Live Well, Do Good

Proud History of Looking Forward

Brandon Sun, June 29, 2007 - David McConkey

Begin in 1882 as a tiny settlement - mostly of tents. Reach 2007 as a bustling contemporary city. Quite the 125-year journey for Brandon!

Yet even in the earliest years, the inhabitants of Brandon were surprisingly impacted by modern technology and connected to the larger world.

Those thoughts occurred to me as I was looking through G. F. Barker’s Brandon: A City and other sources about the city’s history.

To start with, globalization gave birth to Brandon. People immigrated to Brandon only because the new railway was able to link the fledgling city to world markets.

News about the rest of the world has always been here. The Brandon Sun was publishing even before the city was incorporated.

Telephone service came in the 1880s. Electricity, too. City Council in 1887 approved installing 15 street lamps that would provide electric light for “all but moonlit nights.”

The telegraph in the 1880s provided daily stock market quotes. The first annual Board of Trade dinner took place in 1889 in the “spacious, electrically-lighted Langham Hotel dining room.” 

Brandon residents, as well, have been interested in more than just living in a place to do business. Right from the start, Brandon citizens have been active in creating a civil society. They also have been participating in the great world issues of war and peace.

Social and charitable organizations have been operating in Brandon since the early years. Even before Brandon was incorporated, several churches were established.

The Young Men’s Christian Association provided services to inmates at the jail and had a reading room where members wrote letters for the illiterate. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Children’s Aid Society were going concerns.

Women were at the forefront of many of these efforts. The founding of the Brandon Hospital Aid in 1892 was noted as the first time in the city’s history that “women became an integral part of a community enterprise.” 

The Brandon chapter of  the WCTU was active from the 1880s. This organization was most famous for promoting “temperance” or the abstinence from alcohol. But it was much more than that.

The WCTU was a feminist organization, advocating a number of social reforms to do with domestic violence, workers’ rights, public health, sanitation, women’s right to vote, and international peace.

In Brandon, as in other Manitoba communities, the WCTU was very important. The organization, however, often annoyed the general society. Especially the men.

“Looking back at our life,” Nellie McClung reflected, “I see we owed much to the activities of the WCTU and these initials, I hasten to explain, stand for ‘Woman's Christian Temperance Union,’ and not ‘Women Continually Torment Us,’ as some have believed.”

Brandon citizens participated in these organizations as members of great international movements. In 1891, Miss Frances Willard, World President of the WCTU, spoke in the city.

The Brandon chapter of the National Council of Women established the Victorian Order of Nurses in Brandon in 1897. This was part of a nation-wide program to honour the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, visited Brandon for two days in 1895. Large crowds came out to hear Booth describe the creation of a new “Army,” an army not for war, but for peace.

War, however, like other national and global events, has always touched the people of Brandon.

Troops travelling on special trains on their way to fight in the Northwest Rebellion stopped in Brandon in 1885. The troops were warmly welcomed by the inhabitants of the city. The 90th Battalion Band played “several stirring airs.” Women’s groups provided coffee and sandwiches to the soldiers.

Volunteers from Brandon took part in the South African War (1899-1902).

In 1901, the entire population of Brandon was just 5,700, yet 3,000 people gathered in outdoor services marking the death of Queen Victoria.

Five months later, Brandon citizens were able to watch a motion picture showing the funeral of the late monarch.

Brandon residents volunteered in large numbers to fight in the “Great War,” or First World War which started in 1914.

They enthusiastically celebrated the peace four years later. News of the November 11, 1918 Armistice came to Brandon in the middle of the night. Soon “steam whistles, ringing bells and fireworks exploding in the night brought an end to all slumbers.”

The populace, except for those quarantined because of the global influenza pandemic, flocked to City Hall. Dozens of bands materialized and started playing their music.

The rejoicing was vividly described in a newspaper report: “Flaming torches were waved in a thousand hands; men and women of staid years becoming again as boys and girls, danced along the streets, shouted, laughed, and sang.”

After “the war to end all wars,” many more international conflicts have involved the citizens of Brandon: Second World War, Korean War, and a host of others. The current Canadian military mission in Afghanistan connects residents of Brandon once more to war in a foreign land. A land where again in “fields the poppies blow.”

Support our troops in times of war? Work to create a civil society here in the city and around the world? Participate in democratic debates about issues like world peace?

Ever since 1882, the people of Brandon have answered with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

For 125 years, the citizens of Brandon have been active in their city – a city at home in the war and peace of the global village.

* * * 

See also:

Dark Side of Brandon’s Past 

Discovering Historic Downtown Brandon 

Community Memorials a Link to the Great War

Is It Time For A New “Palliser Expedition”?

Citizen Active

Manitoba History - A Citizen Appreciation

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