A Brief History

Before the Centre Street Bridge was built in 1879, the main Winnipeg–Edmonton Trail crossed the Birdtail just west of the site of a spring. The Birdtail is a creek that has its source in the Riding Mountains, cutting a deep valley for about fifty miles, and emptying its waters into the Assiniboine River. It is an area of outstanding beauty of creeks, valleys, hills and rolling lands rich with wildlife and fertile soils.

Section of a Province of Manitoba
Settlement Map 1881 showing the
Saskatchewan (Fort Ellice)Trail.
Section of a Province of Manitoba Settlement Map 1881 showing the Saskatchewan (Fort Ellice)Trail.

Source: Manitoba Department of
Industry and Commerce

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The section of the trail from Shoal Lake Narrows to Fort Ellice was better known as the Fort Ellice trail (also the Saskatchewan Trail). Travellers included traders and missionaries in addition to Indigenous peoples, especially Cree and Ojibway. The spring at the crossing was known for its sparkling water and made for a good camping site for weary travelers. The spring remains today at the foot of the stone steps leading down the south river bank of the Birdtail. It was because of the trail and the river crossing at “The Spring” that Birtle was established at this particular site in the valley.

In 1878, scores of Colonization companies from eastern Canada formed to aid settlers in search of a better life in Western Canada. A block six miles by eighteen miles known as Township 17 in ranges 24, 25 and 26 was allotted for settlement to the Hamilton Colonization Company based out of Ontario. This company of six partners was formed to promote the settlement. Most notable in this company were D.W Cumming, a dry goods merchant of Stratford, J.H. Wood, a journalist from Woodstock and J.S. Crawford, a general merchant from St. George, Ontario.

In the spring of 1879 some two hundred people under the leadership of D.W. Cumming, left Stratford and another group under J.H. Wood, left for the Birdtail area. Many of these settled near Birdtail Crossing while others settled further afield. The first settlers arrived on May 14, 1879. The only inhabitants to greet them were Alfred Morton and his family along with his companions Andrew Bisset and John Richardson who arrived the year before in 1878.

J.H. Wood quickly located section 6-17-26 as a colony town site at the main trail crossing the Birdtail Creek.