If you search for this place at the Historic Sites of Manitoba website, you’ll learn about its archeological significance. There’s even an information plaque and a sign at the site to explain timelines, significant finds and the buffalo jump (bison cliff). The strange thing is that there is nothing at the location to explain why they named the site after the homesteader who lived here and built this stone house that overlooks the valley. My usual source for historic Manitoba information is the Manitoba Historic Society but it had nothing to say about this man. There was a brief article about Percy Brockinton, but it said nothing to place him in this old house or to say that he was this Brockinton that built the stone house. Eventually my perseverance paid off as I did learn that Percy Brockinton indeed lived here and was the youngest son of W.T. Brockinton, the man who had this house built.
Local history books are often the best source of information about a place and the people who lived there. The hard part is finding the name of the applicable local history book and then finding a copy of the book. In this case I’ll not bore you with the details of how I found the name or a source but it was the people at the Antler River Historical Society Museum who where able to help me out. They had a copy of the 1983 book called, Our First Century, Town of Melita and Municipality of Arthur. Once I knew that they had the book and I obtained the sections of the book required for this post, the rest was easy. However I then received a package I had earlier requested from the Manitoba Legislature Library, with excerpts from the book called, “We made Melita, Notable People from Melita’s Past“. The two publications were very similar, but not the same, in content.
William and Isabel Brockinton
William Brockinton was an Oxford graduate who worked for the Birmington Railway as an auditor. He quit his job with the railway and moved to Canada in 1881 with his wife Isabel Hanger and two children, William R born 1876, and Isabel born 1878. They picked their homesteads from a homestead map in Woodstock, Ontario and arrived in Brandon in the spring of 1882. In those early days of Manitoba and Canada, that was as far west as the railway could take them. After stopping at Brandon to purchase supplies they set out on a journey by oxcart to their new homestead, a distance of about 135 to 160 km. Brockington travelled with a group of younger men heading to the same general area. Once they arrived at their new homestead they set up a tent and set to work building a lumber shanty, which the account describes as not being nearly as warm as the soddies that most of the others built. The Brockintons stayed at the homestead over the winter while most or all of the younger men, that were in their original travel group, went back to Ontario for the winter.
During Februrary their food supplies were getting low so William Brockinton took the oxen on a ten mile journey across the prairie to Dave Elliott’s home to buy a bag of potatoes. Mr Elliott wanted Brockinton to stay for the night because a blizzard had blown in. The full account of the return trip late at night is quoted below.
Arriving there alright he got his potatoes okay when a blizzard came up, but cleared up by 10 o’clock with a bright moonlight night. Mr. Elliott wanted Mr. Brockington to stay till morning but Mr Brockington said as much as he would like to he thought that as he had a wife and two children out on the prairie be had better start out. With the oxen plodding along Mr Brockington got colder and colder and then got feeling sleepy. He remembered reading that was the last feeling one got before freezing to death, so he got out to walk but was so stiff that he had to hook one arm around the back of the sleigh and get dragged along for 50 yards until he could walk. He finally got home with is bag of frozen potatoes.We Made Melita: page 9
The second summer he was able to get a second homestead pre-exemption on the NE quarter of section 10 on the river flats where there was plenty of wood. He dug into the north bank of a ravine and by sodding up the sides he built a warm place to winter. He spent six months fulfilling “homestead duties” there and six months on the other homestead quarter in order to meet the requirement that he live at a homestead site for six months in the year. In 1895 he had a stone house built on section 10 which is the house that I photographed. He later bought the west quarter of section 11 to bring his holdings to three quarter sections.
After their arrival in Canada the Brockintons had three more children, Ada was born in 1886; Harold in 1888; and Percy in 1892. As there were no schools nearby, William and Isobel (the two older children) were taught by Mr Brockinton at home, and later he taught Ada, Harold and Percy, until the Peninsula School was built in 1901.
Mr Brockinton was a very good violinist and taught music to the family and others who wished to learn the violin. Mr and Mrs Brockinton continued to live on their farm until their deaths. Mrs. Brockinton died in November of 1924, and Mr. Brockinton died in September 1933 at 83 years of age.
