One of Manitoba’s most historic regions, the Red River North area offers a panorama of Manitoba history, just 25 minutes from downtown Winnipeg.
Historic River Road (#238 just 15 minutes north of Winnipeg’s Perimeter off Hwy #9) follows the beautiful Red River. Along this former ox cart trail, one can visit sites and learn about people and events that changed the course of Manitoban and Canadian history.
From the now-submerged rapids near Larter’s Golf Course to the elegant stone heritage homes and churches, visitors find authentic historical experiences. Guided visits to the St. Andrews Church and cemetery, the St. Andrews Rectory or the “Stone Fort”, Lower Fort Garry, connect one with our pioneers, early explorers, and brigands while portraying life as it was almost two centuries ago.
Several of the 150 year-old stone churches have given their names to the municipalities and communities of Red River North. St. Andrews, St. Clements, St. Peters, and Little Britain churches were built by communities of Scots, Metis, and Aboriginals.
It is important to remember that the stone buildings are just remnants of recent European colonization. They were set into a landscape that was sculpted by ancient glaciers and inhabited by countless generations of First Nations people.
From 4000 year old copper spear points and undated burial mounds, to present day pow wows and rituals at St Peters, Selkirk Park and the nearby Brokenhead Reserve, one sees the depth of Aboriginal connection to the banks of the Red River.
Almost 200 years ago, Red River North became the administrative and transportation hub of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trade empire. During the 1860’s, this region became the fulcrum of the social, political, and economic chaos surrounding Manitoba’s confederation. The region was severely affected by the dispersal of the Metis and First Nations people following Treaty #1 and the Northwest Rebellion, culminating in the elimination of the St. Peters Reserve in 1907.
However, this area gave birth to mighty dreams and mighty dreamers! It was the site of events such as the 1870’s land boom and railroad fever. The era saw the rise and fall of new towns, personalities, and personal fortunes.
Manitoba’s first Premier, Alfred Boyd, was a resident of St Andrews, as was its fourth Premier, John Norquay. Norquay, our only Metis Premier, led Manitoba through the maelstrom of political and social upheaval post-Confederation. More recently, another Premier came from St Andrews. The Right Honourable Howard Pawley represented this area for nearly two decades.
This region became the home many other “movers and shakers”. William Van Horne (chief architect of the CPR) and the Sifton family (future publishers of the Manitoba Free Press) as well as local notables such as the Colcleughs, the Gibbs, the Gilhuly’s, and the Hookers (Selkirk), and the Hays, Fulshers, Truthwaites, Loutits, and Stevens families (St Andrews). It was in Red River North that a transportation system of steamboats and steam locomotives was devised. It made Selkirk’s waterfront the commercial centre for developing the resources of Lake Winnipeg and the North by creating a “port on the Prairies”.
Lake Winnipeg’s timber and fish were processed and shipped in Selkirk. By 1900, a thousand people from around the region were employed in those industries based at the Selkirk waterfront. Ships built in Selkirk carried goods to and from communities at the northern tip of Lake Winnipeg and as far west as Edmonton. Trains transported goods from the Selkirk wharves to national and international markets. As a result, by 1910, Lake Winnipeg gold eye were being served to American and European millionaires at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
As the 20th century began, new immigrants filled the rich farmland of St. Andrews and St. Clements. The subsequent “wheat boom” produced exports that became famous around the world. Grain elevators sprang up across the region and Selkirk’s Manitoba Avenue became the supply centre for farming supplies from overalls to threshing machines.
As a result, this region prospered as never before! Provincial and municipal governments extended networks of roads, drainage, and communications. Electrification of farms and the adoption of motorized vehicles ended the Age of the Horse and set the course for the modern era of trucks, tractors, and combines. Human development also progressed as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes were established and enhanced.
Large scale industries saw the advantages of investment in Red River North and have become mainstays of the local economy. Visionary industrialists, like H. B. Lyall, brought a steel recycling facility to the region in 1913. Selkirk Rolling Mills (now Gerdau MRM Steel Inc.) has been the largest regional employer for almost a century! The steadying economic influence of “the Mill” has impacted the character of the Red River North region. Even the major local hockey team is called the “Steelers”!
Leisure activities began to be recognized as important in the development of the region, especially after World War II when automobiles became part of more families. Sunday afternoon drives to Lockport led to the amazing success of small enterprises such as the Half Moon, Sonia’s, and Skinners.
As rails and roads extended further north to traditional communities along the shores of Lake Winnipeg, beaches became important leisure centres for cottagers and day visitors. (The development of the East Beaches is beautifully described in the Grand Marais Heritage Wing). Local angling along the Red River (and notably at Lockport) continues a 3000 year old tradition, and has become an important draw for North American fishermen seeking champion sized catfish and pickerel.
Over the past twenty years, Selkirk and its surrounding area are a magnet for job seekers and home buyers. Major employers include the Selkirk General Hospital, the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, and the Lord Selkirk School Division. Retail employment has increased with the introduction of a Walmart store and numerous other franchises in a commercial node on the west side of Selkirk. Selkirk has become a “destination” not only for retail, but for education and health for the people of Interlake and Eastman regions. The new Selkirk hospital and its related services will add to the draw of the community.
Of course, there have been setbacks that all communities experience: natural disasters and human failures, too. Droughts, floods and even plagues of grasshoppers and disease afflicted the area. Man-made catastrophes such as war led to sacrifices that affect our communities even today.
But, all challenges have been met! Countless crises have been survived and have produced, not only a rich history, but a solid base for present and future prosperity. The stories of the bold characters and the adventurers await visitors to Red River North!