Nellie Mooney and Mr. Schultz

In the final scene in Nellie McClung’s memoir, "Clearing in the West" we find Nellie and her husband, Wes, on a train en route from Wawanesa, where they had just been married, to their new home in Manitou. The weather had been stormy all day.   

“Suddenly the rain stopped and the wind too, grew less. I think we had reached Baldur where my dear old teacher lived, when we stepped out to the back platform holding the railing, just as I had done six years before, leaving home for the first time, although the sun was shining. Now I was leaving again, and there was no sun; nothing but dark and thunderous clouds covering all the sky, but I was not afraid.”  1.p377

This paragraph is setting the stage for the nice play on words that ends the story three paragraphs later….

“…. We looked up, and saw the clouds were parting, and a bit of blue sky was showing over the shoulder of a black cloud.  2. p378

It was clearing in the West! Tomorrow would be fine.”

It’s a nice ending. Highly contrived perhaps, in the best tradition of the day.
To someone who hadn’t just read the book, the reference to “my dear old teacher” might seem merely an innocent detail dropped inadvertently into the narrative.

Not so.

In fact, like the contrived ending to what is essentially Part One of the Nellie McClung story, the seemingly off-hand mention of her early childhood school teacher was a deliberate and considered element of a story told by a veteran writer.

Her “dear old teacher” was a big part of the story.

Earlier in the narrative we had learned that after each of her books were published she sent a copy to the widow of that teacher ” in thankful remembrance...”  3   Argyle  p625

Quite a tribute.

“Great excitement prevailed when Northfield School was finished”…” 4.  p96 is how Nellie begins the story of her early education.

One simple sentence – with little elaboration - as if it needed none. It sums up the aspirations so many of the pioneer settlers held for their children. She may have been reflecting that parental feeling in her recollection – but in her case she had more interest in the process than the average ten year old.

Her older sister and brother had attended school in Ontario – she had not, and was keenly aware of the fact that she couldn’t read or write – something she perceived as a monumental shortcoming.

Nellie’s accounts of her school days offer us lessons about education, about tradition, about life. The shaping of her beliefs and values, while recorded in hindsight, have an authenticity and consistency.

She was nervous about beginning school. She was ten years old and didn’t know how to read. She was keenly aware that she had a lot of catching up to do.

Fortunately for Nellie, and for us, she was about to meet just the right person.


Originally from Ontario, Frank and Margaret Schultz settled at Mapleton on the banks of the Red River north of Winnipeg, where Frank taught school. On leaving there, they moved to the Belmont district where Frank took up a homestead south of the town. Needing money, he took a job at Northfield School near Wawanesa.

He was Nellie’s first teacher.

Teachers today could learn from her account of how he helped make her first day at school such a positive experience. 5. (p97)

By Nellie’s own account Mr. Schultz influenced her in several ways. Her account of how he assured her that starting late was no problem, that she would learn to read readily, that school wasn’t a scary place, must have had some influence on her decision to become a teacher.

Not only did she learn to read and write in his care, she had the opportunity to experience views that she might not have encountered otherwise.

The year 1885 saw hot debate, and not a little hysteria, over the Metis uprising. Mr. Schultz offered what today is a conventional view; that the Metis had legitimate grievances, and that the native people who supported the Metis or merely sympathised with them had legitimate grievances as well. These were not popular sentiments in the region, but Frank Schultz, who had lived in Red River and who had met Riel, was able to offer them in such a way that he impressed Nellie and avoided antagonizing the parents. 

In relating a discussion, Nellie remembers thinking that her teacher’s comments about the issues were quite at odds with the opinions of family and friends. She is relieved when her older sister, Hannah articulately expressed the opinion that ”It is not the Catholic Church, and it is not Louis Riel, who is causing the trouble – it is the stupidity of the Government at Ottawa,” 6  p168

Nellie and her sister are presented as having opinions that would be common today – but not so common in 1885.

Mr. Schultz got himself in a bit of trouble and had his detractors in the community

“I am afraid that there is bad work going on at Northfield School …This man Schultz is a German; he has no love for British institutions.”  7 P170

Earlier in the story Nellie recounts in some detail a struggle her brother Will was having when he attempted to get a manufacturer to take some responsibility for a defective farm implement.

Nellie recalls that the actions of the government in dealing with the Metis was similar to the actions of a Machine Company when dealing with his complaint about the poor quality of their product.  The company followed a policy still familiar today in both corporations and governments. Ignore, deny, and re-direct the blame.

