Emerson : Southern Manitoba's Hidden Birding Hotspot

Last night we watched a very impressive storm rolling across the fields, complete with gusting winds, thunder and lightening, and torrential rain that fell so fast it pooled on the ground several inches deep.  That particular smell that comes from rain hitting hot asphalt filled the air, bringing back childhood memories of rainstorms in Alabama.  We were grateful for the shelter and for the cooler temperatures that followed. 

Trans Canada Trail park in Emerson Manitoba.Emerson Manitoba City Hall.

After our flirtation with heat stroke in the punishing temperatures of yesterday afternoon we decided to give our bodies a rest day, only venturing out to get the section of trail we missed, and explore the Trans Canada Trail in Emerson. 

The town of Emerson is located right on the 49th parallel, which separates Canada from the United States of America and is the world's longest undefended border.  The creation of this dividing line began in 1872, when the International Boundary Commission, which consisted of a group of astronomers and surveyors, stepped off a steamship on the banks of the Red River.  The Trans Canada Trail has brought us down to the Canada-US border at several points already, including along the Saint John River, which separates New Brunswick from Maine, the Niagara River, which divides Ontario from Buffalo, and the St. Mary's River, which delineates Ontario from Michigan.  Since leaving Newfoundland this is the first time we've walked along the edge of a land border. Interestingly, Emerson not only sits on the Canada-US border, it also sits at the point where Minnesota, North Dakota, and Manitoba meet along the Red River.  Pretty cool.

Canada United States border boundary marker 49 parallel.

As we walked along Boundary Rd, which sits on top of the raised grassy berm that separates Canada and the US, we spotted metal survey markers below us that delineated the 49th parallel.  True to form, Sean decided to take a photo of these historic markers.  The rotating security cameras on the posts behind us swivelled to follow his every move, and ever since, the border patrol has been circling the motel we're staying in.  So far they must have decided we are mostly harmless. 

It's easy to make light of this, but the border crossing at Emerson is the fifth busiest in Canada, with an estimated 1 million people and $14 billion of goods passing through here in normal years.  With the passage of President Trump's Executive Order 13769 in 2017 Emerson has also seen a large influx of immigrants walking across the border to apply for asylum in Canada.  In 2016, 444 immigrants were apprehended illegally crossing the border into Manitoba, many coming from Africa or the Middle East.  Although the community in Emerson reflects the divided opinions that exist in the rest of Canada regarding immigration, many residents and volunteers in the community have reached out to assist those seeking asylum, and the RCMP have famously helped those in need, providing supplies and first aid to refugees rather than pressing charges. 

Fort Dufferin National Historic Site of Canada.

After crossing the Red River we began our explorations at a small historic site consisting of a few log cabins.  It marks the location of Fort Daer, where the early Selkirk Settlers hunted buffalo when food was scarce at the Red River Settlement.  In 1874 a town site was laid out, which was named after the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

From there we followed a branch of the Trans Canada Trail past a series of waste water treatment ponds.  The first pond was nearly empty, and the smell was nothing to celebrate, but it was absolutely filled with shorebirds!  There must have been about 70 Killdeer running around in the muck, which is the highest density of these shorebirds we've seen yet!  They were joined by groups of Pectoral,  White-rumped, and Least Sandpipers, as well as a small flock of Greater Yellowlegs. 

In the ponds behind them was a large flock of Canada Geese, as well as three families of Wood Ducks, a family of Northern Shovellers, several Mallard families, and a Blue-winged Teal.  Overhead a kettle of Turkey vultures circled, brightly coloured American Goldfinches bounced through the air, and an Eastern Kingbird perched in a nearby tree. 

It turned out the sewage ponds of Emerson are a great little spot to bird! 

Sonya Richmond birding Emerson Manitoba.

Our next stop was the Manitoba tourism centre, which was closed, and we read the monument commemorating the 'March West.'  On July 8th, 1874 three hundred members of the newly formed North West Mounted Police set out from the nearby Fort Dufferin to 'bring law and order' to the Canadian frontier.  Their poorly planned and difficult journey of 1,400 km became known as the arduous 'March West', a test of endurance and survival. Over the next few years this para-military style police force established a number of forts, posts, and patrols across the prairies in an effort to maintain order and prevent American annexation of what are now the prairie provinces.  

Emerson Manitoba tourism centre.
Fort Dufferin March West monument Manitoba..

Fort Dufferin, where the March West began,  is also located along the Trans Canada Trail near Emerson.  The trail is an ATV track that follows the edge of the Red River, and after the rain last night, it was quite sticky and muddy.  Fort Dufferin was used as a base camp by the North American Boundary Commission in the 1870's, and then later it became an outpost for the Northwest Mounted Police.  From 1875 to 1879 the Canadian government used the fort as an immigration station for people on steamboats entering the country via the Red River.  It was also used as a quarantine point for livestock.  In 1937 it was made a National Historic Site. 

Great Trail Pavillion Emerson MB.

Trans Canada Trail map Manitoba.

We visited the Trans Canada Trail Pavilion out front which has clearly seen better days. However this will be the most southerly pavilion that we will visit until Victoria BC.  As is our custom we took time to read through the names of people who donated and supported the vision of this wonderful trail.  We are fully aware that it is because of the kindness and dedication of so many that this system is able to exist.  Each pavilion invariably also holds local interest and here we found evidence that settling families in Emerson had ensured that their family's legacies continued on by establishing the Trans Canada Trail in the region.

On the river path heading back from Fort Dufferin we crossed over another tiny, narrow, swing bridge.  As we crossed over it a Bald Eagle swooped low over our heads flew off down the river. On the far side of the bridge we discovered an unexpected message, hinting at its interesting history. 

During our brief explorations on our day off we managed to cover 8 km of trail. After this it was time to return to our cool oasis and buckle down to do some planning and writing. 

See you on the trail!

Remember to follow our entire adventure here : www.comewalkwithus.online


  1. Sonia and Sean - so glad to see you back on the Trail and looking forward to weeks of fascinating travel stories. Also good to see the recognition that you are now gaining.
    Bon Voyage!

  2. Cool photo of the Dickcissel. I must confess to using iNaturalist to learn its identity.


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