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Manitoba History: A Border Vision: The International Peace Garden

by Charles Thomsen
Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Manitoba

Number 31, Spring 1996

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The Great War of 1918 was once described as having been the war to end all wars. While we eventually came to realize the fallacy of this statement one significant result inspired by this idea is still evident today. The International Peace Garden (IPG), located on the international border between North Dakota and Manitoba near the towns of Dunseith, ND, and Boissevain, MB, was originally conceived in 1928 by Dr. Henry J. Moore, a Canadian horticulturist and teacher from Islington, Ontario. While attending a gathering of gardeners in Greenwich, Connecticut, Dr. Moore conceived the idea of creating a garden on the international boundary “where the people of the two countries could share the glories found in a lovely Garden and the pleasures found in warm friendship.”

Dr. Moore sought to create a living memorial to everlasting peace between two nations; a thing of supreme beauty and an inspiration to the hearts of all humanity. He formally presented the idea the following year at a meeting of the National Association of Gardeners (now the Professional Grounds Maintenance Association) where it was enthusiastically endorsed. A committee of five to be known as the Association’s Committee on the International Peace Garden was appointed to oversee the project. The committee consisted of William N. Craig of Boston, Massachusetts; Robert P. Brydon of Cleveland Heights, Ohio; Joseph Dunnlop of South Euclid, Ohio; Montague Free of Brooklyn, New York; and William J. Gray of Washington, DC. Within months Donald J. Crighton of Covent, New Jersey replaced William N. Craig as chair and member of the committee. Further, a three member committee consisting of Dr. Moore, Joseph Dunlop, and Robert P. Bryden was appointed to select a suitable site for the garden. Other prominent Canadians and Americans who served on the initial international council for the Garden included Mrs. Henry Ford; Lady Eaton, Toronto; Hon. Arthur M. Hyde, Secretary of Agriculture (USA); and the Hon. William R. Motherwell, Minister of Agriculture (Canada).

The concept of the Peace Garden was intended to represent a celebration of the peaceful coexistence between two nations, the United States and Canada, thereby illustrating to the world their commitment to world peace. Inscribed on a simple stone cairn at the entrance to the Garden are the words: “To God in His Glory. We two nations dedicate this Garden and pledge ourselves that as long as man shall live, we will not take up arms against one another.” It was proposed that the Garden would physically be one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, and include plants that were native to each country, greenhouses and conservatory, individual gardens of different styles and purposes, a radio station to broadcast globally messages of peace and brotherhood, and a school for the education and training in “gardening”. In many ways the intent of the early visionaries of this garden was to create a second “Garden of Eden”. (Moore, September 1929) Mr. Donald Crighton, president of the National Association of Gardeners and the first president of the International Peace Garden, commented that, “man’s first habitation on earth was (we are told) a beautiful garden—the Garden of Eden—and the farther he drifted from that Eden the more subjected to his misfortunes he became, the victim of trials and tribulations, of war and bloodshed.”

Original design for the International Peace Garden by H. V. Feehan, 1934.

Original design for the International Peace Garden by H. V. Feehan, 1934.
Source: Charles Thomsen

To finance this project a major promotional campaign through newspapers, radio, and public speeches was undertaken to encourage small monetary donations from as many individuals as possible, especially school children, rather than large donations from only a few. The intent was to make the Peace Garden a “peoples’ garden”. It was believed that by contributing to its creation the public would revere it, and would therefore be hesitant to destroy it. An endowment of $5,000,000 was to be raised and invested to yield an annual revenue large enough for the capital necessary to purchase land and plant the garden, as well as provide funds for maintenance. (Moore, September 1929, Crighton, December 1930) The strategy was to raise the money by having every pre school aged child in the United States and Canada give five cents, every school aged child give ten cents and every adult a minimum of twenty-five cents. While donations were made to the Garden fund it was not an overwhelming success as the Depression was crippling both countries and in some parts of Canada a worker’s wages were as low as five cents an hour. Twenty-five cents was almost a day’s wages.

While today there are a growing number of sites commemorating the current international movement towards world peace, at the time of the International Peace Garden’s original conception such examples were a rarity. The only notable examples were Christ of the Andes; a giant statue of Christ placed on the border between Chile and Argentina on the summit of Uspallata Pass in the Andes Mountains; and the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, extending into the State of Montana and the Province of Alberta. The heroic bronze statue of Christ was dedicated in 1904 as a symbol of perpetual peace between two nations. The statue was cast from melted military armaments, and hauled thirteen thousand feet to the top of the mountain by the armies of both nations. (Keeler, January 1931, Crighton, October 1931) The second example, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, was officially dedicated on 18 June 1932 at East Glacier, Montana. The development of the International Peace Garden between Manitoba and North Dakota was no less an ambitious undertaking.

