Sometimes thought of as a diamond in the rough, the Town of Rivers has quietly shone brightly through history. It all started when Sir Charles RIVERS-Wilson brought his Grand Trunk Railway across the plains bringing promise and hope to settlers.
Through adversity of a time of uncertainty, those very pioneers established businesses, services and families who still call Rivers and area home.
In 1883 the Manitoba Provincial Government drew out the boundaries for all rural municipalities in Southern Manitoba which included the R.M. of Daly. The R.M. of Daly, which entirely surrounds the Town of Rivers, has one of the most unique topographical layouts in the province. It includes a man-made lake (Lake Wahtopanah), two rivers (Little Saskatchewan and the Assiniboine River) as well as several beautiful and colorful ravines and valleys.
The Town of Rivers, named in honour of The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s president Sir Charles Rivers-Wilson, was conceived when the railway was being planned and a division point was required. Construction of the roundhouse, coal shed, water system, repair shops, etc., began in 1907. The needs of the 350 railworkers and their families were met by the construction of houses and businesses. In 1911 the settlement had grown to village size and was incorporated as a town in 1913. The coming of the railroad and the establishing of the Town of Rivers had a major impact on the surrounding area.
Prior to WWII, the Federal Government established a Central Navigational School known as #1 CNS just south of Rivers. This quickly grew and with the construction of runways became an air-training base during WWII. Closed at the end of hostilities, it was reopened in the late 1940’s and became a Joint Training base with all three of the military branches represented. This base was considered redundant in 1968 and closed in 1969/70.
The base was turned over to the Department of Indian Affairs and became Oo-Za-We-Kwun Centre, a training place for the aboriginal peoples of Western Canada. An industrial park was established and industries were encouraged to rent the hangars for their various manufacturing enterprises. This venture was closed in 1980 by the Department of Indian Affairs, and the Federal Government offered the base for sale. An entrepreneur presently owns the base, utilizing some of the buildings for agricultural purposes.
The Town of Rivers has had several periods of growth and depression. The change in the railroad, from steam to diesel, the amalgamation of the repair facilities, and the closure of the local ones caused a downturn that was ended by the coming of the Canadian Forces. The subsequent closure of and the re-opening of this facility and the final closure brought about a major depression; however, the surrounding agricultural enterprises have been a constant source of opportunity for Rivers, and the town has survived. Agriculture is the economic driver for the town, and with the coming of major agricultural enterprises such as Maple Leaf Meats (located in Brandon), it is expected that the town and the RM of Daly will continue to thrive and grow.
Currently, a new history book is being compiled. If you have any information regarding the History of Rivers, please contact Dora at the Prairie Crocus Regional Library at 328-7613.