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June 20, 2019

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Remembering Métis community Rooster Town

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/11/2016 (954 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Strange disappearances are stock plot twists for mystery authors such as Agatha Christie or P.D. James, but when an entire community dissolves in real life, the event is unusual enough to attract scholarly studies and possibly even popular interest.

In 2016, at least two articles have already been published in the Winnipeg Free Press about the long-gone Métis community of Rooster Town. In addition, a group of scholars, including University of Manitoba professor Evelyn Peters, recently gave a presentation on the topic at the Millennium Library.

With so much current interest in the area’s history, the old Métis community in southern River Heights might once again become a household term.

Part of the reason for this renewed interest is likely historical. June 19 of this year marked the 200th anniversary of the Métis infinity flag, as well as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Oaks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/11/2016 (954 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Strange disappearances are stock plot twists for mystery authors such as Agatha Christie or P.D. James, but when an entire community dissolves in real life, the event is unusual enough to attract scholarly studies and possibly even popular interest.    

In 2016, at least two articles have already been published in the Winnipeg Free Press about the long-gone Métis community of Rooster Town. In addition, a group of scholars, including University of Manitoba professor Evelyn Peters, recently gave a presentation on the topic at the Millennium Library.

The Cardinal boys, seven-year-old Ronnie and five-year-old Frank, get ready to leave their Rooster Town shack and hike three-quarters of a mile for a can of water. Their mother talks to them while their two-year-old brother is seen peering out the shack door.

UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS / WINNIPEG TRIBUNE

The Cardinal boys, seven-year-old Ronnie and five-year-old Frank, get ready to leave their Rooster Town shack and hike three-quarters of a mile for a can of water. Their mother talks to them while their two-year-old brother is seen peering out the shack door.

With so much current interest in the area’s history, the old Métis community in southern River Heights might once again become a household term.

Part of the reason for this renewed interest is likely historical. June 19 of this year marked the 200th anniversary of the Métis infinity flag, as well as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Seven Oaks.

The name Rooster Town was a possibly derogatory term for people who were literally and figuratively on the fringes of society. The government considered the residents, most of whom were low income, to be squatters, even though some owned the land upon which they lived.

The community moved several times as the growing city encroached on its borders. However, one of the key areas identified with Rooster Town is approximately where Grant Park Shopping Centre and Grant Park High School now stand. Parts of the community at times stretching south to Weatherdon Avenue and north to Lorette and Scotland Avenues.

At an early point in its growth, Rooster Town had about 15 families, over eighty percent of whom were labourers. By 1901, the community was well established and continued for many years.

However, in his article"Rooster Town: Winnipeg’s Lost Métis Suburb," 1900-1960", published in Urban History Review, David Burley notes that "by the 1950s the land occupied by Rooster Town was much too valuable to remain a refuge for the poor and unwanted." 

In the spring of 1959, Rooster Town residents received eviction notices to clear the way for the new construction of the Grant Park mall and high school, and the community disappeared.

In his January 2016 Winnipeg Free Press article, Randy Turner noted that "Rooster Town went out with a whimper," leaving few physical signs behind.

However, renewed interest in the lost Métis community might help people remember the past.

Susan Huebert is a community correspondent for River Heights.

Susan Huebert

Susan Huebert
Community Correspondent — River Heights

Susan Huebert is a community correspondent for River Heights.

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