Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Land Grabs: Doubting Thomas

Sometimes, it helps to go with your gut instincts.

Yesterday, I mentioned having that vague feeling, when looking at the Guinan brothers' enthusiasm over moving north from their Grafton-area farms to Canada. "Times are booming and he likes the country," reported the November 18, 1906, Daily Herald, out of nearby Grand Forks, North Dakota, concerning former resident Joseph Guinan. "Reports of the good climate and soil in that part of Canada are not exaggerated," affirmed another Daily Herald story about his brother, William Guinan, later on February 10, 1911.


I couldn't help but think that maybe, just maybe, someone had a vested interest in getting rid of some property.

While gave me the scoop on what was happening among the Guinan brothers, back home in North Dakota, I had to turn to to scour the reports from the Winnipeg side of the story. Sure enough, there was land to be sold and money to be made, and apparently at least one of the Guinans was in the midst of the deal.

Of course, I can't entirely be sure this is one of our Guinans. After all, trawling through 196 hits from my Guinan search at GenealogyBank gifted me with information overload. After diagramming and time-lining who was related to whom—a multi-hour project, I assure you—at least I can say I think this is one of our Guinan brothers.

The furor all seemed to center around the business savvy of one Thomas Guinan. He, in turn, was apparently related to both Joseph Guinan and our William Guinan, husband of the by-then-deceased daughter of Edward and Johanna Ryan (you know: either Margaret or Mary).

The trail northward started, sadly, with a report of the death of a ten year old girl, Stella Falconer. Though she had died in Elm Creek, Manitoba—due north about one hundred miles from the Guinan properties near Hoople, North Dakota—her parents had chosen to return her body to the family burial plot at Saint Thomas. Thus, her obituary appeared in the newspaper of the nearby Grand Forks, North Dakota: the Daily Herald of October 19, 1902.

Frustratingly, that obituary did not exactly mention the precise relationships between the Falconers and the Guinan family, but both Thomas and Will Guinan were mentioned as joining the funeral party on its journey southward from Canada, including the detail that they would be staying at the home of Joe Guinan.

So, who was this Thomas Guinan? As it turns out, following his trail through archived newspaper reports not only painted a colorful picture, but yielded the back story, once I arrived at his own obituary, later in 1937.

I had made a mental note about one entry I found early on, which hadn't specifically mentioned Thomas' name; only in retrospect was I able to go back and retrieve it as ours. From "The City: Bits of News" in Grand Forks' January 23, 1897, Daily Herald:
Representative Guinan, of Pembina County, tarried in the city yesterday. Guinan is good looking and a blamed nice fellow.
The good-looking representative, evidently, left his position before the time of the Falconer funeral in 1902. At least, we can assume. In the next news report I found of him, a decade later, he was billed as president of the Red River Loan and Land Company, presumably out of Winnipeg, where his ads were spotted in The Manitoba Free Press. Here's a sample of the copy from his ad run on March 21, 1912:
For Sale: Bergen and Rosser lands. 1840 ACRESKnown as the Clarke Howe Farm. This splendidly equipped farm is owned by me and I am offering the same for sale. All the land is under cultivation. Two sets splendid buildings, 3 windmills and water for unlimited stock. 1,000 acres ready for crop. For a quick sale $65.00 an acre. $25,000 cash; balance 5 years, at 6%.
It was a politically-instigated article appearing a few years earlier, though, that cast Thomas Guinan in a different light. Headlines from the March 3, 1909, Manitoba Free Press—only three years before the "postage stamp province" had its current borders established—shrieked, "Land Transaction Should Be Investigated."

The headlines went on to explain,
Sixteen thousand acres of swamp area transferred to the Province in December, 1907, were immediately sold to Thomas Guinan, who resold at a profit of from $2 to $3 an acre.
And that was just the headline.

From what appeared to be a politically-motivated vendetta against the then-current province premier, Sir Rodmond Roblin, a "public accounts committee" launched a "preliminary hearing" into a particular land transaction which was considered to have "some peculiar features."

That transaction, of course, was the land swap masterminded by none other than Thomas Guinan, the one whose brothers were so enthusiastically endorsing the popularity of moves north to Canada.

In that same March 9, 1909, Manitoba Free Press article on page five, every detail of the hearing was reported, down to the haggling by the Attorney General over questions plied during cross examination, and offense taken over insinuations that "a prominent Liberal" might have been somehow implicated in impropriety during the land transactions.

Whatever came of that episode in Mr. Guinan's life I haven't been able to determine. However, later newspaper entries of a more mundane nature did help to reveal some of Thomas Guinan's life history. From the Manitoba Free Press of November 9, 1912, a benign article entitled "Birthday Congratulations To," provided a helpful sketch:
Thomas Guinan (Winnipeg); born, Huron County, Ont., Nov. 10, 1850; member of North Dakota legislature, 1896-1900, when he moved to Winnipeg; president of Red River Loan and Land Company. 
The unfortunate report, July 22, 1916, of the death of Thomas Guinan's eldest daughter, Kate—then twenty five—revealed the detail that she was "born at St. Thomas, N.D., and removed with her parents to Winnipeg about 15 years ago." She, like the Falconers' daughter in 1902, found her final resting place at the family plot back in North Dakota.

But it was discovery of Thomas' own obituary, when his own last moments had arrived in 1937, that provided the complete road map of his life's travels—and, as you may have guessed, the story of how the rest of the Guinan family and their associated in-laws had made the journey from their original home in Ontario to the American farmland of North Dakota and then back again to Canada.

That, however, includes enough detail to merit a post of its own—tomorrow.


  1. So he was a Land Agent very interesting and of course he would have glowing reports of land in Canada:)

    1. It does all add up, once you discover the other part of the story, doesn't it?

  2. Item 31, Hector Falconer, might be of interest.

    1. Oh yes, definitely, Iggy! Thanks for finding that. I had found other records indicating that Hector's wife had a different surname. Very frustrating. Your discovery here, coupled with my post for tomorrow, certainly clinched it, making it easier for me to trace this couple better.


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