Lake of the Woods Museum Newsletter
Vol. 13 No. 1 – Winter 2003

By Rat Portage Miner


  • At the end of January, travellers on the lake reported that the ice was, on average, only 6-8 thick.
  • The Ski Club boasted 25 members.
  • On August 14, the town of Rat Portage was hit by what was then described as the severest electrical storm in the town’s history.
  • In August, plans were made to build a new Royal Jubilee Hospital. The estimated cost of the new building was $9,000-$10,000 and even before the decision was made to construct a new building, $5,000 had been raised by the community. The three-storey hospital was to have two large wards and nine smaller wards, as well as a reception room, superintendent’s office, operating room, kitchen, sitting room, dining room, and dormitories for the staff. A wide verandah on the east side overlooking the lake was planned, as well as a solarium on the south side.
  • Improvements were being made by the Rainy River Navigation Company to Keenora Beach on Wolf Island. The beach was a favourite picnic and excursion destination. The company constructed a wharf and dressing rooms. Regular Saturday afternoon excursions were run out to the beach – the ferry leaving around 2 pm and returning at 6 pm. Cost of the round trip was 25¢ for adults and 10¢ for children.
  • Listed for sale in the local newspaper was a market garden on the shores of the Winnipeg River. It boasted 150 gooseberry bushes, 3 dozen red currant, a number of black currant, 8 blackberry bushes, 18 blue plum trees, and a large bed of strawberries. The property was being offered for $250 cash.
  • The growing reputation of the town as a tourist destination was noted in a May 1903 edition of the Rat Portage Miner : The people of Rat Portage have not perhaps made the most of their opportunities in catering to the trade of the tourist, but we are glad to note that they are gradually awakening. The hotels are brushing up, and are getting in shape to accommodate the expected rush of June, July, and August… Nature is gradually giving our streets a more presentable appearance, while the street commissioner is making an effort to patch up the more dilapidated portions of the sidewalks. With all these efforts, the citizens may hope to struggle through the tourist season without any more than the usual share of inconveniences.

Hose Hardware
Local businesses included: G.W. Smith’s for books; Jacob Hose’s hardware store carried screen doors and windows, garden tools, clothes wringers, washing machines, and graniteware; The Glasgow House supplied ladies’ furs, capes, muffs, cloth jackets, and tweeds; H. Rideout & Company stocked furniture; Wood’s Drugstore and Johnson’s Pharmacy could supply one with Milburn’s Heart and Nerve Pills, Paine’s Celery Compound for female weaknesses, Scott’s Emulsion, Dr. Fowler’s Extract of Wild Strawberry, and Burdock’s Blood Bitters; Shragge’s Workingmen’s Clothing Store carried men’s clothing; W.A. McLeod and Co. shoed the town.

  • Madam Ben Lester was taking appointments at the Shaw Hotel for palm reading. Madam Lester had traveled all over Europe and America, and for a fee of $1, promised to give advice on business ventures, tell what you’re best adapted for, what diseases you’re addicted to, as well as telling the past, present and future.
  • Citizens of Rat Portage were up in arms over the health officials’ laxness in allowing two men with scarlet fever to come into town from the lumber camps. Rumours that they were suffering from small pox and not scarlet fever began circulating in the community. However, the Chief of Police confirmed that he had placarded the house for scarlet fever, but that no quarantine was warranted in such cases. The people here strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, he said in reference to this and his unsuccessful attempts the week before to lay charges against a party for concealing a case of diphtheria. Three members of the Board of Health resigned over the violation.
  • The young men of Rat Portage expressed plans to form an athletic club equipped with the latest appliances for athletic training and a place where all young men could meet and pass their evenings pleasantly and profitably. A partnership with the public library was considered with the hope that both enterprises could be housed in the same building.

The Kenora Power House
Rat Portage was given the go-ahead by the government to purchase the power house and land adjacent (at that time, leased by the Electric Light Co. from the Hudson’s Bay Company) at the eastern outlet of the Winnipeg River. It was estimated that 5,000 to 6,000 horsepower could be developed at that outlet and at that time, only 500-600 was being used. The potential for sale of power to manufacturing companies was considered to be a considerable drawing card for economic development in the town.

  • The unlucky number 13′ seemed to be in action in 1903. Consider this: Mr. J.K. Brydon was turned out of office as town clerk after 13 years of service, the motion passing on the 13th of December; Mr. R.B. Donkin, who served the town as constable for 13 years, was let go; Principal Preston, who had been in charge of the public schools for 13 years, was dismissed by a board of 13 members.
  • An effort was being made to open up the township of Melick for settlement. A report by surveyor T.R. Deacon stated that 40% of the area was suitable for agricultural purposes, with some very fertile valleys, and some good hay meadows.
  • The public library boasted a collection of nearly 3,000 volumes. By paying an annual subscription of $2, people were allowed to borrow two books a week.
  • With claims that a man’s worst enemy was a deranged and rebellious stomach, the local groceries were advising the use of Malt Breakfast Food – The careful wife or mother who touches a man’s stomach with delicious and health-giving Malt breakfast Food at the morning meal, gives him a supply of energy and vim for the whole day and sends him off to his work feeling happy and well.
  • Rumours of a first-class hotel being built on the site formerly occupied by the Hilliard House and the Queens Hotel (northeast corner of Main and Second Streets) were confirmed. A company had been formed to carry out the enterprise and it was anticipated that the hotel would be superior to anything west of Toronto.
  • An estimated 1,000 men were set to work on improvements on the CPR between Winnipeg and Fort William during the spring. Approximately 350 of the men used Rat Portage as their supply depot and entertainment centre. This was an encouraging prospect for the economy.

Did you know?

Some names that were originally considered instead of Kenora were— Sultana, Island City, Norman, Pequonga, Lakeside, Imperial, Portage Falls, and Goldwater.