There are three routes from the south to Birch River: (a) Lenswood Road (#268) which cuts north-westward on the diagonal across the Valley, off PTH # 10 from a point west of Cowan (a bit past Renwer);
(b) #10 highway itself which pivots directly northward at the eastern outskirts of Swan River to take you past Bowsman to its western intersection with #268 just outside of Birch River;
(c) off the #83 bypass skirting Swan River and directly onto #10 north as you leave the town. The routes (a) and (b) reveal quite different facets of the country north of Swan.
Birch River itself, as the farms grew up around it after 1910, was important in the forestry industry, sporting a mill of its own and a railroad on which the lumber could be shipped out. It remains close to the forestry which supported struggling homesteaders with winter work until WWII but it is now a small, quiet town; yet it remains active and vital with a school (K-8), a museum (Historical Museum & Display), a Community Centre and skating rink, a Canadian Legion (with bingo to support itself on Thursday nights), an outdoor swimming pool, a branch library, a Senior Centre (Northern Neighbours), a Seniors Home (Birchwood Place), a general store, post office, two service stations, three qualified heavy-duty mechanics and five churches (Lutheran, United, Anglican, Catholic, Christian Fellowship) and it is the home-quarters of North Mountain Handi-Van Inc., serving Mafeking, Bellsite, Lenswood and Birch River. In summer, apart from enjoying the weather and landscape, you can quad, fish, swim, water-ski, camp, canoe, picnic or join in various public activities such as trail riding (Birch River Riding Club) or quadding. In winter, of course, you can ice-fish, skate, skidoo (200 miles of groomed trails maintained by North Mountain Riders Snowmobile Club), cross-country ski or watch the Annual Birch River Dog Sled Race (2nd weekend in February).
Lenswood Road (paved) presents a full open view to the north-west of the Porcupine Mountains. Mountain lakes west of Birch River and #10 (chiefly Bell and Steeprock) offer trout, jackfish (pike), walleye and whitefish. At the classic hamlet of Lenswood you cross the Swan River and, with this, you are deep in the human history of the Valley, as a few miles downstream from this point the early forts of the Hudson Bay and Northwest fur companies stood glaring across the silted turbulent water at each other and, a century later, WWI veterans (many survivors of the 1917 Battle of Lens) struggled to establish homesteads and ranches beyond the reach of roads. Past Lenswood, you soon strike the Woody River -- and the town of Birch River rises against the Porcupines on the western horizon.
If, instead of coming north on #268 (Lenswood Road), you happen to follow #10 north from Swan River to its western intersection with #268 outside of Birch River, turn east there for a half-mile and, then, south to go through the town. Though you will be coming from the opposite direction from that described above, strangely all of the above will remain the same.
Pine River/Pulp River
Trout Capital of Manitoba
Pine River 1906-2006 - Settlement of Western Canada picked up momentum after the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. Settlement in west-central Manitoba also quickly followed the building of the Canadian Northern Railway. This railway reached Dauphin in 1896, passing through Pine River in 1898, and reaching Swan River in 1899. The completion of the Colonization Trail in 1897, later known as Highway #6 and today as P.T.H. #10 also opened up this area for settlement. This led to building of towns for every ten miles of track -Valley River, Sifton, Ukraina, Ethelbert, Garland, Pine River, Sclater, Cowan, Renwer, Minitonas, and Swan River. At that time, ten miles was the distance that a farmer could efficiently transport his grain by horse and wagon.
Mafeking is located on the northern tip of the Swan River Valley. Huge stocks of boreal forests, lush vegetation, pristine lakes and rivers make up the landscape in this area. Although the population is shrinking like many other small towns in Manitoba, Community spirit is not.
The area is known for its scenic snowmobile and quad trails, hunting and fishing areas. Mafeking is now known for the Mafeking Community Center Quad Derby and Music Fest, Mafeking Heritage Site; the former St. Margaret's Anglican Church and many other new events that have recently been initiated. The area in and around Mafeking now has many Geocaching sites where the old school houses were located. To find these locations check. http://www.geocaching.com to find co-ordinates for these sites. An explanation of Geocaching is explained on this site. These caches can be located by car, walking, ATV's or snowmobiles.
Only short distances from Mafeking are stunning forests, lakes and mountain trails that may be one of the best kept secrets in Canada. The lakes and streams are filled with Trout, Walleye and Northern Pike. Mafeking, known to hunters throughout Canada and the USA, is possibly one of the best natural hunting spots in the world. To visit Mafeking drive north from Swan River on Highway #10 for approximately 75 kilometers/45 miles or south 160 kms. /100 miles from The Pas. www.mafekingmanitoba.ca
The friendly Village of Cowan is well known for the beginning of the Cowan Trail; which winds its way through the Northeast side of the Duck Mountains to Minitonas (Tent Town). This trail originated in Cowan in 1898. Cowan is situated at the junction of # 10 and #20 Highways; and is well known as the blueberry capital of the area. The North Duck River runs through the town. The business sector of the community has shrunk; but still has a general store, restaurant, gas and diesel, construction company and a number of outfitters in the area. The area also has a strong farming, ranching, and logging sector. Other points of interest are well-groomed snowmobile trails, scenic trails, and school museum. The Village of Cowan is well worth a visit when you are passing through the Swan River Valley.
Cowan School Districts #1132, #2305, #1808 Museum
The Cowan one room schoolhouse museum is located next to Kolisnyk's General Store on Highway #10. The Kolisnyk family have been setting out their collectables in the store for a number of years for everyone to enjoy; and thought of preserving history by setting up a school museum. Sylvester and Rosann Wowchuk heard of the idea and donated the West School # 1132. It got moved into town next to the store in 2003. For a number of years this school was used for a grianery. So there was a lot of work to replace the floor joists, clean, patch, paint, replace windows and find items such as blackboards, desks, books, maps, lights, ink bottles, bell, strap, stove, boiler, etc and build book cases. While restoring the treasure to be as original as possible, the roof got new cedar shingles, the hardwood floor got oiled and new siding made by Bill Boychuk (a 1940's pupil) was installed.