Kenora 1871

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Kenora 1871

The first day of the dacade was Sunday January 1 1871 (See calendar below )

Kenora is a situated on the north shore of the Lake of the Woods, Ontario. The City of Kenora came into legal existence on January 1 2000 with the amalgamation of the three constituent municipalities, the Town of Kenora (formerly known as Rat Portage), Keewatin and Jeffray Mellick. In 1871 none of the constituent municipalities had been organized.

On March 17 1871 the resolution bringing British Columbia into Confederation was put before Parliament. It was confirmed on May 16.

Before the railway can be built multiple treaties with the natives must be negotiated. Before the railway, in 1871, Dawson Trail opens.

The Natives

With the entry of British Columbia into Confederation on the condition of the construction of a national railway, there are increased hope for future expansion of the west. Since the fur trading days had begun, fur traders had to negotiate with small bands to use water transportation system, make small payments and respect agreements made. Aboriginals exerted jurisdiction over the land and played an important role in the fur trade from which they benefited. They wouldn't necessarily benefit from the railway. The conservatives under Sir John A. MacDonald passed the first Indian Act in 1876. Indian Reserves were begun to be set up and treaties negotiated in haste. The government believed that Natives had surrendered their rights over the land and hence the government could grant rights of way to the Canadian Pacific Railway and sell lands to immigrants who were prepared to farm in the west. The natives did not have the similar view. The construction of the railway was to have considerable economic impact for Rat Portage. and the surrounding area. In 1873, Treaty #3 was signed at the North West Angle.

A Growing Town

In 1872 the first steamboat had arrived on Lake of the Woods. Mr. Frank Gardner is the builder of the large passenger and towing steamboat, the "Algoma", which is now owned by Mr. John Gardner, the senior member of the JOHN GARDNER & CO. The members of the firm are John, Frank and William Gardner. Frank Gardner started his business in Keewatin in 1876, but moved his business to Rat Portage in 1879. He later self acknowledges himself as the first permanent white settler in the area. In 1877, Joseph Derry, George Derry, Charles McMurdie, Frank Moore, arrive in Rat Portage. William Heaney and F.T. Hooper arrive.

Township of Keewatin was founded in 1877.

In what Province is Rat Portage ?

The Government of Manitoba beleived that the Federal Government would eventually enlarge her borders to include parts of the Northwestern Territory. The first such request was made on April 24, 1873, when the Conservative Government of Manitoba sent several members of her cabinet to Ottawa to press for an enlarged boundary from the federal conservatives. If Manitoba's request had been granted the province would have been enlarged to nearly 300,000 sq. miles, with ports on both Hudson's Bay and Lake Superior.

In 1875, R. Fuller, a Hamilton Lumberman was granted a Lake of the Woods timber lease by the Dominion.

On April 12, 1876, prior to being voted out of office, the MacDonald Government passed “An Act respecting the North-West Territories to create a separate territory out of part there of” (39 V, c21) [known locally as The Keewatin Act] The Act created, within the North-West Territories, an area the size of Manitoba’s request (basically all of northern Manitoba and Ontario today). The Act stated that the land

shall be and is hereby set apart as a separate district of the said North-West Territories by the name of the District of Keewatin [and that] the Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Manitoba, or the person acting as such, shall ex-officio be Lieutenant Governor of the said District of Keewatin ... and shall make provision for the administration of justice in the said district, and generally to make, ordain and establish all such laws, institutions and ordinances as he may deem necessary for the peace, order and good government therein.

The act, proclaimed in force on Oct 7, 1876, only weeks before MacDonald was voted out of office, made Manitoba responsible for the 300,000 square miles of land it wanted, but without title to it. Except for the prohibition of intoxicants, the laws in the District of Keewatin were basically the same as in Manitoba.

The Ontario Government also had its eye on the District of Keewatin. They entered into negotiations with the newly elected Federal Liberal Government. Ontario claimed the land, stating that it had originally been part of Upper Canada which, in turn became the former province of Quebec which Britain had acquired from France in 1759 after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The Treaty of Paris, signed on Feb 10, 1763, ceded all French possessions in North America to the English. At the time, French held territory included the Great Lakes Basin and territory "running from a corner of Pennsylvania, along the Ohio River, westward, to the Bank of the River Mississippi, and northward to the southern boundary of the Merchants Adventurers of England Trading into the Hudson's Bay". Ontario beleived this old Treaty between France and England established Ontario’s boundary somewhere west of the Lake of the Woods. Ontario’s interpretation of the Treaty was that her boundary lay due north from the western most end of the Mississippi River. As the Mississippi River has its beginning somewhere near Wadena, Minnesota, a line drawn due north from there places Ontario’s western most boundary somewhere near where it lies today, about 50 kilometers west of Rat Portage.

