McMunn and East Braintree are located on the most eastern edge of the municipality along the Trans Canada Highway and Provincial Road 308. The population of these two hamlets is 180. In McMunn, you will find McMunn Motor Inn, Nelda’s Cinnamon Bun Bakery, a craft shop (Birch River Village), a welding/repair shop (Birch River Enterprises), pulp cutting/shipping (Nakka Trucking and Anderson Trucking), sawmills (Feilberg Enterprises) and Braintree Sawmill Co., and contractors (Polar Enterprises).
In East Braintree, you will find a motel/seasonal campground (Whiteshell Lakeside Pines), plumber (Birch River Plumbing & Heating), electronics supplier (Maple Place Electronics), pulp cutting/shipping (Shelyn Forest Products), a piloting service for oversize loads (R. Karalash Enterprises), the East Braintree Community Church and Midwinter Heritage Museum. East Braintree is situated on Provincial Road 308 which is an access point to the USA. Residents travel to Kenora, Ste. Anne, Steinbach, Whitemouth or Winnipeg for their shopping or medical needs.
East Braintree-A brief history written by Lorna Annell
East Braintree, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2014, was first established as a construction camp during the building of a 97-mile-long aqueduct to supply Winnipeg with fresh drinking water from the Lake of the Woods. Aqueduct construction began in 1914 and was completed in 1919. The Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway was built in 1914 to haul in supplies for the construction of the aqueduct. Most of the early settlers saw the rich-looking riverbank soil along the Boggy and Birch Rivers when they arrived in the area to work on building the aqueduct. There was plenty of timber for building material and firewood. The area abounded in geese, ducks, deer and other game. Wild berries were plentiful in season, although this was also the season when swarms of insects-mosquitoes, black flies, sand flies, deerflies, horseflies and "bulldogs" - tormented both people and animals.
The first Settlers filed on homesteads in 1914. They had to clear the land, pull stumps, build homes put in crops and gardens, cut hay and dig wells, all with the most rudimentary equipment. During the winter months the men cut wood and shipped boxcar loads of pulpwood, firewood, fence posts and railway ties to Winnipeg on the G.W.W.D. Railway. In 1918 the Manitoba government established the first provincial prison farm at East Braintree, called the "Manitoba Industrial Farm". Some people arrived to work as guards at the prison farm and remained after the prison was closed in 1930 and moved to Headingly. Stone masons and a quarry man, Gustav Bergenstein, supervised the quarrying of granite by the prisoners and a stone barn and 44 square foot stone house still stand on the site today, now a privately owned working farm. In 1914 a dome of fine quality pink granite was discovered and "Brookes Quarry" became a major industry from 1914 to 1920, cutting and polishing slabs of granite for gravestones, and shipping them to Winnipeg on the railway. In 1919, the G.W.W.D settlement scheme began. The Canadian government granted the G.W.W.D. request for a land grant of eight townships of land along the railway. From this time forward the would-be settlers had to apply to the G.W.W.D to be granted a river lot farm.
As the communities along the G.W.W.D. Railway grew, schools were built. Midwinter School opened in September 1917 on land donated by Charles Midwinter. McMunn School was also built in 1917. A postmaster was appointed in 1919 and he chose the name "East Braintree" for the town. A Red Cross nursing station opened in 1925. Church services were held in the school as were concerts, weddings, funerals and dances. From the 1920's to the 1950's, East Braintree had three grocery stores, a hotel and a poolroom. The women joined the Women's Institute and the Women's Community Club, working to support the school and the Red Cross nursing station. In 1931, the men formed the Settler's Agricultural Society. They put on fairs and sports days at East Braintree, got contracts to ship firewood to Winnipeg and tried to improve the quality of cattle, hogs and poultry in the area through courses and breeding stock from the Department of Agriculture. People were able to ship cream, eggs, and other products to Winnipeg on the G.W.W.D.. The train brought passengers and mail out three times a week and after an overnight stop at the intake of the aqueduct at Waugh, returned to Winnipeg the next day, carrying out mail, passengers and products. Dozens of men were employed by the G.W.W.D. through the years, as section men, maintaining the track or the water pipeline.
The first house in East Braintree, called the "White House" was built in 1913 of lumber shipped down the river from Elma, Manitoba. It was the residence of W.R. Davis, the engineer from the Winnipeg Aqueduct Construction Company, who was in charge of Contract 33: building the aqueduct from Mile 69 to Mile 97 (the intake). East Braintree is at Mile 77 1/2. Most other early houses were of cedar or pine log construction, either chinked with moss or covered with a plaster of clay, straw and manure-which made a cozy, windproof home.
In the early days there were no roads in the area. The Dawson Road, built in 1870, ran four miles south of East Braintree, but it was inaccessible. In 1923 the settlers made a corduroy road through the swamp south of the G.W.W.D. station. Then, in 1926, the Highways Department decided to re-open the Dawson Road which had been abandoned in 1885. A connecting road was built from the Dawson road through East Braintree and east to Falcon Lake. This opened up new vistas and a world of possibilities. The first automobiles arrived in 1928, followed by gas stations: B/A, White Rose and North Star. It was now possible to drive to Winnipeg although it took several hours and a few flat tires. In 1939, Eagle Bus Lines began to offer bus service along the "Dawson Trail", through Lorette, Ste. Anne, Richer and Hadashville. After staying overnight in East Braintree, the bus would return to Winnipeg on the Dawson Trail.
Electricity reached the community in December of 1952. Early in 1953 the new Trans Canada Highway was built, passing one mile north of East Braintree. With the arrival of electricity, every home soon boasted refrigerators, electric stoves and other new appliances. Electric lights replaced kerosene lanterns and coal-oil lamps. Winnipeg began the first television broadcasts in 1954 and a few people bought a T.V. set and antenna. The reception was poor and snowy but it was a window into a wider world, with two channels available!
Whiteshell Provincial Park opened soon after the highway went through. Many people found work in the new motels and restaurants that were sprouting up in the park. Men were needed to maintain the new highway and connecting roads. Carl Huss became the road boss with a team of men hired each summer by the Highways Department. In 1957, the East Braintree Community Baptist Church was built by a congregation of local people, and those from as far away as Hadashville and West Hawk Lake. In the 1960's, a rapid decline in population began. Consolidated school districts, established in 1961, meant that high school students could be bussed to Whitemouth, 45 miles away, instead of boarding away from home. It also meant that one-room schools were closed in 1968 and children were bussed to a centrally located school built at Prawda. Grocery stores closed and motels opened along the highway. The forestry station closed. The post office was replaced by group mailboxes. The G.W.W.D. train was no longer needed so it quietly ceased offering passenger service and removed the station. People moved to Winnipeg as they found better jobs and opportunities. Old homesteads were abandoned as pioneers died or retired to homes in the city with indoor toilets and running water.
Now 100 years after is was established, East Braintree appears to have new growth and a bright future. Entrepreneurs, historians, and conservationists have discovered this "Jewel in the Wilderness". A number of retirees have chosen to build homes here. With easy access to the Whiteshell Provincial Park, 20 minutes away, summer residents have bought many old homes as their country cottages. One enthusiastic resident commented: "This tiny enclave, snuggled in the midst of three provincial forest reserves, offers a rare tranquil setting imagined only in storybooks." In 2014, Focus on the Family opened a four million dollar Retreat Centre at East Braintree. An impossible dream for those early settlers!