Brian Kabaluk : A Great Place to Grow Up

Written by Brian Kabaluk

The Kabaluk families settled in Landerville around 1910. Most of the early settlers in the Lac du Bonnet area found it difficult to earn a living farming and there was very little other work available so their income had to be supplemented by cutting pulp wood. My dad, Nick Kabaluk and his brother Alex kept a record of their income from cutting pulp wood from 1935 to 1940. In 1935 my dad was 20 years old while his brother Alex was only 15. That year they cut 117 cords at $1.25 a cord earning $146.25 for the entire winter. The wood had to be cut by hand, into 4' lengths and hauled out with a team of horses and sled to the nearest railroad then loaded on the rail cars. Due to the lack of roads where they cut the wood, the work could only be done in winter when the horses were able to pull a sled.









As difficult as the wood cutting was with poor tools and clothing in such extreme weather conditions, maintaining a farm was equally as difficult because everything had to be done by hand. One example of such work is a building that is still standing on our old farm on the corner of Hanson Road and #11 highway. This building was built in Landerville by my dad and his brother Alex as a pig barn over 80 years ago. All the logs were squared with an ax and the dovetailed corners cut with a hand saw. With the primitive tools that they had, the craftsmanship was quite remarkable. The corner joints are almost as tight today as they were when it was build. In 1945 my dad hauled that barn from Landerville on skids with a tractor to our new farm two miles south of Lac du Bonnet.








There were two Kabaluk families who originally settled in Landerville. My grandfather Stanley Kabaluk and his brother John. Stanley had three sons Micheal, Alex and my dad Nick.

John had four sons and one daughter, they were Bill, Mike, Pete, Dan and Kate. Kate owned the Wal-Bec theater. Her former husband was Walter Becta.

My grandfather also had a sister Mary who was married to Andrew Olynick. They also lived in Landerville and had a large family, John, Mike, Ann (Haladki/Bracnick), Katie (Mazur), Dora (Lesko/Giffth), Nellie (Gurniak/?) Peter, Josie (Kohanoski), and Mary (Haladki). Through this family I'm related to half of Lac du Bonnet.

My grandfather also had another brother, John, who lived in Brokenhead. The reason that there were two Johns in that family was because that was the way their two different Ukrainian names were translated into English when they immigrated to Canada.

The Kabaluk who owned the store by the school was Bill. When he sold that store he bought a chip stand/pool room next to Casey's Inn. I believe that his brother Mike also owned a store in Landerville for a while. Gordon Kabaluk might know. His dad was Pete.


In 1950, we moved into a house next to Central Northern Airlines just above the town dock. Lac du Bonnet was vibrant and alive with people everywhere, especially on weekends when all the farming communities would converge on the town to shop and socialize. Part of the ambiance of the town was the sound of gospel music on the sidewalks and the smell of french fries and vinegar, while crowds gathered around the two chips stands and construction workers, miners and rice pickers packed the two beer parlors.

I'm thankful to have had the privilege of growing up in a very unique environment at such an exciting time and fortunate for not having television, video games or cell phones because we used our imaginations. Most of the the toys and games that we had, we made ourselves. One day we could be pirates with a stick for a sword, while the next day that same stick could be a gun.

One game that we often played was “knock out ginger”, where we would knock on a door, then just before the occupant would open it we would run like hell. Some people would actually chase us, but little did they know that if they just ignored us we wouldn't knock on their door again.

On Halloween we took trick or treating to another level by tipping over outdoor toilets. One individual was targeted more than others because he would put rotten fruit and vegetables from his store in our bags. We waited patently in the lane until he came out to use his toilet. Once comfortably inside and resting on his throne, we tipped the toilet over onto the door, trapping him inside. I'm sure that many people breathed a huge collective sigh of relief when the town announced the new sewage system and the end of outdoor toilets.

After our house was remodeled with our bedroom facing the street, my brother and I had a front row seat of live fights out of our bedroom window as the bar room brawls tumbled out into the street from the beer parlor of the Lakeview Hotel.

The town dock at our back door was the center of activity, winter and summer, with tobogganing, skating, fishing and swimming as well as numerous other sports around town. There was never a shortage of activities. I don't ever remember any kids whining about being bored. “Bored” was simply not in our vocabulary. We could walk for miles in either direction along the river from Pickerel Rock to Holiday Beach. Even with the school just across the street, at times it was just too tempting to skip classes and go fishing.

Growing up in LDB wasn't all play. Many of us had newspaper routes where we lugged huge bags of papers around town every evening. One of the most memorable jobs was working for one of our teachers, Mr. Zaborniak. While he drove a tractor and stone bolt on his farm in Brightstone, we picked rocks in pails. At the end of a back breaking day we got paid a penny a pail.