The Federal Government, under John A. MacDonald, beleived the Treaty established that Ontario’s western most boundary lay along a line drawn due north from where the Ohio River (traveling westward) meets the banks of the Mississippi River. As these two rivers meet near Cairo, Illinois, a line drawn due north from there places Ontario’s most westernly boundary somewhere near the towns of Port Arthur and Fort William(currently the City of Thunder Bay). MacDonald’s claim that the Ontario boundary lay near Thunder Bay was based on an 1817 court decision stemming from the trial of Charles de Reinhardt who was accused of a murder near the Dalles, a narrowing of the Winnipeg River about 19 kilometers north of Rat Portage. De Reinhardt was tried in the Criminal Court of Lower Canada (now Quebec) because it was thought that the Lake of the Woods region lay in “Indian Territory” beyond the edge of Upper Canada (now Ontario). De Reinhardt’s lawyer argued that the Court had no jurisdiction in the case because the Lake of the Woods was actually part of Upper Canada. After listening to historical arguments about the frontier boundaries of Canada, Chief Justice Jonathan Sewell ruled that the western boundary of Upper Canada (Ontario) ended between Port Arthur and Fort William and that de Reinhardt was properly tried in Lower Canada.

John A. MacDonald is voted out of office a few months later. The new Liberal Government under Alexander MacKenzie declined to grant Manitoba's request.

When Alexander MacKenzie came to power, he appointed a Board of Arbitrators to settle the Ontario western boundary. MacKenzie, being openly sympathetic to Ontario’s claim to the area, chose a Board that did not contain a single representative from either Manitoba or the District of Keewatin. On August 3, 1878, the Board ruled that Ontario’s boundary lay somewhere west of Rat Portage (now Kenora).

Shortly after the Board’s decision was released, Alexander MacKenzie’s Liberal Government was voted out of office and John A. MacDonald’s Conservative Party was returned to power. When asked to ratify the Board’s decision, MacDonald refused to ratify the Board's decision indicating the Board had shown an "utter disregard to the interests of the Dominion as a whole [in their decision]”.

Notwithstanding that the the land had not been granted to Ontario, the Ontario Government passed an "Act Respecting the Administration of Justice in the Northerly and Westerly parts of Ontario", declaring that it was "of the highest importance ... to secure the peace, order and good government of the area". Ontario would not appoint any provincial constables in the area for another three years but did complain to the Federal Government that “lawlessness abounded in the area”.

While the Federal Government refused to recognize Ontario's claim, effectively voiding their Act. In May 1880, the Conservative Party pass an "Act for the Administration of Criminal Justice [in the Disputed Territory]” (43V, c36). The Act provided that persons arrested in the Disputed Territory could be tried and punished under the laws of either Ontario, Manitoba or the District of Keewatin, however the Act was only to remain in force until the end of the next Session of Parliament and no longer. In providing an automatic expiry date, it was presumed that a decision respecting the boundary question would be resolved in that time.

In 1878 in Rat Portage lots had been surveyed by the Hudson¹s Bay Company.

Keewatin Mills and Rat Portage

In February 1879, John Mather blazed on a tree the future site of Keewatin Mills. The same year a post office is established in Keewatin Mills with John Mather as Post Master and Frank Gardner as Deputy. John Mather, who had applied for post office seals, switched seals and kept "Keewatin Mills" for the western railway stop and sent "Rat Portage" to the eastern stop. The first sawmill operation began at Keewatin Mills, owned by John Mather. A cut is made from Portage Bay to Winnipeg River for the sawmill. The sawmill owned by John Mather promises a great future for Keewatin Mills. Rat Portage has a more uncertain future.

Rideout House, is built in 1879, is located on the West side of Main Street. The fire Hall is located at the end of Second Street. The first doctor in Rat Portage, Dr. Thomas Hanson, arrives in 1879. The First library is established in Rat Portage. The Sultana vein of gold is discovered. First roundhouse with a turntable built by the CPR.

Excerpts from Pierre Berton, the National Dream, The Great Railway 1871-1881 Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited describe Rat Portage in less than glowing terms:

The one really permanent town along the half-constructed line and by far the largest was Rat Portage on Lake of the Woods. With true chamber of commerce fervour, it called itself “The Future Sarasota of America". A less subjective description was provided by a correspondent of the Winnipeg Times in the summer of 1880:

"For some time now the railway works in the vicinity of Rat Portage have been besieged by a lot of scoundrels whose only avocation seems to be gambling and trading in illicit whiskey and the state of degradation was, if anything, intensified by the appearance, in the wake of these blacklegs, of a number of the demi-monde with whom these numerous desperadoes held high carnival at all hours of the day or night"'

The town itself, in the words of another observer, seemed to have been “laid out on designs made by a colony of muskrats.” Shanties and tents were built or pitched wherever the owners fancied and without reference to streets or roadways. As a result, the streets were run between the houses as an afterthought so that there was nothing resembling a straight thoroughfare in town “but simply a lot of crooked, winding trails that appeared to go nowhere in particular, but to aimlessly wander about in and out of shanties, tents and clumps of brush in such a confused and irregular manner as was extremely difficult for the stranger to find his way from one given point to another, even though they might not be over 150 yards apart."

