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Farm & Area History

George Blight was the third son of George & Sarah Blight and he ventured west from Ontario around 1889.  He may have come to Manitoba as his father's younger brother, Elias Blight, had settled there and farmland was at a premium in Ontario.  The Pacific Railway had reached Portage la Prairie in 1880, thereby opening the door for rapid population growth.  George first worked for Dave McCowan a few months and then went to Greenlays.  In 1890, George Blight purchased his homestead of 240 acres in this local district of flat but highly fertile soil south of the Assiniboine for $5.00/acre.  He batched at first with his Uncle Eli Blight (per notes by Rene (Blight) Metcalfe).

This area was originally settled in 1738 when La Verendrye built Fort La Reine, one of the forts built for western expansion.  Portage la Prairie was one of the first European communities established in an area of central Canada that eventually became the province of Manitoba.  George brought his new bride, Isabella, to his recently purchased homestead in 1890 and they raised a family of ten children there.

The Blight yardsite is next to the La Salle River.  The natural brush currently around this river is indicative of the brush that would have inhabited the land bought by George in 1890.  Per notes by Rene (Blight) Metcalfe:  "An apt description of land south of the Assiniboine River --- bush and swamp.  It was divided and given as half breed {Metis} script of 240 acres.  Wood lots were along the Assiniboine on south side and given to early settlers at High Bluff and Portage plains.  A grant of 20 acres was given along with homesteads.  Parish lots were on the {Assiniboine} River used as highway and people wanted the water frontage. 

Prior to 1890, only patches of land were broken.  There was no threshing machine available so one would come from High Bluff and thresh for
everyone. Old Mr. King was the first man to buy a threshing machine, a portable steamer.  {His wife}, Mrs. Jack King boarded three gangs of threshermen - 35 men - for three weeks at 12 cents a meal.  {Picture to the left is a threshing crew of Mr. Jack King.  He is standing in front, second man from the left.}

The largest settlement at first was in Elm River.  Elm River and Bethel churches were the first churches built south of the {Assiniboine} River.  The land around Jarvais and miles south of Oakville was all hay land.  Hay was put up there, so settlers took stock there, to the hay.  {The settlers} also came from High Bluff to pick berries.  Settlers of High Bluff moved to south of the river for the winter months.  Men cut cordwood.  Cordwood hauled by horses to Portage for $2.00 to $2.50 a cord.  Naturally, shelter was good for settlers and stock.  These settlers would attend Elm River church during the winter.  Entertainment of first settlers - house parties, berry picking, picnics, visiting, horse racing."

Excerpts from speech notes by Geordie Blight  written in 1967 for a Centennial Opening:  "Prior to 1890, there were no farms here but there were cattle ranches.  Small by some standards but still ranches.  These were along the highland following the big slough in the Ingleside district and along the Elm River (Salem) or the La Salle.  It was in 1889 when my father {George Blight} came out here from Ontario.  He bought the farm now owned by Mrs. Wilfred Blight in 1890 and went east and married my mother in January 1891.  High Bluff was their first post office.  No homestead land this side of the {Assiniboine} River and this raw, bush land was purchased for $5.00 per acre.  The land this side of the River was all half breed or Metis claims of 240 acres.  Some in River lots and some in 20 acre wood lots.  Two sections in each township were retained for school lands - Section 11 and 29.  Most of the land was now in the hands of speculators. 

The railroad was built through here in 1902.  The station was named Oakville but the Post Office department would not use the name Oakville as they claimed it would cause confusion with Oakville, Ontario.  In spite of this, Oakville was most commonly used and it was not until 1939 that the name Kawende was dropped. 
Churches and schools have always been very important in any district. 

In 1892, a petition was presented to the Council asking for the formation of the Oakville School District #655.  Elm River School is one year older.  Oakville School was built 1 mile north of the present site on SW 1/4 30-11-4, it being the centre of the district.  {The eldest George Blight children attended this school and it is pictured above right.}  A two room school was built and opened in 1906.  Two more rooms were added in 1911 and two more added in the 1940's.  {Pictured below}  This building burned in 1959 and the present Elementary school and Collegiate were opened in 1960.

1906 - 1911


The farm land here has proven very fertile.  There has been very few crop failures and early in 1940 a million bushels of grain was shipped out of the area.  This has been repeated since.  It has also been proven that special crops do well as a result farm land prices are about the highest in the province. 

I'm sure some of us can recall the time when our roads were prairie trails and trails through the bush where the stumps would protrude occasionally out to the wagon trails.  In the earlier days road work was done chiefly by statute labor.  That is, the farmer or land owner would donate a few days labor, using his own equipment in many cases in lieu of taxes.  No comment need be made on our roads here now.  There is a difference.