H. J. Moore plan for the International Peace Garden entrance, 1939.

H. J. Moore plan for the International Peace Garden entrance, 1939.
Source: Charles Thomsen

Great debate preceded the decision to locate the International Peace Garden near the mid continental location. Original plans called for locating it closer to Buffalo, New York, and the larger population centers of eastern United States and Canada. It would seem that the large water oodles and steeper topography that divided the two nations near Niagara Falls were seen more as barriers, and made the opportunity for creating a unified landscape expression of peaceful coexistence more difficult.

The site selection committee decided that a site should be sought more centrally located within the North American continent. After the Province of Manitoba offered to donate 1451.3 acres of land in the Turtle Mountains, located only 30 miles from the geographic center of North America, and the State of North Dakota offered to donate 888 acres, the mid-continental site was selected. Dr. Moore was quite enthusiastic about the site selected after viewing it from the air; “What a sight greeted the eye. Those undulating hills rising out of the limitless prairies are filled with lakes and streams. On the south of the unrecognizable boundary, wheat everywhere, and on the north, the Manitoba Forest Reserve. What a place for a garden.” Further, Moore stated, “ (The site) will be a great international unit not divided by rivers, nor other natural barriers, but a land without a barrier, without a line, a great No Man’s Land and Every man’s Land, wherein everyone may meet in the fullest spirit of friendship.” (Moore, October 1931) The proposed site was also located on the Canada-Canal Highway stretching from Churchill on Hudson Bay to the Panama Canal, and beyond to the southern tip of South America, Cape Horn. The not as yet fully developed Main Street of the Americas highway (Route 10 in Manitoba and Route 3 in North Dakota) was envisioned to become the longest north and south highway in the world. (Marshall, 1982)

Enthusiasm for the creation of the Garden was significant and evident with over 50,000 people attending the dedication ceremony on 14 July 1932. This attendance rate was quite remarkable considering that traveling by automobile over rough and unimproved local roads usually meant getting stuck in mud or having a flat tire. A Cairn built of native stone gathered from both sides of the boundary line was the first evidence and design feature built on the Garden site. President Herbert C. Hoover of the United States, as well as the Canadian Governor-General, Lord Bessborough, and Prime Minister, the Honorable R. B. Bennett, sent congratulatory messages to the dedication ceremony.

Dr. Moore, who had been trained at the world famous Kew Gardens in London, England, and had taught at Cornell University in New York State and the Ontario Horticultural College, at Guelph, Ontario, initially developed the plans for a small formal garden at the border entrance to the site. In 1933, Hugh Vincent Feehan (1899-1952), a prominent landscape architect with an office in Minneapolis was appointed by the American Society of Landscape Architects to prepare more comprehensive design plans for the border Garden. The original plans that Feehan prepared were bilaterally symmetrical in composition with a primary axis oriented east-west along the international boundary, and bisected approximately at the mid point of the one mile length by a short north-south axis. Prominent views and a tower were proposed for the terminus of the east-west axis at a high point at the west end, a variety of terraces were proposed along the mid slopes and a major water feature located at the lowest topographic position at the intersection of the north-south axis. Entrance to the Garden was proposed for the east end of the border axis with formally designed customs offices and border facilities. The plan for the formal part of the Garden reflects an application of the formal design principles of the Renaissance period, and works effectively to mask the appearance of an international political boundary.

The physical development of the original 930 hectare (2298 acres) site began in 1934 with the establishment of a US Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. Between 1934 and 1941 approximately 150 to 200 men participated in the construction of the earliest Garden features. During this period the Corps, under the supervision of The United States National Park Service (NPS), built dormitory style barracks and tourist cabins, constructed open air fireplaces and picnic shelters, developed three miles of gravel roads with bridges and cleared trails, built an amphitheater located in a natural bowl capable of accommodating up to 2,000 people, and constructed a high wire fence with stone pylons on the outer boundaries of the site. The CCC also built a dam and artificial lake, later named Lake Udall after Canadian W. V. Udall (then editor of the Boissevain Recorder and instrumental in the development of the Garden) on the US side.

