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Garden celebrates 90th anniversary

Years of change yet peace remains

File Photo MAIN: Ponds and water features add to the beauty of the Sunken Garden, located in the Formal Garden and supported by the North Dakota Homemakers and the Manitoba Women’s Institute.

DUNSEITH – For 90 years, the International Peace Garden has been a testament to the friendly relationship between the United States and Canada and a monument to the philosophy of brotherhood among people and nations.

With the 100th anniversary approaching, a heritage committee is being formed to capture historic moments with the hope that these can be preserved someday in an interpretative building. Charles Thomsen of Winnipeg, Manitoba, a long-time member of the Peace Garden board, said the board’s desire is to work more closely with Native peoples to research the area’s history and possibly do an eventual archeological dig based on those oral stories.

Thomsen was stationed with the Air Force at the Fortuna radar site when he first visited the Peace Garden in 1965, when few physical structures existed. Much had already been done to advance the garden when he joined its planning committee in 1978.

He recalls serving on the planning committee when the Peace Garden tower was dedicated in 1982 and signing papers for its demolition, due to a structural flaw that threatened its integrity, in 2015 as board president.

The biggest change, though, is the decline among service groups that once were the pillars of support for garden projects and programs, he said.

“These service groups just don’t have the membership, nor do they have the funds anymore, to do the work that’s required really just to maintain these facilities,” Thomsen said. “One of the groups that really still has stepped up and maintains the Masonic Auditorium is the Masons. They do a lot of fundraising and there’s still a large number of members around so they do a good job.”

Although the North Dakota Legislature has been supportive of the Peace Garden, the board realizes it can’t just depend on government funding, he said.

Two years ago, the board hired a Chicago consulting firm to initiate a major fundraising drive for the conservatory expansion now under construction and the children’s environmental play area to be dedicated this summer.

“We’re trying to be more self sufficient and this fundraising is one way to do it,” Thomsen said, noting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “These last two years have been really tough because there have been no visitors or very limited visitors, but we hope that’s a very unique thing because we rely on camping and rentals of our facilities for weddings and anniversaries and groups.”

The Peace Garden was dedicated on July 14, 1932, with an estimated 50,000 people present. Henry Moore of Islington, Ontario, conceived the idea for a garden and made a proposal at a horticultural meeting in Connecticut in 1928. He repeated his plan to the National Association of Gardeners of the United States during its meeting in Toronto the following year.

Moore, a graduate of the famous Kew Gardens in London, along with Joseph Dunlop and Robert Brydon of Cleveland, Ohio, were appointed to choose a site. On an aerial flight westward, Moore spotted the Turtle Mountains and deemed it an ideal place for a garden.

The International Peace Garden, Inc., was established on Sept. 17, 1930. Donald Crighton of New Jersey was elected the first president, and Judge John Storman of Rolla was appointed secretary. More than 30 organizations in Canada and the United States volunteered cooperation. As the story goes, the first contribution came from a child, Dorothy Simpson of Long Island, who gave a crisp dollar bill as her subscription.

The Province of Manitoba provided 1,451.3 acres of land, and the State of North Dakota donated 888 acres. Hugh Vincent Feehan, a Minneapolis landscape architect, was hired to plan a formal garden area, further developed by the National Park Service of the United States with approval of the National Parks Board of Canada.

The first projects completed were roads, bridges, the main lodge, shelters, and picnic areas. The U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps also built a crescent-shaped lake called Lake Udall in honor of the publisher of the Boissevain Record, W.V. Udall, an ardent promoter of the garden. A larger body of water, Lake Storman, was built on the Canadian side.

A stone lodge provided a meeting room and banquet space for many years. The boundary cairn remained flat-topped until 1960 when a red granite globe marked with meridian lines was placed on top by the Great Northern Railway Co.

Other notable features of the garden have included a symbolic gate, pavilion, a large floral clock, amphitheater and Centennial Auditorium, all added in the 1960s, an all-faith Peace Chapel added in 1970, carillon Bell Tower in 1976 and Masonic Auditorium in 1981. The 120-foot-tall Peace Tower stood from 1982-2015.

Various other design features have been added over the years, including the North Dakota Homemakers Fountain in 1986.

A water treatment station was installed in 1981, which eliminated the need to truck water 16 miles daily from Boissevain. A new superintendent’s residence was also opened that year. In the 1990s, a game warden museum was built.

The bugler at the 1932 opening ceremony, Merton Utgaard, envisioned a camp where students interested in music could obtain instruction. He was instrumental in the opening of the International Music Camp in 1956. The first 113 students and 18 instructors occupied the bunkhouses and barracks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. A music hall was built in 1961 and a kitchen and dining hall in 1963.