 “The Government won’t answer the half-breed, won’t notice them, won’t talk to them -  and the only words they send them is a saucy word – “what we will send you will be an army; we’ll put you in your place.”  8 P171

Nellie devoted quite a bit of thought and provided ample detail about the conflict in the community. Notable perhaps is her memory that it was resolved amicably – something made possible because; despite the strong difference of opinion – there was goodwill and respect on both sides.

Quite a lesson, actually.

Mr. Schultz also demonstrated a remarkably open-minded attitude toward the tension and fear surrounding the local aboriginal populations supposed support of the Metis cause. Many people saw every passing band as a threat, and Frank insisted that there was no cause for alarm. 9. P183

Nellie’s account of the mixture of fear, bravado, and misplaced patriotism she witnessed in her community in the spring of 1885 might seem a bit dramatic – but a reading of the news of the day in the Brandon Sun, and various reminiscence in numerous local history volumes, show that she got it about right.

“Under the strain of anxiety the neighbours came together more, and there were many gatherings at our house.”  10 183

“…every wild scheme was advocated. We should build a fort in Millford, using the mill for the main room, boring port holes in the walls for the rifles and putting in flour and bacon and potatoes, in case of a siege. There were four rifles in the neighbourhood and two shotguns. There were persistent rumours of a “rising” at Swan Lake and Mariapolis on Indian reserves there.” 11 184

In this instance both her mother and her teacher are presented as having a more reasonable view.

Her mother steadfastly refuses to be alarmed, saying things like, “…I’m not afraid of Indians……the trouble is three hundred miles away.”   12 184

And her analysis of the motives is interesting – in light of Nellie’s own (albeit wavering) pacifist tendencies.

She says about the young men…”They are having a good time. It’s as exciting as the First of July picnic or a barn raising. Jack Naismith and our Jack are killing Indians by the dozen in their minds and piling them up like cordwood and it’s not hurting anyone.”  13. 1884

An incident at school follows.

“One day…. at Northfield School the cry arose that the Indians were coming! “  14. 185

They were said to be in war paint – in a procession a mile long.

Mr. Schultz tried to reason with them.

“Yes, I know …they come every spring, on their was to Brandon. These Indians are no relation to the Indians in Saskatchewan. They are Crees, and ours are Sioux and they are not friends. They won’t hurt anyone, and they certainly wouldn’t fight for the Crees. Indians have their friends, just like white people”  15 p185.

He tried to reassure them…

“My wife and two little boys are alone, in a house right beside the trail… and I know they are safe.” 16 186

And he tried to get them to see some perspective…

“Use you imaginations now, and think what you would feel like, if you saw another race living on the land that had been yours.” 17. 187

In Nellie’s telling, Frank had quite a task in convincing his neighbours.

Accepted wisdom today tells us that the native populations across the west almost unanimously refused to have anything to do with the Riel uprising, and populations in the U.S. had their own battles to worry about. Ken Coates, in a scholarly look at the situation, insisted that:

“Ultimately, virtually all the rumours proved unfounded, the accusations incorrect, and the often precipitous actions unnecessary. The Aboriginal People of western Manitoba did not join the rebellion, nor is there any evidence to suggest that they seriously considered doing so. There were actually many more protestations of loyalty and offers to assist the government than there were threats to join the insurgents.”  18 (Mb History Journal Autumn 1990)

Local histories remind us however that in the spring of 1885, folks weren’t so sure. Numerous reports indicate that local native populations were felt to be either an imminent or a potential threat. Words like: “restless”, “impudent” and “demanding” appear in many accounts.

When a rumour circulated about a plot to smuggle a Gatling Gun across the border near Wakopa in the hope of delivering it to Riel’s forces, it was not only believed, but widely circulated.  19. P194 Beckoning Hills

Schultz’s viewpoint – even viewed with the understanding that it was recorded decades later, seems like a pretty good analysis of the situation.

Our perceptions of historical events can’t help but be coloured by contemporary thought. We may all be guilty of remembering things as we wish they had been. But the point is that, even though Nellie may have been in a sense putting some of the words (details), in Frank’s mouth, the big picture is that she saw his influence as pivotal.

Schultz’s moderate views on Riel and the trial –must have touched her deeply. She gives Shultz a lot of credit rather than claiming his thoughts as her own.

Her childhood experiences, when put together, prepared her for seeing the world in her own way.

She has her young adult self explain it this way:

“When I wrote I would write of the people who do the work of the world and I would write it from their side of the fence, not from the external angle of the casual visitor who likes to believe that the poor are always happy.”  20 P 226

So what became of this teacher who was so influential, who seemed to be destined for a career in education?