During this same period on the Canadian side, additional construction was undertaken. Work consisted of a graveled road and trail system, a water reservoir, extensive reforestation, fencing, and a second larger lake, later named Lake Stormon in honor of an American judge and long time president of the IPG, John A. Stormon. Funds for this work were provided by the Dominion Government, and was supervised by the Department of Public Works of Manitoba.

Many of the CCC structures are fine examples of NPS rustic style architecture. Engineers, landscape architects, and other NPS professionals were directly involved in the skillful and often laborious execution of these projects. Efforts are being made today to historically designate and protect these earliest structures in the Garden. As the earlier land use of the North Dakota portion of the site was agriculture, extensive tree and shrub planting had to be undertaken to provide adequate windbreaks and wildlife habitat. The most impressive piece of construction at this time was the lodge. The CCC constructed it from North Dakota granite and Riding Mountain timber. The dimensions of the structure are 105 feet long with a 60 foot wing and contains two massive stone fireplaces. Today the lodge is the scene each year of the annual general meeting, and as well is used extensively for a variety of events within the Garden. Walter F. Clarke, a landscape architect working for the National Park Service in Omaha, Nebraska, supervised the preparation of working drawings and a refined master plan in 1939.

Original design of the peace tower by H. V. Feehan, 1934.

Original design of the peace tower by H. V. Feehan, 1934.
Source: Charles Thomsen

Lack of funds due to the Depression together with the start of the Second World War limited development of the Garden during these early years. By 1948 financial aid from both the Canadian and United States governments again became available, and this gave new impetus to the physical development of the site. Between 1950-55 development of the east end of the 160 acre Formal Garden area along the border began with the construction of a formal Peace Panel, Terrace Panel, Sunken Garden, and Cascade Panel. Garden plots were laid out within this formal area in order to allow service groups to contribute directly to the development of the Garden. Groups such as the American and Canadian Junior Red Cross, The Women’s Federated Institute of Canada, the Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire of Canada, the Daughters of the Empire in the United States, the Canadian Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, and the Manitoba and North Dakota Grand Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star raised funds and developed portions of the border garden.

In 1956, Dr Merton Utgaard and Professor Marvin Fjeld founded the International Music Camp. The Camp used the lodge, amphitheater, and the three barracks constructed earlier by the CCC. Additional facilities were gradually added for the Music Camp including a music hall, dining hall, kitchen and various other support structures. During the summer of 1994 through 1995 six new dorms and an 500 seat Performing Arts Centre, designed by Gaboury Associates of Winnipeg were added. The Legion Athletic Camp, developed by Mr. George Phillips and Mr. Fred Taylor, with a track and field training program, and equestrian facilities were added in 1962.

Water garden designed by H. V. Feehan, 1934.

Water garden designed by H. V. Feehan, 1934.
Source: Charles Thomsen

Other notable features of the Garden that have been added over the years include a symbolic gate (1964) stretching across the entrance yet leaving a gap directly above the border; a large floral clock (1966), donated by the Bulova Watch Company, which is a replica of a similar clock in Berne, Switzerland; an Arboretum maintained by the Manitoba Horticultural Association; an all-faith Peace Chapel (1968) situated on the border at the west end of the formal garden; a Masonic Auditorium (1981) with a unique plan forming the Masonic emblem; Bell Tower (1975) with carillon bells donated by the First United Church of Brandon; and the Errick F. Willis Pavilion (1965) constructed to commemorate Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967 (located on the shore of Lake Stormon it was named for a Manitoba Lt.-Governor).

In 1970 a proposal for the design of the Avenue of the Provinces, a north/south axis perpendicular to the border at the approximate mid point of the east/west axis, was proposed by the Parks Branch, Province of Manitoba. Plans for the Peace Tower at the west end of the Formal Garden, an underground visitor’s Reception and Interpretation Center at the east end, as well as further refinement to plans for both the Avenues of the Provinces and States were developed in 1980 by Galpin/Poppleton, landscape architects from Bismark, South Dakota, together with Number Ten Architectural Group of Winnipeg, MB. The 120-foot (36.6 meters) tall Peace Tower, with four columns representing people from the four corners of the world coming together to form two similar but distinct nations with a common base of democracy and beliefs was constructed in 1982. Lack of sufficient funds has prevented many of these previously conceived ideas and plans for the garden from becoming a reality.

