Please listen to the audio recording of this story below, by local historian, David Neufeld.

Welcome to another Vantage Points Flashback where we highlight personalities, places and opportunities in history – the stories that shape us as a region. Thank-you municipal councils of Southwest Manitoba and the Manitoba Heritage Society for supporting our work.

Walter Thomas – Before Dinner

Yes, after 50 years as Secretary Treasurer for Municipalities of Arthur and Melita, I'm retiring. Thank you, Mayor Lamont, for this dinner. Emma and I are honoured. You suggested I “entertain” these folks with stories of my early years. Before dinner, I'll recall misadventures that resulted in losing a good friend. After dinner, so as not to ruin appetites, I'll tell about losing my arm.  

In 1879, a lad of 18, I arrived in Sourisford. My parents had passed, so I left Ontario for adventure. My first shelter wasn't much – a covered cave in the side of the river - finished just as winter struck with Christmas-time fury. In early March, my dog “Buddy” and  “Bucko” my pony and I headed to Winnipeg to replenish provisions. Spring had come early, so traveling was easy. I had 4 days' food and a good sense of direction. Trouble is, winter wasn't done with us.

Remember, no rail lines, bridges, villages or farmers to rely on. Weather forecasts were provided by the horizon - and whatever we felt in our bones. By the time we got to Plum Creek, where Souris is now, we were in a major storm. I built a shelter with branches and a blanket and fortunately - the storm calmed by morning. Unfortunately, I awoke - snow blind! Couldn't see a thing. What to do? Well, nothing. Bucko was used to scrabbling for food, so Buddy and I settled in to wait it out.

Misfortune, though, tightened its grip. As I slept, Buddy found our food stash. Ate everything. Even the tea. Things were getting serious fast. After three days, my eyes cleared. But desperate now, I headed north where I knew I'd find help. The snow, though, was too deep for Bucko. And the nights were getting colder. I dared not sleep in the open! I decided to return to Plum Creek - to our old shelter. I found wood and fashioned a rack to dry my mitts. Then, exhausted, fell asleep. Buddy – cozying up to the fire, jostled the rack and I awoke in horror seeing my charred mitts. What now?

I'm not sure you'd agree. The option I landed on was to go on without Buddy. I portioned his meat and fashioned some mittens from his hide - and said a prayer - before Bucko and I went on home - humbled but still determined. The curious part of the story, though, was that a skunk, dazed from hibernation, crossed right in front of us. I threw my hatchet with my remaining strength. Killed it on the spot! Suddenly I was feasting on good fortune - and made it home whistling a merry tune. Please, enjoy your meal!


I adapted 'Walter Thomas - Before Dinner’ from a story written for Vantage Points 4.

Vantage Points is a 5-book series of stories about the layers of history in Southwest Manitoba.


All stories in this radio series can be found at or click HERE!

 Please learn about Turtle Mountain Souris Plains Heritage Association at