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Chapter 2

A Time to Grow - 1890's

T he years 1890 and 1891 produced good crops for the hard working farmers and attracted immigrants and more Ontario residents who literally poured into the West. The provincial population grew to over 150,000 with roughly 20,000 farms. However, in 1892 settlement slowed as wheat prices reacted to large unsold crops which filled bins to bursting. Average wheat prices fell to about 50¢ a bushel on some markets in 1894. It wasn't until 1896 and 1897, when wheat prices rose, that settlement began again in earnest.

Threshing by steam power on the Portage Plains
Threshing by steam power on the Portage Plains                                      - Manitoba Archives
Charles Green
Charles Green
Meanwhile, the Portage Mutual appointed its first three agents in June 1890. The same year, Charles Green, one of the First seven founding Directors, was made Vice President. A year later, and until 1896, he was the company's third president.

Born in England, Green, like many of the Directors, took an active role in the community. He was one of the first Rural Municipal Councillors from 1881 to 1883, and a Director of the company from 1884 until he died in 1897.

T.E. Wallace, a Director since 1885 to 1890, was made Vice President for one year.

Marshall Snyder
Marshall Snyder
In 1891, Marshall Snyder who had arrived from Ontario 11 years earlier, replaced Brown as Manager. Snyder was paid $500 a year plus $2 for each new application received and $1 for each renewal if he provided an office and security. His home was used to conduct company business for some time.
Home of Marshal Snyder
Home of Marshal Snyder, still standing on Lorne Avenue in Portage la Prairie                        
                                                                                                                    - Manitoba Archives

Succeeding Wallace as Vice President in 1892 was Gardiner Greenlay, Municipal Reeve from 1891 to 1892 and a Rural Councillor from 1887 to 1893 and again in 1900. Greenlay, born in Quebec, had come west with the Wolseley Expedition to put down the rebellion led by Louis Riel in the 1870's and served as a Director of The Portage Mutual from 1888 to 1891.

The company was well accepted by local farmers in 1893. Company records show over $1,000,000 in risks written. In the true tradition of an insurance company, pennies were watched. The 1894 balance sheet attests to the "odd cents lost in making change are...05¢."

The Muirs

In 1895, the first of three generations of Muirs, W.T. Muir, was elected to the Portage Mutual Board of Directors, a position he held until 1900. He was followed by his son, Edwin Muir, who would have a major impact on the Company's future.

He remained a Director from 1903 to 1910 and from 1935 to 1954. In 1911, he became Vice President until 1921 when he was made President of the Company. He held this office for 14 years, during which he saw the company through one of its worst natural disasters, a cyclone that hit Portage and area, before stepping down during one of the Company's worst financial setbacks in 1935.

Taking Edwin Muir's vacant Director's seat was his son, Neil Muir, a Director from 1954 to 1973 and for a short time Vice President.

W.T. Muir was born in Ontario and started farming in Manitoba about 1878 and was present for the first organizational meeting of The Portage Mutual. From 1894 to 1900, he was a member of the Rural Municipal Council and Reeve in 1900. His son, Edwin, also born in Ontario, was on the Rural Council from 1909 to 1914 when he, too, became a Reeve and held that post until 1922, one of the longest consecutive stints as Reeve. He was back on the council again in 1929.

Neil Muir farmed close to Portage raising Shorthorn cattle. Like his father and grandfather, he was very active in community affairs.

W.T. Muir
W.T. Muir
Edwin Muir
Edwin Muir
Neil Muir
Neil Muir
Thomas Sissons
Thomas Sissons
Thomas Sissons, born in Ontario, farmed near Portage in the 1870's before becoming a Director in 1893 and Vice President the next year replacing Greenlay. he was involved in an early Manitoba grain growers group, the Farmers' Institute. Sissons was President of the company in 1897 and remained at the post until 1910.
Letter from Manager to Agent (1895)
Letter from Manager to Agent (1895)
Beautiful handwriting in Cash Book of 1891 - presented to be that of Elias Brown
Beautiful handwriting in Cash Book of 1891

Meanwhile in Portage, the first Government Post Office was opened in 1895. It was also the year the Daily Graphic began publishing.

In 1897, the CPR and the Federal Government negotiated the Crow's Nest Pass Agreement and with it lower freight rates on grain railed to the Lakehead.

Portage la Prairie in 1890
Portage la Prairie in 1890                                                                        - Manitoba Archives

William Wishart, elected a Director in 1894, was Vice President between 1898 and 1902. Wishart had moved to Manitoba in 1875, farming for many years. The Company had outgrown the small office in Snyder's house, and took a lease on an office paying $88 a year rent. When the lease expired in 1903, the Company erected its first office building, authorized an addition in 1917, another expansion in 1948 and finally, in the early 1960's moved into its present building.

With the signing of the lease on the first office building, the company's first secretary, Miss Telfer, was hired. She was followed by Helen Warren in 1900.

In 1899, the Boer War broke out and men fought for King and Country until it ended in 1902. Wheat acreage in Manitoba rose from over 260,000 to more than 1.6 million acres. The Portage General Hospital opened its doors.

D.W. McQuaig
D.W. McQuaig
Just before the turn of the century, in 1898, D.W. McQuaid was elected a Mutual Director and President of the Manitoba Grain Grower's Association, a position he held from 1904 to 1910.

The Manitoba Grain Growers Association was involved in the creation of the Grain Growers Grain Company in 1906. This would later merge with another grain group to form the United Grain Grower's Association in 1916. The Grain Growers Association pressed for and got several reforms regarding the Winnipeg Grain Exchange.

As the century faded into the history pages, expansion was on many minds in town, across the province and at The Portage Mutual.

Company Letterhead
Company Letterhead
Policy of 1892-95
Policy of 1892-95
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Please note: The information provided within this page was originally published in 1984. Any "current", "new", "present" or  other such references within this information were correct in 1984 but are not necessarily so now.
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