Hudson's Bay Railway, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railway from
service from Brandon to the small town of St. John's,
North Dakota where it made connections on the Great
Northern lines south to Minneapolis, east to Duluth,
and west through Montana to the coast.
The line, born as it was in the optimistic times of expansion, was
perhaps doomed from the start, but it did have its impact for a few
short decades on several communites south of Brandon, and in a limited
way, on the city itself.
Where is Bunclody?
sure that the first time I ever heard of Bunclody, someone was
making fun of the name. It was Vince Dodds, the morning man on our
(Brandon) radio station, and he had a running bit involving checking in
the exploits of the Bunclody Bridge Marching Band. Something like that,
gentle comment about small town life at a time when small towns were
disappearing. It's a pleasant name, Irish in origin, and, yes, perhaps
bit fanciful when compared to the nearby communities - with their
sensible names like Hayfield, Carroll, or Brandon.
any case, the name must have impressed me enough to remember it, but
enough to prompt a visit for many years.
wasn’t until decades later while scouting canoe trips on the
that I made my first visit. Bridges are all-important when planning
river excursions, that's where one finds the most user-friendly access
the river, and I soon became acquainted with all such points in western
a treat it was to finally see the place. Yes, you could see why
radio jokester had singled it out. By the sixties many former prairie
were that in name only. It was as if we were reluctant to take down the
signs, change the road maps and admit defeat. Bunclody turned out to be
a shady roadside park nestled alongside a gravel road near the river
it brushed against the southern rim of a wide valley. It barely
as a ghost town! At first glance only the two cairns in the park gave
of any past settlement.
funny how you can miss things, and odd that in driving through the
I didn't notice the way the road southward up out of the valley cut
a narrow ridge running along the hillside. Not so odd perhaps that on
trips up the gentle slope northwards from the river, I failed to notice
signs of a substantial embankment approaching the river a kilometre to
east; unmistakable evidence of a railway line. It's obvious if you know
you're looking for, but a quite unobtrusive element of the rolling
landform if you don't. And its quite understandable that later as I
downstream from Souris to where our vehicle was waiting by the Bunclody
I failed to notice the same embankment curtailed on either side of the
The constant erosion of a riverbank over a few decades had erased much
you spot the rail
embankment, along the
centre of this photo?
So what I missed
seeing in my first visits to Bunclody was the evidence of a rail line
that had once crossed the river at that point. It was another few years
before a friend from the area told me about the rail line,
and took me out to a neighbour's farm to see the huge
concrete culvert at the base of what looked like a dam across a steep
ravine. It is now almost plugged with debris, but he remembered playing
in it as a child, taking the dare to pass through its 100 metre length
to the other side. What looks like a dam is actually a bridge,
timber-framed then stabilized by earth fill that hides the framework
– a common way of crossing the deep cuts running towards the
Souris River. On another trip to the area my wife and I climbed the cut
bank along the roadside and followed the overgrown rail-line path,
first south for a few kilometres, and then north for a ways until it
abruptly ended, leaving us looking across the Souris River to where it
continued on the other side. Knowing that, it was easy to recognize the
signs in the river below, a small island that once served as a footing
the center support for the bridge.
The old line
is quite visible from the air.
The elevator and station were about half a kilometre to the right.
And that's how I
learned about the oddly-named Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson's Bay
Railway and its American parent company the famous Great Northern Railway.
We all know about the
importance of the railway in the development of the
west. Those two venerable Canadian institutions; Pierre Berton and the
have made it hard to escape the role the building of the C.P.R. played
our history. Railways have been romanticized, eulogized, and demonized,
true however, is the fact that in much of rural Manitoba, and
the prairies, the rails are being abandoned, torn up and inevitably
The railway boom lasted only a few short decades before retrenchment
For rural communities the presence of a rail link went from being
to being inconsequential in a less than forty years. We had barely
criss-crossing the land with lines when we began taking them up.
we built too many.
