Stonewall's Main Street
The Tale of a Town
By Andrew Farris and Elyse Abma
Since its founding in 1880, Stonewall has transformed from a collection of homesteads into a successful town with a rich history. In this tour, we will take a stroll down Main Street and learn about how Stonewall was founded, what drew people here, and what it was like to grow up in the first few decades of Stonewall.
This project is a partnership with the Town of Stonewall.
1. The Founding of Stonewall
S.J. Jackson was born in Ireland in 1848 and came to Canada two years later with his father, who opened a general store in Brampton, Ontario. With Manitoba's accession to the Canadian Confederation in 1870, Jackson smelled opportunities for an energetic and enterprising young man out west, and moved to Winnipeg the next year. Starting out as a lowly surveyor, he wasted no time working his way into a clerk job, and from there to a succession of positions in the wholesaler business. By 1875, at only 27 years old, Jackson had saved up enough money to begin buying land. Hearing rumours about a planned railway spur north of Winnipeg, he bought up a large plot of land near the planned route. He had grand dreams to turn that land into a prosperous prairie town. Over the next few years, Jackson lived and worked in Winnipeg while refining plans for his little town. With offers of free land and money he enticed a few homesteaders and several businessmen who opened up a steam grist mill. Jackson, for his part, continued working in Winnipeg and also won election as city alderman. In 1880, the railway finally reached Winnipeg, and the long-expected spur line to the north was expected to soon follow. Jackson was ready and put his plans into action, having the townsite surveyed with streets (named after his friends and family), and subdivided into lots for sale. What was the town to be called? It's not known how Stonewall got its name, but there are many stories. The most popular story is that Jackson had earned the nickname 'Stonewall', after the famous Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, who was killed at the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Stonewall fit Jackson because "although short in stature, he was a man of straight military bearing," writes the town's Centennial book. "And it is said that he considered the name an honor and so named the town."2 The rocky ridge of limestone on the north and eastern sides of town might also have played a part. With a railway soon to follow, the newly christened Stonewall was well placed to capitalize on Western Canada's economic boom.
2. Main Street
Stonewall was gifted with an independent economic base in the high quality limestone deposits on the north and east sides of town, which fuelled a rapidly growing quarry industry. People began to flock to Stonewall to work in the quarries and in 1883 alone 70 homes were built, some of which still stand to this day.1 In 1884, the newly established newspaper, the Stonewall News and Rockwood County Advertiser (later the Argus), wrote that S.J. Jackson was offering free lots to anyone who built a little house measuring 18 by 24 feet and one and a half storeys high. Jackson also encouraged these settlers to plant trees on their properties, both to provide shade and give the town a more pleasing appearance. The quarriers needed tools and equipment, as well as all the necessities of life. Initially they had to make the trip to Winnipeg to get these goods (some apparently walked there on occasion), but soon all sorts of businesses began to spring up in Stonewall to service their needs. Farmers from the surrounding areas also started coming into Stonewall to buy and sell. By 1884, Stonewall could boast "a planing mill, four hotels, two butchers, four grocers, a drug store, two blacksmiths, five lime kilns, baker, barber, watchmaker and jeweler, boot and shoe shop, harness shop, bellows factory, millinery, grist mill, a weekly newspaper, a hardware and tin shop, and two grain buyers."2 Both sides of Main Street were filled with businesses, and a lively town had come into being.
3. Trappings of a Town
Some of the first public buildings completed in Stonewall were churches, and soon people could tend to their faith at Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and Anglican churches around town. These churches became fonts of community activity. Outside of regular mass, pictures show that bible classes were well attended Women at one organized a performing troupe and put on plays, such as "Ladies Aid of Mohawk Crossroads." The Union Choir was formed and went on to perform at the Winnipeg Music Festival in the 1920s, winning awards there. An electric railway was built in 1914, offering commuter service to Winnipeg until it was supplanted by buses in 1939. Telephone and electrical lines were laid around this time, giving people access to the modern conveniences we take for granted today. That new fangled invention, the 'car', was met with great enthusiasm in Stonewall, and in 1909 a local Auto Club was formed, the first in Western Canada. Fraternal organizations like the Masons, Oddfellows, and Kinsmen Club gave Stonewall's inhabitants places to socialize outside of work and church, and acted to advance many charitable initiatives throughout the community. Sports were also incredibly popular. Football games drew huge crowds in the summer, while over the long winters men and women could join Stonewall's hockey, curling, and snowshoe clubs.
4. A Cause for Decoration
Agricultural fairs were very important to the community, and people from across Rockwood County would come to Stonewall to attend them and see the huge Labour Day Parade. These events were accompanied by all manner of sporting, musical, and recreational activities, including a cute baby competition. This competition put the judges in an awkward position, according to an 1883 story in the Brandon Mail: “A reporter this morning conversed with a gentleman, who attended yesterday the annual Rockwood fair at Stonewall. He gave an amusing account of the trouble occasioned by some of the Judges, who foolishly consented to act in award of the prizes for the baby show. As every one knows this is a thankless position at best, and when as is generally the case one or more irate mothers give vent to their disappointed hopes, it becomes one simply of unbearable torture. The decisions rendered by the Stonewall judges affected a well-known lady of this city, who expressly journeyed to the scene, with the brightest prospects imaginable of securing with her darling baby, the first prize, affording herself the opportunity of enjoying the disappointment of her discomfited rivals. It was not to be however, and the poor judges found out to their sorrow that a vexed woman's tongue removes all the pleasure derived from a consciousness of having done their duty to the best of their ability.” 2 Today the main fair held in Stonewall are the Quarry Days, which take over the town for three days every August. Fortunately, the cute baby competition is no longer included.
