of the Swan River Valley
100 Years in the
Swan River Valley
1898 - 1998
Robert and Mabel Bertram
Robert George Bertram was a young man of 25 in 1901 when he first saw the beautiful valley, which we all now proudly call the Swan River Valley. He, like so many others were looking to the west and to the challenge it inspired. Work was not too plentiful in the East. He had worked as an engineer on the Grand Trunk Railroad until the workers went on strike.
When he was 19 or 20 he came as far as Portage la Prairie to work in the harvest fields. Rumors reached the Portage area of a fertile land opening up north with land free for the settling, so the time was ripe for a young man who was out of work and wanting to make a home in the west to come and see if it was good.
One thing he had which was a real asset in a new land, was a knowledge of steam engines. One of his first jobs was running a steam engine on a saw-mill at Renwer. When he first arrived the men thought he was a forest ranger coming to cause trouble, but he was able to persuade them to give him a trial.
About this time he decided he would learn to shoot. He was following one of the fellows in the bush one Sunday morning, looking for a fresh meat supply, when they came upon two moose feeding in the underbrush. The fellow shot twice and had two moose. Later, after a good deal of target practice, Robert could perform the same feat. When his sons were little he used to have them throw an egg into the air and break it on the way down with a rifle shot.
In 1902 he installed the steam engine in Gable’s Flour Mill in Swan River, and ran it out for a short time. Homesteads were available so in 1904 Robert claimed the SW 1/4 of 19-35-25, six miles south of Minitonas as his own.
Back home in Toronto, there was a sweetheart waiting, Mary Mabel Dix, and Robert was looking for a home, so in 1906 he bought the SE 1/4 of 23-35-26 from George Keys. On February 6 he signed an agreement for sale for $1,550.00 for the quarter, $236.50 down and $150.00 per year until 1915 at an interest rate of 8%. (The agreement for sale is one of Glenn Bertram’s prize possessions.)
There was approximately ten acres cleared for crop and that summer Robert worked to clear more land. He used to write letters home to Mabel saying time after time that he was “Scubbing”. Mabel thought there was no cleaner young man in all the west.
In February of 1907 Robert returned to Toronto and on March 26 he and Mabel were married. No doubt Mabel’s family thought she was mad to go off to the wilds with her young man, but to our knowledge she never regretted it, even though the mosquitoes were bigger and heartier than any Easterner could imagine. Robert came back west in April with a carload of stock, machinery and furniture, and early in May, Mabel followed. It seemed a long, long way to her home. She arrived in Minitonas on May 7, and Robert met her at the station with the team and sleigh. The ditches were full of water but there was enough snow on the road to make adequate sleighing. Before Robert left for town he had put supper in the oven, and when his tired and hungry young wife looked in the oven she found a roast of moose meat all tied up with binder twine. No doubt it was delicious.
Times were not easy, there were no modern conveniences, but the house, made of logs, was cozy and warm. The furnishings brought from her home in Toronto, made it a comfortable and attractive home. An old diary of Robert’s tells of setting up housekeeping, planting a garden, haying and threshing, etc.
Mabel’s father (her mother died in 1900) came to visit his daughter in 1908 and he was so enthusiastic about the country that he bought a neighboring farm (NE 1/4 14-35-26) for his son Fletcher. On March 31, 1909, Fletcher Dix arrived with a carload of fine horses to start farming. Feed was very scarce. Robert’s diary states “it was 20 below zero on April 22 and 23 of that year, and a blizzard on April 26 leaving six inches of fresh snow. Good sleighing on May 1st”.
In those days, people walked or rode miles to enjoy a good game of football, and Minitonas had a good team. In 1908, the Minitonas Thistles were Manitoba champions. Robert Bertram played goalie on the team and Ernest Bertram, his brother, played fullback.
On September 10, 1909, their first-born son, Robson, was born. That winter Robert left his young wife and baby son, in the care of her brother Fletcher, to work as an engineer in a saw mill at Red Deer. Then in 1911 and 1912 he ran the engine in a mill in the Duck Mountains. That mill cut up to 30,000 feet of lumber on a good day.
On October 11, 1911, Fletcher Dix married Edna Toyeand took up residence on his own farm neighboring Robert’s to the south. Grandpa Dix made his home here in the west, with Mabel and Fletcher until his death in 1926. Robert and Mabel had seven children: Robson, Myrtle, Ruth, Glenn, Donald, Anna, and George.
Submitted By: Anna Smith
Manitoba's Swan River Valley is an area rich in history. These family histories were a part of the 1998 Pioneer Centennial History Book project. If you would like the history of your area available online, have your historic group contact the Key Rock Group for information on electronic publication. We offer publication free of charge and also provide the option for making your history book available on CD.