In 1998, Canada’s national heritage foundation, “Heritage Canada”, established the National Heritage Regions Program to facilitate the establishment of a country-wide network of distinctive heritage areas. The objective of the program is to help partner regions revitalize their communities ecologically, culturally, economically and socially by promoting individual regions unique mix of heritage resources.
The Boundary Commission – North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Trail Association was organized informally at a meeting at Cartwright, Manitoba on April 30, 1988. The meeting was organized by the Post Road Heritage Group, an association of people from the Emerson area interested in the accurate marking of the 1874 North West Mounted Police trail through western Canada. The Boundary Commission NWMP Trail Association was formally organized at its first Annual General Meeting on 15 April 1989, at Killarney.
The Association’s goal was the promotion of a network of southern Manitoba trails, collectively known as the Boundary Commission NWMP Trail, as a focal point for the history and heritage of southern Manitoba. At its meeting at Killarney on September 14, 1991, the Association passed a resolution requesting Heritage Canada designate the 12 rural municipalities of southern Manitoba between the Red River and the Saskatchewan border as a national heritage region. Heritage Canada evaluated and accepted the proposal, officially designating the Boundary Trail Heritage Region at a ceremony on June 25, 1993 at Clearwater, Manitoba. In December 1993, a new, and larger Boundary Commission NWMP Trail Association board of directors was elected and an appropriate constitution prepared and adopted. At the time of its establishment, the Boundary Trail Heritage Region was the fifth national Heritage Region in Canada and the first in western Canada.
The Boundary Commission NWMP Trail Association‘s constitution identified seven priorities for the Association to pursue to advance its goal:
1. Research – research and precisely locating the route of the Boundary Commission NWMP Trail;
2. Preservation – facilitate the preservation of vestiges of the Trail and the historic sites associated with its history;
3. Development – assist in the appropriate development of these historic sites;
4. Signage – encourage and assist in the erection of appropriate signs and markers for trail remnants and historic sites;
5. Events – support and/or sponsor events to increase public awareness of the location and significance of the Trail;
6. Publications – print and produce such publications and media materials that will increase public awareness of the significance of the Trail to the history and heritage of southern Manitoba;
7. Commemorative Highway Route – Have an appropriate southern Manitoba transportation route officially designated and signed as a commemorative highway, “The Boundary Commission NWMP Route.”
The official naming of the commemorative highway, in conjunction with the Province of Manitoba, took place at Clearwater on 16 July 1991, as part of provincial support for the Association’s bid for national heritage region status. Dignitaries at the ceremony included MLAs Bonnie Mitchelson, Jack Penner, and Bob Rose.
The commemorative route runs from Provincial Trunk Highway (PTH) 75 (PTH 75) near Emerson west along Provincial Road #243 (PR 243) to PTH 32 near Reinland, then north to Winkler. From there, the route runs west a short distance along PTH 14 to where it merges with PTH 3 and then follows Highway 3 the entire distance to Pierson near the Saskatchewan border, as shown on the accompanying map.
By the time of its 6th annual general meeting in 1994, the 12 directors of the Boundary Commission NWMP Trail Association included: Felix G. Kuehn (Winnipeg, President), Harold Carson (Morden, Vice-President), Allen R. Kear (Winnipeg, Treasurer), Douglas J. Morrison (Deloraine), Robert B. Caldwell (Deloraine), Wayne Arseny (Emerson), Elmer D. McClelland (Emerson), Frank Ptosnick (Morden), Ben Kroeker (Deloraine), Henry H. Newton (Brandon), Richard Remus (Emerson, Post Road Heritage Group), and Ronald S. Brown (Brandon, Manitoba RCMP Veterans Association). These individuals were the prime ‘movers and shakers’ for the Association during its active early years.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Association initiated several major projects. In addition to route signs and site interpretative materials, it helped to organize and sponsor two wagon train rides along the Boundary Trail route. The first, in 1990, traveled 100 miles from Crystal City to the Souris River. In 1992, over 12 days and nights, a second wagon train travelled 200 miles from the Red River to the Souris River, and continued the following year into southern Saskatchewan. A hard-cover travelogue coffee-table style book about the Manitoba trail rides and the countryside it travelled through, entitled Drawing The Line was published soon after. As well, the Association undertook the publication of a series of six “economy soft-cover” publications. The first series of three publications, called “Meet You on the Trail”, consist of descriptive first-hand recollections and personal journal entries of a selection of early travellers on the Boundary Commission Trail. The volumes also include useful introductory remarks, footnotes, annotations and observations by the Association President and primary historian at the time, Felix Kuehn. The next three publications provide “a treasury of additional information concerning the history and heritage of southern Manitoba”. Digital copies of these publications may be found on the Boundary Trail Heritage Region website. A 28-foot map of the trail highlighting some 170 points of historic interest and a brochure, Guide to the Historic Sites Along the Trail, were also developed
In addition to its many regional initiatives, the Association helped fund heritage projects undertaken by other local heritage groups, such as assisting the RCMP Veterans Association erect a statue of a North West Mounted Police near Emerson. Funding for Association’s operations were provided principally through per capita support by member municipalities and provincial heritage grants. In recent years, operational funding has decreased, due in part to the economic recession resulting from the 2008 stock market collapse and its aftermath. Beginning in 2013, in response to Canada’s approaching 150th birthday and new Board of Directors membership, the Association has reinvigorated itself and is undertaking a new series of projects. Among them is a series of research and illustrated history publications highlighting the region’s unique natural and cultural heritage, and a new expanded website. (Sources: BTHR files. ie: No. 6: A Guide to the Historic Sites Along the Trail.)
