The Museum possesses a horse-drawn hearse in its collection. The hearse was donated in the late 1950s by Donald Roberts of Rathwell, Manitoba. Mr. Roberts was also its builder.
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 its body. As the frame is more elaborate than most light carriages of the time, it appears Mr. Roberts built it. 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 cemeteries.
At present, the hearse is equipped 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 because a small population was scattered thinly over a large area and there were 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 similar vehicle close to hand, would have been used to convey a coffin to the cemetery when necessary.
The municipal history books often contain pioneer family histories that discuss the use of wagons as hearses. In one such story, the death of three sisters from Black Diphtheria is discussed. Before the young ladies passed, each girl nominated a neighbour who was to convey her to the cemetery. Undoubtedly, the neighbour used a farm wagon of some sort to perform this sad task.