In 1892, their eldest son William, bought SE 3-3-27 for $4.80 an acre and later NW 33-2-27 from Joe Barrett. William lived on NW 33-2-27 until 1946 when he sold his farm to Wilfred Skelton and retired in Melita. William died in 1964. Isobel married W.T. Davey in 1907. Ada stayed on the farm and kept house for her brother William, until she moved to town in 1945, where she again kept house for her brother William. She died in 1975. Harold started operating the home farm in 1914 with his brother Percy. He continued operating the home farm until 1950 when he retired and went to Melita and lived with his sister Ada. He died in 1974. Ada appears to have kept house for two of her brothers. First she took care of William (first on the farm and then in Melita) followed by her brother Harold. Perhaps that’s why she never married.
The above information was paraphrased from the above mentioned local history book. The Brockinton segment of the book was written by Percy Brockinton, the youngest of the family. It’s always nice when a family member writes the family history as they have more insite into the details that those outside of the family would not have access to. The information below is about Percy Brockinton and can be found at the Manitoba Historical Socity’s website: Memorable Manitobans: Percy Brockinton (1892-1985) (mhs.mb.ca)
According to the Manitoba Historical Society’s website, Percy Brockinton (1892-1985) was “born on a farm in the Peninsula district of southwestern Manitoba on 29 December 1892, son of William Brockinton and Isabel Hanger. In 1921 he began farming in this area, becoming renowned for his registered seed grain for which he won prizes in Canada and the USA. He also raised purebred shorthorn cattle. In March 1938, he married Florence May Whitley (1893-1978). They had no children. They moved to Melita in 1948 where he served as a councillor for the Town of Melita (1952-1953, 1960-1963). He died at Deloraine on 19 July 1985 and was buried in the Melita Cemetery. In 1986, his name was added posthumously to the Roll of Honour of the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame”.
This sign on the site of the Brockinton homestead does not mention the homestead or the reason why the site was named after the Brockintons (did they donate the land?).
The Beautiful Location
I can imagine the Brockinton family sitting by the front window at the end of the day and looking out over the valley and Souris River. Did they see the occasional stray bison or perhaps discover bison bones in the valley? Certainly there were pronghorns and deer. It was a small house but a very pleasant location.
The Exterior of the Stone House
The above image shows the newer of the two barns in the background. There are more images of the barns below.
The inside is in rough shape but you can still see the kitchen and the front upper bedroom dormer window.
Some Up-close Details
There were two barns on the property. One has long since collapsed and the other one is still standing but definitely showing its age. For some strange reason I didn’t take many images of the barns. Perhaps I became so captivated with discovering and photographing the stone buildings that I stopped photographing most other structures.
In the above brief history of Mr. Brockinton we’ve learned that he taught his children at home until 1901 which is when the Peninsula School opened. The Manitoba Historical Society says this school was established in April 1897 but both the Local History Book (cited below) and the plaque mounted on the rock in front of the actual school say 1901. I don’t know if this was an error or if the school was being operated out of someone’s house (Brockinton’s perhaps?) but the building itself is likely correctly dated at 1901. This is the school that the three youngest Brockinton children attended (Ada, Harold and Percy).
Upper left: I wonder if any of the Brockintons once sat in this chair. Upper right: There is a mysterious door at the top of the rear of the school. If this is just for access to the attic why wouldn’t they just use an interior access like we see in most structures both old and new?
The Peninsula School is in amazingly good condition considering its age and exposure to the elements. It has now been closed for slightly longer than it was open as a school.
Turtle Mountain–Souris Plains Heritage Association Brockinton Site | Turtle Mountain–Souris Plains Heritage Association (vantagepoints.ca)
Manitoba Historical Society, Historic Sites of Manitoba: Brockinton Indian Sites (Municipality of Two Borders) (mhs.mb.ca)
Manitoba Historical Society, Memorable Manitobans: Percy Brockinton (1892-1985) (mhs.mb.ca)
Melita-Arthur History Committee (1983). Our First Century Town of Melita and Municipality of Arthur . Melita: Published by the Melita-Arthur History Committee. This was the source of most of the information used in this post as well as the source of the black and white image of the Brockintons.
We made Melita, Notable People from Melita’s Past. A project of the Melita Heritage Advisory Group. Excerpts provided to me from the Manitoba Legislative Library.
If you visit the structures shown in this blog, or any other old potentially abandoned structure, please respect the landowers’ rights and obtain their permission to access and photograph their structures. Always excercise caution when visiting abandoned buildings as there are potential dangers such as crumbling structures, deep wells hidden by grass, and even spores of mould in the air.