No mention has been made of the history of our village.  There has been no spectacular growth at any time due to the lack of any industries.  Some of the early business men were Anderson Bros - Lumber; Charles and Morely Snyder, General Merchant; Malcom Shaw, Hotel.  Also Lyons Butcher, Burns Bros Hardware, W Nixon Machinery and Wm Strait Livery.  Later on D. A. Moore and Robert Lees carried on General Stores.  Dr. White and Dr. Clark were early medical doctors.

Before closing, I would like to pay a special tribute to our parents, the pioneers.  They showed plenty of fortitude and courage in leaving comfortable homes and coming out to a new part of the country and more or less carving out a new home for themselves.  No doubt, there were hard times to bear but there could have been less complaints than we hear today.  To my mind it is regrettable that so many of these pioneers passed away just before they were able to take hold of some of the comfort giving conveniences which seemingly kept dangling beyond their reach.  I refer particularly to rural electrification.  We are reaping the benefits of their labors.  We owe them much.  They built better than they knew." 

A brief story recorded by Annie Blight (wife of Wilfred Blight):
"The first while of living on his new farm, Mr. {George} Blight's cattle would swim or wade across the river to greener pastures as no fences were up, neither was there a bridge.  To get the cattle back home again, Mr. Blight kept an old faithful cow in the barn.  When time came to get the cattle home, he would ride on this cow's back across the La Salle {River}, and would therefore stay fairly dry for she was anxious to be with the rest of the cows."

George Blight had cattle and would have cleared bush on his 240 acre parcel and sown wheat and barley, perhaps oats.  Geordie Blight's little black account book shows that in 1933, his Dad (George) grew barley and wheat.  Hugh and Geordie grew the same crops that year and Les grew wheat, barley and oats.  Geordie's threshing expenses totaled $57.00 and his crop sales totaled $184.00 netting $127.00. 

Wilfred Blight, son of George & Isabella, was the next to live and farm on the homestead with his wife Annie (Thompson) and their three children:  Irene, Jim, and Evelyn.  The following was written by Jim Blight:

"I don't have any knowledge of what crops my Grandpa grew.  My Dad grew wheat, flax, barley and oats.  His crop rotation was always 1/3 summerfallow, 1/3 wheat, and then either oats or flax and occasionally barley.  {Pictured - the old way and the new way - Wilfred Blight}

My crops were similar to my Dad's except we grew alfalfa and canola in the rotation as well.  My Dad never applied fertilizer.  Chemicals for weed control became available at the end of his farming career.  I, and occasionally my sisters, hand-picked mustard in the fields.  This was how mustard was controlled before chemicals were introduced.  Fertilizer came available shortly after I started farming and the use of fertilizer gradually replaced the practise of summerfallowing.  In 1988, we planted two native grass species for seed production and today approximately 1/3 of our acres are in grass seed production.  {Pictured above:  Jim Sommerville (with Wilfred Blight behind) swathing the home quarter. }

To the best of my knowledge, my Grandpa didn't farm more than his original homestead 240 acres.  My Dad farmed the original homestead as well and never purchased additional land. 
I do know that he rented an eighty (80) from Uncle Geordie and I also recall him saying he farmed what I know as the Ron Craig land which was owned by a Mr. Bray at that time.  He also spoke of farming the Thompson 320 in partnership with Les Blight for a few years before Jim Sommerville rented it. {Pictured - Cousins:  Jack Adams (Laura) & Jim Blight (Wilfred) - Both boys chose to farm.}

Today, Kevin {son}, Kam {son}, and I own approximately 2300 acres and we rent an additional 320 acres.  Livestock - I understand my Grandpa came with oxen but I don't know how extensively he used them.  I do know they farmed with horses until they were replaced by tractors and Mac and Queen were the last chore horses on my Dad's farm until they died in the early 50's.  Cattle, pigs, and chickens were usually present on the farm until about the mid 70's.  There is not an animal on the farm today!"

Mac & Queen pulling a grass cutter

Overshot Hay/Straw Stacker Circa 1940's
Farmland Is Original Homestead

Note man on top of straw stack (head visible only) who would spread the newly deposited straw.  This unit was built by Wilfred Blight.  

Description:  Two horses, one on each side of the 'sweep', would gather the straw from a windrow.  They would pull up, one on each side of the stacker unit.  (The forks shown in the pictures come straight down to the ground and would have been laying down for the sweep to pull onto.)  Then the horses and sweep are backed away, leaving their load on the stacker.  A tractor was attached to a rope that was used to pull the loaded stacker up and then deposit the material on top of the stack.  Then manpower spreads the hay/straw across the stack.  This was considered to be a wonderful invention for farmers and was first used in the mid 1890's.


Horses & Sweep

Line up of farmers from the Oakville District waiting to unload their grain at the elevator.  Note the small capacity of the trucks.

Dumping of grain in the Oakville elevator.  Note the front of the truck is hoisted as opposed to the box of the truck being hoisted.