PortageOnline recently took a tour with local historian James Kostuchuk through the St. Mary's la Prairie Anglican Cemetery. It's the oldest cemetery in Portage la Prairie and is located east of the 240 on the way to Southport. Gravesites are located there that date back before Manitoba was a province.

Kostuchuk began the visit of this significant historic site by showing the headstone of Reverend Garrioch.

"Reverend Garrioch, born in 1848, was one of the earliest settlers to the Portage la Prairie Town. But the one thing that he left us that’s been important is that he wrote a few books and those books have become important source materials for understanding what happened in Manitoba as the first waves of immigrants came in, and especially for Portage la Prairie. We're talking about the 1850s, so this is before Manitoba was even a province. This predates treaties. The people that were living here had entered into agreements with the first peoples that were here to set up a community."  

He notes major businesses were operating in the town, and the owners' burial plots are close together at the site.

"If you get your camera in the right position, we should be able to capture all three families. We have  Garland. Then there's Cadham and then Newman. Those were probably the three largest businesses operating in Portage la Prairie. And it's just interesting that they were influential in our town in their day, and now all their final resting places are together here at Saint Mary's Cemetery."  

Kostuchuk explains Newman was instrumental in building Victoria School. 

"The school board at that time couldn't secure a loan, so he personally secured the loan for them," says Kostuchuk

Victoria SchoolVictoria School, now Red River Polytech Portage campus

John Cadham established Cadham Hardware in 1882. Active with the school board and hospital.

"I remember they famously had a store in downtown Portage that was visited by Clark Gable. When Clark Gable came to hunt at Delta, apparently he stop at Cadham’s store. He stayed overnight in Portage and two of the Cadham girls went and knocked on his window. He came out and he gave each of them a peck on the cheek, which gave them a story to tell for the rest of their days." 

Clark Gable in PortageClark Gable in Portage

Les Green is a local historian and adds Gable stayed at the Leland Hotel on the corner of 2nd Street, but just by Saint Mary's Church.  

"It's Midtown Hotel now," says Green. "He came because he's going duck shooting at Delta. For some reason, I guess, he needed shotgun shells. So, he went over to Cadhams. Cadhams was a hardware store. If somebody mentioned Cadhams with Clark Gable, that's why he went across the street. And Clark Gable was supposed to have brought Carol Lombard with him. That's just the kind of thing Clark Gable would do.” 

"Thomas Newman established a general store in 1881. He later operated a wholesale and liquor store. He was joined by his brother Frederick in 1888. Frederick was present at the driving of the CPR’s last spike in 1883," adds Kostuchuk. .


NewmanIt is difficult to read, but sign reads NEWMAN BLOCK, atop current MacDonald's Sporting Goods

He explains the current site of the Keystone Sports store was across the street from Newman's west location.  

"They originally built in the West End," adds Green. "There was an ice cream shop and an empty lot there now. It's a two-story building. It's been an awful lot of different things in its history. They decided they needed one on the East End because the East End was expanding. And, apparently, the wives of this brother and that brother appreciated the liquor and the other one didn't. The story ended up with one store, that's where you went for your whiskey. On the one on the East End, you didn't. Or maybe the other way around; I'm not sure. The new one had a long, long history. Different people bought it. And then they sold it to somebody else and somebody else and Harry Duncan had it the last time. And Wade Duncan is now running a sports store."

Kostuchuk says the other great businessman in town at the time, William Garland, was not only a storeowner but a town councillor. 

CadhamCadham headstone with Newman headstone in background

"He was also elected six times as mayor of Portage Prairie, which is a significant achievement. So, the Garland family was very instrumental."

St. Mary's Church, of course, is no longer standing at the cemetery, but that was also its original location. 

"We don't exactly know the specific spot where the church is. We're assuming it's near the oldest headstones. They would have presumably been close to the church, but they later disassembled the church and I believe that that's the home now that's on Portage Avenue near the Crescent."

St. Mary's la Prairie Anglican ChurchPainted rendering of St. Mary's la Prairie Anglican Church

Kostuchuk says the wood from the church was used to build what is now that oldest house.

"The timbers from that were moved from here to build that house, simply because the wood in it would date back to, presumably, the 1850s, which would be old by pretty much any standard in Manitoba."

Kostuchuk recounts the history of another significant member of the early Portage community by the name of James Corrigal, who was born in 1795 and arrived at Churchill in 1813.

"Like many 'Bay men,'" he notes, 'the man was recruited from the Orkneys. He was just over 5 feet 6 inches tall and had a dark complexion. He was described as 'good and honest' but ultimately an 'indifferent' labourer. Given the conditions of living in Canada then, with freezing winters and insect-filled summers, his indifference is easy to understand. In the 1870 Red River census, Corrigal was listed as retired at Portage la Prairie. He was married to Mary Flett and had nine children."

Then there was John Hodgson.

"Hodgson was the son of the Chief Factor for the Hudson Bay Company at Albany. His mother was Cree. Hodgson was chosen to serve on John Franklin’s second Arctic land expedition from 1825 - 1827. Standing 6 feet tall and fit, it is said he was a picked man for the work, and it is recorded that Franklin was reluctant to see him leave his service to return to Red River. At Hodgson’s marriage in 1827 to Charlotte Yorkston, it was noted that he owned two horses, a cow, and a canoe and had one acre under cultivation. Hodgson died in 1875 and is buried at St. Mary’s Church Cemetery."

"Alfred Campbell Garrioch was described as 'mixed-blood' and was born near Fort Garry in 1848. He was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church in 1875. He negotiated with Louis Riel regarding the imprisonment of the 'Portage boys' in 1870. He published an English Cree dictionary in 1885. He retired in 1905 and wrote several books regarding his experiences. First Furrows contains some of the earliest writings on the history of Portage la Prairie. William Garland moved to Portage la Prairie in 1882 to open a clothing store. He served as mayor of Portage la Prairie six times."