Since the 1930s when work first began on the development of the International Peace Garden there have been many individual and group contributions of ideas as well as materials and funds. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the Formal Garden becoming a collection of unrelated features and materials. By the 1980s it was evident a new unified plan to bring harmony and a sense of order back to the Garden was necessary. During the period of 1983-87, a fourteen member planning committee together with the assistance of two landscape architects, Charlie Thomsen of Winnipeg, MB and John Burley of Fargo, ND, developed a revised plan for the Formal Garden area. This updated plan redefined existing developed areas of the Garden, and included additional design proposals for the development of those areas as yet undeveloped. Among the design proposals were fountains and plantings in the Formal Cascade, the Water (Sunken) Garden, and the Informal Cascade. In addition, proposals were made for the Informal Green adjacent to the Peace Tower, the Avenues of the Provinces and States, the Peace Grove at the west end of the Garden, and the Arboretums north and south of the Formal Cascade.

Conceptually, in this plan, the international boundary remained the central axis and the principle organizing element. Spatial development along this axis remains organized from east to west, a reflection of the sequence of national and prairie settlement. A series of cross axes are intended to express the common aspirations of both Canada and the United States. The development of the cross axes propose to highlight the individual national characters through contrasting, yet complementary designs, thereby expressing the differences within shared goals. Within this classic framework it is intended for development along the central axis to reflect the opposite, often conflicting relationships of the concepts of rational man and the processes of nature, as expressed through the disciplined geometry of the formal garden areas and the natural forms of the informal garden areas.

The construction of the North Dakota Homemakers Fountain (1986) was one of the first steps in the implementation of the revised plan. The fountain, situated on the major north/south cross axis serves as a gateway to the Water (Sunken) Garden from the future Avenue of the States. A matching fountain was constructed directly opposite on the north side of the border where it will serve as a gateway from the Avenue of the Provinces. The granite materials used in the construction of these fountains is consistent with the colors and textures of the stone used elsewhere in the garden. This serves to unify the seemingly disparate parts of the overall garden design. Set within the central basin of the Water Garden a flock of sculptured geese is proposed; free spirits for which the existing political boundary between the two nations is insignificant. This seems a fitting expression and response to the original intent and vision for the Garden.

Visitation to the Garden in recent years has increased (127,000 in 1989 and slightly over 200,000 in 1995) despite its great distance from major population centers. The sign-in book in the chapel is filled with the names of visitors from almost every state and province of Canada and the United States as well many countries overseas. During the summer of 1995, 2,778 students from 22 different countries participated in the Summer Arts Program at the International Music Camp. In 1977 the Peace Garden was used for the first time as the neutral site for meetings to discuss an international dispute between Canada and the United States. The conflict was between Manitoba and North Dakota over proposed river diversions of the Garrison Project, a hydro-electric power scheme in the US with potentially detrimental ecological effects in the Souris River valley in Canada.

In spite of financial hardships over the years the Garden has realized much success, and remains a living testimonial to the vision and goodwill of many dedicated individuals. The early visionaries responsible for the creation of the International Peace Garden realized the difficulty and magnitude of their undertaking. “The consummation of these ideals may take years or even centuries, but with God’s help, with faith, perseverance and courage, it shall, it must, ultimately come about.” (Anonymous, 1940) These founding individuals hoped that future generations would become equally inspired, and likewise dedicate themselves to the creation of a garden of peace. A garden which symbolizes humanities greatest ambitions and highest ideals.

Picnic shelter at the International Peace Garden, 1972.

Picnic shelter at the International Peace Garden, 1972.
Source: Charles Thomsen


“Flowers Instead Of Deadly Guns”, The Shore Press, Asbury Park, Sunday, August 2, 1931.

Crighton, Donald J. 1930. “The International Peace Garden”, Gardeners Chronicle of America, December, pp. 149-150, 170.

Davey, Martin L. 1930. “International Peace Garden”, Gardeners Chronicle of America, May,

Davey, Martin L. 1930. “International Peace Garden”, (extracts from a radio address), The Kablegram, July, pp. 5-6.

Dunlop, J. R. (?). Report On My Visit Of Inspection To The Turtle Mountain Reserve Site For The International Peace Garden, National Association of Gardeners.

Garrison, Lemuel A., 1966. “Quality as a Guide in International Peace Garden”, The Prairie Garden, Winnipeg, MB., pp. 13-14.

Gilliespie, Una W., 1982. The International Peace Garden: Its Origin and Development 1928-1981, Boissevain, MB.

