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The LaPortes of Manitoba and their Roots in Quebec and France

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The LaPortes of Inwood, Manitoba

(1900 - 2013)

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The passing of Caroline LaPorte on Feb. 28, 2013 marked the end of an era for our family in Inwood.

Telesphore LaPorte

In 1898, to open up the agricultural land in the Interlake the province staked out a “Colonization Trail” from the railroad head at Teulon to the northwest which snaked along the high points between the lakes and sloughs.  In 1899 the road reached Norris Lake and started around the south side of the lake.  Scandinavian ettlers followed that trail and homesteaded all the way from Teulon to Norris Lake.  One source reports that in the summer of 1900 there was a work party building the section of the Colonization Trail just past Norris Lake and that two of the laborers were Telesphore LaPorte and Eric Thuland.  These two men would become the driving force for the settlement of the town of Inwood by French and Scandinavian settlers respectively.  Until the 1970's when that road was straightened it was always known to locals as the Snake Road.

In 1901 Telesphore again worked on the road which reached S 2 T18 R1W that summer.  Eric Thuland had a different plan.  He led a party of Scadinavian settlers along some old bush trails that ran north alongside the surveyed route for the road and built a new colony north of what would later become Inwood.  A letter dated Dec. 11, 1901 from the Commissioner of Immigration in Ottawa to the Manitoba Government’s land agent, Mr Torriff, states “early in this summer Mr. E. K. Thuland started a Scandinavian colony north of Teulon …. since the land up there has been opened, 68 homestead entries have been made through the exertions of Mr Thuland.”

But Telesphore must have liked what he saw right at the end of the road.  This whole area had been surveyed for settlement.  Each quarter section could be claimed by the first person who built a house on it.  When the road building ended for that season it had reached the first firm land after the swamps around Norris Lake.  That Fall the workers were sent home but Telesphor had found a spot he liked.  He knew that settlers would reach that area the next summer and immediately start to stake their claims so he dug a hole, covered it with branches and sod and planned to spend the winter there.  It must have been a cold winter though because he packed up and returned to St Norbert just before Christmas.  In February 1902 he and his two oldest sons, Ernest and Georges, after a two-day haul from the end of the settlement road through bush and swamp, disassembling the ox cart in the most difficult spots and carrying the parts and the cart's load of supplies, reached his hole in the ground and quickly built a log cabin over it.  This cabin had a very low first floor right into that hole so you had to take two steps down after entering the door and they actually crammed in a sleeping loft. There was enough room that they ran a ‘Stopping Place’ for new settlers.  The sign can be seen over the door in the photo.  Meanwhile the government had been working on the colonization road.  Telesphore brought the rest of his family as well as his wife's brothers Wilfred, Zotique and Josephat Bonin out to get as much land claimed as they could before the mass of settlers arrived.  He homesteaded the quarter section (NE ¼ 2-18-1W) which his cabin was on and son Ernie claimed the SE quarter.  They were joined by Ulphie Cossette and his two sons Bill and Leon who had recently arrived in St Norbert from Wild Rice, N.D. and staked their claims just to the East of the LaPortes.  Other settlers in this little French speaking area included Auguste Glemas; Herman and Arthur Latourelle; Eugene Rousseau; Alexander Lafrance and others.

Ulphie Cossette was a very interesting man.  From 1862 to 1868 he had worked for the Hudsons Bay Company as a midman paddler on the fur trade canoe route from Montreal to Great Slave Lake and as a fur trader at Fort Simpson.  He then homesteaded in the Red River Colony at Wild Rice, North Dakota but after crop failures and floods there he moved up to St Norbert, MB where he must have met the LaPortes.  See my pages on The Cossettes of Wild Rice

Scandinavian settlers had staked the majority of the claims around Norris Lake in 1900 and much of the land just north of this little cluster of French Canadian settlers.  A second wave of French Canadian settlers arrived later in 1902 who settled to the NW around Sect. 28-18-1W and called their area St Adelarde. The Rondeau School (1907), a Catholic Church and the St. Adelard Post Office were all built but wasn't yet registered.   The principle families involved were the Rondeau, Senneville, Fortin, Lemoine, Hiebert, Descoteau, Bernard, Pepin, Fayolle, Plante, Proteau, Combaluzier, de Gaspe and Jolliet.  One of the few references to the town was in a letter from Telesphore Laporte to the Minister of the Interior dated January 17, 1903 which gives St. Adelard as the name of the community.  October 1, 1904 the St. Adelard Post Office was registered on Sec. 28 T18 R1W with Joseph A. Rondeau as the first Post Master.

