Fort Dufferin: The Other Mennonite Landing!

For a long time, I thought Manitoba had only one Mennonite Landing: the one at the confluence of the Red and Rat Rivers near Ste. Agathe. As I read more into Manitoba Mennonite history, and began to explore my own family history, I began to realize Fort Dufferin was important.

I was confused, though. Why were Mennonites landing at a fort?

Only now that I’ve visited the site and read the information have I realized the order of events on this historical site.

Fort Dufferin is located just outside of Emerson, very close to the Canada/US border. And it was built in 1873. Its original purpose was to be a muster point for the North West Mounted Police as they prepared for the March West in 1875.

The sign when you arrive declares, “After the North won the Civil War, American settlers headed west in droves. It was time for Canada to send a message that Manitoba and the Northwest belonged to Canada!”

Surveyors also were with the contingent, using the stars to determine the 49th parallel.

Two officers died here, somewhere, just before the March West. They’re buried in unmarked graves. I wondered if this was maybe it.

When the NWMP vacated the site in 1875, Fort Dufferin’s purpose changed drastically. A sign near the entrance says, “Dufferin became temporary housing for 58 Mennonite families from Russia. More than 7700 people of many backgrounds landed here.” This was from 1875 until 1879.

Red River Cart on display!

So, about this house… it’s an intriguing ruin but likely not from the Fort Dufferin or immigration days. After 1879, this place became a quarantine site for cattle being shipped from the United States. And in 1907 the property was sold to a private buyer. It remained in private hands for many decades and they’re not entirely sure which buildings are original. For some, it’s a little mixed and matched.

I wondered if my ancestors found shade under this tree when they were at this site.

This storage building is one of the only for-sure remaining buildings from that time. This sign says it was built in 1873.

I was delighted to find that we could go inside! It’s a museum in there, with many displays and a lot of information.

Using the sanitizer while starting to read the displays!
Replica of the steamer I imagine my great-great-grandparents had arrived on.
A photo of Red Lake Chippewa taken in front of the building I’m standing in. In this new harsh landscape (severe storms, severe cold, severe mosquitoes), the NWMP were helped tremendously by Indigenous people.

Inside the Storage Building museum, I also read the story of Bernhard Toews who arrived here as a boy in 1877. With excerpts from his journal, this story traces his journey from the Bergthal Colony in South Russia to his new home in Reinland on the West Reserve in Manitoba.

Exiting the building, I saw this cairn!

This plaque says: “Steamer ‘Dakota’ on the Red River at Fort Dufferin. In grateful commemoration of the more than 18,600 European and eastern Canadian immigrants who entered the Province of Manitoba during the years 1875-1879. They came via the Red River paddle wheel steamboats and were temporarily accommodated in the vacant barracks here at Fort Dufferin. They all came to seek greater opportunities; some also to escape religious oppression. We, their descendants, also honour the original inhabitants of this land for accepting these newcomers. This cairn is sponsored jointly by the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, the Boundary Trails Heritage Region, and the Post Road Heritage Group Inc. 2015”

Aside from the Storage Building, the only other original sites you can identify here would be these huge depressions in the ground, which indicate where buildings had stood in the 1870s.

Throughout the site there are helpful signs and benches for rest. (Also, mosquitoes.)

There are many intriguing trails at this site… which of course deserve their own post. I look forward to returning to this site and exploring them all!