may well be the case with the much-anticipated route from Brandon
to the U.S. Border, seen at the time as a forward-thinking link with
extensive Great Northern Railway. But to rural people in southern
at the end of the 19th century, there couldn’t be too many rail
of the first settlers had waited patiently for the first lines, which
many cases were delayed by the infamous “monopoly clause”
in the governments
deal with the syndicate that built the CPR. Even after the
government was able to end the 20-year monopoly in 1888, many farmers
had a long haul to get their grain to the nearest elevator and many
about the service they received, specifically6 the availability of an
number of rail cars in peak periods. Anything that would reduce the
of those trips, plus add an element of badly-needed competition was
(Minnedosa Telegram Nov. 17, 1906
wasn’t just farmers who wanted this railway. There was a lot
associated with railway building. There was profit to be made in the
of the infrastructure and in the establishment of related services. The
of a rail link seemed to secure the fortunes of any small settlement
enhance the prospects of existing towns. This line was destined for a
life span, but in that short time it certainly did provide a much-need
and made quite an impact along its route.
early as 1898 Brandon's City Council was hearing proposals and
of proposals for a north-south line that would allow a direct link with
Great Northern Railway in North Dakota. Such a line would provide a
link to Minneapolis, the economic heart of the American mid-west.
having established itself early as an important stop on the CPR, was
the possibility of being bypassed by other east-west lines and was
to maintain its position by capturing a north-south line.
lines as of 1900
reflected the optimism of the times and the fact that
no one could predict the path development would take on the Prairies.
particular, no one predicted the impact that the newly-invented
would have on transportation, and that it would quickly render
service unprofitable. Perhaps the most interesting, and perhaps
ironic aspect of the unknowable future was that the productivity
by better movement of farm products allowed farmers to expand their
in turn sowing the first seeds of the rural depopulation that would be
contributing factor in the demise of rail service.
But that was all in the
present required growth and expansion,
all facilitated by better transportation.
While the first plans
materialize, by 1903
the seeds of a workable
proposal were being sown and spurred on by prominent local businessmen.
own Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, was likely a factor in
parliamentary approval for a charter for a line from the U.S. border to
Pas. That charter lapsed and had to be renewed in 1905, this time with
behind-the-scenes support of American J.J. (Jim) Hill of the Great
line for an operation to be known as "The Brandon, Saskatchewan and
Bay Railway."  That catchy title certainly reflected the frontier
of the age of railway expansion. The first and, as it turned out, only
of the project was to be a 115 kilometre track to a border crossing
of Boissevain where it would continue to connect with the Great
well established U.S. network. It turns out that Hill had no intention
heading either to Saskatchewan or to Hudson Bay under Great Northern
There were several issues that the
fathers had to confront. Of course
the C.P.R. objected, that was to be expected. Some objected on the
that it was an American intrusion into the market that would divert
from Canadian routes. Others had reservations concerning the ownership
the Great Northern. Jim Hill had been invol
in the original
of the C.P.R. and at one time had hoped that the eastern portion of the
line would pass beneath the great lakes through the U.S., facilitating
links with his other holding and providing the basis for a North
rail empire. When the decision was made for an all-Canadian route he
from the project. Some said his main motivation in establishing this
South link was to get back at the C.P.R. It is more likely that Hill
wanted to expand his operations in a most logical fashion with another
There was a necessary and habitual
secrecy, mainly to forestall
land speculation that would drive up the prices of required stations
related property, and also because of local opposition to the American
The local promoters tried to maintain pretense at first, to a Canadian
to the corporation, but it turned out to be totally a Great Northern
After witnessing the orgy of land speculation and townsite swindles
preceded the C.P.R. on its pathway west, the railways had learned a
and regularly went to such lengths as to develop secret telegraph
Thus a communication from R.I. Farrington to Louis Hill on August 7,
read: "Duchy Jame Alfred anything dwindle about reasoning for brusher
loquacious." Translated it meant, "Do you wish anything done about rail
Brandon line" 
were all for the new line. And those along the proposed
route could see the possibilities. For many farmers it would cut the
they had to haul grain. Aside from the historical reason fro distrust
the CPR, there had been some widespread dissatisfaction with that
amid concern about inefficient grain handling and allegations of
with elevator companies to the detriment of producers. For all rural
along the proposed line it mean greatly increased options for
Once the deal was struck the line was
without delay, beginning
1905, and decisions were made quickly regarding the route and placement
stations. Despite the best effort of the rival lines to stall the
of the necessary crossings at Wakopa, Boissevain and Minto, the line
its way northward at an astonishing pace. Rights of way were purchased.
communities of the Boissevain, Minto, and, of course Brandon would be
the route. New sites of Bannerman, Bunclody, Hayfield and Heaslip were
although not all developed into villages. A deal was struck with McCabe
for grain handling facilities and Great Northern cash was provided up
to build the twelve facilities. Even the sites of Fairburn, Alcester,
Healip, McKelvie and Roseland would have elevators but even in those
times villages were not anticipated.
