The Border Commission & Redcoat Trails

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by GreatWhiteNorth, Jun 11, 2014.

  1. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    The Canada/US Border Tour - I'm one of those guys, easily entertained I guess, that really enjoys riding across the prairies. Once you get off the Trans-Canada Highway (TC-1), and take secondary roads and gravel, rural life begins. I love the country, rural people and the pioneer history. Over the winter I read a couple of great books that vividly painted a picture of life on the prairies in the early days of settlement, with a very frank portrayal of the Indian - White colonist interactions and situation.

    Wolf Willow (by Wallace Stegner) & A Geography of Blood (by Candace Savage) are entertaining reading if you're a history buff. These books, mainly about life around the Cypress Hills region in Saskatchewan & Alberta, both really tell a much bigger story - the story of how the Great Plains were settled. Join me as we journey along the 49th Parallel to the Rockies, following the path of the surveyors that carved up this land, and the North West Mounted Police that followed in their tracks.

    Enough talk, the journey starts here...

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    Can you see the border marker in the middle of the pic? A nice border guard was kind enough to walk me there (to where I was permitted to take the picture from). This is at the Sprague border crossing in south-east Manitoba across the line from Warroad Minnesota. This is right adjacent to Lake of the Woods. Note the marshy bog - the surveyors had their work cut out for themselves right from the get go... there is another marker or two in the swamp to the east, but you can't walk there in summer, especially without getting someone excited!

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    #1
  2. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    The plan is to take the roads that follow closely the original trails, now long gone except for in a few spots (I hope to find). The original Boundary Commission Trail generally paralleled the border running a few miles to the north connecting supply posts and safe havens... back in the 1870s this was still very much the wild wild west! I'll take some gravel (I'm on a KLR after all), but the highways pretty closely follow the original route. Here's a little history overview on the trails: http://vantagepoints.ca/stories/boundary-commission-trail/

    Here's heading west on Hwy 12 thru the Sandilands area. At the end of the last ice age an enormous lake (Lake Agassiz) formed here, leaving sand beach ridges over deep gravel and glacial till deposits. The water from this region, filtered thru all that sand, is very good quality - finding good water wasn't so easy in many areas as you progress west.

    Beautiful pine forests in the south east corner of the province. Hang on to this image... there's not a whole lot of that (trees) in the next 1700 kilometers.

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    At Piney, I take secondary highway 201 west. The area was settled by Ukrainians. Sadly, there was discrimination in those days towards them, and they weren't allotted the best land. That they survived and thrived in this boulder strewn, boggy forested corner of the province is a real testament. They brought their faith and culture with them - I love their traditional churches.

    This is at Sundown MB

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    ...and this is at Vita

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    At one time there was an east-west rail track connecting many of these towns, but it's long gone, the ties and rails pulled up and sold off. That story is repeated across the prairies, leaving these tiny towns with street names such as Railway Avenue.

    This little jewel is in Gardenton, south of PR201.

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    If you go thru here, ride around town a little. I was surprised at the number of original pioneer homes from the early 1900s that were still standing - the place is a time capsule.
    #2
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  3. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    The reason I diverted south towards Gardenton was to see this historic site I'd read about. This was the first Ukrainian church built in Canada, and remains as well the oldest surviving example. A regional Ukrainian festival is held here annually.

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    More on the church itself: http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=3762

    I was surprised to see large rocks sticking out of the ground here. I was curious as to whether this was bedrock... I found this interesting document on-line which describes this Roseau River area well: http://srrcd.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/RRWP_resource-inventory_final-for-copier-no-maps.pdf
    #3
  4. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    At the outskirts of Gardenton, the road turned to gravel, 6 miles all the way west to Tolstoi at the junction with Hwy 59.

    The Ukrainian church at Tolstoi (looking back east).

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    At this point, about 140 kms into the journey, the soil noticeably improves and food crop agriculture (vice cattle operations) starts to predominate. The Red River valley is very flat and fertile from frequent flooding, which still occurs often nearer the river. More on the Red River Valley here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_River_of_the_North

    You'll remember I'd said the Ukrainians weren't alotted the best land... on the other hand, portions of the unbroken prairie grass flood plains in the southern Red River valley were set aside for Dutch/German Mennonites and Lutheran immigrants.

    An early German Lutheran church at Fredensthal.

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    A ghostly reminder of better days.

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    Finally I arrive in Emerson on the banks of the Red River. This is the remains of an old jail and a customs house on the west end of town.

