Sir William Cornelius Van Horne a legend in Canadian history and is famous for his work on the Canadian Pacific and other railways. He was a Renaissance man whose interests carried him into, among other things, farming. The farm he owned in St. Clements was a noteworthy landmark for decades.
Under his leadership the Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed across Western Canada. After the completion of this railway, Van Horne directed his abilities to another pursuit.
In June 1899, Van Horne purchased 2000 acres of land between East Selkirk and Tyndall for a large experimental farm. On Tuesday June 20, 1899, the Winnipeg Free Press stated, “It is to be noted that the work involved will be of great expenditure. He is doing it for no personal gain – but solely in the interests of the country – whose welfare he has deeply at heart”. The farm was instrumental in teaching new and innovative agricultural techniques to settlers by offering educational training seminars on site. It also provided agrarian education to students from the Agricultural College in Winnipeg.
The farm included a spacious family home, state-of-the-art horse and cattle barns, chicken coops, sheep pens, and a piggery. The main livestock raised included Clydesdale horses, Shorthorn and Dutch Belted cattle, and pedigree hogs. According to Bill Ranger, a local resident who worked on the farm, “they cropped 4000 acres; ran 2000 sheep; had 60 horses for land work; 30 Holstein cows for milking and over the winter they fed an extra 100 cows for spring sale”.
Cups, trophies, and hundreds of ribbons were awarded to this East Selkirk Farm. Some of the prized winning animals included Spicy Marquis, a Shorthorn bull, Lord Ardwell, a stallion who won almost every prize in his class, and the Shorthorn herd, which won best breed of any breed for many years. As far away as Britain, people knew about the legendary East Selkirk farm. The Van Horne Farm was sold to the Searle family in 1935.
Van Horne Farm geocache site is located near East Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada at N 50º 07.236´ latitude and W 96º 49.798´ longitude. If you find the geocache and scan the QR code inside of it, it brings you here to learn more. You can watch all our videos on our Youtube Channel. Other heritage content can be found on our Red River North Heritage Youtube channel.
Sir William Cornelius Van Horne was born the son of a lawyer in Illinois in 1843. When he was eleven, his father died, and he began finding work wherever he could.
At 14, he dropped out of school after insubordinate behaviour to the teacher. Even so, he proved himself an able worker and advanced through the ranks as a railway employee in his 20s.
On December 31, 1881, Van Horne arrived in Winnipeg, as the replacement for a less capable organizer on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He spent the next 34 years of his life in Canada, becoming famous for his role in the completion of the transcontinental line.
In his later years, he also built railways in Cuba. There, he established an experimental farm that was modelled on his East Selkirk operation.
Aside from railway ventures and 40 other businesses he managed over the course of his career, Van Horne engaged in various cultured pursuits. He was known to have one of Canada’s most distinguished art collections, and was an aspiring artist himself.
He was also responsible for commissioning the Canadian Pacific Railway artists to promote settlement and commerce in western Canada.
Van Horne’s astounding success was the result of his firm character. He was a very energetic man, with decisiveness, and a terrific memory. The first tenant in his creed was discipline. He required productivity of both himself and his employees.
He was also very much a family man who loved his wife and children deeply.
Van Horne’s 1915 funeral was held in a Unitarian church. This was a convenience. He said that man made his own gods.
Van Horne believed in strength and human self-sufficiency, trusting in his own tremendous success. Nevertheless, he had still absorbed the values of the Protestant work ethic of the Victorian era in which he lived.