The Manitoba Agricultural Museum possesses a horse drawn hearse in its collection. The hearse was donated to the Museum in the late 1950s by Mr Donald Roberts of Rathwell, Manitoba. Mr Roberts was also the builder of the hearse.
The hearse was built in 1911 and kept in service until December, 1943. While Mr Roberts constructed the vehicle it is likely that he purchased significant parts such as the hearse’s axles, wheels and the elaborate trim pieces on the hearse’s body. As the frame is more elaborate than most light carriages of the time it appears Mr. Roberts built the frame of this hearse. Note the how the frame is “goose necked” to allow the front wheels to turn in under the vehicle providing a degree of maneuverability usually not needed in more pedestrian vehicles. Probably this was done to allow the vehicle to maneuver in cemetaries.
At present the hearse is equiped with black curtains in the glassed in coffin area. However it was customary to replace these black curtains with white curtains for the funeral of a child.
Hearses were probably not common in rural areas during the Pioneer era between a small population thinly scattered over a large area and more pressing needs for money. As populations built up and money became less scarce hearses and undertakers would have appeared. In the Pioneer era a grain wagon, or any other suitable vehicle close to hand, would have been used to convey a coffin to the cemetary when necessary.
The Municipal history books often contain Pioneer family histories that discuss the use of wagons as hearses. In one family history the passing of three sisters from the Black Diphtheria is discussed. Before the young ladies passed, each girl nominated a neighbour who was to convey her to the cemetary. Doubtlessly the neighbour used a farm wagon of some sort to perform this sad task .