A band of Cree-Salteaux natives under Chief Ouk-an-nay-sic hunted buffalo near "Naowawgunwodju" - the Hill of the Buffalo Chase, fished in the waters of the surrounding lakes and roamed the area south to the bend in the "Saskawjewum river".
The fur trade advanced into the area and a Hudson Bay Trading Post was established near present day Elphinstone.
The Dominion of Canada signed treaties with the natives and wagon trails soon rolled out across the prairie. The Audy Trail was to become known as the Strathclair/Dauphin Colonization Trail to the north; the Carlton/Ellice trails west and the Fort Pelly trail reaching northwest saw hundreds of wagons in the mid to latter 1800's.
The heavily laden wagons carried settlers, largely of Scottish descent, to open the new territory. Settlements sprung up along the trails. South of the Hudson Bay Post at the Bend "where the river takes a wide curve to the southeast" such a settlement developed. A sawmill, providing the much needed lumber from the bush up river and employment for many was among the first enterprises. As the land was found to be fertile, agriculture was soon practised and a grist mill also became necessary. Population grew with a church, post office, general store, and stop over house being added. It was decided an official name should be chosen, and by combining "Strath" meaning "valley" in the Scottish tongue and "clair" in honour of Duncan Sinclair the area surveyor, "Strathclair was deemed a suitable name.
On July 7, 1883, an act was passed dividing the area previously represented by the County Council of Minnedosa into different municipalities. Under this act the Rural Municipality of Strathclair was to take shape, comprised of townships 16, 17 and 18 in Ranges 21 & 22 west of the prime meridian. The first Council Meeting was held Tuesday, January 8, 1884 in the Presbyterian Church with Reeve J.P. Tulley presiding.
In 1886, fire destroyed the mills at Strathclair and they were not rebuilt. Nearby the site now is marked by the historic Bend Cemetery, the final resting place of many stalwart pioneers as well as the Surveyor, Mr. Duncan Sinclair.
The Manitoba & North-western Railway established their route and prospective settlement sites. Strathclair Station was located in the Southeast quarter of 35-16-22W and once again began development with the construction of the post office, churches, stores, hotels and liveries.
The community of Elphinstone (located NE 8 and NW 9-18-21 W), origination as a Hudson Bay Post, was so named for Lord Elphinstone of England. Lord Elphinstone established a large ranch in the hills of the river valley, importing English cattle to the area. Many colourful stories are associated with this holding.
The Merchiston Ranch located on 2-19-21 west and 34-18-21 west was owned by retired Hudson Bay Co explorer Robert Campbell. Both Mr. Robert Campbell and later his son Glen Campbell lived the lives "that movies are made of". Among many happenings Robert Campbell then with the Hudson Bay Co was recorded as having travelled more than 3000 miles on snowshoes; son Glen Campbell was a member of Boulton's Scouts engaging the Louis Reil forces at Duck Lake and Batoche in 1885.
A number of communities and school districts were named throughout the municipality over the years. Menzie, Glenforsa, Wisla, Ipswich, Glossop, Elgin, Salt Lake, Green Bluff, Penrith and Wolf Creek are in some cases names known only locally now.
The trend of the settlement and population growth continued into the 1900.s when a large number of people of Ukrainian descent came to homestead. Many of these folk settled near Menzie, a small community still dedicated to preserving the culture of its pioneers; remembering the labours.
Menzie was named after John Menzie, and early settler reported to have supplied the railway workers with the necessities as the camped at the siding throughout the long cold prairie winter. Since these early days, people from many reaches of the world have populated our region, bringing a broad mosaic of cultural actives.
Some Historic Points of Interest
- Strathclair Municipal Hall – Was built in 1906, by renowned architects S.F. Peters and W.A Peters, Winnipeg. There have been renovations to the original building , however, the brick exterior and hardwood dance floor still reflect the old style charm. The hall continues to be used regularly for community functions. War Memorial -- Is located on the Municipal Hall grounds at 120 Minnedosa Street, Strathclair.
- McMurachy Wheat Cairn – Recognizing Malcolm J.S. McMurachy, a pioneer responsible for the development of "McMurachy Wheat", a rust resistant strain bred into succeeding rust resistant varieties.
- The Bend Theatre – Completed in 1947, constructed of fine woods from the Kippen Mill, by entrepreneurs Alex Kippen and Paddy Trim. The Bend Theatre served the viewing public with motion pictures from July 1947 to 1980. Since 1983, the Strathclair Drama Club presents an annual full-length live musical production and the Strathclair Theatre Committee organize a concert season with guest performers gracing the stage at "The Bend".
- Strathclair Museum – the CP Rail Station has been re-located and preserved here in Strathclair to house a myriad of antiques, artefacts and local colour! Also on the site is the St. George(Hepworth) Anglican Church and a replica building of the old blacksmith shop.
- At the Bend – North of the Bend Cemetery is the original site of the Strathclair community with settlement beginning in the 1870's. Still remaining at the site, of significance to budding historians, are the old millstone and an old thick walled building used to store ice in the times past.
- Settlement Trails – Early trading and settlement Trails cross the municipality. Working its way in a general east west direction we have the Carlton or Ellice Trail. The trail crosses near the southern boundary of our municipality where sections of this historic landmark are still visible. This Trail proceeded on to Fort Ellice and ultimately to Fort Edmonton. Another east west Trail crosses through the centre section of the municipality and veered north along our wet boundary to Fort Pelly. With a general following of the Little Saskatchewan River the Audy or Strathclair/Dauphin Colonization Trail extends south-north to Lake Audy and beyond eventually reaching Dauphin.
- Miniature Replica of Ukrainian Home – At the turn of the century immigration to the Menzie area included a number of settlers from the Ukraine. As a salute to, and a preservation of the culture, there stands at Menzie a replica of a Ukrainian home complete with whitewashed clay walls and a thatched roof. A woven fence constructed of willows completes the setting. Each year, many visitors stop and add their name to the guest book as they enjoy the old world charm associated with this spot!
- Hudson Bay Steam Boiler – When the Hudson Bay Co decided to build the flour mill, the big steam boiler used to power the mill was shipped to Fort Churchill and from there by river barge along the inland waterways to Fort Ellice. It was then dragged overland to its destination at Elphinstone. Both freighters and settlers helped in this arduous task. The old steam boiler is still situated on the Hudson Bay property in Elphinstone.
- Salt Lake – In early yeas Premier Norquay, D.L. Harrison Agriculture Minister and one Dr. Pennyfather had plans to build a health spa on Salt Lake. The waters were considered medicinal and while the untimely death of Premier Norquay also brought an end to this project, there are many who have found the waters to be soothing to certain ailments. Also in the region of Salt Lake are mounds containing evidence of very early travellers who probably camped t the lake for periods of time during their nomadic life.
- Local Historic Research – there are a number of churches, cemeteries and cairns marking past history in the area. For many folks these may provide interesting material and further enjoyment of prairie heritage.
Further information on the history, or the location of the above mentioned area of the municipality can be obtained at the Strathclair Municipal Office (204) 365-2196 or Strathclair Museum.
We look forward to seeing you!