International Peace Garden
Doug Hevenor, CEO, described it as a secret garden, because not a lot of people know it exists. It’s unfortunate because from what he explained, the International Peace Garden is a serene haven that should be enjoyed by millions.
The International Peace Garden was founded on July 14, 1932. Interestingly, it was the brainchild of an English immigrant that came to Canada, Henry Moore. He had gone to a gardening conference in Boston, Massachusetts where he was thrilled to see the Canadians and Americans getting along so well. Moore found it so inspiring he decided to make a garden to celebrate the peace between both countries.
After boarding a plane to scout the perfect location—which would naturally be right on the Canadian-American border—he settled on the Turtle Mountain region that borders Manitoba and North Dakota. The location was ideal for a few reasons, one being the natural elevation of the region juxtaposed with the surrounding prairie landscape. Another attractive quality was the aspen forest at the northern part of the garden, allowing for abundant wildlife. Finally, the garden is located 45 miles north of Rugby, North Dakota, the geographical centre of North America, which puts it right near the heart.
With the support of the Canadian and U.S. federal governments, followed by the governments of Manitoba and North Dakota, Moore and his team created two tracks of land, totalling 2400 acres. The international border runs right down the centre, so you can stand with one foot in each country.
To this day, the garden’s initial vision remains. “It’s a place where Canadians and Americans can get together and celebrate the good relationship they have in the tranquility of a garden,” says Hevenor. “It is amazing when people come here and discover their similarities. As the CEO here, it’s very interesting to see Canadians and Americans working together. Our board is made up of 50 per cent Americans and 50 per cent Canadians. We have six elected on either side, as well as two members that are appointed by Manitoba and North Dakota, respectively—it’s a 14 member board. We all have diverse business backgrounds, but we all have lots in common.”
What to see
Sure, there are a tonnes of breathtaking flower beds, but the International Peace Garden offers more than that. With two auditoriums, a museum, memorials, an interpretive centre and two 120-foot-hight peace towers, there is lots to take in. Walking the acreage alone is worth exploring over a few days. In terms of activities, the garden hosts sports camp and music camp every summer and has its own camping facilities.
Hevenor says that, after this summer, the most interesting attractions will be the sunken garden, the renovated interpretive centre and conservatory garden. The interpretive centre is especially noteworthy because it presents an opportunity that the International Peace Garden hasn’t been able to take advantage of yet: winter activities.
“Usually, the garden is open from May to September,” explains Hevenor. “By building the interpretive space with classrooms, a modest library and cafe, we can have people here year-round. It’s a hub to expand revenue generation and a reason to drive to the Peace Garden when it’s -45°C. Visitors can enjoy the garden, look through the displays, sit and have a coffee, or go cross country skiing on 12 miles of trails through the forest. We’re actually situated between two skiing facilities that have no warm-up place afterwards, so there’s an opportunity.”
Besides generating revenue, the interpretive centre will allow the facility to tell a lot of stories through displays. “We can talk about indigenous plants that First Nations used,” Hevenor reasons, “and what the Europeans brought that changed the way the plants were used. We can explain forest and livestock management.”
Another must-see feature is the 9/11 memorial, brought to the garden in June of 2002. When the twin towers fell, Manitoba Premier Doer felt he needed to send a message to North Dakota Governor Hoeven and to America, that Canadians felt with them that day. The memorial has concrete and 10 steel girders from the towers, positioned like rubble.
“You can see it’s a collapsed situation,” explains Hevenor. “The neat thing is when you stand there with the rubble and look to the western horizon, you can see the peace towers and it’s hopeful. To commemorate the event, we have a Freedom Walk here that we celebrate on September 11th. The event celebrates our freedom from fear in North America. We’re not afraid, we can communicate and meet in public places and walk in freedom. Military personnel, firefighters, mounties, police, customs and representation from both governments come and join the celebration. It’s a neat event.”
“It’s funny because I came to deliver TLC to a landscape and a forest. That was my goal. But after being here, I realise how impactful this place is on people. It’s amazing just watching people and listening to their stories.”
There were many organizations that contributed to developing the garden, so the people at the International Peace Garden give back wherever they can. “We participate very strongly with the surrounding communities,” says Hevenor. “I sit on the Turtle Mountain Tourism Association board of directors