Our living room window looked right into the CNA and later Trans Air office where many of the legendary bush pilots partied and played cards long into the night. But the planes were always flying at daybreak, transporting passengers, freight and mail to outposts throughout northern Manitoba, Ontario and the NWT. Unfortunately some never returned. In the early fifties many adults were still in awe of these incredible flying machines, but for a wide eyed kid from the farm they were an unimaginable sight. One day while I was poking around on the dock, George Fournier, the head mechanic, invited me up for a ride in a Norseman. My heart almost thumped out of my chest with excitement. When we leveled off he asked me to hold the stick and not touch anything else. With a wrench in one hand, he opened the door and crawled out onto the wing strut. Hanging on with one arm and one leg he adjusted a cable on the flap while I sat there frozen, unable to move or breath. There were still a few older airplanes flying out of CNA like the Waco, Tiger Moth, Norseman and the largest single engine plane the Bellanca. Within a short time the Beaver arrived. Because of its design and powerful engine it could get off the water quicker, allowing it to get into small lakes that were not accessible with other air crafts. Every time I hear the drone of the unmistakable and unforgettable Pratt & Whitney radial engine of a Beaver flying overhead it takes me back across the country to the banks of the Winnipeg River.

At that time the Community Hall, Lagsdin's Hall, Holiday Beach and Riverland Hall were all booming on weekends with social events, as well as numerous house parties. Today the dance halls are gone and the bars are empty, seemingly replaced by a personal care home, medical clinic, wellness centers physiotherapy clinics. It almost seems like the town has evolved with the generation that I grew up with. The times have changed, as have the demographics of the town, with many new homes and businesses and a quieter laid back lifestyle, it still appears to be a great place to grow up.

Emma Osis : Life on Bird River

Emma Osis Remembers Bird River 1910-192

edited by Chuck Leibert

It was 1910 and the first of the Latvians to settle in Bird River began to arrive. Early Bird River was a thriving community and a gateway to the wilderness as prospectors and trappers alike used it as a stepping off point to the “bush”.

Joseph Drawson, thought to be the first Latvian who settled at Bird River in April 1910, built an odd structure, mostly of galvanized tin nailed to a frame with a room constructed of logs at one end. He must have used it only for the summer. Mr Drawson and his wife had opened a rooming house near the railway station in Winnipeg where they welcomed the Latvian immigrants as they arrived, giving them shelter and advice.

After a filling meal of homemade sausages and a good night’s rest, Joseph Drawson told them of Bird River. About a dozen Latvian families settled the area between 1910 and 1927. My father, Michel Osis came with his wife Anna and four children. He purchased land in Bird River in September 1910 along with the Katlis, Arro and Gulbis families.

Bird River around our area was like having a place in a big park. The fields were all fenced off by barbed wire strung between poplar fence posts which were put in the ground by sharpening one end and pounding them into the ground with a flat rock. Cattle and horses had to graze in the surrounding bush until after haying, which was after the growing season.

Osis Family in front of first home, 1910
Michel & Anna with Peter, Anna, Milda and Zelma

The Latvians carved their living out of the wilderness with only a few hand tools. Ladders were made of two straight trees with saplings for rungs. Houses were made from logs, shingles were split by hand and floors were mud. Pieces of log were used for chairs and beds were a wooden slab platform topped with mattresses made of canvas bags filled with straw. Quilts and pillows were sewn and filled with feathers.

Mrs. Joseph Drawson was known to be a good midwife. She lived across the river at that time and November 24, 1913 was a cold day. She must have stayed there waiting for me to be born. She was such a wonderful person to leave her business in Winnipeg to come out to help my mother, but the ice was forming fast on the river. The Osis family were slaughtering pigs when Anna went into labor. Michel and brother Peter came quickly across the icy river and with the help of Mrs. Drawson I was born hearty and hale.

Our first home of logs was already built when I was born in 1913. Dad and Peter worked together on everything. My sisters Anna and Milda were not at home very much as they were babysitting for other families and helping them with farm work; and Selma and Ella were attending school. I stayed home to watch my brother August as mother had other chores. We had one cow and calf, two pigs, one horse and the vegetable garden.

During fall freeze-up and the spring ice break-up we were isolated as there was no road passage and no way to get across the river. In emergencies people walked across the river with one foot in the canoe! One of the spring chores was to drain the spring-melted snow water from the bush around the cabins into the river.

Alec Arro Weekly Summer Mail Delivery

Alec Arro Weekly Winter Mail Delivery








Letters and lists of things needed from Lac Du Bonnet went to our local Post Office on Thursdays. In the summer a boat with a 10hp outboard motor, and in the winter a horse pulling a sleigh would depart Friday morning, drop off the list at the Lac Du Bonnet General Store; go to the Post Office to drop off the mail, pick up goods from the bus depot and rail station, return to pick up the store orders and journey back to Bird River to the crowd.

Everyone was at the Bird River Post Office on Friday afternoons. They came by canoe in the summer, skates in the fall after freeze-up, on foot and sometimes by horse and cutter in winter. It was the highlight of my week. I was allowed one treat and it was always a big decision between candy, a chocolate bar, or a can of Libby's pork and beans.

Osis Second Homestead, 1923

Dad and Peter built our second house while I cared for my little brother August and mother did chores. I watched with great interest as they pulled pine logs from the bush with our little horse; peeling the logs so white and smelling so fresh, splitting the shingles and gathering the moss to chink between the logs. I spent time carrying chips and blocks to mother's kitchen. I was not made to do this but wanted to help. August was soon a companion and a little person to me instead of a baby. We worked together, constantly going into the woods, trying to cut logs to build it. We spent many hours on the rock hill behind the barn building of South Road and had a long swim in the river afterward. Once we moved into our new home it made me sad to watch the split logs turn an ugly brown.

