Brandon - After 125 Years: More Than a Train Station

By Susan Huebert   Trail Canada

People enjoy birthday parties for the cake, the birthday hats, and the joy as family and friends celebrate a year gone by and the anticipation of another yet to come. Similarly, when towns and cities celebrate their birthdays, the people remember their home’s founding members and history as they acknowledge growth and change. As Brandon, Manitoba celebrates its 125th birthday this year, there will be a wide range of activities for everyone as residents and guests reflect on the city’s past and look towards the future.

Brandon’s history, like that of many other Canadian cities, is tied to trade and the railway. The late 1800s were times of economic expansion, when the newly-established Canadian Pacific Railway system was opening the west up to new opportunities. Settlements west of Winnipeg needed a central location for the railway’s divisional point, and after some debate, the city’s current site was chosen. Construction began in 1881, and Brandon’s incorporation was on May 30, 1881. The name came from an island hill in James Bay via a trading post near the city’s current site. The new community grew rapidly, and by March, 1882, 1500 people lived in Brandon.

Growth continued in the nineteenth century, and despite stagnation through parts of the twentieth, the twenty-first century has brought new development. By 2006, Brandon had nearly 40,000 people, and it is continuing to expand. What started 125 years ago as a small settlement in the middle of farming communities has become a full-fledged city on the TransCanada Highway, with tourist attractions, walking trails, and much more.

Manitoba’s second largest city is a good place to visit for its concerts, museums, natural regions, and activities for everyone. Located on the Assiniboine River, Brandon has an extensive network of walking and cycling trails connecting downtown with other areas of the city. A good place to start an afternoon’s outdoor activities is the Riverbank Discovery Centre, where maps and information are available. Only a few kilometres out of the city on Highway 10 are the Brandon Hills, where a twenty-kilometre hiking trail winds through thick forests and beside grassy meadows and stunning vistas. A longer side trip to Riding Mountain National Park, about an hour’s drive north of the city, is good for hiking, watching wildlife, and wandering around the small town of Wasagaming. With so many places to go, nature enthusiasts will have no trouble filling their time in the Brandon region.

Besides trail activities, Brandon has many events and activities to interest young and old. The Keystone Centre is a good place for shopping, going to movies, or watching sports, while the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum just north of the city provides all kinds of information about the Second World War and its aftermath. The Reptile Gardens will delight children and adults, while a walk among the late nineteenth-century buildings in the city centre will help visitors appreciate the lingering effects of the economic boom of the 1890s. Downtown tends to be almost deserted at night, but visitors can find bustling activity in many other areas of the city, especially this year as the city hosts a summer-long celebration of its anniversary.

Although Brandon’s official birthday is already over, special activities and regular seasonal programs are continuing throughout the summer. The YMCA’s 100th Anniversary Texas Scramble Golf Tournament on August 10th and the Ladies’ Western Open two days later will please sports fans, while Music in the Parks, held throughout July and August, is a good chance to hear musicians demonstrate their skills. The BUSU Rock the Block 2007 on September 5th will be a memorable event for young and old; if this year’s rock concert is anything like the previous years’, hundreds of people will flock downtown that day to hear bands from across Canada.

History and Brandon’s future are the focus of a birthday exhibit at Brandon University. Running from June 28th to August 31 in the Curve Gallery of the University’s John E. Robbins Library, “Wonder City of the Northwest” is a celebration of Brandon’s role in the development of western Manitoba, as well as its continuing significance for the region now and in the future.

Anyone who enjoys military bands and mass choirs will want to save August 25th or 26th for the Manitoba Heritage Military Tattoo, when three military bands from western Canada, together with members of bands from across the country, will join with the Massed 125 Voice Brandon Choir in a concert celebrating the years since the city’s birth. Pyrotechnics will be part of the final salute to the city, and the concert is sure to be spectacular. City residents have spared no effort in making the celebrations special; one of its breweries has even created a special beer, Assiniboine 1882, in honour of the event, while the many events taking place around the city will help create a celebratory atmosphere.

From golf tournaments to birthday celebrations to hikes in the parks, Brandon has activities for everyone. As a trip on its own or as part of a larger tour of western Manitoba, travelling to Brandon is a good way to experience life in a small city and to celebrate the changes 125 years can bring.

Brandon Features

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