The Distant Past  *  First Nations  *  The Fur Trade  *  European Settlement

A Research Project  Presented by:

Funded through the Manitoba Heritage Grants Program  -    2017

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1. Introduction
2. The Distant Past
3. First Nations
4. The Fur Trade
5. European Settlement
6. Notable People
7. Railway Era
8. Resources

A River Crossing

Many of the pioneers who came to take up homesteads in the southwestern corner of Manitoba in the 1880’s came from Ontario. One popular route was via boat to Duluth on Lake Superior, then by rail to a point on the Red River directly south of Winnipeg, where they might have a choice between a riverboat or a train. From the border crossing at Emerson they could then make their way westward along the Boundary Commission Trail, often in wagons drawn by oxen or horses, with whatever belongings and supplies they owned. It was a long, slow, journey, but the trail first blazed by the Boundary Commission in 1873 was well travelled, and several “Stopping Houses”, pioneer versions of the roadside motel, had been established in farm houses along the trail. If the weather cooperated, and the wagon didn’t lose a wheel or break an axle, it might well have been almost an enjoyable trip.  Preferable in some ways to the crowded steamboats, and uncomfortable railway cars they had just left behind.


The Boundary Commission Trail in western Manitoba. (Vantage Points Collection – TM-SPHA)

River crossing could be tricky, depending on the time of year and the water levels. Fortunately, the Boundary Commission, following roughly the lead of a route used for centuries by Aboriginal hunter and Metis traders, had selected advantageous locations for crossing streams. Upon reaching the southwest corner in what would become the Melita / Pierson area, the Souris River was the main obstacle.

The Boundary Commission has chosen a natural crossing that had existed for centuries. Bison herds in their yearly migrations, Aboriginal Peoples on their hunting trips, fur traders and Metis pemmican brigades; each had used the site. 

In this place, which was soon called Sourisford, a gravel bottom spans the width of the river and the soft banks on either side were worn down by herds of bison over years of migrations. The bank of this portion of the river was a popular camping place for First Nations and the location of impermanent villages. It was also a camping place for early explorers, the Boundary Commission Surveyors, and the North West Mounted Police.


The path the buffalo took down the east side of the Souris Valley.

Early photo of the crossing by the Boundary Commission.
(Archives of Manitoba Photo)

The highways of one era can be forgotten in the next.

The Sourisford Crossing, which was so important for the many centuries, was no longer necessary as railways and automobiles replaced the horse and cart.

The community that grew up around the crossing is long gone, but the story lives on. As new towns began to thrive along rail lines and highways, the pioneers took steps to commemorate the location through the creation of Coulter Park and the conservation of this important site. 

The Distant Past

The convenient river crossing that came to be called Sourisford, is near the crossroads of ancient trading routes used by First Nations groups. One, which passed from the Turtle Mountain westward, was adapted by the Boundary Commission; the other, the Yellowquill Trail, angled southwest from the Portage La Prairie area.



The general vicinity was a natural place for both lasting villages and temporary campsites.

Two archeologically significant national historic sites are located in the immediate vicinity. Those sites each feature Interpretive Signs.

Sourisford Linear Burial Mounds

The mounds at this site are remnants of the largest concentration of ancient burial mounds in Canada. Archeologists believe that the casualties of harsh winters were ceremoniously buried when the ground thawed – an event of cooperative behavior and cultural importance. Artifacts found in the mounds have included stone tablets, clay mortuary vessels, and shell gorget masks made from Gulf Coast conch shells.

The people who left the Sourisford Linear Mounds are known only as the Mound Builders. They are thought to be related through common ancestry to—or influenced by contact with—the Mississippian peoples who lived along the mid and lower reaches of the Mississippi River. The idea of burial mounds spread from these Mississippian people, who in turn drew their influences from Central American civilizations even farther south.

The Mound Builders were a nomadic bison hunting society who moved about according to a seasonal cycle, summering on the plains. The burial mounds at Sourisford date back to 800 AD, over 1,000 years ago.