Osis Family in front of the Second House. Anna Osis with children Anna, Emma, August, Charlie, Ella, Zelma

I recall the School Principal urging my dad too let me go to school, but dad's answer was" Emma is a help to mother looking after the little ones. I will let her go when August gets bigger." My little brother Charlie soon came along and I was nine years old when dad finally let me go to school.






Bird River before the Bridge

Bird River before water was raised Post Office in Background








Bird River before water was raised






Emma Osis Meets Charlie Libert 1922-1932

The year was 1922 and I finally started Bird River School. In those days the grades were passed by marks and not by how many years you put in so I studied hard and caught up with the rest of the kids my age. The years went by fast and I was 13 when I passed grade 8 which was the last grade in the country schools. That was as far as I ever went.

I kept dreaming ahead of life, of romance, and meeting the man of my dreams just as any normal teenager does, but I couldn’t see myself with any boy I went to school with. I thought that to meet someone I would have to leave Bird River, find a job, or end up an old maid which frightened me somewhat. I had no idea that my future husband would soon be on his way.

At that time my father subscribed to the Latvian newspaper direct from Europe. Dad and my brother Peter wrote an article and sent it there with snapshots under the headlines, “How Latvians live in Canada”. In it they wrote about the white-skinned trees and panning for gold and staking claims. They showed a photo of a pile of furs and a large bear that had just been shot.

It happened that a young Latvian by the name of Karlas Libert (later nicknamed Charlie) read this article. His father had passed away and left his country store and beer parlour to his sons Karlas and Edward but Karlas decided instead to come to Canada, destination Bird River, Manitoba. Karlas sold his shares to his brother and with that money started his journey. Along the way Charlie met another Latvian, Albert Herman. Together they came straight to Bird River.

It was a beautiful misty morning in June 1927 when I first met Charlie. I and my brothers August and Charlie were getting into a canoe to go to school when in a bend in the river we spotted one of Ledin’s flat bottomed boats with two inexperienced boatmen. We chuckled as they tried to get the boat to go straight, but kept hitting the shore from side to side.

That evening I met the two men. Charlie Libert was eager to join dad and Peter in the bush to learn how to stake claims, collect samples, and trap furs. Albert Herman had no interest for a life in the bush so Dad and Peter got him a job at John Peterson sawmill where he worked for a long time.

Although he could barely speak English it wasn’t long before Charlie was running his own business. He took to picking samples and hired men to stake claims for him. He was all energy and life; so eager to get ahead. Dad liked him so he stayed with us and when he wasn’t in the bush staking claims, he made piles of wood for winter. I liked him too and was especially nice to him, but kept thinking he would not notice me, a girl going on fourteen.

1929 Emma Osis and Charlie Libert before they were married. Emma has just come out of the smokehouse checking the sturgeon.

We were a family that loved music and our evenings were spent singing. August got himself an accordion and John Lapin taught my brother Charlie the violin. I plunked notes on an old piano. I never learned to play but could play tunes by ear. Charlie Libert joined in and we had many wonderful evenings together.

In those years a lot of claim staking was going on. Mining companies were formed and gold or other minerals were in demand. Charlie still struggled with broken English, but had a good head for business and talked companies into paying him to “stake” for them. He always hired a couple of men to help him and made pretty good living that way.

One day in early spring of 1929 my romantic dream came true. I was halfway home from the post office when I saw Charlie Libert walking towards me. I wondered where he was going. He said “I came to meet you and talk to you. You know I love you. I want to marry you and take you to Europe to meet my mother.” It made me so happy to hear this from him!

I would be sixteen in the fall, so we set the date for October 15th to leave for Europe and be at his home for Christmas. Mother thought I was too young but they finally consented and we took a boat with a 10 hp Johnson motor to Lac du Bonnet and we were married, returning to the Osis' residence for the reception.

On October 16, 1929, we left Bird River River and went by train to Halifax. The next day we got on an ocean liner which took us to South Hampton, England in seven days. We spent some time in England and then took a smaller vessel across the English Channel to Antwerp,Belgium and then by train to several European countries. As we travelled around Charlie purchased some new clothes for me. A couple of long gowns to wear to the opera and wool dresses for social events. Life was very different here. Finally the day arrived to meet his mother!

The day finally came and we took a cab from Riga to their home in the country. They had arranged a big reception with relatives, friends and neighbours in their one story stone building with a store at one end and a large beer parlour with living quarters at the other. After a big dinner and welcome speeches, we were presented with a cut glass fruit dish, some silver spoons and a glass sugar bowl.

We visited my mother’s relatives and her birthplace, it was very impressive. One side was a flour mill run by waterpower and on the other side a furniture shop with living quarters at the back. We also visited the little country farm outside of Riga where my father grew up and where my brother Peter and sisters Anna and Milda were born. It was a wonderful experience!