5. Stonewall's Victoria Cross
Alan McLeod was just one of hundreds of young men from Stonewall who enthusiastically enlisted in the military during the First World War. McLeod was however only 15 at the outbreak of war and had to wait till his 18th birthday to join up. On that day in 1917 he did just that, taking the train to Winnipeg and enlisting with the Royal Flying Corps. Within months, he was commissioned as an officer and assigned to a squadron flying lumbering two-seater Whitworth F.K. 8 biplanes. "They're some bus," McLeod said of the plane in a letter home. "I'd much rather fly a smaller machine, they are easier to stunt with." Despite being denied the opportunity to fly the more agile and glamorous fighters, the tall, lanky youth was still able to showcase his flying skills in the big planes. "I looped one the other day. I was the second person here to do it, they're perfectly safe but people didn't know it." Their squadron was dispatched to France in late 1917 and assigned missions like reconnaissance, artillery spotting, and tactical air support. Until the next spring, McLeod and his observer Lieutenant Arthur Hammond carried out a number of these fairly straightforward missions, flying back and forth over the trenches. On one mission, they shot down a German scout plane, and a few days later they shot down another scout and an artillery balloon. Still, in his letters home McLeod insisted his job was a safe one: "Just to let you know how safe I am I'll tell you that the Squadron I'm in has only had 1 man killed in the last 6 months and he killed himself by doing a fool trick with his machine." Then on March 21, 1918 all hell was let loose. The Germans had been secretly planning a massive final war-winning offensive, and caught the Allies completely by surprise. German stormtroopers surged forward, taking ground in days that took the Allies four years of ghastly trench-warfare to seize. Hundreds of German planes, held in reserve for this moment, were unleashed over the front, sweeping the skies clear of Allied aircraft. On March 27, McLeod was trying to hold back the German tide, bombing and strafing advancing troops, when they spotted a Fokker tri-plane and shot it down. In moments they were set upon by seven more Fokkers, all painted crazy colours and patterns to indicate they were part of Manfred von Richtofen's Flying Circus. These were the best airmen in the German Air Force. As McLeod dodged and weaved through the swarm, Hammond in the back seat used his swivel machine gun to shoot another Fokker down. McLeod's cumbersome F.K. 8 was outmatched and within seconds it had been hit in multiple places. Both McLeod and Hammond were grievously wounded. The bottom of the cockpit had been shot out so Hammond had to practically climb out of the cockpit to keep operating the machine gun. Another bullet had penetrated the fuel tank located in the engine and set it on fire, sending flames shooting towards McLeod. They did not have parachutes (they were thought to encourage cowardice) so the only way to survive was to safely land the plane. Still dodging the swarm of Fokkers, McLeod climbed out onto the wing and reached into the cockpit to grab the controls and guide the plane down. Somehow, McLeod succeeded, crash landing in no man's land in the middle of a battle. Immediately, McLeod went to aid Hammond, who had been hit six times and thrown from the plane. While being fired upon by German machine guns, McLeod fearlessly tried to carry him to the lines of a nearby South African unit. However, McLeod had been hit five times that day, once while moving Hammond, and could only roll Hammand towards the South Africans. After what felt like an eternity, they made it to the safety of their own trenches and both were evacuated to hospitals in England. When the people of Stonewall heard what Alan McLeod did, they were thrilled. His father sailed to England to be at his son’s side while he recovered. By September, he was healthy enough to travel home. However, he was still weak from the long recovery and within weeks, he had contracted influenza and became yet another victim of the 1918 pandemic a few days later.1
1. The Founding of Stonewall
- 1. Mervin E. Farmer, Stonewall: Turning a Century 1878-1978, (Stonewall: Interlake Publishing Ltd, 1978), 11.
- 2. Farmer, 12.
2. Main Street
- 1. Farmer, 13.
- 2. Farmer, 13.
3. Trappings of a Town
- 1. Farmer, 61.
4. A Cause for Decoration
- 1. The Brandon Mail, "Provincial," October 4, 1883, online.
5. Stonewall's Victoria Cross
- 1. Carl A. Christie, "The Forgotten Victoria Cross: Alan Arnett McLeod." Vintage News, online.
- Christie, Carl A. "The Forgotten Victoria Cross: Alan Arnett McLeod." Vintage News. http://www.vintagewings.ca/VintageNews/Stories/tabid/116/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/27/The-Boy-Hero--Alan-McLeod.aspx
- Farmer, Mervin E. Stonewall: Turning a Century 1878-1978. Stonewall: Interlake Publishing Ltd, 1978.
- The Brandon Mail, "Provincial," October 4, 1883, online. www.peel.library.ualberta.ca