The Brockinton Site

The Brockinton National Historic Site of Canada is a multi-component, stratified archaeological site located on the east bank of the Souris River a few kilometres north of the Sourisford Crossing. Located on a steep slope between the flood plain and the prairie the site consists of a thin crescent-shaped strip of low-lying land that has yielded evidence of three distinct periods of occupation, dating from 800 to 1650 A.D
During its earliest occupation around 800 AD, the spot was used as a bison kill and butchering site by an unknown Plains group. They used contours of the landscape to drive bison down the valley to the riverbank, where they built a structure known as a pound. The pound consisted of a collection of posts driven into the ground in a row among the trees growing on the bank. The structure was about 1.5 metres thick and held together using horizontal branches and saplings intertwined among the posts and trees. Gaps in the structure were covered with hides. Bison would then be herded down the steep valley of the Souris River to run, tripping and tumbling, into the structure. This proved to be an efficient method of killing bison with a minimum of bone breakage. The site has yielded a large number of small side-notched arrows, ranging from 10 to 45 pounds of material per square meter.


An Interpretive Sign, recently placed at the site.

The pound at Brockinton was a rare find, not so much because of its use, but rather what was done with it after it had served its purpose. Though evidence suggests that the site was hurriedly abandoned, extreme care was taken in leaving the landscape as it had been. After its use the pound was dismantled to the point that the holes left by the posts were filled in with vertically placed bison bones. The site is one of the first and certainly the best-documented cases of such a rare occurrence.


Bison bones in the Souris River's bank at the Brockinton Site – readily found in 2014

Going back in time, the Duck Bay Culture, a regional variant of the Blackduck complex found in northern Ontario, used the site for camping sometime between 1100 and 1350 AD. They adapted to the seasonal bison hunting of plains people and adopted a number of traits found in plains cultures, such as the use of Knife River flint, which came from western North Dakota and was used for tool-making. Another adopted trait was the use of a flat milling stone to grind up seeds. Artifacts found at the site from this era include: shards of large woodland pottery (distinguished by cord wrapped impressions and shallow stamps), endscrapers, bifaces and three mini stone awls. The site produced projectile points with broken bases that had been abandoned when arrows had been repaired with new points, and a channeled sandstone abrader for smoothing wooden shafts, a rarity in Manitoba. The animal remains discovered at the site reflect a mixed economy fed by bison, canines, beaver, deer and fish.

Most recently, an indigenous group known as the Williams culture used the location as a camping site, dating back just over 400 years ago (1600 AD). This was a group of plains First Nations who were primarily dependent upon the bison. They produced uniquely decorated pottery pieces: small bowls with twisted cord impressions in triangular and horizontal patterns, and tiny stamps created using materials such as reeds, bird feathers, quills or tiny bird bones. Some of the pottery pieces have a more broad decoration with smoother surfaces. These pottery fragments suggest a tie to the Oneota culture in southern Minnesota or Iowa. The Oneota included several groups that occupied the area of these states between 1000 and 1650 AD. Significantly, the Brockinton site was the first excavated evidence of the Williams culture.


A Bison Pound
(Vantage Points Collection – TM-SPHA)

This tradition is not usually found on the plains, but rather has a widespread distribution in the wooded portion of south-eastern Manitoba. This appears to be the only occurrence of these peoples in Canada, who are represented by a uniquely decorated, rich and varied ceramic assemblage.
The relationship between the site and the neighbouring Linear Mounds National Historic Site of Canada is also of interest. All these things give us a more complete picture of the First Nations associated with the site.

It was designated a Canadian National Historic site in 1973 because it confirms that dynamic cultural changes that occurred in this region before contact with Europeans.

Snyder II Site

It is a common perception that most plains Aboriginal peoples were nomadic wanderers who were largely dependent on what has been described as the “mobile supermarkets of the vast herds of migratory bison.” Although this was true of some First Nations, the Snyder II site south of Melita suggests that agricultural activities in southwest Manitoba did not begin with European settlers.

The site is on the bank of the Gainsborough Creek just half a kilometer west of its junction with the Souris River. In 1970, and again in 2006, Archaeologist Leigh Syms made an excavation of the site, which produced direct evidence of pre-contact native agricultural activities.

