At this point in the story, I ran into some confusion in local histories and historical sketches about just how far the Northern railway went. One version put the end of the line at Cowan, MB. From there settlers had to buy wagons, stack them with all that was precious, and battle their way along the steep ridge of the mountain before descending into miles of muskeg. Settlers had to ford four or five rivers to get to their land claims, and fend off plagues of mosquitoes so thick that one old-timer told of a night when the livestock’s moaning sounded like human beings in agony and the humans took refuge in their tents and under wagons with blankets tacked tightly all around to keep the clouds of insects out. Other local authorities said the train line was built all the way through to the Swan River Valley by the summer of 1900.
The trip from there to their section (Section 29) would still have taken days. Local histories agree on one thing — the land was surveyed but there were no roads or trails or bridges. And all through the valley there was thick scrub, lots of creeks, rivers, boggy spots, and miles and miles and miles.
As much as the first version and the romance of covered wagons on long trails appeals to the adventure story-lover in me, I hope for their sake the train did carry them all the way to the Valley so that the trail ride was short.
NOTE: Great Grandfather’s land grant is dated 23 June 1903 so I am assuming they settled in June 1900.
As I am putting this post together, I receive an email from Nonni who is a local historian. Along with the dated photo of the first train to arrive in Swan River, he helps shed some light on my confusion about when Gillespies settled n the valley.
He tells me that many who wanted to claim land didn’t wait for the train to come through to Swan River. It they had waited for the extension to be constructed, they would have missed out. He’s found some historical evidence that William Gillespie applied for his claim on Oct 2, 1899 eight days before the first train arrived in Swan River and suggests that Harold’s father maybe came alone to apply then returned with his family the following year (as many others did).
Nonni also sends an unexpected surprise – a weblink about the Cowan trail and news that the local community has restored a section and celebrate with a trail ride every summer.