|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.”
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
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.
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
remembrance...” 3 Argyle p625
Quite a tribute.
“Great excitement prevailed when Northfield School was finished”…”
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
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
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
“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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Schultz’s viewpoint – even viewed with the understanding that it was
recorded decades later, seems like a pretty good analysis of the
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
noted that in 1898, he purchased the townsite from the Northern Pacific
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.
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,
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.
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