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Early Entrepreneurs

Some Great But Forgotten Early Entrepreneurs


We had been talking about our early brickyards and of course Harry Stephens was the featured topic.. still, a forgotten early brick manufacturer here was even earlier than Stephens, namely William Patterson Smith. Smith was one of our earliest settlers. Born in 1850 in Perth County Ontario, a son of William and Elizabeth Smith, after he finished his education, he engaged in the sawmill and machine business, coming to Portage in 1874, where he took up a homestead near MacDonald. He engaged then in the sawmill business in Portage la Prairie which he continued until 1883. Relinquishing the sawmill he was the pioneer of the brick-making industry in Western Manitoba. He undertook the manufacture of bricks just east of the town and continued in business for many years. The site of this brickyard is still evident in the pit that remains just east of town and also across the road to the north .The site was purchased by Burk and Andrich in l905 and the second Saint Mary’s Anglican Church was moved onto it and renovated as their slaughterhouse. My Dad, John F. Pelechaty acquired the site in 1949. I spent a lot of time out there and in those days the remains of Smiths brickyard were still there. Digging posts through the bricks for the cattle pens was very difficult. Smith also ran an oak planing mill at the site and much of that old oak plank was used in the cattle pens and for walkways. From that site I dug up a very early clay whisky bottle embossed ‘Dr Kronk’. Putting a Dr’s name on whisky bottles was good public relations and reassured the drinkers that the whisky was actually approved by a doctor. Smith was a member of the first Portage and Lakeside Agricultural Society, serving ten years as President; he served in the two councils for the Municipality of Portage and also on the Council of the town of Portage la Prairie. In 1886 he contested the Riding in the Conservatives interest, against Joe Martin, but was defeated, and in 1901 he was appointed Superintendent of the Home for Incurables, which position he held until he retired to Vancouver. In 1878 he married Miss Elliot and there were seven children. He took an active interest in the Methodist Church .During his long life in Portage he was in great demand as a choir and band leader. He was a member of the Assiniboine Lodge AF and AM and of course was an ardent Conservative leader. The church ,which then functioned from the their new building on Royal Road North, was a Portage landmark. (Herman Prior location).

There are so many of our pioneers whose families have either died out here or moved to that great retirement destination ,Vancouver. It seems there were many Portagers out there enjoying a respite from the Manitoba winters. One of the hardships these early settlers faced here was a lack of proper milling facilities. For years there was nothing better in the district than a few pairs of querns. A quern was a set of mill stones the top stone being turned by hand. The wheat ground in querns was first parched, and the meal thus produced was used unsifted. A mixture of meal and milk was pressed into small patties called busten. The poorer children brought those cakes to school for their noon lunch. John Hodgson erected a small windmill on his property in an attempt to overcome the milling problem, but its low capacity failed to meet the needs of the settlers. In 1862, J.J.Setter built a small water powered flour mill on the south side of the Assiniboine, but before it could operate a bush fire razed the structure. In 1864 Standing Buffalo and 3000 Sioux refugees forced to flee from the USA arrived in Portage la Prairie. After making peace with the Hudson’s Bay Company and arranging to give the Company the bulk of their trade the tribe divided. The main body settled near Griswold and a large detachment settled at Flee Island. A small band remained however in Portage la Prairie. Soon after the arrival of the Sioux the Hudson’s Bay Company erected a hewn timber stockade around the “old Fort”. According to R.B. Hill “It was built of 4x10 oak planks, 20 feet long; at every ten feet a 10x10 square post was set into the ground; stringers connected these posts and the 4x10 planks were spiked to these stringers. This measure was taken to safeguard the Hudson’s Bay Co. fort and to promote the fort as a refuge should trouble arise. However no problems developed with the Natives. From time to time marauding parties of Red Lake Indians from Minnesota would secretly enter Sioux country in Manitoba under the cover of darkness and scalp small groups caught in the open. As late as 1873 Red Lake actually Thahnks from Don Pelechatybesieged the Sioux at their fortified camp at Flee Island. With some diligent searching one can still trace the earthen palisades that the Sioux constructed as ramparts against those Red Lake marauders. Might be a good place for a family picnic! Much of Fred Thompson’s Indian arrowhead collection in our local museum came from there! Do some research first!

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