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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

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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 in 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 took advantage of when they began penetrating the interior of the then-called Rupert's Land. 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 buffalo as the large animals retreated ever westward and into eventual disappearance.

 

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.


 
1887 – 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

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. CREDIT: Manitoba Archives

When they came to the Souris River they were fortunate in finding a spot about ten miles north of the border where there was not only a firm gravel bottom, but where the soft banks on each side of the stream seemed to have been worn down by the immense herds of Bison, furnishing an easy approach to the ford from each side of the river. For this reason Sourisford 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]]


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 of the Trail and 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