents per dozen; beef 12½ cents per pound; lamb the same; veal 20 cents; pork 20 cents; and fresh fish about 5 cents per pound. Board ranges from $5.00 to $9.00 per week, though many young men save money by boarding themselves.

Page revised: 20 July 2009

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