If you’re interested in short day trips, try one in western Manitoba, north of Russell – a trip filled with scenery, history and horticulture.
The scenery is provided by the valleys of the Assiniboine and Shell rivers. For a beautiful view of the Assiniboine Valley, the 1,300-metre-long Shellmouth Dam and the 65-km-long Lake of the Prairies behind it, drive north of Russell on Highway No. 83 about 20 km and turn west on Highway No. 482 for about 11 km. Then, for a different view of the Shell River drive back to Highway 83 and continue a couple of kilometres north. The Shell River lies below, with views of the Asessippi Ski Resort and ski slopes, and plenty of new development there, on the west side.
The history part of your day starts with a visit to the old site of Asessippi village. Drive north on No. 83, approximately three km, across the Shell River and up to the top of the hill where you turn south onto a gravel road. Follow signs to what is now a ghost town but was once a vibrant frontier community.
Believing that this would become a railway stop, the Shell River Colonization Company founded the village of Asessippi (Cree for “shell river”) in the early 1880s. A dam, flour mill, shingle factory and sawmill were built here, as well as a general store and post office, and a boarding house. A few years later a cheese factory and brick factory were also built. About 50 homesteaders lived here during those years, but in 1902 it was learned that the railway would not be coming, and the village emptied.
Today visitors can stroll through the west side of the village and read interpretive signs that outline the history and describe the various businesses that once existed. (Access to the east side is only by following the Trans Canada Trail.) The boarding house, used as an early hotel, still stands, as do the remains of the iron bridge built in the 1890s. (If you’re interested in other ghost towns, check out the bookGhost Towns of Manitobaby Helen Mulligan and Wanda Ryder.)
From the Asessippi site, the day trip can continue about 10 km north on Highway No. 83 to the Frank Skinner Arboretum. Frank Leith Skinner, although self-taught, became one of Manitoba’s foremost horticulturalists, known for his work in introducing and adapting plants to the growing conditions of Manitoba. He developed hardy strains of ornamental fruit trees, fast-growing poplar hybrids, early-blooming lilacs, chrysanthemums, roses, lilies, honeysuckles and other plants.
The Introduction Garden, officially opened in 2005, contains over 100 hardy plants introduced to the Prairies by Dr. Skinner during the period from the 1920s until his death in 1967. The same ceremony officially recognized Dr. Skinner as a “Person of National Historic Importance” (Parks Canada).
Visitors can explore the site, check out the flower beds and orchards, and have a picnic. There are two walking trails, one about a kilometre long, the other half that, but the longer one had water over it when I visited in late June. Many of the flower beds were also suffering from excess rain and needed better signage. No admission is charged, but donations are appreciated.
From the Skinner Arboretum, it’s a short ride back south on Highway 83 and then about four km east to the village of Inglis, where the only surviving row of five wooden elevators left standing in Canada is definitely worth a visit. Built between 1922 and 1941, these restored “Prairie sentinels” are a National Historic Site.
These elevators were at the end of the railway line, with the trains turning around here to return to Russell. They weren’t open when I visited, but are still definitely worth a photo stop. In July and August, guided tours are available for those interested in the history or workings of wooden elevators. For more information phone (204) 564-2243 or go to www.ingliselevators.com/index.html.
For history buffs there’s one more stop on your tour: the St. Elijah Pioneer Museum at Lennard. Drive five km north from Inglis on PR 592 and one km west to visit the museum’s restored pioneer church (built in 1908 as a replica of Romanian Orthodox churches in Bukovyna), and also the Paulencu pioneer house built in 1906. The only known surviving example of a Bucovinian-style farmhouse in Manitoba, this house has the characteristic deep-sloping roofs on all four sides. One interesting feature is the “eyebrow openings” in the roof for smoke to escape from the upper room which was used to smoke meat and fish. Casual visitors can explore the museum grounds and nearby cemetery, but guided tours should be arranged beforehand by phoning (204) 564-2228 or emailing [email protected] – Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba