A Drive The Trail initiative was launched last weekend for the Peace Trail in southeastern Manitoba.

The Peace Trail closely follows the path taken by the first Mennonites to settle in this part of the province. It starts at the Mennonite Landing Site located along the Red River near Ste. Agathe and runs 55 kilometres. The Peace Trail runs across gravel roads and dirt paths, winds past community sites, and ends at the Dirk Willems Peace Garden at Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. 

Glen Klassen is Chair of the EastMenn Historical Committee, which is affiliated with the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society. Klassen says the Peace Trail was inspired by a pilgrimage through the Crow Wing Trail Association, which brought individuals from St. Pierre to St. Malo. He notes that event got the ball rolling, bringing us to last Saturday's launch. 

According to Klassen, the Peace Trail includes 10 waypoints that commemorate historic and community sites. Those who take the trail will learn about the landscape and history of the area through human migration and settlement. And though this trail includes Mennonite history, Klassen is quick to point out that it is not a Mennonite trail. He notes it also has to do with Clearspring and Metis history, ecology, recreation, and spirituality. 

In addition to both the Mennonite Landing Site and Dirk Willems Peace Garden, other waypoints include locations like Niverville Hespeler Park, Tourond Creek Discovery Centre, Chortitz Church and cemetery, Rosenthal Nature Park, and Clearspring.

Klassen says the trail goes through five different municipalities, including Ritchot, Hanover, De Salaberry, Niverville and Steinbach. He notes that to run their trail through these municipalities, they need a Memorandum Of Understanding with each one. 

"We developed a Memorandum Of Understanding with each of them, which lists what they are willing to do and what we are willing to do," explains Klassen. "One of the important things that they are willing to do, we hope, is to provide liability insurance."

Klassen says the Memorandum Of Understanding is about to be signed with the RM of Hanover and their committee is hopeful that this will then be an example for the other four municipalities to follow. 

Klassen notes that because the trail will cross highways and bridges, there is a lot of due diligence they must take care of. 

"We had to make sure that we have the proper signage to warn people of hazards, that we have to worry about insurance, we had to worry about permissions," he adds. "The biggest hurdle is to get permission from Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure, they don't like people crossing highways and bridges and so on. So, we have to work with Trails Manitoba."

Klassen notes Saturday's ceremony was a soft opening called Drive The Trail. 

"For the time being we are not opening it for walkers and cyclists, it's open only for vehicles," he says. "So, we call it the Drive The Trail phase of the opening of the trail."

Meanwhile, Klassen says their committee is installing a kiosk at Hespeler Park in Niverville. The pergola will contain six information panels, describing the immigration, historic sites in Niverville, and even the Crow Wing Trail. Many elements of this project will be donated, including the panels and floor. Klassen says it will cost them about $1,000 to purchase the wood for this project and to do some excavation work. He notes volunteers will then build the structure. Anyone wishing to make a financial contribution towards this project should email grklassen@gmail.com