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    More on the history of Emerson here: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/30/emersontour.shtml
    #4
  5. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    Although there is not much left to see, Fort Dufferin north of Emerson is historically very significant: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/fortdufferin.shtml

    From here, in 1872 the Boundary Commission (with their American counterparts) set out west to survey the 49th parallel to the Rockies. The following year, the NWMP started their march west to install law and order, facilitating subsequent immigration and the treaties moving the Indians onto Reserves.

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    The ox cart, vehicle of choice for the Boundary Commission, NWMP, pioneers and Metis traders before them.

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    I leave you here, as from here I returned home to nearby Winnipeg, hoping to resume my trek west (from this location) on or about the 17th.

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  6. Daggerdoggie

    Daggerdoggie nOOb again

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    Love your motivation for the trek and great pictures.
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  7. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    Thanks, hopefully the ride goes well (no mechanical issues)... the bike's an oldie, a '94 with 74,000 kms on it that I bought last fall. Runs very well considering, and I went through it carefully over the winter, so I've done what I can. Regarding the pics, I took 'em with my phone! Those Nokia phones have great cameras in 'em.
    #7
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  8. Harvey Mcgee

    Harvey Mcgee Adventurer

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    Hello fellow flat lander. If you haven't passed it yet. Try out hwy 342 & 245. Pretty good for paved routes in southern Manitoba
    #8
  9. sdbruns

    sdbruns Potemkin villager

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    Excellent, GWN. I too, really enjoy riding the prairies. Here in BC, there just isn't enough sky to go around.

    Looking forward to more.
    #9
  10. bent forks

    bent forks Been here awhile

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    GWN don't forget to take pictures of all the Timmies you find along the way.

    Did part of it from around Regina to Lethbridge. Have fun I will enjoy.
    #10
  11. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    Thnx Jack. I may be surprised at how things have changed down south there with all the oil patch development. I just read a few days ago the south west corner of the province declared an emergency due to heavy rainfall. Am betting some gravel roads are impassable.
    #11
  12. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    Had (have) a family situ develop requiring I stick close to home for a few weeks. Got in a bit more of the border tour ride today with a few friends - another day ride and back home to Winnipeg. Despite heavy rains last few days (and early this morning) we got in a lot of gravel travel.

    Pics... just a few from todays ride
    Reboot - leaving Fort Dufferin.

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    Stubblejumper met us at Hwy 75 junction and off we went westbound - he lives not far away and volunteered to guide us (awesome!). Mennonite settlers pioneered a large area west of Emerson - the "west reserve" ...a little more on that here: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/pageant/21/mennonitewestreserve.shtml

    Menno church at Halbstadt:

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    Neubergthal ( http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=13161 ) :

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    A Menno house barn in Reinland:

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    The oldest Menno church in Manitoba is located in this village... http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/reinlandmennonite.shtml

    From the bridge over the Pembina River in the Pembina Hills looking south... this is very close to the border:

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    Suicide Hill further west (Pembina Valley in the background):

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    Snowflake (Star) Mound in the distance ( http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/starmound.shtml ) :

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    The view west from up on the mound... BTW, this is the oldest schoolhouse in Manitoba, and there is an aboriginal burial mound up there too:

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    From here we did more gravel travel northwest looping back towards Winnipeg - what a great ride! I'll be back to resume the trek west when I can... more to follow (hopefully). :wink:
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    #12
  13. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    Well, the stars aligned and I managed to get away to complete the trip (sort of). I've been back a week, have gone through the pics and am ready to update (I think :^) My buddy Reg joined me, riding out from Edmonton to share the experience... so we left Winnipeg, packed for 2 weeks (or so) on the road, and headed southwest to the border to pick up where we left off. BTW, here is a link to things to see along the way: http://www.bthr.ca/history-of-trail.htm

    This is Calf Mountain, west of Morden Manitoba and only a 1/2 mile south off the # 3 highway! It is an old (and large!) aboriginal burial mound, overlooking the eastern slope of the Pembina Valley. More on that here: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/calfmountain.shtml

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    Edit - I should add, I decided to take my KLR sidecar rig - I like to bring lots of stuff along and camp in comfort.
    #13
  14. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    We stopped in Manitou and got gas - this cool log cabin is right across from the gas station:

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    At one time Manitou had great prospects, but Morden to the east became the big town in the area. Check out this beautiful church in town!

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    #14
  15. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    This is a ways north of the previous Snowflake Mound... this is a very large mound, visible from far away and was a landmark and sacred site for the aboriginals - there are the remains of burial mounds on top too BTW, but the mound is on private property (and we respected that).

