From Trails to Rails

1887 was an important year for the Turtle Mountain – Souris Plains region. It was a time of transition. The CPR had connected the region to the rest of the province – but had only made it as far as Deloraine. In its wake were the abrupt changes that the new rail line brought. Whole villages like Deloraine, Waubeesh and Wassawa were moved to new locations when the rail line passed them by. Would-be “cities” based on wild hopes and even fraudulent schemes of speculators, such as Turtle Mountain City, Dobbyn City and Moberly were forgotten. New towns such as Boissevain, Whitewater and Deloraine, based on the realities of steel and grain, were born. (See the map on P17).

This pattern then repeated itself each time the reach of the railway was extended.

To the west the map remained the same for another three years, until the CPR proceeded from Souris toward the southwest corner of the province. Although Hartney and Melita, the beginnings of villages, are on this map they each had to move a kilometer or two when the railway arrived and the real business of town-building began. The substantial village of Lauder was established by virtue of the fact that it was situated roughly half way between Hartney and Melita. Napinka, an established post office centre with a school, moved a bit and became a village. A new town of Pierson was created as the railway approached the western border, perhaps the first time that the expansion of railway lines caught up with the push of settlement. Elva, a point between Melita and Pierson showed a surprising longevity considering its proximity to those larger centres. The fledgling villages of Melgund, Menota, and Sourisford were passed by as commercial entities.

Having established Melita and Pierson in the southwestern corner, the focus returned to the area immediately west of Deloraine where settlers still faced long trips to a rail line. They would wait until the turn of the new century, when the expansion of the railway created the new villages of Goodlands (which supplanted the post office centre of Lennox) and Waskada (which on the 1887 map is the site of a post office a few kilometres south of the present town). By 1902 the line was extended past Waskada to Lyleton, displacing no established villages, but eventually leading to the closure of post offices at Montefiore, Hernefield, and Butterfield. The extension of the CN line from Wakopa to Deloraine completed the picture for the border region, and the name of the abandoned town of Wassewa was given new life as a railway stop, while the hamlet of Mountainside was created.

The establishment of a second branch westward from Deloraine created the village of Medora and boosted the fortunes of the community of Napinka, which as a crossroads, became quite an important railway centre.

By 1905 a map would show a pattern of generally east – west rail lines with, but for one exception, the terminus being Winnipeg. The Souris Branch connected the southwestern corner to Brandon, and that rapidly growing city was becoming more important as an economic hub. A long-sought north-south connection became a reality in 1906 when the Great Northern Railway that stretched across the northern United States, established a branch called the Brandon, Saskatchewan and Hudson’s Bay Railway. Brandon was now connected directly to the United States and communities such as Minto and Boissevain had a very convenient route to Brandon. A string of villages and sidings were created along the route beginning with Bannerman, just north of the border, and extending to Roseland, just south of Brandon.

That left a fairly large region, between the north shore of Whitewater Lake and Hartney, as yet unserved by the railways. It wasn’t until 1912 that Thomas Dand of the West Hall area convinced the CPR to build a line that connected Boissevain to Lauder, creating the villages of Croll, Regent and Dand, and eventually continuing westward through Bernice, Bede, Broomhill and Tilston.

By 1915 a network of railway lines had created towns, villages, sidings and whistle-stops. Many names were added to the map, some names disappeared, others moved, and change was the order of the day.

Now the vast majority of farmers were within ten kilometres of an elevator, a situation that was satisfactory to all concerned. The scattered settlements, that evolved as the settlers moved in, had centralized around towns created by the railways. Bustling Main Streets of new commercial centres replaced the rural church, school or post office that had given farming communities their names.

The map had been re-drawn, and although we emerged from a period of transition into a period of relatively stable patterns of growth and commercial activity centred on this network of rail connections, the next big transportation revolution was just around the corner.

. . . . .

Author: Ken Storie


Boissevain History Book Committee. Beckoning Hills Revisited. “Ours is a Goodly Heritage” Morton – Boissevain 1881 – 1981. Altona. Friesen Printing, 1981 Brenda History Committee. Bridging Brenda Vol. 1. Altona. Friesen Printers, 1990 Hartney and District Historical Committee. A Century of Living - Hartney & District 1882 – 1982. Steinbach. Derksen Printers, 1982. Melita - Arthur History Committee. Melita: Our First Century. Altona. Friesen Printers, 1983 Deloraine History Book Committee. Deloraine Scans a Century 1880 - 1980: Altona. Friesen Printers, 1980


Brownlee, J. H. Railway & Guide Map of Manitoba [facsimile]. 1:760,320. Winnipeg: Manitoba Department of Agriculture, 1887 Railway Lands Branch. [Disposition of Lands Manitoba South Sheet] [map]. 13th ed. 1:792,000. [Ottawa]: Dept. of the Interior, 1915.