The Scandinavian settlement to the north joined with the small French Canadian community to their south  to build their own community to the east of St Adelard.  In May 1903 the Union Prairie School District was applied for and on 1903     March 23, 1904 the founding meeting of the Union Prairie School District Board of Trustees was held.  The meeting Chairman was Erik Thuland and the meeting Secretary was Matthew Mackie.  The meeting elected Matthew Mackie, James Beckett and Telesphore Laporte to be the first school trustees for the new district.  Beckett was chosen to be their Chairman and Mackie to be the Secretary Treasurer.

October 1, 1904 the Norris Lake Post Office was established on Sec. 21 T17 1E with Inglebright Espe as the first postmaster. 

In 1905 this 'unorganized' area came under the administration of the Municipality of Woodlands with Ulphie's son William Cossette being appointed the area's first municipal authority as Path Master and Pound Keeper for the entire new region.  From 1906 the Path Master position was divided into five Road Overseers to cover the 5 zones which made up the new part of Woodlands; Telesphore was appointed overseer for Zone 43 that consisted of sections 1-5 and 8-17 of T18 1W and Bill Cossette was appointed overseer for Zone 42 (sections 1, 2, 11-14 and 20-36 of T17 1W and for another year term as Pound Keeper.  From then until 1917 when the area was moved to Rockwood Municipality, Bill Cossette, Telesphore LaPorte, Ernie LaPorte and Leon Cossette were regularly appointed to various municipal positions and Bill Cossette was regularly elected to be the Municipal Counsellor for the area.  See The Municipality of Woodland Positions

In 1906 the closest supplies for the Inwood settlers were at Teulon.  This involved a trip by ox cart or by foot through swamps and bush stopping overnight at Norris Lake each way.  For farms south and west of Inwood the return trip could be done in 3 long days.  Farmers in the Loch Monar district or along Shoal Lake had better roads to Stonewall and St. Laurent. A store was needed in the district.  Many of the area’s Scandinavian settlers worked their farms in the summer but during the winters they worked as carpenters at John Mattson's door and sill business in Winnipeg (thought to have been Dowse Sash and Door).  Hearing about the situation from them, he sold his business and moved out to Inwood.  He opened the community’s first store on Ernest Laporte’s land (SE ¼ Sec. 2) but later moved it 1/2 mile west (to the corner where Masniuk’s house is now) when he bought SW ¼ 3-18-1W.  He also was the first to bring a steam engine to Inwood, a Case Steam Tractor, to turn his land. 

December 1, 1905 the Sandridge Post Office was established with Christopher Swenson as the first postmaster.

In 1906 Mattson built a post office in his store and the community sent Bill Cossette to Winnipeg to register the name Douglas, in honour of James Douglas, the Reeve of Woodlands.  However when Bill arrived he found that the name Douglas had already been filed for another community in Manitoba so he took the opportunity to register the new post office and school district as Cossette.  That was in July but apparently Bill's decision was not too popular as in December the post office name was changed to Inwood.  That choice may have been to help the community sell cordwood to Winnipeg.  Grandpa (Ernie) was known to joke later that they should just have called the town 'In the bush'.  Woodlands decided to keep the name Cossette for the school district possibly because the land for the first school was provided by Bill's brother Leon Cossette.

In 1911 Telesphore built a new stone house to replace the log cabin and farmed that ¼ section until his death in 1920.  Telesphore died in 1920 but his wife, Hermina, lived on after him until 1956 (age 96).

See More Telesphore LaPorte Photos

Ernie LaPorte

 

Hear Ernie's story in his own words  (not working yet)

 

His son Ernest had homesteaded the neighbouring ¼ section to the south and met the homestead requirements by clearing the land, building the farm buildings and acquiring stock. Ernie's homestead cabin was in the NE corner of his land and had a dirt floor covered by deer hides.

 

In 1909 Ernie was appointed as a Provincial Police Constable and was issued a pistol, handcuffs, a billy club and a police whistle.  Ernie said later that he lost the gun in a muddly farm field but we still have the other items.  Around that time his friend William (Bill) Cossette was appointed the local Justice of the Peace.  We still have one of his case books which my father rescued from Bill's bonfire in his back yard.  It shows that Bill held regular hearings which resulted in fines to local farmers and even the occasional commitment to provincial custody for more severe cases.

 

In 1910 Bill Cossette, as the Municipal Councillor for the northern part of Woodlands Municipality, was part of a deputation sent to Winnipeg to persuade the Minister of Public Works to permit the Canadian Northern Railway to extend its rail line past Grosse Isle to better serve the new settlement area.  The family story is that the railway then sent out surveyors who laid out a line 1 mile further East but the railroad changed the route when Ernie and Bill convinced them that the better route would run between their properties.  