Graves, Harry,1977. International Peace Garden, Inc., North Dakota Agricultural College, Extension Service, Fargo, ND.

I.P.G. 1932. Dedication of the World’s First International Peace Garden, July 14, 1932, (programme of dedication events).

I.P.G, Inc. 1937. International Peace Garden in the Turtle Mountains, Commit-tee on Garden Information, Minot, ND.

I.P.G.,Inc. 1940. International Peace Garden Being Developed by the Citizens of the United States and Canada,

I.P.G. 1947. International Peace Garden: North America’s Living Lesson of Good Will.

I.P.G., Inc., no date, International Peace Garden: A Concise Review Of Its Background, Ideals and Future Program.

I.P.G., 1967. The International Peace Garden, Boissevain, MB.

I.P.G., 1990. Development Policy Guidelines, International Peace Garden Planning Committee, International Peace Garden, October.

K-K, 1932. Presentation Landscape Foundation Design for the International Peace Garden, (presentation to International Peace Garden Commissioners and exhibition at the Hudson’s Bay Company, Winnipeg, June 27 to July 5,1932), sponsored by The Western Home Monthly, Winnipeg, MB.

Keeler, Dr. Ralph Wells,1931. “The International Peace Garden”, Gardeners Chronicle of America, January, pp. 6, 22.

Manitoba Centennial Corporation, 1965. “Peace Garden Plans Progressing Well”, The Centurion, Winnipeg, April.

Marshall, Brian D. 1982. International Peace Garden 50th Anniversary Commemorative Guide, IPG.

Mayes, Hubert G. 1992. “The International Peace Garden: A Border of Flowers”, Beaver, August-September, pp. 45-51.

McLeod, Carla Jane, 1982. “Dream Turns Into An Inspiring Reality”, Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg, MB., Saturday, July 17, pp 1 (Leisure).

MacLeod, John, Peace Parks On The Borderline: Canada and the United States, (unpublished article)

McKenzie, D. G. (?). “International Peace Garden, Incorporated”, The Winnipeg Flower Garden, Winnipeg, MB., pp. 11-18.

McKenzie, D. G. 1947. The International Peace Garden: A Symbol and a Challenge (address given).

Moore, Henry J. 1977. International Peace Garden: North America’s Living Lesson of Good Will, Islington, Ontario. (note: Moore died 21 September 1946)

Moore, Henry J. 1929. “An International Peace Garden”, Gardeners Chronicle of America, September.

Raymond, E. T. 1930. “The International Garden Of Peace, A Beautiful Symbol”, Gardeners Chronicle of America, January, pp. 89, 97.

Rice, F. C. W. 1966. “The International Peace Garden,” The Prairie Garden, Winnipeg, MB., pp. 14-15.

Rice, Fred 1966. “International Peace Garden Embraces Numerous Projects,” Winnipeg Free Press, Over the Garden Wall, No. 951, Saturday, January 15.

Shipley, Nan 1982. International Peace Garden 50th Anniversary, Peguis Publishers Ltd., Winnipeg.

Storman, John A. 1964. “A History of the International Peace Garden”, North Dakota History, Vol. 31, No. 4 (updated and reprinted as a separate document by The State Historical Society of North Dakota, 1974).

Thomsen, Charles H. 1989. “The International Peace Garden: An Update On Recent Garden Developments”, Prairie Garden, pp.

Tinline, M. J., 1953. The International Peace Garden, Incorporated: History and Progress, (revised 1958).

US National Park Service 1966. International Peace Garden: Master Plan For Management, Development And Use, NPS

US National Park Service 1992. International Peace Garden: General Management Plan, Development Concept Plan and Interpretive Prospectus, United States Department of the Interior, NPS Rocky Mountain Region, Denver.

Werier, Val, 1984. “Hand Across the Border”, Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg, September 6.

Further Information Sources

Boissevain Provincial Archives — File: International Peace Garden

International Peace Garden Archives — In the administrative office at the Garden under numerous files.

Manitoba Provincial Archives (Winnipeg) — Files: International Peace Garden, William V. Udall, Photography archives, Bracken papers.

National Park Service Archives (Western Region, Denver; Midwest Region, Omaha)

North Dakota State Archives (Bismark)

Refined master plan for the International Peace Garden by W. F. Clarke of the US National Park Service, 1940.
Source: Charles Thomsen

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: International Peace Garden

Page revised: 29 June 2019

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