While stations were located at most of
even stops that
evolve into real villages got waiting rooms complete with pot-bellied
Stops like Beverly (originally called Webster) and Hebron, closely
between Bunclody and Hayfield, and known as "sidings", got loading
Several sites had dwellings for section foremen and bunkhouses for
Water towers, a vital part of the infrastructure in the days of the
locomotives, were closely spaced on this line with structures at
Boissevain, Minto, the Souris River Crossing near Bunclody, Hayfield
Brandon. Each had a pumping manager in charge. Crucial to the whole
was a 30 year contract to carry the mail. Post offices were established
the line or in several cases moved to be closer to the line. 
1906 the trains were running, bringing an immediate benefit to local
improved mail delivery, easier access to both Brandon and the point in
US, and a much improved distribution of consumer good into the rural
According to Great Northern records, the
 That price was perhaps a little steeper than they had intended. The
competed for contractors, offering work on its own lines and thus
prices. The GN countered by offering local farmers work on the easier
with contracts going out in 1906. A story in the Boissevain Record
that between three and four thousand men were employed in that year. It
the only common carrier railway line ever build in Manitoba with no
subsidy of land or money, in fact, it often paid inflated prices for
 The extra cost was the first in a series of circumstances that
the profitability of the line.
A Ride on the GN Line
Let's hop on
the train departs from St. John's, North Dakota, just
a few kilometers south on the Manitoba / US border where connections
be made to points south (Minneapolis) and points west on the Great
John local, Charlie Bryant, long time conductor, well-known
to folks all along the line, a man who wouldn't hesitate to make an
stop or other accommodation for a good customer.
The line stretches across flat
broken here and there by a slough
ringed by low willows, a low bunch of aspens in the corner of a fenced
and a farmyard with the beginnings of a shelterbelt. To the left
the distance is the outline of Turtle Mountain, low and thickly
with oak and aspen. But straight ahead lies an uneventful horizon.
at the border and four
kilometers past that is the newly-founded village of Bannerman, a place
owes its existence solely to the railway.
site is still quite visible on Google Earth while very little evicence
remains on the ground.
Of all the newly
created and boosted villages along the line, the rise and fall
of Bannerman was the most dramatic. The new rail line. coming as it did
our southern neighbour, required a Port of Entry, naturally the first
after a border crossing. A spot on NE 15-1-18 was suitable and
Settlement in the area, just three kilometres from the US border dates
around 1880 when James Henderson Sr. was the first settler to file in
vicinity. In 1905 as line approached, the town of Bannerman sprang into
with excitement and a sense of possibility, the first and only port of
by rail west of Emerson in Manitoba. The Manitoba Telegram
the opinion that it would become “ a good live town” and
that “busy little
centres will be established” at all the townsite points along the
was of course a rush to build homes, businesses and an elevator
Bannerman quickly developed a boomtown atmosphere. A hotel with large
room and bar encouraged visitors especially during those years when the
won the almost annual battle with the temperance folks. During the
years the bar became a dance hall. Other buildings included a feed and
barn with sleigh and buggy for hire, a lumber yard, pool room and
a store and post office, a blacksmith shop, harness and shoe repair
Soon a second grocery store and additional blacksmith shop was needed,
two dealerships for the fast growing farm implement business.
The station's status
as a port of entry meant that station had two
one for the railroad agent and one for the Customs and Immigration
These duties and responsibilities required other facilities and
the status of the town. A detention house was soon added nearby for
who were not granted entry, and had to wait overnight for the train
A quarantine barn was needed as all livestock was held overnight for
To north of station were two section houses and a water tank.
