July 18 was a momentous day for Winnifred Florence Spence, age 90, as this was the day she received the Official Certificate naming of Tom Bird’s Bay. Tom (Thomas) Walter Bird (March 25, 1891 – November 12, 1981) was Spence’s father, and a legendary figure to those who knew him.
Tom Bird was born in Clandeboye in 1891, and spent his early years growing up in both Clandeboye and the St. Peters Reserve area. He left home at the early age of approximately 10 – 12 years old with his brother, William. He was a prolific local hunter, trapper fisherman, dog “runner,” and farmer. The local people and the community at large have always known the small bay where he spent years fishing and timber harvesting as ‘Tom Birds Bay.’ As such, the Manitoba Geographical Names Program has made the decision to officially name the bay at 34-2E on Lake Winnipeg, ‘Tom Birds Bay.’
“There are a lot of names originating there, but people named it their own name. This is what they know, and on the map it was not the right name,” says Gerald Bird, grandson of Tom Bird. “It’s important to get places named as they are recognized by local people,” he adds.
Dez Kapel, Provincial Toponymist, points out that everyone supported the naming as it had never been known as anything else. “It was a wonderful way to know Tom Bird, he was quite an individual,” says Kapel.
Gerald Bird initiated the application process to have the bay named after his grandfather. “It’s for a memory and to keep his memory alive and remember that place.”
Winnifred Spence was touched and brought to tears in the Peguis Health Centre Board Room where she was presented the Official Certificate and plaque honouring her father.
“It was something great to me,” says Spence. “It meant a lot to me and family too, a lot (of family) didn’t remember him. Our family is scattered all over.”
Dr. Stan Bird, Gerald Bird’s brother, tells his young son the stories about his great-grandfather. “He set a high standard not only for his boys, but for his grandchildren,” says Dr. Bird. “He grew up with a strong work ethic.”
Dr. Bird recounts stories of his grandfather assisting the RCMP in finding people lost in the woods, and at other times providing enough food to feed countless families in need with his deer and moose meat.
Besides trapping, fishing and hunting, Tom Bird was widely known as a “runner,’ as well as delivering the mail to and from Bisset Gold mine, and even delivering gold — all on foot — and running.
A brief but fascinating account of Tom Bird’s running days can be found in the book, ‘From Paddles to Propellers: The History of Matheson Island: A Fishing Community,’ by Neill von Gunten and Edith von Gunten (pp. 17 & 18). According to the authors, Tom Bird could run 90 miles in one day, including stopping for lunch, and beating out the dog teams running the same route.
“My mooshoom (grandfather) always walked. He walked four times a day well into his old age until he died at over the age 90,” says Gerald Bird. Bird describes his grandfather as a man that was known to many, with countless stories surfacing of his virtuous character and indefatigable spirit. Perhaps the best example is through this memory from Tom Bird’s daughter, Winnifred Spence:
“There was nothing here, just wagon trails,” says Spence. “I was only seven or eight, but I remember when he used to run. The mine used to send him to Pine Falls with gold bricks and he used to tell us about it. They were wrapped in old ragged dirty bags so that no one would be suspicious of what he was carrying. He would only carry one or two because he was afraid he’d get robbed,” says Spence. “He would tell us (children) to be true, never lie, be trustful and honest,” she adds.
Tom Bird had 12 children, whom – with large families of their own – generated an extensive progeny of descendants. In fact, Spence acknowledges that everyone in Peguis with the surname of ‘Bird’ can trace their ancestry to Tom Bird.
Gerald Bird thanks everyone who could attend, with special acknowledgements to Chief and Council, Kininjeoshtegon (Jackhead) First Nation and the community for keeping his grandfather’s memory and name alive. Special thanks also goes out to all the people who supported this cause, including Doris Bear, Director of Health, Peguis First Nation; and Des Kapel, Provincial Toponymist, as well as Gerald Bird’s brother, Dr. Stan Bird for helping to make this all possible.
Kapel would like Manitobans to know that they are welcome to submit a naming application of local people who have impacted Manitoba in areas of culture, heritage or history. You can contact Kapel at 204-945-1798 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published in the Interlake Spectator, July 24, 2012. www.interlakespectator.com