A replica of a shell mask/gorget found at the Snyder II Site.
(Vantage Points Collection – TM-SPHA)

Syms excavated a bell-shaped storage pit at the site, which measured over a metre deep. The lower portion of the pit revealed two distinct hearths with concentrations of fire ash, artifacts, evidence of a sweat lodge, and bison scapulae (shoulder blades). The bison scapulae were a particularly significant find in an agricultural sense because of their use as hoeing implements—evidence that the soil was being worked in the immediate area.

The storage pit itself was used to store surplus produce, an indication of a semi-sedentary occupation. The people who worked the land here would either have lived in a permanent village or were around for enough of the year to maintain crops and live off of the storages they made in pits such as this one.

Evidence of a village occupation is scattered over many acres of the neighbouring cultivated field. This field, among others, exhibits depressions on its surface, which Syms speculates is indicative of at least seven other pits. The activities of modern agriculture have wiped out evidence of how many other storage pits there might have been, in addition to whatever gardens or fields the village residents might have worked. These fields were probably located on the nearby floodplain below the storage pits.

Syms concluded that the Snyder II site was used as a village during the protocontact period: that is, during the time when local Aboriginal groups were receiving some European items through trade, but before Europeans set up trading posts in the area. The site dates very loosely to 1610 AD.

The pit also revealed pottery shards from several Late Plains Woodland vessels—artifacts that have not been found before on the Canadian plains. These artifacts were dated to about 340 years ago.

The First Nations

As we have seen, the Sourisford area has been home to many cultures, and sits on trading routes that connected those cultures to others far distant from here. At the time of European contact, and throughout the Fur Trade era, several groups would use this particular area. It was often visited by Cree and Ojibway hunters in the centuries leading up to European settlement, but it was the Nakota, whom the traders called the Assinboine, that LaVerendrye encountered on his trips in 1837 and afterwards.

The Assiniboine (Nakota)

The Assiniboine, once members of the Yanktonai arm of the Dakota Nation, were once a Nation 10000 strong that occupied a territory that spanned the Prairie Provinces and parts of the northern United States. Over at least two centuries they hunted bison on the Souris Plains, and in later years actively participated in the fur trade on the Souris River.

The name, likely of Cree or Ojibway origin, means “Stoney Sioux.” They call themselves the Nakota Oyadebi, which is also the name of their language.

Assiniboine Indian Camp, Lac de Marons, Manitoba, July 17, 1874 July 17, 1874

(Archives of Manitoba Photo)

The decline of the herds, competition from other groups, and the devastation wrought by diseases like smallpox, decimated their population and they moved westwards where their descendants now live. 

Manitoba has no Assiniboine reserves, only individual members living off-reserve.


The region in 1825


The region in 1859

The Dakota

There are five Dakota bands in Manitoba today. While many of their ancestors are descended from groups who came to Canada after an unsuccessful uprising in 1862, and after the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, Dakota people have been here for centuries.

Records kept by the Hudson’s Bay Company indicate that the Dakota were active in Canada as far north as Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan.

A group of Cree living in this area called their village Kimosopuatinak, meaning “Home of the Ancient Dakota,” which confirms a strong Dakota presence here.


A group of Dakota near Turtle Mountain
(Archives of Manitoba Photo)

Sourisford is in territory covered by Treat #2.

The Yellow Quill Trail

The Yellow Quill Trail began as a trade route used by First Nations. As European influence in southwestern Manitoba grew, explorers, fur traders and bison hunters from the Red River Settlement found the trail a convenient avenue of travel as well.

The Yellow Quill Trail takes its name from Chief Yellow Quill who was the leader of a band of Saulteaux living near Portage La Prairie during the late 1800s. He is known for signing a treaty for land allotment with the Canadian Government in 1875 and for being Chief over two Indian Reservations: Swan Lake No. 7, and Long Plains No. 6.

