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Chapter 12: The Southern Cities

12.8: The Location of Selkirk—What Might Have Been

J. C. Hamilton’s “Map of the Province of Manitoba and part of the District of Keewatin and Northwest Territory” dated 1876 shows the Canadian Pacific Railway line to western Canada passing through the site of Selkirk and then northwest to cross Lake Manitoba at the Narrows. However, when it was built the line passed through Winnipeg that became the major city of Manitoba benefiting enormously from the east/west traffic through it, and Selkirk never became a large city. Its population in 2006 was 9,515 up from 9,227 in 2001.

This high-level, small-scale photo shows clearly the setting of Selkirk with some detail of the city itself. The city is located on the west bank of the Red River 1 “beside a deep sheltered inlet off the Red River 2. Called the “West Slough”, the inlet is where the Hudson’s Bay Company and lumber and fishing companies found safe winter harbour for their boats. Even today, excursion boats use the inland port for winter shelter. The museum at the foot of the slough 3 features large authentic shipping vessels, lake boats, a lighthouse and a host of artifacts.”[i] Cooks Creek flows parallel to the Red on the northeast 4.

The northward-flowing Red River is crossed at two locations. First, at Lockport 5 is the St. Andrews Locks and Dam 6 which carries PTH 44 7. “Built between 1907 and 1910 to help the river traffic between Lake Winnipeg and the City of Winnipeg, it [the Lockport Dam] is one of the last remaining dams of its kind—and the largest ever built. Featuring the French “camere curtain” design, it uses wooded curtains to control water levels. The hinged slats of Douglas Fir roll up and down as a blind does.”[ii] Secondly, a bridge is located east of Selkirk 8.

Land on either side of the Red River is subdivided using the long lot system with fields running back from the river. Fields are particularly visible in the south 9 and centre 10 where fallow fields show as very dark tones. Away from the river in the northwest and southeast the DLS system is used. The division between the two systems is obvious in the southeast 11 but not so clear in the northwest; its general location is indicated by a dashed line 12. Most of the land outside settlements is intensively farmed except for the wooded area of Birds Hill Provincial Park in the southeast 13.

Entering the Red River from the south is the Red River Floodway 14 built to prevent flooding of Winnipeg by carrying water around the city—most recently used in the spring of 2004. Building the floodway involved excavation of massive amounts of rock and overburden—more it is claimed than for the Panama Canal. The floodway disrupted route ways; shown here are two railway bridges 15 and 16 and one road bridge 17 that had to be built across it.

Route ways in the area—including three railway lines—follow the trend of the Red River. West of the Red River is the CP line 18 that splits in the north, with one branch leading into Selkirk 19 and the other 20 heading north to settlements along the west shore of Lake Winnipeg. East of the Red is a CN line 21 which leads to Pine Falls, and further back is a CP line 22 (now not in existence). Both these lines bend to cross the floodway at a high angle (23 and 24). Roads include PTH 9A 25 close to the west bank of the Red with PTH 9 26 further back. East of the river is PTH 59 27—the Great River Road—which leads to Victoria Beach on Lake Winnipeg. The only east/west roads are PTH 44 28 that runs east from Lockport and PTH 67 29 that runs west to Stonewall (off the photo).

The city of Selkirk in the north 30 has a road pattern determined by the long lot system; northwest/southeast trending roads 31 run along the edges of lots with cross roads 32 at right angles. “Main Street [33] is part of the Old River Road and presses its own individual way across the lots.”[iii] Selkirk is a steel town, the steel mill being visible as a dark-toned area south of town 34. It is also the location of one of two thermal power stations in Manitoba, the other being in Brandon. The dark-toned coal pile (the fuel used) is seen east of the Red 35 which is the water source for the station. The thermal stations at Brandon and Selkirk are used as backups in case of low water flow through the large hydro stations on the Winnipeg River and in northern Manitoba which provide the bulk of Manitoba’s electricity. Selkirk is also the head of navigation for Lake Winnipeg and during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was an important port. Fishing was important on the lake and the river, and Selkirk is “the Catfish capital of Canada” and home to “Chuck the 9 m Channel Cat.”[iv]

Other nucleated settlements in the area are Lockport 5 and St. Andrews 36. Lower Fort Garry Historic Site 37 is located west of the Red below Lockport. Linear settlement occurs along the highways on both sides of the Red (38 and 39).

Figure 12.8: The Location of Selkirk—What Might Have Been

Figure 12.8:  The Location of Selkirk—What Might Have Been

Figure 12.8

Vertical air photograph: A20663-9

Flight height: 19,230 feet a.s.l.; lens focal length: 88.85 mm

Scale: 1:61,000 (approx.)

Date: July 25, 1968

Location: Townships 12, 13 and 14; Ranges 4 and 5E

Mapsheets: 1:250,000 62I Selkirk

1,50,000 62I/2 Selkirk


[i] Lebrecht, S. Trans-Canada Trail Manitoba. Ottawa: Canadian Geographic. 2003, 268.

[ii] Lebrecht, S. op. cit. 2003, 266.

[iii] Warkentin, J. and Ruggles, R. I. op. cit. 1970, 366.

[iv] Lebrecht, S. op. cit. 2003, 270.