Two Hours of Reasons

By: Bob Turner

Got a couple of hours to spare to get an overview of the history of Selkirk, St. Andrews and St. Clements? Well, why not take the Selkirk & Area Heritage Tour. This driving tour offers you a view of over 30 historically significant features of Red River North. Although that may sound like a formidable number, it is really not such a daunting task, and yes, you can get a good insight into what makes this region one of the most historically significant in our province, and indeed, in all of Canada,

I invite you to pick up the 35-page booklet pictured here, and I will try to give you a brief taste of  the highlights of the Tour.

This booklet is available at the Gaynor Family Regional  Library on Manitoba Avenue in Selkirk and is usually found in the many information brochure racks throughout the Red River North region – although they seem to get snapped up rather quickly!

The Tour Begins at  Lower Fort Garry, a National Historic Site, located south of Selkirk on    Highway 9, is operated by Parks Canada; it was an important link in the fur trade network, and was where Treaty Number One was signed in 1871. The buildings and interpretive centre are open from mid-May to Labour Day in September, the grounds are open year round, and it is a fascinating visit at any time.

Leaving the fort, turn north on Highway 9, then right at River Road (less than 2 km.). This takes you along the west bank of the Red River, on  River Road North, where you will come upon  St. Clements Anglican Church (which I discussed in a previous blog).

West of here, on Main Street, you can’t miss Gerdau Ameristeel, formerly Manitoba Rolling Mills, the reason Selkirk has been referred to as “Steeltown” over the years, and has an MJHL team called The Steelers. Established in 1918, the rolling mills are a major employer in the city.

After passing the rolling mills, turn right to Eveline Street, and at Edston Place is the perennial garden and memorial plaque commemorating the site of a former chicken farm,  Red Feather Farm,  used as a barracks for the 108th Battalion during WWI (1914-1918).

North of here on Eveline, are four heritage buildings,  three houses that were built for early prominent citizens of Selkirk, and Knox Presbyterian Church. Built in 1904 in Gothic Revival Style, this is church is one of Selkirk’s finest architectural landmarks; among its many features, are three stained glass windows by famed Manitoba artist and sculptor, Leo Mol.

The McLean Avenue Ferry. Until the Selkirk Bridge was built in 1937, ferries were used to transport residentsbetween Selkirk and East Selkirk. One of the four crossing points was near what is now the corner of McLean Avenue and Eveline Street, with the others at Little Britain, St. Clements, and St. Peter (Dynevor) churches.

Heading north one block on Eveline, you arrive at the Selkirk Lift Bridge; and further down Eveline on the right is the Selkirk Waterfront, an area that is a public gathering place, setting for festivals and concerts, and popular fishing spot. On one side of the amphitheater is a sculpture by Peter Sawatzky, sponsored by Gerdeau Armisteel. This impressive creation captures the spirit of the traders and settlers of the early 1800’s featuring a 22 foot bronze York boat with seven crewmen..

Until the late 1960’s, Booth Fisheries operated a fish processing plant just north of this area.

Half a kilometre further north on Eveline, you will see The Marine Museum of Manitoba, which I covered in a previous blog.

Next we come to Stuart House, an impressive brick-faced house built in 1904 for James Stuart, the first manager of Selkirk Electric Light Company, and now designated as a municipal heritage building.

Just north of the Stuart House is Selkirk Slough, one of two sloughs that once served as safe winter storage for large ships to avoid damage from the spring breakup of ice on the Red River.

Eveline Street becomes Taylor Avenue, which returns you to Main Street, which in turn becomes Breezy Point Road. The Dynevor Indian Hospital, originally a stone house on the left side of the road, was built between 1862-65. In 1896 it was converted into a hospital for Aboriginal health care, tuberculosis treatment, and nurse training.Today the house belongs to the Behavior Health Foundation, and is designated as a Provincial Heritage site.

One km. north of the hospital, turn left onto Highway 4 and cross the bridge over the Red River, to PTH 508 (St. Peters Road) on the right. Following  it brings you to Stone Church Road, where you will see St. Peter, Dynevor Anglican Church, one of the oldest stone churches in western Canada. Chieg Peguis is buried in the churchyard here.

Returning to St. Peters Rd and heading south and west to Ferry Rd, you arrive at the former sight of Colville Landing,  which from around 1880 to the late 1890’s was the site of an HBC shipping wharf and warehouse.

Continuing down Ferry Rd to Henderson Highway North, you will pass the former site of The Manitoba Hydro Generating Station.  Turning south, the highway takes you to Bunns Rd, at the end of which is  Bunn House, the 150 yr. old home of prominrnt Metis lawyer and politician, Thomas Bunn. Today, this Provincial Heritage Site is Fidler House Bed and Breakfast, owned and operated by Bev and Fraser Stewart.

Back on Henderson North, you reach the site of the CIL Dynamite Plant (closed in 1970). From here, turn north onto Old Henderson Highway, arriving at Searle Greenhouses, on part of what was Van Horne Farm, established by William Van Horne, CPR President who oversaw the construction of a railway across Canada.

Continuing north to Colville Rd again, and then east, is the site of the old East Selkirk Roundhouse. Further east on Colville, is Happy Thought School, originally built in 1916-17, then replaced by the present building in 1967. 

Returning to Colville Road and turning right on Highway 59, you come to The Only 90 degree Turn in the CPR, a classic example of how politics changed the fortunes of a region.

South on 59, then right on PTH 509 brings you to Henderson Highway North again. South just under 5 km is the site of  MacKenzie Presbyterian Church. Unfortunately, the building was vandalized around the turn of this century, and removed in 2012. However, its existence was a noteworthy part of the area’s heritage.

Further south on Henderson Highway is the Red River Floodway Outlet.

Taking the exit onto Highway 44, you cross the floodway bridge to Lockport, where a left turn puts you on Henderson Highway South. One km south, on the right is The Half Moon Drive In and a marker dedicated to Gunn’s Mill. . The mill was operational from the 1850’s to 1870’s, while the drive-in has been an area attraction since 1938.

Returning to Highway 44 and taking a left, you cross the bridge over The St. Andrews Lock and Dam,  the subject of my very first blog of this series. Just south of the Locks on River Road, and visible from the bridge as you cross, is Skinner’s, the oldest hot dog outlet in continuous operation in Canada, which just celebrated its 90th year.

Further south on River Road is Captain Kennedy House, an impressive stone structure which was a huge attraction for the area, and once operated as a teahouse. Closed because of structural probems, a group of area citizens is lobbying to have it repaired and re-opened, but to date, the Manitoba Government, which purchased it in 1980, has ignored the requests. Not only a building of historic proportions, Captain Kennedy House  has huge potential for the tourism industry in Red River North.

Continuing south, you come to St. Andrews Church and Rectory, the oldest stone church in regular use in Western Canada , and a very popular tourist attraction.

West of here, you reach Highway 9, and a right turn brings you to Little Britain United Church the oldest United Church in Manitoba, and a  little over one kilometre north is Lower Fort Garry. You have come full circle, and in two hours, (more if you stopped to explore a bit), you have covered a couple of hundred years of history, and have seen why we say that:

Whatever the season,

There’s always a reason,

To spend time in Red River North.