Although teaching may have seemed like his natural calling, it would have been hard to support a family on the salary offered. For men of that era, teaching was often an occupation that provided some ready cash while setting themselves up in farming or in business. In 1892 Frank gave up both teaching and farming and moved to town of Baldur, recently established along the new Northern Pacific line that connected Morris with Brandon. He opened a real estate and insurance office and established a private bank in the new town. His business interests were diverse, revealing an eye for opportunity. He bought and resold properties, and was an agent for sales of organs, pianos and phonographs.  He did quite well, so well in fact that the local paper noted that in 1898, he purchased the townsite from the Northern Pacific Railway. 

In 1903 the Union Bank decided to open a branch in Baldur. They took over his operation, including the building he had erected, and he became their manager, a position he held until his death in 1915.

Frank took a leadership role in the development of his adopted town. He served on the School Board and as Mayor. Schultz Street remains as a reminder of his efforts.

In short, Frank and Margaret became prominent citizens.

Frank was prominent in cultural and social affairs, and politically was an outspoken Liberal. Perhaps that was a to be expected, given what Mrs. McClung has told us about him, but his involvement in the Orange Lodge was perhaps not as predictable.

We do have to keep in mind that membership in these organizations was almost a given for a businessman, and that the Argyle Orange Lodge had 78 members by 1899. Many prominent men in the community were members. Frank became a Grand Master of the Lodge and of Manitoba.  21.  P29

He was also was elected Grand Representative to the Triennual Council of the World which met in New York City in July, 1900. There he was elected Grand Auditor for the next three years for the Orange Triennual Council of the World and attended the following meeting in Dublin, Ireland.

One supposes that he was on hand on Oct. 12, 1910 when his former student Nellie McClung gave a talk in the Baldur Methodist Church, under the auspices of the W.C.T.V.  22. p180

Frank had a particular interest in Health Care.

In 1901 he wrote a letter to the "Baldur Gazette" asking why the council did not use some recently granted Provincial funds to help establish a local hospital. He promised that if the council would contribute to a hospital he would give the site and pledge $100 a year for five years.  23. Argyle p 124

The town wasn’t ready to commit, but the promise remained.

Frank died in 1915, but Margaret was equally committed to the concept. The town had to wait yet another thirty-five years to see their dream of a Hospital realized. When Maggie died in 1947, she bequeathed a parcel of land to the Municipality of Argyle for the single purpose to which it had always been intended — as the site for a hospital.  It was presented by their son, the Hon. Ivan Schultz, Minister of Health, in memory of his mother. 24.P124


The Argyle Museum in Baldur displays this portrait of Mrs. Schultz.

I note that the Hon. Ivan Schultz is on the Manitoba Historical Society’s list of Memorable Manitobans. Perhaps his father, Frank, should be as well?


1. Nellie McClung, Clearing in the West, Thomas Allen Ltd., Toronto ON. 1935, p. 377

2.Ibid.. p. 378

3. Come Into Our Heritage: R.M. of Argyle 1882 – 1982, The Rural Municipality of Argyle, 1982, p. 625

4. Nellie McClung, Clearing in the West, Thomas Allen Ltd., Toronto ON. 1935, p. 96

5. Ibid., p. 97s

6. Ibid., p. 168

7. Ibid., p 170

8. Ibid., p. 171

9. Ibid., p. 183

10. Ibid., p. 183

11. Ibid., p. 184

12. Ibid., p. 184

13. Ibid.. p. 184

14. Ibid., p. 185

15. Ibid., p. 185

16. Ibid., p. 186

17. Ibid., p. 187

18. Ken Coates, Western Manitoba and the 1885 Rebellion, Manitoba History, Number 20, Autumn 1990

19. Beckoning Hills Revisited - Pioneer Settlement Turtle Mountain Souris - Basin Areas - Boissevain History Book Committee, 1981, p. 194

20. Ibid., p. 226

21. Come Into Our Heritage: R.M. of Argyle 1882 – 1982, The Rural Municipality of Argyle, 1982,p. 29

22. Come Into Our Heritage: R.M. of Argyle 1882 – 1982, The Rural Municipality of Argyle, 1982, p. 180

23. Come Into Our Heritage: R.M. of Argyle 1882 – 1982, The Rural Municipality of Argyle, 1982, p. 124

24. Come Into Our Heritage: R.M. of Argyle 1882 – 1982, The Rural Municipality of Argyle, 1982, p. 245