A celebration of the culture and heritage of the early days of Rivers, Man., will take place at the town’s first ever “Rolling into Rivers” event, running July 6-9 in the community, located 41 kilometres northwest of Brandon.
Donna Morken, president of the event’s planning committee, said she’s proud of the history of her community and its ties to the rail industry in Canada.
“Rivers was built because of the railway,” she said. “Rivers was the first railway depot built west of Winnipeg.”
In 1883, the Manitoba provincial government drew the boundaries for all rural municipalities in southern Manitoba, including the RM of Daly, which surrounds the community of Rivers.
The town was named after the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s president, Sir Charles Rivers-Wilson. Construction of the community’s roundhouse, coal shed, water system, repair shops and more began in 1907. Soon, 350 rail workers and their families moved into houses and set up businesses. By 1911, the settlement had grown into a village and was incorporated as a town two years later, in 1913.
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The railway has had a vast impact on the community, Morken said.
“They provided the first electricity to the community,” she said. “It wouldn’t have had electricity had it not been for the railway.”
Prior to the Second World War, the federal government established a central navigational school, known as the No. 1 Central Navigational School, just south of Rivers. The school quickly grew and became an air training base during the war. Rivers became one of the sites in Canada that helped to fix the positions of German U-boats using high-frequency direction finding during the war.
Closed at the end of the war, the school was reopened in the late 1940s and became a joint training base with all three branches of the military represented. It was closed in 1969/70 and turned over to the Department of Indian Affairs, transforming into the Oo-Za-We-Kwun Centre, a training place for Indigenous people in Western Canada.
An industrial park was established, and industries were encouraged to rent hangars for various manufacturing enterprises, a venture that was closed in 1980 by the Department of Indian Affairs.
Rivers has seen many changes over the years due to the railway industry’s switch from steam to diesel, the amalgamation and closure of repair facilities leading to an economic downturn which was ended by the coming of the Canadian Forces to train at the facility. Currently, agriculture is the main economic driver of the community. Morken hopes that the Rolling into Rivers event will remind old timers of the community’s important rail history and educate and instill a sense of pride in young people.
“I don’t think people see the connection,” Morken said. “They know it’s a railway town, but they really don’t understand the connection.”
Another part of Rivers history that people might not know is the town’s connection with Sekine bicycles. For about a decade, beginning in 1973, thousands of high-quality Sekine bicycles were manufactured near Rivers at the Oo-Za-We-Kwun Centre.
“Japan was producing the bicycle at the time, and they said, ‘Well, we might as well build Sekine bicycles in Canada.’ The only place in Canada — and outside of Japan — to build Sekine bicycles was in Rivers,” Morken said.
Rolling into Rivers is a way for local organizations to come together to put their community on the map and let people in surrounding communities and across Canada know about its rich history and everything it has to offer today.
“Nobody realizes what’s going on here,” Morken said. “We thought, we’re going to go ahead and do this.”
On Thursday, July 6, the class of 1973 reunion will take place at the Royal Canadian Legion in Rivers, with the class of 1974 reunion starting at 2 p.m. Different activities, like pool and darts, will be available at both reunions.
On Friday, July 7, a golf tournament will kick off at the Riverdale Golf and Country Club. To register, call 204-328-7122. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., a tour of the newly upgraded and new learning centre for the Rivers Game & Fish Association will take place, along with a barbecue. Also, at 2 p.m., the grand opening at the new gun ranges will take place.
An old-fashioned turkey shoot will start at 3 p.m., and a Class of 1966 supper will be held at Lee’s Restaurant at 5 p.m. From 4 to 7 p.m., the Rivers Police Service, the Rivers Daly Fire Department and other police service representatives will meet at the Royal Canadian Legion parking lot.
The festivities on Saturday, July 8 start with a pancake breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. at the Riverdale Community Centre, put on by the Lion’s Club, and a parade will start at the elementary school at 9 a.m., following a decorated bicycle contest.
Sekine bicycles will be on display and available for tours at 10 a.m., and draws and giveaways will take place at the Riverdale Community Centre’s parking lot. A children’s bouncy castle will be set up at the Rivers RV Park Campground form 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., kids can enjoy the caboose photo booth and a colouring contest that will have three winners.
From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Rivers Pipe Band will host its 50-year reunion at Redfern Hall in the Riverdale Community Centre, complete with music, displays, food and refreshments.
The Heritage Co-op’s Love Local BBQ Bar will be set up at the Rivers Heritage Co-op parking lot from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
From 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., the classic car, tractor and bicycle show will be on display at the Royal Canadian Legion parking lot, complete with beer gardens and entertainment.
At 2 p.m., the Rivers Train Station Restoration Committee will draw a winner for a VIA Rail Winnipeg to Churchill and return trip and a Sekine Heritage bicycle at the VIA Rail Station.
The Rivers Prairie Crocus Library will feature a Sekine bicycle display from 2 to 4 p.m., and a Friends of Rivers Lake supper will be held at the lake, followed by an old-fashioned hootenanny and fireworks and hot dogs at Millenium Park.
An antique tractor trek to Clark’s Museum will get things started on Sunday, July 9 at 9:30 a.m., and lunch will be provided with the $25 registration fee. The trek will leave from Redfern’s Farm Centre at 9:30 a.m. All proceeds from the trek will go to Cancer Care Manitoba. To register for the event, call 204-328-7546 or 204-328-7103.
Rolling into Rivers will finish with a paddle poker derby featuring kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and more on Rivers Lake at 1 to 4 p.m., put on by the Friends of Rivers Lake. To register, call 204-729-7203.
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