There are mixed accounts as to the character of Chief Yellow Quill. Some say that he was an arrogant leader who was uncooperative and not always diplomatic. Others report that he was a highly respected citizen of the prairies and a prominent figure in the early days of the Portage La Prairie area.

Two Dakota make their way along the Yellow Quill Trail. CREDIT: Town of Hartney Archival Collection

The Fur Trade Era

The Explorers

The first European to explore this part of the prairies was La Verendrye, who in 1838 made a journey south from the forts he had established near Portage La Prairie and Winnipeg, in search of the Mandans, who were supposed to know a route to the western sea.  His trip took him through this region.

In April 1742, his two sons, travelled up the Assiniboine and Souris Rivers, in another visit to the Mandans. There is every reason to believe they camped at Sourisford, as mention is made in their records of the Antler Creeks; called in Cree "He-a-pa-wa-kpa" or "Head and Horns Creek". David Thompson in 1897 and Alexander Henry in 1804, also passed this way.

The Fur Trade

IIn the 18th and 19th Centuries, fur trading posts along the Souris River benefitted from access to the surrounding plains - the grazing grounds of the bison. They were key to the production and supply of pemmican, which supported the rest of the fur trade. A total of 18 posts – belonging to companies and independents alike – grew and faded from the Souris River between present-day Souris, Manitoba and Minot, North Dakota.

The Sourisford area was home to an American Fur Company Trading Post believed to be near where North Antler Creek enters the Souris.

The Metis Hunting Grounds

Beginning around 1820 large hunting expeditions originating in the Red River Settlement set out twice yearly to supply the settlers and the HBC with pemmican and hides. In the first decades, the Souris Plains supplied all they needed, but as the bison population fell sharply, they had to travel for weeks before they came into contact with the animals.

Metis Hunting Camp
(Archives of Manitoba Photo)

In the first expeditions as many as 540 carts were involved. The passing of several decades saw these numbers grow to 820 and reach its peak in 1840 with a record of 1,210 carts. The larger hunt took place in summer and a smaller one in autumn. For days in advance of a hunt the Red River Settlement would shut down as preparations for the expedition were under way. After everyone was gathered the rules and regulations for the hunt were laid down with solemnity. The officials of the hunt were also chosen before the eight kilometre train of Red River Carts set off in search of the bison.

Wintering Communities

At times Metis hunting communities located on the Plains in a more permanent fashion. These temporary villages varied in size; some only several families large, others with populations that reached 1,000. Families congregated in these communities for convenience as well as for safety and protection due to the presence of competing First Nations, such as Dakota and Assiniboine. The villages were made up of roughly built sturdy huts which provided the necessary protection from harsh winters. It often took no longer than a day or two to construct such a hut with the aid of a single axe and a knife. Wealthier traders would often have multi-room dwellings which were used to house religious services and dances. These social activities were the main source of entertainment throughout the long winter of hunting, processing and tanning hides, and making pemmican.

The general locations of the some of the wintering communities that existed in southwest Manitoba. Adapted from John Welsted "Geography of Manitoba"

A wintering community generally consisted of hunters and their families and a few Métis fur traders. The leader or chief of each community was often the most accomplished hunter or main fur trader. In the 1850s and '60s, a missionary priest was often present as well, and he frequently assisted in leadership duties in addition to aiding in the relief of social discord, the presence of which could challenge the integrity and effectiveness of the community altogether.

Buildings were usually constructed in late fall in preparation for winter and abandoned in early spring. Sites of past communities were not generally returned to year after year because of changes in the bison's wintering range, and also due to the fact that rival First Nations would often burn the buildings to the ground as soon as they were unoccupied.

At least until the 1860s, Métis hunters returned to the Red River each spring to sell their robes before returning to the prairies for the summer bison-hunting season. As the bison disappeared in the late 1870s, wintering communities lost their economic function and most of them simply disappeared from the prairies, with the exception of a few that made the successful switch to agricultural communities. Métis hunters either started up homesteads of their own, joined First Nation bands, or settled in other established communities.

Métis wintering communities were created in response to social and economic conditions in Manitoba. Though practiced for only a short time, the formation of wintering communities was a crucial element in the emerging Métis identity and pre-railroad prairie culture.

