A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF ARBORG & AREA
The Northern Interlake community now associated with the thriving
modern town of Arborg 140 kilometres North of Winnipeg, had its formal
beginnings a century ago in 1900. Settled over the following two decades
by a combination of Icelandic and Polish-Ukrainian pioneers, it has since
received people from a wide variety of backgrounds and walks of life --
all of whom have learned to live and work together as one community venture for
the next millennium.
No records survived of the area's earliest occupants, semi-nomadic aboriginal peoples of the Interlake woodlands, but stone spear points and arrowheads found along the banks of the Icelandic River (formerly the Whitemud) attest to the fact that native people once hunted and trapped in the area. In the 1860's a Hudson's Bay Company Post called Grassy Narrows House was in operation at the mouth of the Whitemud River, near the present day site of Riverton, and a small band of native people associated with Sandy Bar lived in that vicinity. Among the members of this group was John Ramsay, the legendary Saulteux hunter, who later assisted the Icelandic settlers during their difficult first years and eventually taught native hunting to a few privileged sons of the pioneers.
Situated just beyond the western boundary of the "New Iceland" settlement established in 1875, the area later associated with Arborg first caught the eye of forward-looking pioneers as early as 1878. Early settlers along the lower reaches of the Icelandic River recognized the excellent potential of the fertile meadowlands further inland, and venturing upriver by boat, they first proposed expansion into this area at that time. Major setbacks in "New Iceland" around 1880 and the extreme isolation of this inland district delayed settlement along the upper reaches of the river, however, for another 20 years.
Although the Borgfjord brothers, Gudmundur, Porsteinn and Jon, technically became the first settlers of the Arborg district just before 1890 when they settled west of the Range Line forming the boundary of "New Iceland", large-scale settlement was not initiated until the summer of 1900 when scouts from Icelandic communities in North Dakota arrived in search of land suitable for homesteading. Traveling from Winnipeg to Hnausa by boat and then inland alone a muddy trail known a Geysir Road (now Highway 68), these ambitious individuals saw great potential in the sparsely-wooded meadowlands of the area and in the primitive condition of the road inland, they returned to Dakota with glowing reports that fall.
Good land in Dakota had become scarce and expensive, and settlers with sons old enough to claim homesteads quickly joined the movement to relocate to the wilderness of the Interlake, which had been absorbed into the enlarged Province of Manitoba in 1881. The vanguard of this group from Dakota, which included settlers with 10 - 15 years of experience as prairie farmers, claimed land on the banks of the Icelandic River in the spring of 1901, and within a year numerous neighbours from Dakota had joined them. With government support, a road along the riverbank was cleared that same year, and in 1902 settlers applied for a post office, which was given the name Ardal (River Dale), after the homestead of the first postmaster, Stefan Petur Gudmundsson. This homestead would later become, the site of what is now Arborg.
The Ardal Settlement, as the district quickly became known, received another major influx of settlers in 1902-1903 when Icelandic pioneers arrived from the badly flooded Isafold district North of Riverton. Many of these families settled further upstream expanding settlement West and North along the Icelandic River into what soon became the twin district of Framnes (Fore Ness), named for the post office established there in 1905. With improvements to the road along the river, still more homesteaders arrived in the years that followed, both directly from Iceland and from the older settlements in "New Iceland", and in 1907 the Vidir district was established "beyond the marsh" that flanked the upper reaches of the Icelandic River.
Progress in the Ardal-Framnes Settlement was relatively rapid, and those early years saw the building of schools, community halls, and miles of new roads. Ambitious drainage projects were also undertaken almost immediately, and within a short time fields of golden grain were a common sight alongside neatly whitewashed log and lumber houses, gardens, stables, and enclosed pastures where cattle and flocks of sheep grazed.
The year 1910 was a major turning point in the history of the area. As a result of efforts by Sigtryggur Jonasson, re-elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 1907 for a second term as the MLA for this constituency, the Canadian Pacific Railway was built North to Ardal, and with the establishment of a railhead on the banks of the Icelandic River, a town site sprang up virtually overnight. Given the name Arborg, this new distribution for trade good, and as a shipping point for local produce -- which included livestock, grain, cordwood, and dairy products.
The arrival of the railway at Arborg in 1910 was extremely significant for a second reason. With the opening of the area to trade and transportation, the unsettled lands to the North and South of Arborg were actively promoted as homesteads, and within a few years hundreds of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian state of Galicia had settled the surrounding area. The second major influx of settlers, hardworking farmers with extensive, agricultural expertise, helped establish a solid economic foundation for the area and contributed a strong cultural influence on the community of Arborg, as we know it today.
Copyrighted April, 2006 - Arborg & District Multicultural Heritage Association. All rights reserved.