Memorable Manitobans: Charles Whitehead (1836-1919)
Contractor, lumberman, municipal official.
Born in England on 4 July 1836, son of Joseph Whitehead, the family moved to Clinton, Huron County, Canada West [now Ontario] in 1850 and came to Manitoba in 1877 when Joseph received a contract from the Canadian Pacific Railway to grade the main line between St. Boniface and Rat Portage (now Kenora, Ontario). Charles assisted his father in bringing the first locomotive, The Countess of Dufferin, into Winnipeg on 8 October 1877, aboard barges towed by the steamboat Selkirk. In 1880 he started a lumber business with Frank Myers at Grand Valley and, in May 1881, he delivered the first consignment of lumber to Brandon.
He purchased the first parcel of land at Brandon from the Canadian Pacific Railway. The agreement is docketed “Contract No. 1” in the files of the company, defined as “3.10.19 W; good grass land, with some timber, in a district watered by the Assiniboine.” The date was 23 October 1881; the consideration was $2.50 an acre. This was the purchase of the first acre sold out of the twenty-five millions that were granted to the road by the federal government. An interesting and humorous item in connection with his early life in Manitoba was his telling of the loneliness suffered by the early settlers. So lonely were that one man brought in a crate of cats from Ontario and sold them for three dollars apiece. The sole reason for this extraordinary price was that the cats were company; they made a place more homelike.
He farmed near Brandon for several years, serving as the first Reeve of the Rural Municipality of Cornwallis (1884). Later he obtained contracts for the construction of the main line of the CPR in the Rockies and the drainage of Boyne Marsh south of Carman. He was an early proponent of the Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson’s Bay Railway.
He married Hannah Sybil Lake (1838-1921) and they had six children, among whom was newspaper publisher Joseph Blyth Whitehead. He was President of the Board of the Brandon General Hospital (1904-1918), President of the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba (1882-1896), a member of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, and a Mason, and he took an active interest in politics.
He died at Brandon on 10 March 1919 and was buried in the Brandon Cemetery.
Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
Municipal Memories: Municipality of Cornwallis, 1884-1984. Cornwallis Centennial Committee, 1984. Manitoba Legislative Library, F5648.C67.
Lawrence Stuckey Collection, S. J. McKee Archives, Brandon University.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 4 June 2020