Another added responsibility was
controlling the flow of alcohol as
and changing liquor laws always seemed to keep make smuggling a
venture. Agents patrolled the border in the area. Then as now border
was an important responsibility. Magistrate John Balfour, aided
town cop Sam Balfour kept the peace locally.
year the circus of the Royal Canadian Shows came by the Great
to entertain at Brandon summer fair. Customs agents went to Devil's
to start inspection of the many passenger cars and the inspection was
hotel with large dining room and bar appeared, but bar closed with
and the building became to a dance hall. Other buildings included a
and livery barn with sleigh and buggy for hire, lumber yard, pool room
barbershop, store and post office, blacksmith shop, harness and shoe
On to Desford and Fairburn...
out of Bannerman, we are just nicely getting up to speed when
fledgling village appears on the horizon. But we pass by it to the
The village of Wakopa, the first in the southwest corner of Manitoba
a well-known fixture on the rival CN line that we are about to cross.
not for long.
had its beginnings as a stopping place on the Boundary
Trail, that well-rutted trail first etched by the expedition sent in
1870's to survey and describe the border region from eastern Manitoba
the Rockies. The store established there by a Mr. Lariviere who served
hardy early settlers who arrived before the big rush of the 1880's and
site continued to be a landmark and supply depot until the arrival of
a spur line branching off of a more northern line at Greenway a
to the north. The town moved to the line and continued, enhanced by the
rail service, but limited by competition from the Great Northern line
it just a kilometer or so west. Even in boom times this region could
support so many towns! 
With Wakopa bypassed
we soon pull in to in an even smaller place!
This village also sprang up overnight as it
although an earlier post
office and store were in place to the west and had to be relocated. But
lacks Bannerman's boom-town vibe, just a station an elevators and a few
Rail lines are a vital service to any
the owners, they are
a business like any other: they will survive if they are competitive.
the prairies, that means competing for grain delivery. To do so
or loading platforms have to be spaced closely enough to ensure that
will choose them over competitors. The Desford community began in the
1870's along the Old Commission Trail about 12 kilometres
of Boissevain, and was, like Wakopa, one of the first trading centres
In those first days of settlement, 1878 and
settlers came by the Boundary
Commission trail from Emerson. By 1880 the preferred route was by way
the Assiniboine River to Millford, then south to Langvale and via the
Trail to the Turtle Mountain area. The first stores in the area were at
Wakopa and Waubeesh. The first general store and post office in "Old
was owned by E. Nichol and Son.
Fred Johnston, and early resident of
before the town even developed,
recalls the choice in 1884 between shopping at (Old) Desford and
(16km NE). Another pioneer recalls Sunday Church service in the Jimmie
home at "Old Desford". But as with so many of the first settlements,
location had to be reconsidered when the railways came. For Desford the
began in 1906. First the CN line was extended through Wakopa, Adelpha
Horton, just narrowly bypassing Desford, The that same year The Great
Railway bypassed to the east and a new town started to grow on that
about six kilometres away.
The store at
Adelpha, owned by Mr. Crummer,
moved four miles to Desford.
They used sixteen team of horses to drag it and the path was still
in the 1970's. In no time a McCabe elevator was built. Next came the
house, a few residences, a station, and a bunkhouse . Qualified help
in short supply and the station master had to imported from the U.S.
Anglican and United Churches followed, and other buildings included a
storehouse and garage, an oil station, and a blacksmith shop. The
exploded to near thirty and a community hall was deemed necessary. 
A cairn marks the location of Desford - all traces are gone.
few kilometres out of Desford
These "sidings" as they
were called were put in place to accommodate local farmers, and were
intended to become villages.
may seem odd to the modern
place like Fairburn rate
identification on a map, being no more than a lone elevator on the open
One has to understand that in the early years of the settlement era
to 1885) few towns as we know them existed. When settlers moved in, a
would be identified in government records, and thus on maps, by its
office (usually established in the home of a settler) and it's name
the community's identity. For instance in a map by DeVille dated 1883
(original spelling), Desford, Adelpha, Alcester, Wakopa and Hayfield
identified, while Boissevain, Killarney and Minto have yet to may an
quick stop and we're off to the bustling commercial centre of the
1906 Boissevain was already a
well-established town on a busy C.P.R.
east-west line. It origins date to 1885 when, in anticipation of the
arrival of the tracks, several settlers congregated on the site.
