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Crossing over to the other side

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I’m not talking about changing teams or loyalties, or passing into the afterlife. 

Today I am talking about how Charleswood residents used to cross over the Assiniboine River into St. James before the bridge on the Perimeter was built. For many years the way Charleswood residents did this was by taking the "ferry."

The original ferry crossing was at Kelly’s Landing, now Berkley Street North. It connected with Rouge Road on the north side, and ran from 1870 to 1908. But the ferry was moved in 1908 due to shallow water. The original location is a historic area called "The Passage."  The Charleswood Historical Society was successful in a recent grant application to receive funds to mark this site.  

This is a centennial project, and a plaque plus two interpretive panels, with pictures and text, will be installed by June 2014.  

The low banks and shallow water at The Passage enabled thousands of buffalo to cross the river as they migrated to the plains each year. The buffalo hunters from St. François Xavier and other Métis communities would cross there as well, to follow the herds for the annual hunt. Their path on the south side of the river became the Old Pembina Trail.

The second location where the ferry ran was just west of the present Perimeter bridge. It ran from 1908 to 1959, when the Perimeter bridge was built. This ferry crossed the river and connected with St. Charles Street on the north side. This location was referred to as "The St. Charles Ferry."  

You can see St. Charles Church, the school and cemetery on the other side of the river. Families from Charleswood used the ferry to attend church and attend school at St. Charles. The Charleswood Historical Society hopes to put in a canoe launch at this location in the future once they are able to obtain funding.  

The only other bridges around were Headingley to the west, and the Maryland Bridge (1894) to the east, until the St. James Bridge was built in 1936. Before that, you could walk across the train bridge at St. James, and we believe streetcars used that bridge, as well.

The ferry operated in the summer, and during the winter you would drive across on the ice. That was fine in cold weather, but springtime presented some problems. One was that this side of the river was more shaded, but the north side had full sun, so in spring, it was hard to tell when it was really safe to cross. Travellers became more nervous as the sun shone more brightly.

On the south side of the river, there was also a road cut through the bush beside the river, extending from St. Boniface to Baie St. Paul. If you walk five minutes west of this ferry site, you can still see that road and the old ruts in the ground from thousands of Red River carts as the opening in the bush takes you to the site of the current Perimeter Bridge. It can also be seen at Kelly’s Landing at the Passage.

I find it very interesting uncovering these and other facts about our history in Charleswood, especially this year as we celebrate Charleswood’s Centennial.

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