The Pioneers

The Oldest Highway in the West

The Boundary Commission trail was the route taken by the Boundary Commission in 1873 & 74 as they surveyed the Canada – US Border. They bridged creeks, established crossings, and cleared bush as necessary; but the general route they followed spans centuries, crosses cultural lines, and involves a multitude of goals and purposes.

Although one short period of its life at the dawn of European settlement gave the trail its name, it was well travelled long before that time.

Parts of it began as a First Nations travel and trading route, which the fur traders of the 18th Century naturally used when they began penetrating the interior of Rupert's Land as the region was called. Not too long afterwards, the Red River carts of the Métis wore grooves into the prairie sod of the trail in their pursuit of the bison as the large animals retreated ever westward.


Although published in 1876, this map likely relied on information gathered prior to the Boundary Commission’s work.

In 1818, Canada and the United States had agreed that from Lake of the Woods to the Pacific, the 49th parallel would separate the two countries, but there was no pressing need to be more specific about it. In 1870 when Canada had purchased Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company, and thoughts were turning to the possibility of large scale agricultural settlement on both sides of the border,  the time had come to mark it more precisely.

In September of 1872, two parties set forth from Lake of the Woods, Ontario: Her Majesty's North American Boundary Commission and the United States Northern Boundary Commission. The two parties worked in cooperation from their respective sides of the border. They each had their own astronomer who calculated the location of the 49th parallel and in the event that calculations were different, the mid-point between them was accepted as being correct.

887 – Sourisford is on the map.


North America Boundary Commission camp at] South Antler Creek., Man. 1873
1st Crossing - Souris River 170 miles west of Red River & 10 miles north of Boundary. 1873
(Archives Canada Photo)

Over two summers, the Boundary Commissioners, guided by Métis scouts, were followed by labourers breaking the trail and by surveyors traveling behind. While the British commissioners traveled very lightly armed, the Americans on the other side of the border were accompanied by heavy military escort. The Dakota, who hunted on both sides of the line often hostile towards Americans for establishing posts on sacred land and for ignoring and breaking treaties.  


A supply ox train leaves from the Long River depot, following the newly cleared Boundary Commission Trail.
(Archives of Manitoba Photo)

When they came to the Souris River they were fortunate in finding a spot about ten miles north of the border with a firm gravel bottom and an easy approach to the ford from each side of the river. Sourisford quickly became well known to all Boundary Commission teamsters, and subsequently to the incoming European settlers who would soon be arriving.

Bridge over Souris River - 1st Crossing [Manitoba, June 1874]]

(Archives of Manitoba Photo)

The North West Mounted Police

The Boundary Commissioners finished their survey during the summer of 1874. Near the end of that year the North West Mounted Police used the Boundary Commission Trail – freshly blazed – as their avenue of travel on their trek to “establish law and order in the west” and to prepare the frontier for settlement.

The Beginnings of a New Community

For centuries the Boundary Commission Trail had served as the highway to the west, transporting goods and people. 

Once familiar with the feet of Nakota and Dakota bands, and their horses, and later with Red River carts pursuing the hunt, it next became accustomed to the sound of settlers heading west.

The first villages in southern Manitoba were established alongside the Trail, flourishing until the railroad came to the area.

In late 1879 Walter F. Thomas came by way of Winnipeg, and in the spring of 1880 Alfred Gould and David Elliott arrived using the Boundary Commission Trail. Gould and Elliot built a house and barn at the crossing along the trail, near the river. With the increase of settlement travel westward, their home became established as a regular “stopping place.”

Many settlers were relieved to arrive at Gould and Elliot’s where there were warm and comfortable stables and a hot meal served in the house for a very moderate price.

The stopping place slowly grew into a small unofficial community. During the summer of 1882 a store was operated out of a tent by settlers Warren and Snider. A regular post office called “Sourisford” was installed the next year. T. B. Gerry opened a blacksmith shop and F. B. Warren opened a store which operated for two or three years.