One of those was George Morton, a well-established businessman with
several ventures in the region, who moved his general store
building from the
earlier settlement of Wabeesh (near present-day Whitewater) which was
to be bypassed. By 1886, with the tracks in place, the little town
inlcuded a grain-loading platform, a post office, two more general
stores, a few boarding houses, two hotels, a blacksmith and a grain
warehouse. Originally known as Cherry Creek the name Boissevain
was chosen to honour A.A. Boissevain, a Dutch financier whose
investment had helped finance the C.P.R. I guess one could say that
makes Boissevain a "railroad" town. In a way Boissevain
brought as much to the GN line as the line brought to the community.
the first link with the established Canadian routes, expanding the
for each line and for the people of the area.
Until 2008 Boissevain had the
being the home to the only surviving
GN station, which saw decades of service as a Highways Department
There is some
evidence that the station
also featured a garage complete with track so that the engine could be
in for service. Unfortunately, when no use for the building could be
found, the costs
of preservation dictated that the building be torn down, but the
stayionmaster's house still exists as a concrete reminder of the Great
along the East-West CN line, The GN line would have run left to
right near the bottom of this image. The station was
a few blocks to the right.
GN Station at Boissevain was refitted
for use by the Highways Department (2007)
To an established
centre one immediate benefit was the work available in
construction. There were contracts and jobs available, and the lucky
who found their farms on the right of way no doubt enjoyed the
Even when the line was surveyed right through a house as it was to a
Henderson, he happily moved. 
After a short stop
the whistle blows and we're off again, on our way straight
north to Minto, with a stop at Alcester, another siding and elevator
didn't become a town. Alcester had existed as a post office and as one
the original "districts" of the settlement era, and the improved
offered by the rail line probably hastened its demise. The post office
in 1907. It was just too close to Boissevain and Minto.
surrounding area was well settled, Minto wasn't established
until the Canadian Northern line in came through in 1898 and a village
on the northeastern corner of Section 19-5-10. When a few years later
new line, with its links to points north and south, was indeed a shot
the arm. The local history is full of examples indicating how happy the
were to get this additional service, allowing convenient day trips to
the main trading centre of Western Manitoba.
that first train
came through in June of 1906, with daily mail freight
and passenger service to Brandon, life changed. For that period of a
decades, the brief but important prairie railway age, there were four
trains daily, with the CN going east and west and the GN north and
Added to that was the economic spin-off from the two new elevators and
shed built to serve the line. It was an amazing leap forward from the
times when the horse and buggy was luxury travel and people thought
of walking fifty miles if it had to be done.
awaiting the train for an
to Brandon Fair, 1917
It was exciting,
Sprott indicates in her memoir in the Minto History;
"A trip to Brandon on the Great Northern train was indeed an event to
Many adventures are associated with the railway are reported in the
history. In some winters heavy snowfalls interfered with the schedule.
clearing equipment wasn't as powerful and fast as it is today, and the
of the line called cuts, where excavation had been used to smooth a
into a valley or over a hill, filled in quickly in a storm. In 1916
snow cancelled trains for six weeks. In March 16 of 1920 a blizzard
10-15 feet of snow, closed both lines for a week.
And there were other perils. A
MacDonald reports that, "One
year a spark from the Great Northern train started a fire that burned
of the crop, all the buildings, and a great deal of hay." 
crossed the CN
line at Minto, a tower overlooked the crossing.
of the railway the settlement in the Minto area was defined
by a series or rural Post Offices and the pre-railway cart-trails,
than by a village centre. Samuel A. Heaslip (Pronounced hays-lip) came
Ontario in 1881 and homesteaded 32-5-19. just south of the Souris River
close to an established route between Brandon and points south. Mrs
was first white woman in district that soon bore their name. Mr.
drove mail after railway came to Brandon in 82. The trail crossed
at Sheppard's Ferry, passed the Heaslip's home, on to Sheppardvillle at
then to the Turtle Mountain area. The route soon became known as the
Trail. The Heaslips well known and their home was a stopping place on
trial to Brandon. Mrs. Heaslip, widely known as a kind motherly person,
as deputy post mistress of the first Post Office of the district.
