A Manitoba Ghost Town

by Hartwell Bowsfield

Manitoba Pageant, September 1956

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant 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 As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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If you look for the town of Nelson on your map of Manitoba you won't find it any more for Nelson had a busy but a short life. In 1877 Adam Nelson with his wife, six sons and one daughter settled in the Pembina Mountain district. The sons who were skilled mechanics encouraged their father to build a grist and saw mill on nearby Silver Creek and soon a little village sprang up.

By 1882 Nelson was full grown and expected to become an important centre in the province. This was the time of a great land boom. Settlers and businessmen coming into the province were looking for homesteads and lots, and some of the best land available was at Nelson. The town continued to grow. A town hall, school, churches, stores and banks were built. Doctors, lawyers, druggists and blacksmiths set up in business. The population reached 500 and a regular stage coaeh route connected the town with Emerson. Yet Nelson withered away and became deserted.

It was expected that the Manitoba Colonization Railway would go through Nelson and build a station there. Unfortunately another railway company bought out this railway and approached the citizens of Nelson asking for tax concessions in return for building through Nelson. When the town would not cooperate the railway said that grass would grow in the streets. This proved true. The railway built a line eight miles to the south of Nelson, near Dead Horse Creek around which the present town of Morden grew.

When the people of Nelson realized they would have no railway connection they said to themselves, “If the railway will not come to us we will go to the railway.” And that is exactly what happened to the town of Nelson. In the spring of 1884 people began to move, and during 1884 and 1885 it was a daily sight to see a number of buildings on sledges and skids being towed to the railway line. A gang of men using fourteen teams of horses worked all winter on this moving job. Brick buildings were torn down and the bricks sold to build farmhouses. The frame hotel was moved to what became Stephen street in Morden. Houses and business blocks were brought in sections and rebuilt. In Morden today there are still standing some of the buildings which were moved from Nelson and from Stevenville and Mountain City, two other towns which had been bypassed by the railway.

From a small beginning Nelson had become one of the most active and busy centres in the province yet it is a ghost town today. In the history of settlement the story of Nelson is but one example of the influence of the railway in the development of the province. In Southern Manitoba it determined the death of one town and the birth of another.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Nelson / Nelsonville (RM of Stanley)

Page revised: 27 December 2013