We returned to Bird River in April 1930. Charlie had fallen in love with Canadian bush life and was anxious to get back to claim and stake. We needed a house of our own. As my father owned a large acreage of land across the river (purchased from Joseph Drawson) we picked out a two acre spot as a wedding present. His plan was to leave his own homestead to August and this land to brother Charlie, as Peter had bought the point at Lee River Falls and he and his wife Wilma were planning to open a picnic ground.

Mr. Simon was to be our carpenter. He stayed at the homestead while building our house. He said “I'm hiring a helper” and took my brother August, a boy between ages 12 and 13 and told him “I will show you how to build. I know you will be good at it.” My brother August became a carpenter and built a real house for me.

Charlie Libert got more popular for hiring men to stake claims and pan for gold. He was flown by plane to Flin Flon, Beresford Lake, Island Lake and around San Antonio God Mies (Bisset) on Rice Lake. He also gave a lot of men jobs to go with him to stake claims and cut lines.
After the 1929 stock market crash Charlie bought up stock and made money in the stock market. He bought two lots in Lac du Bonnet where the Laverendry Store stands and the other near Dancyt’s Store.

1931 Charlie and Emma’s Home in Latvia.

We were barely a year in our Bird River home when Charlie and I returned to Europe. He wanted to share the news of great prosperity in Canada. At that time we purchased our Latvian home. It was purchased in full and managed for us by a caretaker. In the winter of 1932 I was a fine lady. We entertained a lot and life was grand; but Charlie once again grew restless and we wanted to start a family. He wanted to return to Bird River so our children would be born in Canada.

My father once again gave us two acres of land but we knew we would not be staying long. We still had our home in Latvia and we thought we would travel back and forth. Soon I was busy raising two children while Charlie was up north looking for gold and playing the stock market. Extra money was sent to Latvia to take care of the estate. Little did we know how our lives would turn. In 1937 we spoke of returning to Latvia, but Hitler and Mussolini were causing trouble and war was inevitable. I soon would realize that these plans would not materialize as the estate is confiscated in war and our life changes on the Bird River.

1940 Anna Osis in front of her house with the red roof.

1940 Emma Libert and Lolla Zeemel in front of Libert Home (1932). In the background is the first Libert Home (1929) now occupied by Anna.










Emma and Charlie Libert's Camping Holiday 1932-1944

One day in September 1932 my husband Charlie and I left our home on the river and went on a camping trip by canoe to explore their camps so I had an idea of how Charlie, Peter and my dad lived in the bush. To get to camp 1 at Bird Lake we carried the canoe over two portages. Very small and low without windows or doors, it was a hole big enough to crawl in with a canvas platform to lay on between two logs.

On the ceiling hung little canvas bags to keep mice out of the food inside. Inside one was a loaf of stale bread and other smaller bags held salt, sugar, tea, and coffee. Those things were always stored there. The rest of the food for meals was brought in by pack sack. An open fire stove had been made from two piles of stones with cross sticks so that a pail could hang in- between. We made a fire and that evening our meal was of canned goods and tea from lake water in a blackened syrup pail.

I was not willing to sleep inside, so Charlie made a bed of Spruce boughs and we slept outside on canvas sheets. The next morning we ate a breakfast of coffee, bread, cheese and jam. Charlie later shot a couple of partridges and was very proudly going to make lunch the way dad and Peter had taught him. He cleaned the chickens and kept only the breasts, throwing them in the black pail with a few potatoes. The salt was missing, so to find some we planned to go to Peter’s main camp about a mile away.

Charlie did not want to miss a chance to hunt and fish along the way so he loaded the gun and put in the fishing line as we entered the canoe. When we landed on shore, as I stepped out to control the swaying canoe I heard a shot. I turned around and to my horror I saw Charlie's right arm, white bone below the elbow and blood gushing. He shouted to me to remove my blouse and tie it around his arm to slow the bleeding and then we paddled frantically to where there was a motor boat that could take him to a doctor. He could only use his left arm and I with both of mine with all the strength I could find. Somehow we dragged the canoe across the portages and when we finally arrived it was I, not Charlie, who passed out.

Later Charlie told me that he had cocked the gun and laid it across the middle seat ready to shoot should a duck cross our path. The swaying canoe caused the gun to slide toward him and when he reached for it his fingers caught the tip of the barrel causing the gun to go off. It shot off half of his little finger and the muscle below the right elbow.

Charlie was taken by boat to a doctor in Lac du Bonnet, and I was taken home to clean up. He was then sent to St Boniface hospital in Winnipeg and I hurried to join him in support. Poor Charlie was seven weeks in hospital. When we returned to Bird River I revealed to him that I was expecting our first child, who was conceived during our camping holiday. Charlie needed a lot of rest and we spent all of that winter in our cabin.

1939 Flying out to stake claims. Albert Zeemel, Unknown, Charlie Libert, August Osis.

In May 1933 Charlie and Albert Zeemel were prospecting at Gods Lake when our son was born. The company’s owner hired an airplane to fly out to deliver the news. The men were swimming in the bay on God's Lake when they landed on the water and called out to them, “Charlie Libert has a boy, 9 lbs. 11 oz!” We named him Clifford after the doctor who treated him while he was in hospital with his arm. A little less than two years later, in March of 1935, our daughter was born.