1. Left. Key map of Manitoba showing the location of the Boundary Trail Heritage Region along the province’s southern border, straddling the United States boundary. (MB Maps & Surveys.)
2. Right. The BC-NWMP Trail Association logo depicts the meeting of William Hallett (1811-1873), Chief Scout of the International Boundary Commission and George Arthur French (1841-1921), First Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police. It commemorates their chance meeting on the trail west of Fort Dufferin in 1873. These two notable individuals, associated with two major historical events occurring concurrently in the same region, were chosen to represent, as well as the NWMP and the International Boundary Commission, all the early explorers, fur traders, Indigenous Peoples and early settlers, all of whom traveled extensively on the Boundary Commission trail network at one time or another during its existence.
3. Left. Cover of one of several pamphlets produced by the Association providing visitor information on sites located the Boundary Trail Heritage Region. (B.T.H.R. files.)
4. Below. A detail of a map from the 1990s showing the rural municipalities located immediately adjacent to the US boundary. This is the area which comprised the original Boundary Trail Heritage Region, established in 1993. For the purposes of this publication, a ‘greater’ Boundary Trail Heritage Region has been used, including the municipalities located immediately to the north, as shown. This was deemed necessary as municipalities recently have begun to merge into larger entities (i.e., Albert, Edward and Arthur into Two Borders) and for the simple fact that historical events are rarely defined by municipal boundaries, and neighboring districts and communities often played a role, either directly or indirectly. (Province of Manitoba, Municipal Planning Branch. 1986.)
5. Left. Mural in Boissevain depicting the Boundary Commission supply train crossing Dead Horse Creek south of present day Morden. (BTHR photo.)
6. Below. Heritage place mats produced by the Association distributed to restaurants and cafés across southern Manitoba.
7. Left. A sample of information pamphlets produced by the Association during the 1990s and early 2000s; this one concerning commonly asked questions about the Association and its mandate. (BTHR files.)
8. Right. Association Board members Bill Reimer and Maurice Butler (in NWMP uniform) with a Boundary Trail Heritage Region sign on the exterior of a recreated NWMP outpost constructed by the association at the Pembina Threshermen’s museum near Morden, seen below. (BTHR photo.)
9. Left. Unveiling of the first Boundary Commission – NWMP commemorative route sign, Clearwater Park on 16 July 1991. L-R: On horses Corp. Pat Dauk and Sgt. Cliff McGregor. Standing, Felix Keuhn, Hon. Jack Penner, Hon. Bonnie Mitchelson, Bob Rose, MLA for Turtle Mountain. Clearwater is the only community originally established along the trail to survive to the present day and, thus, was chosen as the ideal location for the unveiling of the first official sign. (BTHR files.)
10. Left. Commemorative Highway Route Signs. Because of petitioning by the Association, the Manitoba Highways designated “The Boundary Commission – NWMP Route” as an official Province of Manitoba Heritage Highway Route. The designation was officially proclaimed on 15 July 15 1991 by the Hon, Harry Enns, Minister of Natural Resources. The following day, the Hon. Bonnie Mitchelson, Minister of Culture, Heritage and Citizenship, officiated at ceremonies in the village of Clearwater. (EdLed photo.)
11. Right. Professionally produced site information kiosks, such as this one located at the Claybanks Bison Jump archaeological site located northwest of Crystal City, help visitors better appreciate and understand sites that have little or no surviving current remnants. (EdLed photo.)
12. Above. Detail from a 2010 Manitoba Highways map showing provincial highways (in red) and roads (in black) as well as communities, railways lines and major waterways. The Boundary Commission – NWMP commemorative route is marked with the Association’s logo. (MB Highways.)
13. Above. cover pages of three of the six ‘soft cover’ publications produced by the Association during the 1990s. Volume I is a travelogue penned by Rev. Louis Armstrong who preached to some of the earliest homesteaders of the Pembina Hills region and was an active participant in many speculative railway-related real estate dealings in the region. Volume II follows the journal entries of four members on the difficult NWMP 1874 “Trek West” during its first few weeks of this epic journey to the Rocky Mountains to bring law and order to the Canadian west. Publication Six at top right is a guide to the principal sites in the Boundary Trail Heritage Region (BTHR files.)
14. Above. map showing the current rural municipalities and incorporated municipalities in the greater Boundary Trail Heritage Region. (MB Maps & Surveys.)
15. Below. Association publication Drawing the Line that describes the daily experiences of trail riders during the 1991 wagon train expedition along with similar descriptions from travellers along the trail during the 1870s and 1880s, and events of local history. (BTHR files.)