On July 6th, 1883, the Registrar's Office for the Electoral Division of Souris River was removed from Deloraine to the "town of Souris", on the NW 26-2-27. A plan of a townsite, had been filed in the Souris River Registry Office on March 11th, 1882, by two early settlers, Carbert and Lett under the name of “Souris City”. It was referred to as Souriapolis in some accounts.

Mr. J. P. Alexander. The Land Titles Registrar built a house and office on the townsite. His was the only house to be built, and it was moved a few years later, when he obtained a homestead nearby. The office was moved again in 1886 when Mr. Alexander resigned to contest the seat in the Provincial Legislature and once more, in March 1891, to the Town of Melita where the building was soon put to other uses.

Notable People

Walter Thomas

Twenty-three year old Walter Thomas left Winnipeg on November 16, 1879 and headed for the Souris River Valley, arriving at the junction of the Souris River and South Antler Creek by December 1st. By March 1880, Thomas had to return to Winnipeg for provisions. Upon returning, in May, he found Alfred Gould and David Elliot had arrived. Land claims were staked, cabins built and clearing and plowing commenced. Gould and Elliot shared a cabin while the Thomas cabin was close to the ford on the Boundary Commission Trail.

Alfred Gould

Born in Plattsville, Ontario, in 1856, Alfred Gould came to western Manitoba in 1880. He took up land in the fall of 1881 after the area had been surveyed, but before it had been thrown open to settlement, on Section 22 of Township 2, Rage 27.

The Elliots

In March 1881, John B. Elliot, brother of David Elliot, arrived. His claim was made 2.5 miles south west of his brother’s cabin. Along the South Antler Creek. These land claims were firmly in place before the official land survey of 1881.


Alfred Gould, David Elliot, John Elliot & Walter Thomas

The Gould and Elliot Store: 1882

The Gould and Elliot Store and Stopping Place was built on the western slope of the Souris near the Boundary Commission Trail. It served, first informally, as the Post Office from 1882.  Below the store and house, a stable was excavated into the hillside.

At the Deloraine Land Titles office the mail was usually put in a grain sack and sent on to Gould and Elliott's by the first traveller going west. If that person was not going all the way, he would give it to someone else who was. Often letters were carried by chance travellers one hundred miles further west. It was a maybe a few weeks late, but arrived safely.

Alfred Gould was officially appointed Postmaster at Sourisford from 1884-1896 and following his resignation. David Elliott from 1896-1920.

The John Snyder Log House

John Snyder was one of the first four to file on homestead lands west of the Souris River, on Oct 29, 1881. A log house was built in 1879.

Sitting Eagle

Chief Sitting Eagle of the Pipestone (Canupawakpa)  Reservation, came to the area in 1914. During the 30’s and 40’s, he spent the winters at Coulter Park, living in a teepee, and trapping fur-bearing animals. He died several years later in a winter camp on Turtle Mountain.

Church Services

The first Methodist service to be held in what later became known as the Melita-Napinka Circuit of the United Church was conducted by Reverend Albert D. Wheeler who served the Antler Mission of the Methodist Church from 1882-1884. He held his first service in the home of Alf Gould at Sourisford in 1882. In those days, services were held in the different farm houses reaching from the Antler on the south to the sandhills on the north, and only in summertime as the winters were too cold, the trails were few and far between, and it was easy to get lost, even in daylight.

Law & Order

In 1885 a patrol consisting of one officer, one Non Commissioned Officer and 24 constables went to southern Manitoba to prevent horse stealing.

The men were stationed at Manitou, Clearwater, Wakopa, Deloraine and Sourisford. This force returned to Regina on November 18,1885, and reported not one case of horse stealing in the district during the summer. At Sourisford they issued "Let Passes" and watched trails leading from Bottineau.

The Alfred Gould Stone House

This fieldstone and mortar house, built in 1889 at the fork of the Souris River and South Antler Creek, was a familiar gathering place and general store. Previous to the 1967 Centennial Celebration, Alfred Gould’s son Norman donated the house and nine acres of land to the R.M. of Arthur for incorporation into the Pioneer Picnic Grounds, now known as Coulter Park. A dedication plaque has been mounted on the house.