Life was busy over the next few years with Charlie prospecting and I minding young children. One fine morning in the early days of September 1940 he was preparing to leave again for the bush and I was looking ahead to his return from the last trip of the season. I would miss him. He spoke of a party we would throw to celebrate our wedding anniversary when he returned. But that day would never come.

Later that night I awoke to my sister and a policeman at my door. There had been an accident. Charlie’s canoe had tipped over and he was unable to reach shore. My beloved Charlie had drowned and I would never see him again. I desperately wanted to awaken from the nightmare, to see him again. Even after the funeral I was expecting him to come home out of the bush. It was difficult to go on, but I had to do it for my children’s sake.

1940 Waiting for Dad to come home.

One day I gathered up all of his bush clothes and piled them out in the field. And then I lit them on fire and sobbed while I watched them burn. It was time to let him go.

On our own now, but with my family near by, the children (11 and 9 years of age) continued to attend the same Bird River School as I had years before. We left our cabin along the Bird River in 1944 and moved to Winnipeg to start a new chapter in our lives, but I will always think of those 10 wonderful years I had with Charlie Libert as the best of my life.


1956  Peter Osis Trapping cabin. These camps were never locked in case anyone was in need of shelter. The Osis camps had only a small door about 2 ft off the ground so you can enter during winter without shovelling snow.











Chuck Leibert brings fresh vegetables to the surrounding cottage community and garlic all over the province from the second homestead property. In 2009 Chuck created Emma’s Garden in honour of Grandma Emma who grew up there. Chuck and Julie sell their vegetables at the Lac du Bonnet Farmers Market and through their email network. Chuck is at [email protected]

JD McArthur

J.D. McArthur, Veteran Builder of West, Dead (obituary)

Source: The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, vol. 3 no. 8, 10 January 1927.
Submitted by Lorraine McIntosh, Lac du Bonnet



Passes Away in Private Car on Reaching City From Battle Creek Sanitarium

J.D. McArthur, president of the J.D. McArthur Co., Ltd., and vice-president of the Manitoba Paper Co., pioneer railway builder of Western Canada, died this morning in Winnipeg.

He had just returned in a special car on the Great Northern train from Battle Creek, Michigan, where he had been undergoing treatment for the past few weeks. Death overtook him in the special coach half an hour after the train pulled into the city, the scene of his activities for the past 47 years. He was in his 74th year.

For some time Mr. McArthur had been suffering from acute anaemia. A few weeks ago he left for the sanitarium at Battle Creek. After a period of treatment there, hope for his recovery was given up. On Saturday morning, accompanied by Mrs. McArthur and a special nurse, he was placed on board a private car, provided by the Michigan Central Railway, to return to Winnipeg. At Chicago the car was transferred to the Great Northern train, which arrived here at 9:05 o'clock this morning.

When he left the sanitarium at Battle Creek it was with the understanding that everything possible had been done for him there. The body is now at Thomson’s Funeral Home. Arrangements have been made for the funeral Wednesday afternoon. A private service will be held at the family residence, 159 Mayfair avenue. At 2:30 o'clock a public service will be held at St. Augustine Church. Burial will be in St. John’s Cemetery.

His Life Work

John Duncan McArthur is generally believed to have built more miles of railroad than any other man in the history of Canada. Besides building about 250 miles of the then Grand Trunk Pacific between Winnipeg and Lake Superior Junction, some of his other large contracts included about 500 miles for the Canadian Pacific Railway and a long stretch of the then Canadian Northern Railway between Portage la Prairie and Edmonton. He alone was responsible for putting the entire Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway system on the map, an enterprise which entailed laying over 900 miles of trackage. He also built the Alberta and Great Waterways Railway and all but the last section of the Hudson Bay Railway.

Many Interests

He was interested in many business enterprises, being, besides president of the company which bears his name, vice-president of the Manitoba Paper Co., president of the Northwest Lumber Co., president of the McArthur Land Co., director of the Western Trust Co., president of the McArthur Lumber ad Fuel Co., and director of the Beaver Lumber Co.

Although most of his contracts were for railroad work he also erected some very fine buildings, the biggest being the McArthur building here, which he built in 1909–1910 at a cost of $750,000. Other buildings in Winnipeg which he put up are a wholesale warehouse on McDermot ave., 1898; the Breadalbane Apts., 1909; and the Glengarry Block, 1911.

Far Seeing

Mr. McArthur was a big man, not only physically, but in his mental outlook. Where others saw only flat, uninteresting prairie, he saw the future home of countless happy settlers; where others saw forests and streams simply as possible fishing haunts or vacation grounds, he saw thousands of uncut railroad ties, millions of feet of lumber which might be used in the building of a nation. He was a man of vision, an empire builder who loved the country he was born in and spent his life developing its natural resources, bringing vast areas of it within the borders of civilization, and trying by every means within his power to make it great and prosperous.

He was a man of unbounded energy and unswerving purpose, he never once failed to fulfil a contract, he never started anything without carrying it through. So great was the confidence he inspired in others, that it is said that he could go into a bank and borrow a million dollars quicker than any other man in Canada.

