First Crystal City publisher also became premier

The Courier Publishing Company Building, located at 218 Broadway Street South in Crystal City, is the province’s oldest and best remaining example of the once numerous small print shops and community newspapers that sprang up in newly established towns across southern Manitoba during the bustling 1870-1920 settlement era.

It also possesses important connections with Thomas Greenway, founder of Crystal City, and premier of Manitoba from 1888 to 1900.

In 1878, Thomas Greenway was a 40-year-old successful general merchant and family man living in Huron County, Ontario with stores in Devon, Crediton and Centralia, Ontario.

Politics was another interest and, after serving a term as reeve in 1867, he was elected as the local member of Parliament in 1874. As were many others in southern Ontario at the time, Greenway’s interest was piqued by the growing discussion and excitement regarding opportunities to be had in the new province of Manitoba. During the spring of 1878, he made an extensive tour of the province, and eventually selected a homestead on prime prairie land near the junction of the Boundary Commission Trail and Crystal Creek, in what is now the RM of Louise.

Settling in

Returning to Ontario, he established the Rock Lake Colonization Company and spent considerable time travelling around Huron County extolling the advantages of settling in Manitoba.

In 1879, his colonization company led two groups of settlers west, all of whom took up land in the general area of his homestead property. Four additional groups followed the next year. These later groups were among the fortunate first settlers to travel entirely by rail from Ontario to Manitoba, thanks to the just-completed Canadian Pacific Railway Pembina Branch Line which connected St. Boniface with the U.S. rail network (and Ontario), at St. Vincent, Minnesota. Previous groups had to use steamboat transportation for part of this journey. When the provincial constituency of Mountain was created in the autumn of 1879, Greenway, a Liberal, was not unexpectedly, elected its first MLA.

At this time he also had his property surveyed into town lots and actively promoted their sale in Manitoba and Ontario. In 1881, as the fledgling community was taking form, Greenway established a print shop and community newspaper to serve the area’s residents and as a communication tool to help further his real estate and political interests.

The first issue of The Rock Lake Herald was printed in this building on September 1, 1881 — a mere three years after the arrival of the district’s first pioneers.

Railroaded

An opponent of the CPR’s 20-year monopoly over branch line development in southern Manitoba, which he felt was patently unfair to farmers, Greenway’s opposition took a personal turn in 1885 when the route of CPR’s southwestern Manitoba branch line deliberately bypassed the community of Crystal City, forcing the entire town to be moved two kilometres north to a CPR-owned townsite.

After this event, Greenway resumed his attack on the CPR monopoly with all the renewed vigour of “a speculator who had been sidetracked.” On January 18, 1888, Thomas Greenway became Manitoba’s seventh premier and within months of his installation was able to negotiate the end of the federal government disallowance of Manitoba-issued railway charters.

To maintain his popularity and influence within his constituency, Greenway acquired interest in several other newspapers in his area, including The Morden Monitor, The Pilot Mound Sentinel, The Manitou Mercury and The Crystal City Courier — now, of course, operating from the new Crystal City townsite. Greenway’s Liberal government remained in power for 11 years before finally being defeated in 1899 by Conservative Sir Hugh John MacDonald, the only surviving son of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald.

Back to federal politics

After a short retirement, Greenway successfully contested the federal riding of Lisgar and in January 1905, a full 30 years after first being elected as an Ontario MP, he returned to Ottawa where he completed his public service.

He passed away in Ottawa in 1908 and is buried in the family cemetery on the banks of Crystal Creek.

After Greenway sold his Crystal City newspaper interests in 1898, the local newspaper and printing business was run by a series of owners including: H. Spedding; T.G. McKitrick; T. Finn; Nelles Nunn; J.R. Stead; T & W Brewer; D. McBrien and finally, Dave and Francis Clark.

After the last issue of the Crystal City Courier was published in 1952, the shop and equipment were used for custom job printing, which continued into the 1990s.

The former Greenway print shop has survived largely intact and today contains Western Canada’s finest collection of working turn-of-the-century printing equipment.

On November 3, 1994, in recognition of its significance as the province’s most outstanding surviving example of an early small-town newspaper, it was designated a Provincial Heritage Site under The Heritage Resources Act. It is currently preserved and operated as a community museum.

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