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    There was a big battle here in the 1850s between Sioux and buffalo hunters, and a massacre ensued - the mostly Metis buffalo hunters killed 598 Sioux warriors (they literally lined them up and buried them on the slopes of the mound), and let two live to take the story back to their people! More on that here: http://tur.stparchive.com/Archive/TUR/TUR10222012p24.php and here:
    http://www.pilotmound.com/history.shtml
    #15
  16. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    I'd never been to Turtle Mountain and was looking forward to checking it out. We headed west on # 3, getting gas and a bite to eat at Killarney before carrying on to the park. Discovered this Boundary Commission Trail sign marking where the original trail crossed the gravel road going south into the park!

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    The entrance to the park - this is an upland (highly worn escarpment) with beautiful forest and lakes:

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    Reg took this pic (of me) in this beautiful stand of Lodgepole Pine (the enchanted forest :^) that we discovered near the Max Lake campground:

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    Our camp spot - what a beautiful campground, and there was only a handful of campers there!

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    #16
  17. Backcountryboy

    Backcountryboy Been here awhile

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    Great ride report and wonderful to see a report from a part of the country that most of us only think about getting through, not about touring around. Thanks so much for opening our eyes. Love the history of the area too.:clap
    #17
  18. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    Our goal was to make it as far west as we could, but with no real timetable we were max flex, just trying to see a few things along the way and get camp set up before dark. With that in mind, we were normally packed and on our way between 8:00 & 9:00 AM. Here we are heading back north out of the park - you can see a long ways north from the park!

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    We took mile road 7N and then 9N west to the old Deloraine townsite on the north slope of Turtle Mountain, site of the old land titles office - the early pioneers lined up here to claim their 1/4 section homesteads in western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan:

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    There was an excellent story board here with the story of the Border Commission & Redcoat Trail:

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    The old Deloraine townsite was on the south side of the trail (across the present gravel road) - all that's left to see is this pioneer cemetery (still in use!) overlooking a scenic ravine:

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    More on the history here: http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/newcombshollow.shtml
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  19. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    We continued our way west on gravel zig zagging southwest around the Park. We used the highly detailed Back Country Map Books (Canada only) to navigate, not so jokingly referred to as the "book of lies" because they occasionally are wrong - we ran into our 1st instance of that when a gravel road shown on the map petered out at a farmyard necessitating backtracking and a re-route. Funny, I don't see a road - beautiful view though looking northwest over the prairies from the slopes of Turtle Mountain:

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    We got squared away and back on track heading west stopping at the former coal mining town of Goodlands. Not much left to see there, but nice to see the tiny community has kept up their old historic church:

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    A little further west we crossed the Souris River valley (still a little flooded from heavy rains last few weeks which closed many roads!) and turned off to check out an aboriginal camp, a Nat'l Historic Site I'd wanted to visit. Apparently this area had the heaviest concentration of buffalo on the great plains, and for hundreds of years there were permanent hunting camps in the area - they found over 70 burial mounds in the area! There is a mound... behind Reg:

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    From the former camp site we walked down a gentle draw to the Antler River. Felt neat walking thru this remote isolated spot knowing for hundreds of years aboriginals would have walked this path from the camp down to the river:

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    More on the history here: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/sacred-grounds-224681602.html

    Just north of this site we checked out the Sourisford Park, the point at which the trail crossed the Souris River. The park was heavily damaged by flooding:

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    More on the history here: http://vantagepoints.ca/inventory/item/sourisford-park-campground/
    #19
  20. GreatWhiteNorth

    GreatWhiteNorth Long timer

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    From Sourisford we headed west on # 3 Hwy, which turns to # 18 at the Saskatchewan border.

    A little bit of weird related history... the surveyors made a grisly discovery somewhere west of Turtle Mountain - I never could discover exactly where "murder gulch" was - more here: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/ar.../books/mystery-at-murder-gulch-262208601.html

    We got gas, and had a quick bite to eat at Estevan before carrying on west on 18. This is big coal country with major strip mining in the area used for electrical power generation... as well, the recent oil boom has resulted in oil related businesses springing up around the outskirts of town - not pretty - no pics. We were running out of daylight, stopped at the town of Oungre, checked the map and noted a regional park and campground was just a few miles north of us! We stayed there for the night - what a jewel... pool, concession, showers, and we camped alongside the creek there beside the highway - nice!

    Our camp spot at Oungre:

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    The prairie sunset from the bridge over the creek:

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