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Morden: Digging Into History
Morden: Digging Into History
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Before Morden became what it is today, it was actually a town to the northwest called Nelson (Nelsonville) that had great expectations. In 1882, the town was full grown and was one of the most active and busy towns in the province with a town hall, land titles office, school, churches, stores, banks, and mills. Doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and blacksmiths had set up business, and the population reached 1000.
Nelson was a prime example of what power the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) held over the lifespan of prairie villages and towns. Although it was expected that the railroad would come through Nelson, the CPR requested some tax exemptions from the town if they came through and when the citizens would not comply, the CPR stated that grass would grow in their streets. The CPR bypassed the nearby, established communities of Nelson, Mountain City and Stevenville and built a railway line crossing the Dead Horse Creek. The crossing was first named ‘Cheval’, a shortened French translation the Metis fur traders had for the creek. This spot quickly became popular to provide water for the trains passing through, and a water tower was built there. Soon after, the spot was called Morden after Alvey Morden, the original owner of the land. Alvey Morden was one of the first settlers in present day Morden, moving his family 2,000 km west from Walkerton, Ontario.
Once the CPR had made it’s decision, Nelson, Mountain City and Stevenville were left with no choice but to relocate. The people of Nelson determined, “If the railway will not come to us, we will go to the railway” and decided not only to move their families and belongings, but their buildings too. Structures were raised onto skids of oak beams and with the snow on the ground and power from fourteen teams of horses, the people moved one building a day. Some houses and business blocks were brought in sections and rebuilt. Three years later, the words of the CPR proved true and hardly anything remained at these once booming towns, while Morden had a thriving population. Some of these structures moved from these communities are still standing in Morden today.
The modern-minded people of Morden were the reason why Morden developed in the followings ways.
- Morden’s first hospital, the Freemason’s Hospital built in 1892, was one of the first in Manitoba, only preceded by St. Boniface Hospital, Winnipeg General, and Brandon General. Because of this accomplishment, no other rural area in Manitoba has had access to hospital service as long as those in the Morden district, which exceeds 125 years. In 1952, the Freemason’s Hospital was sold to the Mennonite Brethren Church and turned into the first Tabor Senior Citizens Home.
- Telephone service was brought to Morden in 1890, one of the first locations in rural Manitoba. In 1895, the first electricity plant came to Morden.
- In 1905, the Town Council was approached by the Board of Trade, asking them to consider buying land for a park. What we now know as the beautiful Morden Park was established 20 years after that.
- An early settler, A.P. Stevenson made a great impact on the city with his love for horticulture. He had an orchard on his land and supplied many Manitobans with fresh fruit such as apples and plums. The Canadian government decided to place a research station in Morden in 1915 because he had proven how rich the land there was.
- Many schools have been built since the very start of the town. One of the schools, a modern, one-story elementary school with six rooms was built in 1928. It was called Maple Leaf Elementary and is still in use today.
- A large improvement to the town came in 1950, when the water and sewer system came to the town. To do this, a dam was built across Dead Horse Creak in 1941 and 1953, creating Lake Minnewasta. Morden was one of the first towns in Manitoba to have these systems in place.
- One of Morden’s largest tourist attractions, the Corn and Apple Festival began in 1967 as a community event to celebrate Canada’s Centennial. It has grown into one of Manitoba’s largest street carnivals, attracting over 70,000 people throughout the August weekend!
- Fossils have been discovered in the Morden and Miami areas of southern Manitoba since the late 1930’s. In 1972, word spread from bentonite miners in the area that many fossils were being found in the Pembina Hills. A few local men went on the hunt to see if the rumours were true, and dug up 30 mosasaur and 20 plesiosaur specimens in the next two years. That number has grown to over 500 specimens today, displayed at The Canadian Discovery Fossil Centre, the largest collection of marine vertebrates in Canada.
Morden has a range of beautiful old buildings, and many more used to stand. Stone construction was featured in the homes built at the turn of the century because at the time of early settlement, there were Scottish stone masons in the area with great skill to build attractive stone buildings. There are also well-preserved Victorian style mansions built of wood. One of the most distinctive historic buildings that Morden boasts is it’s red brick Dominion Post Office with a 70 ft clock tower, built in 1913 and designed by the Chief Architect’s Office in Ottawa. It now hosts the Pembina Hills Art Council.
For a visual tour of some of these beautiful buildings in the vibrant city of Morden, visit http://heritagemanitoba.ca/images/pdfs/featuredProjects/Mordens_Mansions.pdf
To learn about all the wonderful things that Morden offers today, visit http://mordentourism.com/
“Morden is where the grandeur of past meets the excitement of the future.”
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