He was, what he himself termed, “a one-man plunger,” he never had any partners on his big enterprises, he never asked or allowed other people to invest money in his development scheme. Consequently if they failed, as they sometimes did, no one lost a cent except J.D. McArthur, and he was the last man to worry about such a trifle as losing money.

His heart was just as large as his vision, and he gave away hundreds of thousands for charitable purposes on the distinct understanding that his name was not to be mentioned in any way. He was a great admirer of Sir William MacKenzie, and his one ambition in life was to develop the natural resources of Canada.

He made millions of dollars during the course of his lifetime, but money was merely incidental with him, it came as a result of his tremendous labors, and was at once put back into some development project. He did not put it safely away or convert it into gilt-edged securities. As he himself said, “Someone had to take a chance,” when it came to opening up new and untried commercial projects.

He gambled thousands of dollars in schemes and never grumbled when he lost. His friends never tired of telling of his unflinching cheerfulness and courage in the face of adversity.

Was Poor Boy

Born in July 1853, at Lancaster, Ont., J.D. McArthur spent his boyhood on his father’s farm at that place, and was educated in the local school. He came west in 1879 as a young man of 25, and was soon started in the contracting business getting out ties for the old Manitoba and North-Western Railroad.

His first serious financial reverse came in the late ‘80’s when he was working on a tie contract for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He had by this time acquired the ownership of a saw mill at Birtle, Man., and was counting on sawing his ties and floating them to market down the Birdtail Creek. For some reason or other the creek dried up and young McArthur was left with the ties on his hands.

When he did eventually manage to get them to Brandon, the railway could not use them and he had to sell them to the citizens of Brandon as cordwood. However, he managed to get enough money to pay his debts and then he started in again.

How well he succeeded in getting another nest-egg may be judged from the fact that in Jan., 1889, he returned East and married his boyhood sweetheart, Mary McIntosh, of Lancaster.

Well Established

Sawmill 1912

By this time he was pretty well established as a railroad contractor, and in 1901 he started a saw mill and a brick factory at Lac du Bonnet. The former operated until 1918 and the latter until 1920.

It was at the beginning of the 20th century that he commenced going into the railroad contracting business on a large scale. In 1904 he built 500 miles of the C.N. main line between Portage la Prairie and Edmonton, he also built part of the Manitoba and North-Western, and the CPR Crow’s Nest branch.

In 1906 he built 20 miles of the CPR Teulon branch, 36 miles on the M & NW, and did other work for the CPR which included bringing the railroad from Saskatoon to Asquith, the completion of the Kirkella branch and the Wolseley branch, and extending the Winnipeg Beach line as far as Gimli.

Took on Big Job

It was in this year that he commenced work on 250 miles of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTP) from Winnipeg east to Superior Junction. This was considered one of the most difficult and costly sections of the whole line, running, as it does, through the most rugged and forbidding part of the Laurentian rock formation. He secured the contract in open bidding against strong opposition, and capable management, coupled with favorable circumstances, enabled him to complete it with a substantial profit.

In this year he opened a sawmill at Atikokan, which he ran for seven years, and then dismantled and sent the machinery to his mill in Edmonton. He also bought the Moyie Lumber Company’s interests at Moyie, B.C. but later sold them.

Having emerged successfully from the GTP contract in 1910, he embarked on another venture which eventually nearly wiped out his entire personal fortune, this being the building of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway. He had found himself with an immense and costly construction equipment on his hands, for which there was no work in sight. It was a period of rapid expansion, and money was available in large amounts for development purposes.

Given Charter

Some years before, a charter had been granted by the Dominion Parliament for a railway from the Pacific coast to Edmonton by way of Peace River. The name was the Pacific Northern and Ominica, and the usual cash subsidy had been voted for the first 100 miles, but no construction work had been done. After some negotiations a charter was given to Mr. McArthur under the name of the Edmonton, Dunvegan and B.C. Railway, and he commenced operations.

Notwithstanding the outbreak of the war, the rails reached Spirit River in the fall of 1915. Owing to the financial depression which began in 1913 and which was accentuated by the outbreak of the war, Mr. McArthur did not press his claim for the cash subsidy to which he was entitled as the builder of a colonization railway.

Subsidies were voted and paid to other railways in that period, but not to the ED & BC. Even the subsidy that had been voted for the first 100 miles of the Ominica Railway, to which he was entitled by his agreement, was never paid.

Difficult Times

It was decided that if the district was to be served adequately by the railway it must be extended across the Peace River. The cost of the bridge was nearly a million dollars. The bridge was finished in 1918, and a large part of the grading from the plateau to the west end of the bridge was completed the same year. This was the only piece of railroad construction in America in actual progress during the latter part of the war.

The Peace River crop of 1915 was a good one, but that of 1916 was a failure, yielding little traffic and discouraging development. The war had been in progress for two years, and the pioneers of the district had volunteered in such numbers that production was checked. Immigration, of course, stood still. The result to earnings was disastrous in the case of the ED & BC, as with other railroads. Interest had to be paid, and the earnings were not sufficient to pay it. To meet these liabilities, Mr. McArthur made provision from time to time out of his private means, always expecting that the cash subsidy to which he was entitled would eventually be paid. But this was never done.

