Sadie Grimm and her husband Jim Cruikshank with their Indian motorcycles.
Each weekend throughout the summer, countless motorcycle enthusiasts make the serene ride north to Winnipeg Beach.
In the summer of 1914, however, the ride was anything but serene.
Although by then the Canadian Pacific Railway was running as many as 10 trains and 40,000 vacationers to the popular getaway every weekend, the road to the beach was little more than a crude trail, barely fit for a team of horses, let alone the rough-riding cars, trucks and motorcycles of the day.
The lack of a proper road did not, however, prevent 19-year-old Sadie Grimm from becoming the first rider to make the gruelling, nearly 100-kilometre trip aboard her Indian motorcycle.
Grimm, the first person to ride from Winnipeg to the popular resort town, was awarded the 1914 Manitoba Motorcycle Club (MMC) gold medal. It’s widely accepted that she was the first woman in Canada to win a motorcycling competition open to men.
A group of dedicated motorcycling women have organized a ride in Grimm’s honour that departs from Headingley on Sunday morning and winds its way to Winnipeg Beach and the future site of a picnic shelter that will bear Grimm’s name.
The challenge in 1914 may have sounded simple enough, but the task was arduous. Manitoba roads in that era ranged from poor to impassible to non-existent, featuring long stretches of swamps and pastures.
There had already been failed attempts by other riders during the winter and early spring prior to Grimm’s successful journey. In fact, on the day she set out, another rider also made the attempt and failed. Miraculously, Grimm successfully returned to Winnipeg, via a different route, the same day.
Grimm roared out of Winnipeg on Sunday, June 14, aboard her 1914 Big Twin Indian motorcycle. Thanks to Free Press archives, there is a chronicle of her journey:
“For twenty-five miles she had to break gravel eight inches deep while going thirty miles an hour. She took several graceful slides but picked herself up unhurt.
"From Selkirk to St. Louis (now Petersfield) the road was fair but from then on it was all bog and pot holes. After riding paths and mudholes alternatively, Miss Grimm decided to try the railroad track. This she found very bumpy but much preferable to the continual mudholes interspersed with stumps and roots.
"In the swampy section, Miss Grimm passed a number of high-power cars abandoned in the mud while the owners went hunting for teams (of horses).
"After four hours of solid plugging, Miss Grimm registered at the Empress (CPR Hotel) and was told she was the first one to make her way through this season.
"Miss Grimm, not satisfied with her achievement, turned around after a few hours’ rest and rode back to the city via Teulon completing one of the most strenuous rides ever attempted by a Manitoba motorcyclist.”
Mary Johnson, 66, didn’t start riding a motorcycle until 2001, but she has now fully embraced the hobby. She first learned of Grimm’s historic ride while in Edmonton at the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame, when the Manitoba Motorcycle Club was inducted into the hall.
In the acceptance speech, then-club president and longtime local motorcycle historian and avid collector Ross Metcalf mentioned Grimm’s accomplishment. Johnson was quickly compelled to not only learn more about Grimm, but also set the wheels in motion to honour her.
Johnson, who is a member of the Coalition of Manitoba Motorcycle Groups (CMMG), and the Manitoba Women Riders Council leg of CMMG, asked other members if anyone was interested in researching Grimm. Caroline Peters and her husband Paul took on the project.
“What they learned about Sadie Grimm contained many firsts,” Johnson said. “A first for motorcycles, a first for women, a first for Manitoba and a first for Canada.”
According to their research, later that summer Grimm married amateur motorcycle racer and Indian repair shop owner James (Jim) Roland Cruikshank, whose shop was located on Main Street across from the newly built Yale and Northern hotels.
The Peterses also discovered a story from the Winnipeg Tribune, published July 25, 1914, in which Grimm described her passion for motorcycles: “My trips on a motorcycle have been one long list of pleasures. In the first place, the motorcycle is a great teacher… it teaches one to be more independent on herself, to know that with a twist of the wrist she can control the powerful little machine that will carry her swiftly and safely wherever she wants to go.
"I don’t think anyone could recommend a better doctor than nature… On the two-wheeler, one can take a spin into the country after working hours in the evening or early in the morning and Sundays and holidays can be spent entirely out of doors.”
In 2015, Johnson, along with about 20 other women from CMMG, participated in a commemorative ride to Winnipeg Beach to honour Grimm, and it was there the idea for a public picnic shelter to honour her was hatched.
Other CMMG members stepped up, including Brian Mansky, who designed the shelter and will oversee its construction. The Winnipeg Beach community has been fully supportive, and fundraising has been steady. Johnson is reluctant to put a price tag on the final cost, but is confident the shelter will be in place by next summer.
On Sunday, the fundraising ride — open to all for $25 — will depart from Indian Motorcycle of Winnipeg (Headingley Sport Shop) and make its way to Winnipeg Beach. Grimm’s grandson Dalton Taylor, who lives in California, will be participating aboard an Indian motorcycle supplied by the shop.
Jill Ruth, one of the owners of the dealership, is among a growing list of people in the motorcycle community who have been captivated by Grimm.
“I just imagine what she must have went through, her story really is an awakening. For her to step into that role and achieve what she accomplished at such a young age was truly amazing.”
Sadie Mildred Cruikshank (Grimm) died Feb. 8, 1970, about a month before her 75th birthday. Her legacy, however, will surely outlive us all.
wfppdf:http://media.winnipegfreepress.com/documents/motoring.pdf|Motoring page, Manitoba Free Press, June 20, 1914:wfppdf
"Lady wins gold medal," the article from the June 20, 1914 edition of the Manitoba Free Press about Sadie Grimm's accomplishment. Click to enlarge, or see the full page in PDF form at the bottom of this article.
An ad for Indian Motorcycles in the June 20, 1914 Manitoba Free Press.
Artist rendering of the Sadie Grimm picnic shelter to be constructed in Winnipeg Beach.
Willy Williamson / Winnipeg Free Press
Jill Ruth of Indian Motorcycle of Winnipeg.