got another big boost when the Great Northern began operations in
and the Heaslip community also developed into the beginnings of a
with a station and general store. At the village's apex in the 1920's
store was bought by Otis Vig who moved his family from Bannerman to
greener pastures. The direct rail line came in handy for the moving of
effects and the family was soon comfortably established in the
above the store, across the tracks from the McCabe Elevator and the one
residence, that of Heman Bales the grain buyer, and less than a
south of the station and loading platform. Mr. Vig expanded, opening a
Main routes, before and after the
During this time the
bridge we now call the Old Riverside Bridge was built,
changing the road transportation patterns substantially. Until this
was built the main road from Brandon south followed the rail line south
Brandon, through Hayfield and Bunclody. In the 20's what we know as
was developed and became the main route bypassing those villages. The
of the auto was upon us and as the railway had dictated which townsites
in earlier times, the highway was now the key.
Perhaps seeing this
writing on the wall, Mr. Vig sold his store in 1930 and
soon relocated to Brandon. Even had the railways continued to operate,
roads improved and cars became popular, Healsip was just one town too
on a busy highway. 
Pulling out of the Heaslip Station the track
bends slightly westward and
passengers who look to the east will see the first real change in
The landscape of Southwestern Manitoba is
dominated, perhaps defined, by
the Souris Plains, a wide expanse of relatively flat country stretching
the base of the Turtle Mountains west and southwards towards the Souris
Valley. Early settlers speak of climbing out of that valley at
near where Treesbank is today, and noting the Turtle Mountains to the
south. That's how flat the plains are, it's a distance of nearly 100
and to call those turtle-shaped hills mountains was a bit of a stretch.
a drive from Minto west to Elgin, essentially through the centre of the
Plains, gives one and understanding of the term "wide open spaces".
And then, as now, the traveler new to the
on a trek from Boissevain
northwards to Brandon, whether on the rutted ox-cart path known as the
trail, or on the smoothly paved Highway 10, might be surprised when,
of nowhere, appears the valley of the Souris, a kilometer wide / 70
deep channel cut over ten thousand years ago as the last of the glacial
Scenic it may well be, but to the railroad
it holds no romantic charms.
It is an obstacle to be crossed. A challenge perhaps, a nuisance,
When building a railway over hills or through
valleys it is often advisable
to the travel a few extra kilometers to avoid a steep grade and the
construction costs associated with difficult terrain. Trains don't do
on hills, and keeping the grade or slope of the track as gentle as
is a priority in construction. As far as the prairies go, the northern
of the Souris River valley is a major challenge. The surveyors for the
Northern had rejected a crossing straight south of Minto where the
is both deep and wide, and had selected a site near the hamlet of
where the southern lip of the valley, although steep, brushed right up
the stream, while the gentle slope on the north side could be crossed
a modest embankment. To get there, the line bends westward at Heaslip,
the curve of the river and crossing a series of deep cuts where ravines
This was the major construction
site of the whole
project. Three work camps
were quickly set up, one at the deep ravine 3 kilometres south of the
one at the townsite on the south side of the river where the station
was built, and one on the north side of the river. Each camp had a
shovel, (“of the largest size”) modern technology not
available a mere 25
years earlier when the CPR crossed Manitoba. Dinky engines were used to
and dump cars as the grade was built up. It was a major engineering
undertaken by, “one of the largest railway outfits in
The ravines south of the river were crossed by
building temporary trestles
and dumping fill to create a road-level earthen dam, complete with huge
designed to let the runoff through. The pipes soon broke and had to be
with concrete tunnels two metres square - still quite visible
although somewhat clogged with rubble. One resident told me about
adventures that included a dare to go through the tunnel.
The site in 2016
undertaking. The span was 132m. long and 26m. high. Timber for the
including 30 metre long cedar pilings had to be hauled from the CN Rail
stop at Carroll, about 8 kilometres away.
and station, along with a
bunkhouse for some of the the many full time employees required to
maintain the line, were situated halfway up the southern ridge of the
valley, half a kilometer from the bridge. The water tank was on the far
side of the river slightly north of the bridge, with pumps and pipes to
draw river water for the steam engines.