Rat Portage, with a floating population sometimes bordering on three thousand, was headquarters for Section B – the famous Contract Forty-two under the control of Manning, Shields, MacDonald and Company. The expense of the administration was borne by the contractors, who built the jail and organized the police force. All fines, however, went to the government. Between April and November of 1880, six thousand dollars was collected in fines. The convictions - highway robbery, larceny, burglary, assault, selling illicit whiskey, and prostitution - give a fair picture of Rat Portage as a frontier town.

With both the contractors and government in the law business, a state of near anarchy prevailed. At one point the company constable, a man named O'Keefe, seized four barrels of illicit liquor but instead of destroying it took it back to his rooms and proceeded to treat his many friends. He was hauled before the stipendiary magistrate who fined him for having intoxicating liquor in his possession. O'Keefe paid the fine and then as soon as the magistrate left the bench arrested him for having liquor in his possession, an act he was perfectly entitled to perform since he was himself a policeman. When he popped the protesting magistrate in jail and when that official asked for an immediate hearing O’Keefe denied it to him, declaring that he meant to keep him behind bars for twenty-four hours because the magistrate “had treated him like a dog and now it was his turn” With the only magistrate in jail, another had to be appointed to act in his place; when this was done the hearing was held and the new magistrate fined the old magistrate one hundred dollars. In the end the local government remitted both fines. (Pages 295-6)...

[In] 1880 it was the roughest town in Canada, the headquarters of the illegal liquor industry with eight hundred gallons pouring into town every month, hidden in oatmeal and bean sacks as disguised as barrels of coal oil. It was figured that there was a whisky peddler for every thirty residents, so profitable was the business. “Forty-Rods” – so called because it was claimed it could fell a man at that distance – sold for the same price as champagne in Winnipeg from illegal saloons operating on the islands that speckled the Lake of the Woods.

Here on a smaller and more primitive scale was foreshadowed all the anarchy of a later prohibition period in the United States - the same gun-toting mobsters, corrupt officials, and harassed police. One bloody incident in the summer of 1880, involving two whiskey traders named Dan Harrington and Jim Mitchell, had all the elements of a western gun battle.

Harrington and Mitchell had in 1878 worked on a steam drift for Joseph Whitehead but they soon abandoned that toil for the more lucrative trade. In the winter of 1879-80, a warrant was issued for their arrest at Cross Lake, but when the constable tried to serve it, the two beat him brutally and escaped to Rat Portage where the stipendiary magistrate, F.W. Bent was in their pay. The two men gave themselves up to Bent who fined them a token fifty dollars and then gave them a written discharge to prevent further interference from officials at Cross Lake. The magistrate also returned to Harrington a revolver that had been confiscated.

[Harrington was shot in a gun battle with a Company constable within a week and Magistrate Bent was removed within another week and the Winnipeg Times reported] “he is now actively engaged in the illicit traffic of selling crooked whisky himself. He has now become an active ally [with] those whom he was at one time to be at variance in a legal sense, whose pernicious vices he was expected to exterminate but did not.”

It was these reports, seeping back to Winnipeg, that persuaded Archbishop Taches of St Boniface that the construction workers needed a permanent chaplain; after all, a third of them were French-Canadian Catholics from Manitoba. He selected for the task the most notable of all the voyageur priests, father Albert Lacombe, a notable nomadic Oblate who had spent most of his adult life among the Cree and Blackfoot of the far West. In November 1880, Lacombe set out reluctantly for his new parish. [He arrived at Rat Portage on November 2 1880.]

Father Lacombe was a homely man whose long silver locks never seemed to be combed; but benevolence shone from his features. He did not want to be a railway chaplain. He would much rather have stayed among his beloved Indians than have entered the Sodom of Rat Portage, but he went where his church directed. On the very first day of his new assignment he was scandalized by the language of the navvies [men who build railways]. His first sermon, preached in a boxcar chapel, was an attack on blasphemy.
“It seems to me what I have said is of a nature to bring reflection to these terrible blasphemers, who have a vile language all their own – with a dictionary and grammar which belongs to no one but them selves,” confided to his diary. “This habit of theirs is -diabolical!”
But there was worse to come: two weeks after he arrived in rat Portage there was “a disorderly and scandalous ball” and all night long the sounds of drunken revelry dinned into the ears of the unworldly priest from the plains. Lacombe even tried to reason with the women who sponsored the dances. He was rewarded with jeers and insults.
“My God”, he wrote in his diary, “have pity on this little village where so many crimes are committed every day”. He realized that he was helpless to stop all the evil that met his eyes and so settled at last for prayer “to arrest the divine anger” … “My God, I offer you my sufferings” …Please send me back to my missions”

1871 Calendar



Sources may be found at Kenora Bibliography