Gould's stone house also remains preserved on the site.

The David Elliot Log Cabin & Post Office

The log structure of one and a half stories was constructed in 1887. With the building of the C.P.R.’s Kemnay to Estevan Railway in 1892. The Post Office was moved to the David Elliot residence, with David Elliot becoming Postmaster. The Post Office was closed in 1921.

Oldest Picnic Area in the West


Photo from the Archives of Manitoba

Today, Sourisford is the location of one of the earliest regularly used recreation sites in rural Manitoba. On July 1, 1882, the first Pioneer Picnic was attended by a few settlers and local aboriginals.  A tradition was established as each year a larger group attended the Picnic. Since then, picnics have been held in the grove every summer. These gatherings used to attract thousands of locals and visitors alike, many from the United States. Bannock with syrup would be served up, along with a dinner laid out on blankets in true picnic style. Short addresses were sometimes given before a band played to liven things up.

The Arthur Pioneer Association was founded in 1889 under the chairmanship of Alfred Gould.

In 1899 the 20th anniversary of settlement was marked by the largest gathering of people to that date in Southwestern Manitoba. Upwards of fifteen hundred persons attended.

In 1903 the event became a combination between track and field activities and a bush picnic. The town of Melita declared the day a holiday so that everyone could attend.

In 1915, at the Pioneer Picnic celebrating 100 years of peace between England and the U.S., Myrtle Elliot of Sourisford represented Canada and Henry Werriner of Westhope N.D. dressed as Uncle Sam. 

The Railway Era

Sourisford & Coulter

In rural Manitoba the arrival of the railway changed everything.

For the first settlers, Sourisford, located at a well-used crossing, was the obvious place for a village. In time perhaps other businesses would spring up and a few residential streets would be surveyed.  T.B. Gerry’s blacksmith shop, on the east side of the river,  serviced the area. A Stopping House, the Post Office, and store were the beginnings of a town. R. M. Graham, already established in Melita, established a branch store at Sourisford.

It was poised to become the service centre for the region.

If the railway line that connected Brandon with southeastern Saskatchewan in 1890 had crossed the Souris River here instead of Melita, a major town would have grown here and Melita would have faded. But Sourisford remained a rural community with its Post Office and Store – offering the necessary basic services, until 1901 when another CPR branch stretched westward from Waskada and established Coulter a few kilometres away.

Sourisford became one of dozens of Westman communities that had served its purpose and was no longer needed as a commercial centre. It did however remain its identity as a community.


While Sourisford is still on this map, the new rail lines have dictated which communities will grow, which will survive, and which will disappear.

Coulter in 2100

Coulter Park

On May 25, 1924, the Arthur Pioneer Association met to consider erecting a memorial archway at Coulter Park in honour of the late Francis Coulter who had donated land to the Association. The new archway was dedicated at the 50th Annual Picnic on June 28, 1929.

Soon after Mr. W.R. Cosgrove donated a pioneer log house, built in 1885, to the Association. A work “bee” was held in which local settlers moved the cabin to the park, some improvements having been made to assist in its long-term survival as an artifact of pioneer days

Coulter Park, 2011

Restored Fraser Cabin

Resources and Links

The Turtle Mountain - Souris Plains Heritage Association is preparing a set of Interpretive Signs for Coulter Park. These signs will summarize some of the content in this project.

Regional Histories

Melita: Our First Century (Town of Melita and Municipality of Arthur), Melita - Arthur History Committee

Wright, N.E. In View of Turtle Hill - A survey of the history of southwestern Manitoba to 1900, Deloraine Times Publishing, 1951(online at Peel's Prairie Provinces)

Sourisford:  "Sourisford and Area from 1879", The Sourisford History Committee
Morran, G.A. Souris River Posts , The Souris Plaindealer
Clarke, Lawrence, Souris Valley Plains. A History,  Hartney Mb.
Turtle Mountain - Souris Plains Heritage Association Vantage Points I, II, III, & IV