Taken from the hill, SE of
Preparing the grade
the crossing of the Souris near Bunclody.
standing on the old rail line where
it abruptly ends atop a steep cliff at the river's edge, having
followed it from that site through a pasture as it curved towards the
former crossing, one can look northward across the river and see one of
the few remaining obvious signs of the old line. Directly below you, in
the centre of the river is a small gravel bar, once the base of the
central bridge support, and across the river where the valley wall
slopes gently away from the water's edge, is the high embankment built
to carry the line gently across the wide valley.
that first train came through
on June of 1906, there were two passenger trains per day, going
at 8 a.m. and north at 7 p.m., six days a week. The freight train ran
every day, south on one day, north the next, except Sunday. If one were
to stop at the station and swap railway stories with the locals you'd
likely hear about the time in 1916 when a runaway engine from Minto
stopped at Bunclody. Later in the day the Engineer and fireman came
walking down the track looking for the runaway. It happened when the
engineer thought that a switch was closed at Minto and he and fireman
jumped ship, so to speak. A closed switch would create a dangerous
derailment. It turned out that the switch was in place.
This was not
event as one
might expect, there was another incident a year or so later when a
boxcar got away from the Heaslip siding and rolled on downhill to
1914 when three horses wandered onto the right-of-way. They were
frightened by the approach of the frieight train and ran ahead of it to
the bridge; where they jumped off and met their deaths on the frozen
river 26 metres below.
other stops on the line, you would
certainly hear the winter tales.
winter enemy. Trains were stuck
often in cuts sometimes for a considerable stay! The Bunclody History
relates the story of a train stuck in the Hebron cut from November
until March. That was in the first year of operation and it was a work
train which had its own kitchen so the crew lived there for the winter.
It was on the farm of a Mr. Roger, who obliged by hauling them water.
Was this during construction perhaps, because no mentions is made
anywhere of that sort of interruption in service?
four metre feet deep drifts in cuts
caused stoppages of up to six weeks in the winter of 1915-16.
winter had its share of such events. In February of 1923 a blizzard
blocked the line from Minto to Brandon for three weeks. Clearing the
snow was a big job, without the advantage of today's high-powered
graders and bulldozers.
was the Wilson Cut two
kilometres north of Heaslip, the site of an adventure in March of 1923.
A train with two engines and a snowplow was stuck and snow drifted in
half-way up the windows. In such cases, neighboring farmers were often
called upon to
help out and the presumably patient passengers relied on the kindness
of strangers so-to-speak. Supplies were brought from the Heaslip store
and lunch was served.
plans change. On paper it looked like Hayfield was the next logical
station with the potential to become a village. Sidings and/or loading
platforms would be sufficient for the two stops between Bunclody and
that newly established site.
two stops would be Beverly and
community for some time, with the school as the focal point. Between
the Beverly and Hebron sidings the line was crossed by a busy east-west
CP line connecting Winnipeg and Regina by a route parallel with the
main line. These crossing were referred to as "diamonds" and required
staffing to set the switches. Slightly west of the diamond at Newstead,
a rival company established an elevator and before long the McCabe Co.
and their Great Northern allies determined that they too needed and
elevator at the crossing to compete. This meant having an unprecedented
four elevators on a mere 12 kilometre stretch. It also meant that
Hayfield which had a full station as opposed to a small shelter, would
be downgraded. Its station was moved to the Diamond, named
Griffin. Later it was moved again and served the remainder of its
days as a community hall in the Riverside district a few kilomtres to
the south west. Hayfield received the shelter that had been at Hebron.
the line angles a bit west to
skirt the western rim of the Brandon Hills, and at the western foot of
those hills is the hamlet of Hayfield.
is on the early maps, and had a
post office and school serving a defined region. Although surveyed as a
town during the planning of the line, it never did contain much more
than the station, a general store, a hall and a few houses. Today as a
traveler going south
from Brandon who turns westward off of #10 Highway and proceeds
down Hayfield Road will pass the unmarked and unrecognizable townsite.
continued straight north
through McKelvie and Roseland before angling eastward into Brandon.
