A living monument to peace

The only garden occupying two countries, the International Peace Garden is a tribute to the friendship between two nations. It’s also beautiful, peaceful and intriguing.

Straddling the borders between Manitoba and North Dakota in the mystic Turtle Mountains, the International Peace Garden has symbolized the lasting friendship between Canada and the United States since it opened on July 14, 1932.

It is estimated that over 50,000 people were in attendance at the ceremony dedicating the International Peace Garden on July 14, 1932.
It is estimated that over 50,000 people were in attendance at the ceremony dedicating the International Peace Garden on July 14, 1932.
Original plans for the International Peace Garden.
Original plans for the International Peace Garden.

What a day that was! Over fifty thousand people attended the opening event – and when you think back to how sparsely populated both Manitoba and North Dakota were then, this number is something of a miracle. Cars were parked across the hills as far as the eye could see as people came from miles around to celebrate the day. There were mass choirs and bands from Manitoba and North Dakota. A fleet of airplanes took visitors on aerial tours to view the 2,332 acres of land, 881 acres in North Dakota and 1,451 acres in Manitoba.

Pledges came from 31 non-profit organizations in Canada and the U.S. to carpet the garden with trees and flowers. Hearts were filled with friendship and goodwill as expressed by the boundary marker, a cairn built of stones gathered in both countries. It reads:


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

Interestingly, this was not the beginning of the garden, but rather the culmination of an idea put forward by Dr. Henry Moore of Ontario at a horticulture meeting in Greenwich, Conn. in 1928. He brought forward the concept again at a Toronto meeting of the U.S. National Association of Gardeners and the idea was quickly endorsed. The International Peace Garden, Inc. was incorporated in the State of New York on Sept. 17, 1930.

A number of sites were considered for the garden but when Dr. Moore happened to see Turtle Mountain on a flight west, he was smitten. “Those undulating hills rising out of the limitless prairies . . . What a place for a garden,” he wrote.

Even from the air, Moore recognized the special feeling of this place that had so engaged Pierre de LaVérendrye in 1738, when he first saw Turtle Mountain. He described the site as the “blue jewel of the prairie”. Various nations of aboriginal people have occupied the land for at least 10,000 years. At the western end of what is now Turtle Mountain Park, where the garden is located, the Turtle’s Head, rising 2,450 feet (735 metres) above sea level, is the second highest point in Manitoba.

Originally, all the members and directors of the garden were from the eastern U.S.; a year after the opening, changes were made to populate the board with local people, with equal representation from Manitoba and North Dakota. The first president was Donald Crighton of New Jersey and the first secretary was North Dakota’s Judge John Stormon, who would spend the next 40 years as one of the garden’s most ardent supporters. Currently, the president of the board is landscape architect Charlie Thomsen of Winnipeg.

In 1934, thanks to the labour glut of the Depression, the construction of the garden was begun. The first building was the Historic Henry Moore American Lodge. Erected in 1937, it was the only meeting place for many years. Over the rest of that decade, the bones of the garden were largely put in place, much of this thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Civilian Conservation Corps. Thousands of trees and wildflowers were planted. Picnic areas were created and staff residences were constructed. In 1939, some of the dormitories were built.

Two man-made lakes were excavated. Lake Stormon on the Canadian side of the border honoured American supporter Judge Stormon, and Lake Udall on the American side was named for Canadian W. V. Udall, publisher of the Boissevain Recorder, who was also instrumental in the development of the garden.

After the war, building and garden development picked up pace. The gardens themselves gradually took shape, thanks to a long list of donor organizations that have been the mainstay of garden development and improvement over the years.

The past 83 years have seen many additions and changes to the garden. A peace chapel was added in 1970. The Peace Tower went up in 1983, followed by the Sunken Garden in 1986. Greenhouses were constructed so that the annuals for the formal gardens could be grown on site.

Part of the Vitko cactus and succulents collection.
Part of the Vitko cactus and succulents collection.

During the past decade, the Interpretive Centre was built, followed by construction of two major greenhouses to house a major collection of cactus and succulents, donated by Don Vitko of Minot, N.D. The collection is now a major attraction of the garden. In 2002, twisted steel girders from the destroyed World Trade Centre were brought to the 9/11 memorial site to serve as a reminder of the destructive forces of conflict.

Two key activities have made a significant impact on the animation of the garden. One is the International Music Camp which started back in 1956. It has attracted young people from 76 countries to engage in a wide range of music and arts, including theatre, dance, painting and drawing.

The other is the Canadian Legion Sports Camp, which is in its 54th year. Kids come to take part in July and August from as far away as England and Mexico, not to mention from all sorts of places all over Canada and the U.S.

The garden is a wonderful place to spend a day or a weekend. Boissevain, just 24 miles to the north, offers good accommodation. While in the garden, you can stroll seamlessly back and forth over the border. Most people go home with a photo of themselves with one foot in either country.