 

When the railroad was built in 1911 it passed right between Ernie's new house at the SE corner of his quarter section and the stable that he had quickly built the year before.  He soon established a livery business caring for the horses for anyone going into Winnipeg by train and renting out horses and buggies to those arriving.  For all those horses and wagons he needed a blacksmith so he built his own forge behind his house which is still there today (behind the old LaPorte house to the East of the tracks not the house on Railway Avenue that they built in 1918).  When the local farmers had hay to sell he would buy it and collect it into railcar loads to ship to Winnipeg.  He also collected and delivered the mail for the Rondeau, Sandridge and Bender Hamlet districts when it arrived on the train.  

 

In 1911 there was only Ernie’s stable standing alone but after the railroad station was built in 1912 other businesses and homes soon appeared.  That summer William Bonin’s store was moved from his farm to just across the railroad from Ernie’s stable, Fred Showler built a cream buying station which would later be converted into the Hillside Hotel, Perles built the Inwood Supply Store (later sold to Niznick's then to Kitzes’ and then it was Pete Stepushyn’s store), Pete Adolphsen bought the lot next door where he built a house and livery barn, Joseph Latourelle built a 20-room hotel and bar (which burned down around 1922), Jack Mills came out from Winnipeg and operated a blacksmith shop that had been financed by Bill Cossette and Ernie Laporte and the one-room Cossette School was moved from Leon Cossette’s farm into town.  The Inwood Post office had existed since 1906 in John Mattson’s store on his farm at the west edge of the present town but when Fred Showler bought the store and moved it to near the station the post office came with it and Inwood became a town.  Eventually Showler's store became Bert Irwin's store and then the Olsen's store that I knew in the 50's.

When cars and other motorized farm equipment started to appear in the area, rather than lose his livery business to these new vehicles, Ernie built a service station on the West side of the tracks on his brother-in-law Bill Cossette’s land in 1912.  That same year he became an International Harvester dealer in partnership with Dave Woods of Teulon and in 1914 bought the business outright and converted his livery stable into a shop for agricultural equipment from International Harvester, John Deere and the Cockshutt Plow Company.  He obtained a Ford dealership in 1920, delivering his first Model T to Charlie Mattson in March 1921 for $800, making a neat $104.33 profit and selling 5 more cars that same year.  When the main road passed through Inwood from east to west rather than up Railway Avenue as he had hoped, he built an office and gas station on Main Street with Inwood’s first gas pump selling Buffalo Gasoline in 1931 (until 1934 when he switched to Imperial Oil).  By 1936 he had started a transfer service with one 1931 Ford Model A truck hauling freight from Winnipeg to Inwood, Sandridge, Polson, Komarno, Teulon and Pleasant Home.  Around 1940 he added two service bays to the office and gas station on Main Street and tore down the old garage on Railway.

See also The LaPorte Garage

 

See also More Ernie LaPorte Photos (and some more story)

 

 

Ernie's Children

In 1913 Ernie married Bill's sister, Leah Cossette, they had one son, Ben, and three daughters, Hermina (Toupie), Leah and Caroline. 

 

Ben had moved to Fort William where he worked at the Canada Car plant building fighter planes during the war and where he married Marion Bowles in 1942.  In 1946, after Ernie suffered a stroke, Ben returned to Inwood to take over the operation of LaPorte’s Garage and ran it until his own retirement in 1979.  Ben and Marion raised three boys who have all since left the community.  Ben passed away in 1991 and Marion in 2005.

 

Hermina (Toupie) married Leo Savage of Fisher Branch in 1947 and settled in Kenora where Leo ran a business supplying jukeboxes and pinball machines to the restaurants and resorts in the area and where they raised three daughters.  Leo and Toupie died as a result of a traffic accident while driving from their home in Miami, Florida to Kenora in 1984.

 

Ernie’s daughter Leah died accidently in 1934 at age 17.  The exact circumstances are unconfirmed but it seems that Leah stood on a chair to climb into a tree in their card.  Caroline was apparently holding the chair for her but somehow it fell over and Leah suffered a ruptured spleen which caused her death a few days later.

 

Caroline obtained her Registered Nurse certificate from the Misericordia Hospital in Winnipeg in 1944 and then worked in Toronto for the remainder of the war.  She then returned to Inwood.  Her mother having died in 1957, Caroline stayed on in the family home to care for Ernie after he had a stroke until his death in 1966.  Caroline remained in the family home until her age and illness took her into hospital and then into a personal care home.  Her passing in 2013 at 92 marked the end of 111 years of LaPorte history in Inwood.

 

 

All of the next generation have settled elsewhere. 

 
More history and photos of Ernie and Leah LaPorte's children:  Ben, Toupie, Leah and Caroline
 

This site was last updated 09/17/21