No Improvement

Through meeting the losses of successive years nearly all of his personal income was absorbed by the railroad. The condition of the road gradually deteriorated and there came to be a question as to the advisability of operating it any longer. While matters were nearing a crisis, Hon. Sir George Foster, acting premier, in response to an appeal from Mr. McArthur, wrote saying the government was prepared to buy the road.

Mr. McArthur at once started negotiations for the sale of it, but without result. At last came a time when the condition of the road was such that a complete breakdown was imminent.

Obituary from Another Source


July 25, 1854 - January 10, 1927

John Duncan McArthur was born on the family farm in Lancaster, Glengarry County, Canada West,(Ontario after 1867), where he grew up, was educated and married Mary McIntosh. At age 25 he came west. and around 1880 was cutting logs in, what is today, the Riding Moun¬tain National Park for his sawmill near Birtle, Manitoba, on the Birdtail River. He worked repairing the rail line of the Pembina branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and gained further experience working on other railways in western Canada. By 1889 he received his own contract to build the Red River Valley Railway from Emerson to Winnipeg.

On February 24, 1898, The Lac du Bonnet Mining, Developing and Manufacturing Co. was incorporated and had commenced harvesting the local resources. In 1901 McArthur purchased the company and its holdings of 810 hectares (2,000 acres) of land and a brick manufacturing plant. He built a sawmill just north of what is now the Town of Lac du Bonnet and, in the following year, opened a logging camp near Old Pinawa.

Between 1898 -1901 McArthur had assisted in the building of the CPR branch line from Molson to Lac du Bonnet which would enable bricks, lumber and fuelwood to be shipped to Winnipeg and beyond. He built the first commercial "High Rise" building in Winnipeg, near Portage Avenue and Main Street, named the McArthur Building, later renamed the Childs Building, as well as other large structures in the city.

In 1905 McArthur contracted to build the Transcontinental Railway line 402 kilometers (250 miles) east from Winnipeg, then west to Edmonton, Alberta and thence to the Peace River country. By 1910 he contracted to build, and later to operate, the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway from Edmonton to Grand Prairie and also the Alberta Great Waterways Railway from Edmonton to Fort McMurray on the Athabaska River. When several companies declared bankruptcy, McArthur lost $30 million dollars outstanding on his contracts.

In 1911 McArthur contracted to build the first 290 kilometers (180 miles) of the Hudson Bay Railway from The Pas to Thicket Portage in Manitoba.

In 1920 McArthur secured Pulpwood Birth #1 from the Dominion Government and a permit for the Pine Falls power site (Great Falls) on the Winnipeg River, By 1924, with the Canadian National Railway line being built to Pine Falls, he succeeded in buying the land to be occupied by the new paper mill. He then formed the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Co. and became its first president.

At the time of his death, age 72, McArthur was president of the J.D.McArthur Co., the Northwest Lumber Co,, the McArthur Land Co. and the McArthur Lumber and Fuel Co., vice-president of the Manitoba Pulp and Paper Co., and a director of the Western Trust and the Beaver Lumber Companies. He served as Post Master of Lac du Bonnet from October 1, 1906 to September 6, 1923. Considered one of Canada's leading business men, John Duncan McArthur built more miles of railroad than any other Canadian contractor.

McArthur Falls, on the Winnipeg River, and McArthur Street, in the Town of Lac du Bonnet, are named in his memory.

Editorial Commentary

Lorraine McIntosh is the wife of Ramsay McIntosh. JD McArthur sold his holdings in Lac du Bonnet to his nephew, Alexander McIntosh who is the father of Ramsay McIntosh and Grandfather of Paul McIntosh of Lac du Bonnet.

Stories by Kathy Willis

Cooling Food in the Past
Ice House

Ice House

At one time, before electricity was available, cooling was not as easy as plugging in the refrigerator. We had an icehouse built of square logs near the shoreline and in the winter ice blocks were cut from the river ice and hauled on a sled pulled by horses and stored with sawdust liberally spread among them in the ice house. In the summer these blocks were used in a wooden ice box in the kitchen. The one ice box I remember was a lovely wooden cabinet with a shelf inside for the ice block and a compartment to store the milk and butter etc. When the ice melted the water ran down a pipe at the back and into a large metal tray on the floor under the unit. Occasionally, the ice would melt faster than anticipated and the water would run over the top of the tray at which time the floor would get a quick wipe down and the tray emptied. Mother, being an expert seamstress, used canvas to fashion a sturdy carrier for the ice blocks. This carrier was also used to haul ice blocks from Winnipeg's Arctic Ice on Langside Street in the trunk of the car once the river supply was exhausted. I remember my Dad being approached by another customer asking where he could purchase such a carrier. Mom could have patented her idea! If this doesn't sound too intriguing, remember that the ice blocks were cut with a hand saw - not a power chain saw!

Do You Remember……….The Summer Kitchen?

