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Willow Bunch

Town, pop 395, located SE of Assiniboia on Hwy 36. One of the oldest settled communities in the province, Willow Bunch is situated amidst a picturesque landscape of alkaline lakes, rolling hills, and wooded coulees. By the 1860s, Red River MéTIS, pursuing the bison as they retreated southwest, began establishing winter camps, and became hivernants in the area. In early 1870, as tensions at Red River reached a peak, about thirty families, uncertain of their future in the new province of Manitoba, relocated somewhat west of the present town. Later that year, Jean Louis Légaré, who would become recognized as the founder of Willow Bunch arrived, and today Jean Louis Légaré Regional Park, just south of the community, is named in his honour. The first settlement, however, would only be temporary: as the bison began to disappear, many of the Métis moved on—many permanently—while others returned to the district to adopt a more sedentary life. Prior to the turn of the century, more Métis families arrived, and a life of herding and ranching replaced the great buffalo hunts. From around the time of the province’s inauguration in 1905 until the end of World War I, a wave of French-Canadian settlers arrived, and crop production became increasingly combined with ranching. In 1926 the long-anticipated and much-delayed Canadian National Railway line finally arrived, and the community’s future prospects changed. By the mid-1950s the population was approaching 800; in 1970 the community celebrated its centennial. Today Willow Bunch retains its heritage through institutions such as the museum, the school (with its intensive French language program), and the Métis and francophone cultural organizations. Agriculture remains the major industry in the area; however, the Poplar River Power Plant, located southeast of Coronach, provides an important source of employment. The community’s most famous resident was Édouard Beaupré, known as the Willow Bunch Giant; other notable residents of the town include pioneering aviator Charles Skinner and the musical Campagne family of Hart Rouge fame. All of these are now honoured in the town’s museum, formerly a convent and boarding school and now a heritage property.

David McLennan

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