Two Hours in Portage la Prairie

Last month, Andrew and I decided to visit Brandon, which is about a 3-hour drive from our home in Steinbach. On our way, we stopped in Portage la Prairie to explore a bit of its history.

First, we were very hungry, so we went to Mole Guacamole and loved our experience very very much. I’m no expert on Mexican food but this seemed pretty authentic.

Also delicious. We will definitely return!

Then we went to see the Meighen House:

Arthur Meighen was the Prime Minister of Canada from 1920-1921 and again in 1926. He was the only Manitoban to ever serve as PM. A plaque (erected in 1971 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada) on Island Park says that Arthur Meighen was first elected into the House of Commons in 1908 to represent Portage la Prairie and “gained an unchallenged reputation as the ablest debater of his generation in Canadian politics”. Today, not many know his name.

I wonder if the kids who attend Arthur Meighen School are aware that it’s named for the PM who a century ago had lived in their city.

Then we wandered along Crescent Road, which lines Crescent Lake. There are many grand old houses facing the lakeshore, and many have plaques!


At one point as we approached Crescent Road, I stopped and took a picture in one direction…

And then in another direction. Here you can see the lake before me.

It is not a very wide lake. It is a crescent… which is obviously how it got its name. I think it must be an oxbow of the Assiniboine River. At the center of the crescent is an almost-island: Island Park. Here we visited the windmill of Portage! A plaque at its base says “Island Park Windmill saved from demolition and restored 1982 courtesy Norquay Nurseries Mike Kamotzki contractor”.

There’s some construction happening at Island Park and maybe some stuff is shut down because of the pandemic, I’m not sure. All I know is, I was at the wheel so we circled around the entire island a few times as I got my bearings. I would have loved to walk to explore the island instead of driving. (But, we were on a timeline and had to get to Brandon.)

Before leaving Portage, there was one place we wished to visit: the former Portage la Prairie Indian Residential School, which is a national historic site. This designation is new and I think one day the plaque in front of the school will be updated, and perhaps there will be an interpretive center here, I’m not sure. For now, we quietly walked the grounds and contemplated the horrors that had occurred here, and the part our own history plays in this.

The feature photo is actually of the school, too.

On the site, we saw this sculpture.

At its base, we saw it was created by someone named Jake Goertzen in memory of children who died in a plane crash in 1972. I think that in light of the discover of more and more unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools, this place has taken on a deeper meaning, in memory of many more children.