Manitoba's --- Uncommon Sites and Sights
Spotlight #17 --- The 'Stone Fences' of Grand Marais

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  • Who constructed these stone fences?
  • When were they built?
  • Where did the idea originate?

    Images #1

    Image #2

    Images #3

    Viewers' Comments

    Bev Jacobs (location ?) -- The current owner of one of the stone fences at Grand Marais related the following story to me a few years ago. -- His fence was built by some relatives during a strike in Wpg. after the first world war(1919?). They were out at Grand Marais at the time and couldn't get back to Wpg. because of the strike, so decided to build the fence to put in time. I don't know if the other stone fences were built at that time, but his was.
    Earl Orvis [ Grand Marais, MB] -- Indeed the stone fences of Grand Marais, MB were built by Fred Orvis and a man by the last name of Gillis, an old timer of Grand Marais.

    During a site seeing tour in year 2000 with Fred's daughters Ada Foster, age 84 and Evelyn Murray age 93 at the time and their nephew Frank Orvis in his seventies, the ladies pointed out the many stone fences, steps and foundations. All were made of stone constructed by their father Fred. Many of the sites are still standing and visable in the Grand Marais and Grand Beach campsite. Images two and three on your Website were pointed out by the ladies, # 3 I'm unsure at this time. These structures were built in the early 20's and 30"s.

    Recent renovations on a cottage on Central Avenue in Grand Marais reveiled an inscription of Fred Orvis on the rock of the foundation but unfortunately it did not show a date. It's believed to be in the 20"s. These sites are definitely unique for the area, but sadly many are being dismantled and replaced by more "modern" construction methods. Your Website is awesome!

    Bob Foster (Winnipeg) -- Although I could not say with absolute certainty that the three stone fences shown on your web site were built by my grandfather (Fred Orvis 1883-1975) I do know for a fact that he built a number of stone fences at Grand Marais. Fred lived and worked around Grand Marais all his life: as a farmer, fisherman, railway worker (on the line to Grand Beach), boat builder, carpenter and builder of stone fences. I have a photo of the front steps to the homestead, which burned in the 30's, showing a bit of his stonework.

    Unfortunately I have no way of knowing whether all or just some of the fences in Grand Marais were built by him. I do know that the family spoke of him building "a lot of stone fences" in Grand Marais and Grand Beach.

    The Ada Foster mentioned in the message from Earl Orvis was my mother.

    Dave Craig [location ?] -- My parents had built a cottage in Grand Marais in 1938. It is close to all 3 fences shown. I remember my brother and I seeing them as we grew every summer at the lake.

    Maureen Devanik Butterfield [Grand Marais, MB] -- Our stone fence is years old (built by my grandfather and James McQuade) and once surrounded a popular tourist spot.

    I am also an amateur historian and the co-author of the book 'If Walls Could Talk, Manitoba's Best Buildings Explored and Explained' by Great Plains Publications. I have another history book coming out next fall ('06).

    T. Coutts [Winnipeg, MB] -- Concerning the Grand Marais 'Stone Fences' and in particular the last two of your three photos, I know the present owners who are of the same family who owned the property when the fences were constructed. They have pictures from the yard about the time of construction.

    I was told it was built 'out of boredom' by their great uncle and friends who were stranded at Grand Marais in 1919 when the trains stopped running due to the Winnipeg General Strike. I will pass your website address on to the family when I see them this spring.

    Joe Stevens [?] -- The stone fence [Grand-Marais] shown in the third picture was completed in 1919 at the time of the General Strike in Winnipeg. The cottage was constructed circa 1913 by my late wife's grandparents. The "boys" were also responsible for the construction of the fences immediately north and south of our cottage. The fence on the south side has been taken down.

    The cottage has been handed down from generation to generation and now is the "summer home" to the 5th generation of their descendants. The brothers who built the fence were the "Taylor" boys, all have long since passed away.

    The fence shown in the second picture was, I am quite sure, built by Mr. Orvis for the local Justice of The Peace, Mr. Tom Powell who resided in the house for many years. As well, it was subsequently occupied by a lady barber, the only one in the area, he name was "Polly", last name not known.

    I have no knowledge of the remaining fence.

    Bob Bohonos [Winnipeg, MB] -- The stone fence in image #2 was built by Bill Isaac in the early 1940's.