Do you have a summer kitchen on your property? Do you remember when it was an important part of summer life? Do you and your family still use your summer kitchen? We don’t and sometimes, I miss the experience. Ours was built by 13 year old Carl Arvid Erickson in l933 and the height of the original doorway indicated he wasn’t very tall. It’s amazing how well it’s stood the test of time.

At this time of year, in years gone by, my family would make a transition from the warm, wood stove heated house along a short path to a one room log summer kitchen. This structure, still standing, had an open ceiling, windows all around and couches, called Toronto couches, along two walls. There was a wood stove with an oven, but certainly not as large a wood stove as was in the house we had left behind. Many trips were made to transfer the condiments, the bread box, the cutlery, extra cooking utensils and spices to the summer kitchen.

In the morning, one would rise, dress and proceed to the summer kitchen. One corner had a washbasin and the toothbrushes and limited cosmetics had been transferred there as well. In the house, Mom was the chief cook and bottle washer but things changed when we “moved” to the summer kitchen. There, Dad took over and coffee would be perking on the stove, sometimes porridge cooking and on weekends, the aroma of bacon and eggs permeated the air as we arrived in the morning.

Many family discussions would take place at the large dining table during meals and plans for the day would be solidified. Water had to be heated on the wood stove before dishes could be washed and put away. You see, we had no electricity! Hence, no refrigeration or light switches. We kept the foods that needed to be cool in a small wooden ice box – a little cupboard with shelves in it and a large container underneath to catch the drips as the ice block melted. One family member had to remember to empty that container morning and evening or be prepared to wipe up the floor if it overflowed!

We used coal oil lamps – special ones for the summer kitchen – to light the small space if we stayed up past dark. Sometimes visitors would drop by and be entertained there as well. All of the windows had screens on them so it was most comfortable with a fresh breeze wafting in off the river. At bedtime, we’d blow out the lamps and walk the short path to the house, to find it was kept cool by being closed up all day.

Now and again a skunk family would decide that the space under the building could serve as a new home and of course, they had to be discouraged in whatever way necessary.

In later years, we were privileged to be the proud owners of a propane stove, complete with 3 burners and an oven and also a small propane refrigerator. We thought we were so modern!

When it came time to preserve the vegetables from the garden, blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries and even fish if there was more than we could eat, the huge navy blue canner would come out and the perspiration would be evident on Mom’s brow. These canned goods would provide sustenance during the winter once we moved back to the house and left the summer kitchen behind for another year.

Unfortunately, once we had hydroelectricity installed in the house, the summer kitchen wasn’t as important and the moves seemed unnecessary because if it got warm in the house, a fan could be plugged in. Those precious memories are just that now as the summer kitchen seems to have become a storage site rather than a meeting place.

The Smoke House

Memories remain of a fire in the smoke house and golden skinned Goldeye hanging there in the heat. The smoking took a full day, after the fish had been scaled, cleaned, salted and put on hooks. The wood was very important – usually oak or some other hard wood, but well dried and definitely not green wood. The flavour depended on using the correct wood. Consistent temperature of the fire was key and on occasion, many of the fish would have to be rescued off of the shelf below the bar and hooks. Either way, the fish were still delicious and are a delicacy served to Queen Elizabeth. In later years, Mother became the expert and eventually taught us how to do the job.

Stories by Miriam Simoens

Trapping in the 1950's

Jack Tuokko, my Father, became a trapper in order to supplement the farm family income.

His natural affinity for roughing it in the bush made this activity an adventure which he tried to instill in his children. We were all taught how to set and check traps and dress furs for sale. My older siblings would snare rabbits in winter along the bush trails to school. Dad learned how to handle guns while in the Finnish Army and passed that knowledge unto us as well.

Dad would start out on his trap line before day break with his backpack of supplies, compass and knife at his waist, and a rifle slung over his shoulder. It was understood that at times he would be too far down river to make it home at night. However, we were confident of his ability to survive alone in the wilderness. Trap lines criss-crossed somehow, and he would sometimes meet up with fellow trappers. They had an honor code to never steal from another's traps. Shacks were set up along the way that would offer basic shelter from the storms and the night.

Once in late spring with a heavy pack of furs, he tried to take a shortcut home across Pinawa Bay and fell through the ice. He managed to use the sharp point of his knife to slowly pick his way back to safety. Once back on shore, he built a fire to regain his body heat and dry his clothes before continuing home with his pack of furs.

He was often proud of his catch and very good at dressing the skins. One day he arrived home quite excited because he managed to catch one of those elusive wolverines. Artfully hand-made wooden stretchers and forms were used to shape and dry the skins for sale. In spring the local fur man would come to barter for a best price of each piece and then cart them away to the bigger fur market in Winnipeg.

The older boys would accompany him on the trap line sometimes. Albert once decided to go on his own. The lake ice offered him safe passage heading out, then strong winds caught and moved the ice pack leaving him stranded on the far shore. As he waited for favorable weather he ate every morsel of food from his pack, so he staved off hunger by eating and enjoying the muskrats from his catch. We celebrated his safe return home a few days later.

None of us became trappers when we grew up, but that sense of outdoor adventure stuck with us.

Written by Miriam Simoens, and submitted to The Leader