Crow Wing Trail
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Culture and Design

  • History of the trail

Crow Wing Trail:

Prepared by: K. Walsh, May 2006


The Crow Wing Trail was a historical trade route connecting the Red River settlement of Fort Garry (present-day Winnipeg), Manitoba with St. Paul, Minnesota.  Today, the Canadian section has been uncovered and now forms a part of the Trans Canada Trail, a recreational pathway aiming to link all Canadian provinces and territories. 

History of the Trail

First Nations people, including the Ojibwa and Dakota, were semi-nomadic, roaming on foot in pursuit of their livelihood, the buffalo.  Parts of the paths formed by the indigenous people later joined up to form parts of the Crow Wing Trail.  As settlers began to arrive, the trade industry grew, and traffic began to flow between Fort Garry and St. Paul.  The Métis used the trail to trade furs and pemmican. Immigrants from northern and eastern Europe travelled along it as they settled the territory. 

For many years this route was heavily used.  The exact route of the trail was not consistent from one year to the next, however.  Season, weather, flooding, food, water and shelter each played a role in guiding travellers along the particular route.  The cart, pulled by pony, and later by ox, was a common means of travel.  Made entirely of wood, this vehicle was designed for easy repair on the road, and could readily be converted into a raft with the removal of the wheels, often a necessity in the flood-prone Red River Valley.  It was not uncommon for trains of up to two-hundred carts to travel along the trail, making such a racket that it came to be known as the Northwest Fiddle.

Between 1820 and 1870, railway lines were constructed, and the trail as a major trade route was abandoned in favour of this faster form of transportation.  Portions of the trail came to be used at a local level; some were developed into country roads, some is now within farmers’ fields.  To this day, farmers have difficulty with parts of the land that was formerly trail; the heavy traffic compacted the soils underfoot, making it difficult to plough. 

For years, the trail was tucked away in history, but recently, with the construction of the Trans Canada Trail, it has enjoyed a revival in interest.

(The above information compiled from Panachenko et al., 2004 and brochure of Crow Wing Trail: Otterburn to St. Malo.)


The Roseau River, Roseau Rapids First Nation.  Credit: Panachenko, 2004
Crow Wing Trail, from Winnipeg to the US border.  Credit: Manitoba Culture, Heritage & Tourism, 2002

The Métis used the trail as a trade route until 1870.

Credit:  Manitoba Culture, Heritage & Tourism, 2002

A cart train Manitoba Culture, Heritage & Tourism, 2002