An on to Brandon....
From Hayfield the route takes us
through a siding at McKelvie and the tiny village of Roseville then in
Brandoin railway historian,
Lawrence Stuckey, remembered
and the Great Northern
on a track set up on what is now 25th street. He also remembered going
the main line, which entered Brandon from the west running just south
of Pacific Avenue. The colourful refrigerator cars
fruit from various American companies especially caught his eye. No
remains of the wye about 5 kilometres west of the station where
trains turned around to back into the station, nor of the "diamond
over the CNR line a kilometer south of that and the tower overlooking
There was a three-stall engine house and turntable for maintenance near
and Pacific, a station near 11th and Pacific, and a block-long freight
a few blocks west of that. 
The Great Northern
contributed substantially to Brandon’s economic makeup.
A promotional publication entitled “Brandon in 1913” boasts
has direct connection with the great railway systems of the United
and goes on to mention that the railway has a charter to build on the
Pas and Hudson’s Bay. 
Station, train ready to depart. They were backed in to the
It wasn’t without
at least some opposition, but that was mainly related to
issues about the appropriation or re-location of some homes and
along the route as the rails were pushed into the city. 
But the ongoing
battle between the C.P.R. and all
forms of competition was
not over. The C.P.R. responded with a new station and an expansion in
that some though was partially intended to ensure “for all time
of any other railway lines along this throughfare such as the
of the Great Northern through the city.” 
End of The Line
late 20's it was
apparent that big profits for the company would never
materialize. The line had been built into an area that was already
by east-west lines. Unlike the original CPR lines, the owners had been
from making large start-up profits from the establishment of towns and
grants of land often associated with a new line. With the defeat of
in 1911, the hope of a reciprocity agreement with the US, which would
increased north-south freight, was effectively over. The population had
its peak and the car was establishing itself as the mode of choice for
This possibility of
encouraged the expansion of the Great
Northern and some speculated that it would lead to a large portion of
grain harvest being transported through the U.S. Needles to say, there
many Canadians opposed to reciprocity for that very reason. The Portage
Prairie Weekly noted that “The Great Northern Railway…has
no lees than seventeen
different lines operating between Canada and the country over the
and could see that much business would go that way.  That was
pretty good argument against Reciprocity from a western point of view.
Another force at play was the growth of the
cooperative initiative that became
The Manitoba Pool Elevators.
"Part of the problem … was that farmers were
prepared to support the Manitoba
Pool, even at a financial cost to themselves." McCabe had monopoly on
GN line, thus there were no Pool Elevators along its route. At one time
was paying 53 per bushel while McCabe as much as 75. By 1929
had mounted to $74000. In 1935 grain tonnage on the line was only 16.5
of what it had been in 1913. 
At the same time passenger service fell off.
Although it was never intended
to be the primary source of income, it was helpful to the bottom line.
1906 travel by auto was a slow and unreliable. But people really liked
freedom the car gave them, and better roads and cheaper, more reliable
developed rapidly. By 1922 a "highway" existed from Brandon to
and on to the border. By 1927 rail passenger numbers began to decline.
By 1930 a bridge
crossed the Souris
northeast of Heaslip
at the point now known as Riverside, and soon the present day Highway
bypassed Hayfield and Bunclody.
depression worsened the situation and only
pressure from the government
kept it open until 1936 when the mail contract ended. It was simply not
viable enterprise, if it ever was. The tracks torn up in 1937 after
were no offer for the purchase of the line. The company formally
to exist until Dec. 12. 1963 to allow for ongoing land transfers.
last train ran June 14, 1936. Stuckey
remembered with apparent fondness
the day when he and a friend waved to the engineer for the last time.
So ended a chapter in the region's
history. The line is credited
with ending the rural isolation felt by many Westman settlers and
them an important time-saving travel option. Daytime shopping trips to
were a treat, students at university could get home for weekends. But
car and the improved road conditions offered a new sense of freedom to
residents, and the line, though remembered fondly by old-timers, was
not needed any longer.
lines in southwestern Manitoba. By 1914 virtually all farmers
now within 10 km. of an elevator. Withing another 20 years the age of
the auto would herald a new era, and many of the rail lines would