Sponsored by the Royal Canadian Legion, a Track and Field Sports Training Program also operated at the Peace Garden. The Order of the Eastern Star introduced the Hands-Across-The-Border picnic in 1972, and in 1974, the International Bicycle Race began its annual run.

On a number of occasions, the North Dakota National Guard bivouacked in the garden for several weeks, doing maintenance work. Also using the Peace Garden for encampments have been the Royal Canadian Legion, North Dakota Farm Bureau, North Dakota Farmers Union, Boy Scouts, and church groups.

In 2010, Rotary International, North American Firefighters Union, and Manitoba Infrastructure donated the 9/11 Memorial that includes iron remnants from the collapsed towers at the World Trade Center. Since then, local organizations have hosted remembrances of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the site.

Not all the interesting history is recorded. Thomsen recalls the summer the garden was dealing with about 800 deer that were devouring the flower beds. The board proposed a deer harvest, which met with hostility from animal groups in Manitoba. Thomsen said he fielded many calls to explain the concerns about Lyme disease and starvation of the over-populated deer, which weren’t indigenous to Manitoba.

The Province of Manitoba refused to conduct the hunt because of the opposition, but North Dakota held a bow hunt.

“That’s one of the reasons if you go to the garden now you will see a giant fence around the portion of the formal garden. That is the only way that you can grow any substantial perennials in the garden. Otherwise, it’s a big salad bar for wildlife,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen added there’s been many ideas proposed for enhancing the Peace Garden, from a golf course to a miniature railroad, but not all proposals have been feasible for cost or other reasons. One of the most concerning ideas was outside of the board’s control. During discussion of a border wall with Mexico some years ago, a suggestion was raised for a border wall with Canada, which fortunately for the Peace Garden, never went very far, he said.

However, the Peace Garden has improved with good ideas that have been implemented, such as the housing now available that helps in recruiting summer staff, he said.

“So I think we’ve made some good steps, and we just hope to continue with that,” Thomsen said.

The addition of an indigenous or First Nation representative to board membership was another important step in recent years, he added.

“We’re in the middle of the Turtle Mountains and there is spoken history that the Turtle Mountains were very important in their culture as a meeting place to resolve issues, and that’s always been a dream of the Peace Garden is to become a place for resolving issues and getting conferences and groups together,” he said.

The Peace Garden has had a conflict resolution center in its building plans in the past, and it continues to be on a wish list, Thomsen said. It also would house an interpretative center containing the archives and history of the garden.

He said the board had intended to construct an interpretative center but changed the plans to a conservatory to accept the Cacti & Succulent Collection donation in 2010 from Don Vitko of Minot. The collection includes more than 5,000 unique species, making it one of the largest unique species collections in the world and an important attraction for the Peace Garden.

Potential future projects include a museum featuring the Native history, a new peace tower, and a rebuild of the formal garden. The drafting of a new master plan for the Peace Garden is expected to be completed by about August.

Anniversary events scheduled

The official 90th anniversary celebration of the International Peace Garden will take place July 29-31.

The celebration will include vendors from Pride of Dakota and Manitoba’s Apple & Pine Market, live music and a historic village demonstration by the Manitoba Living History Society. The Peace Garden is working with the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and other tribes and First Nations in the state and province to present a powwow demonstration.

Plans are to offer a supper that Friday evening called “The Taste of 1932.”

Summer-long historical displays will lead up to the event.

Prior to the primary celebration, there will be a special observance taking place from Friday, July 1, which is Canada Day, to Monday, July 4, American Independence Day.

Triathlon Manitoba is organizing a Peace Garden Triathlon that will feature a bike race, swim, and run.

On Saturday, July 2, the Peace Garden will hold a grand opening for a new children’s play area, consisting of zones representing animals that have been important in the local ecology.

Peace Garden sets summer events

The International Peace Garden has announced a summer of special events. Visit https://peacegarden.com for more information. Meal reservations are recommended.

– Mothers Day Buffet, Sunday, May 8, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. All mothers will receive a succulent plant as a gift. Cost is $20 a person and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

– Fathers Day Buffet, Sunday, June 19, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Cost $20 a person and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

– Mixed Relay Triathlon and Kids of Steel Duathlon, Saturday, July 2.

– Sprint Triathlon and Spring Duathlon, Sunday, July 3.

– 90th Celebration, Friday, July 29-Sunday, July 31

– 90th Dinner Series-Old Fashioned Picnic, Sunday, July 3, 3-8 p.m., in conjunction with opening of new playground, classic picnic activities such as three-legged races, carnival games, face painting, kite flying and pie-eating contest. Cost is $30 a person or $15 for children ages 12 and younger.

– 90th Dinner Series-90 Years of Stars, Friday, Aug. 26, 6-11 p.m. Cost is $65 a person.

– 9/11 Remembrance, Sunday, Sept. 11

– Harvest Dinner, Friday, Oct. 1

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