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RM of Morris

~ Historical Stories & Resources ~

The Manitoba Historical Society Website

The Municipality of Morris is situated in the centre of the Red River Valley, directly between the city of Winnipeg and the U.S. border. The area is drained by two rivers, the Morris and the Red, and the land is extremely fertile. This fertile land was very attractive to the early settlers who were eager to begin production.

This was a perfect place for a settlement; two rivers met, oak, ash and poplar lined the banks and wild fruit was in abundance. By 1801, there were two fur trading stations on what is now known as the Morris River. The R.M. of Morris began as a small settlement known as “Scratching River”.

During this time, there was an influx of settlers into the district; two Mennonite villages to the North-West and a settlement of about 100 people at the junction of the Morris and Red, with more arriving daily. These people felt a need for a local government. As a result, the county of Morris was formed in 1880. It was named after Alexander Morris, the first chief Justice in the Court of Queen’s Bench. The territory was divided into three wards, with two councillors representing each ward. The inaugural meeting of the municipality was held on May 3, 1880. The first regular meeting of the Rural Municipality of Morris Council was held on May 11, 1880.

Much of the area along the Red River was settled by large numbers of immigrants who traveled on the river by steamboat. The Anson Northrup was the first steamboat to break the waters of the Red River in 1859.

As well, many settlers came upriver by barge from the South, and as the Stage Road became more widely used, Red River Carts passed by in regular caravans, heading North and South on the trail. In the 1870’s the Scratching River Settlement was a busy stage stop between Fort Garry and the Forks.

The first Morris based stage coach took its maiden voyage in 1872. It was by this means that passengers, as well as the mail, were transported. It was during this time that many changes took place. A small school was built in 1876, four churches were established and two doctors practiced here. A bakery, mill, blacksmith’s shop, three general stores and three hotels and a liquor store were also set up.

Since the settlements were located along the river initially, due to the fact that this was the only means of transportation, there was a constant need for a way to cross the river. The ferry boat seemed to be the best solution. In 1881, two ferries were purchased to be placed at St. Jean-Baptiste and Morris. Later, two more were purchased for Silver Plains and Union Point.

Bridges were needed as well and at least eight were constructed by 1882. After this time, there was still an urgent need for a bridge over the Red River at Morris and a pontoon bridge was considered the best solution to this problem. This bridge was built in 1906. Construction of a steel bridge began in 1919 and opened to the public in 1921.

The railroad made development of the prairies as a grain and stock raising area possible. In 1882, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completing its line from Rosenfeld to Winnipeg. The railroad grade was under construction and if completed, would have by passed the Scratching River Settlement approximately six miles West. To abandon the projected route and give Scratching River and the settlers along the Red River railway communications, the C.P.R. had to receive compensation of $100,000. However, the Statute of the times prevented a larger bonus than $50,000 to be given for obtaining any one enterprise by any one municipality. Therefore, in order for both the town and the municipality to share the C.P.R. bonus of $100,000, the Town of Morris was incorporated in 1883. The construction of the present CNR rail line from Morris to Winnipeg was built by the Red River Valley Railway in 1887.

Rough prairie trails were in evidence all over the municipality in the early 1880’s but as the district became more settled, the need for better roads increased. In 1871, the new provincial government passed an act proclaiming that the roads running North and South along the rivers would be known as the “Great Highways”. It was along this road that grain was hauled from the settlements of Winnipeg. The first road number given it was the No.14 but before the highway was rebuilt and paved in 1948, it was numbered the No.75. It was during the period of 1911-1921 that the highest population was reached in the Municipality. By the end of this period the population had reached 4, 441.

The advent of the telephone and hydro made great changes to rural living. In 1906 only the main centres of Manitoba were connected by telephone; farmers did not get this service immediately. Many farms in the vicinity of Morris only received electrical service in 1946. Farmers to the South of Morris received power later that year.