NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — Over the past months, KX’s One-Day ND Destinations has taken you on a journey all throughout North Dakota in search of great places that you can get to in under a day’s worth of travel. While the column was originally created to showcase locations in and around Bismarck, as it continues on, our reach has expanded to the entirety of Western North Dakota — and in the process, our writer has traveled both between our multiple stations and everywhere from the Knife River Villages to the Badlands of Medora. As the weather begins to complicate travel throughout the state, though, it would seem that it’s time to settle in for the winter and end our adventures for the year.
Given the very nature of the column, however, it’d be wrong to end it without taking one final trip to mark the end of One-Day ND Destinations — and as it happens, there is one major attraction, at the northernmost point of North Dakota, that we have not discussed yet. High up in Dunseith, directly between the United States and Canada lies the International Peace Garden: An enduring symbol of the bond between the two countries, and indeed the very same location that gave our state its nickname. For the final entry into this column (until next summer, at least), we felt there would be no better way to see it off than by visiting the Peace Garden ourselves for one last super-sized double column. Join us as we bid farewell to KX’s Travel segment with a massive exploration of everything that this iconic area has to offer.
The Peace Garden was originally the brainchild of Dr. Henry J. Moore — a resident of Islington, Ontario — who dreamt of creating a garden on the border between the US and Canada where people could grow closer as a result of shared hobbies and experiences. After developing the original idea in 1928, he would eventually propose the idea to the National Association of Gardeners the following year. The project was approved, and after a suitable location (the geographical center of North America) was decided, both the US and Canada pitched in to make Moore’s dream a reality. In Canada, Manitoba donated 1,451 acres of land to the garden, and North Dakota both purchased and donated their own 888 acres as well.
The full site was officially dedicated on July 14, 1932. According to the Peace Garden’s website, a total of 50,000 individuals from both countries journeyed to the border in order to witness the initial groundbreaking and dedication ceremony. Over time, the area has evolved from a simple garden into a massive complex, which is filled with more than 200 structures — including a series of theaters, pavilions, small activity centers, and a large “Peace Plaza” signaling the actual border line between the two countries.
In addition to its more developed side, the Peace Garden boasts a huge array of wilderness trails, nature hikes, and picnicking areas to enjoy, as well as countless opportunities for all sorts of outdoor activities — including canoeing, kayaking, and even skiing in the winter. This effectively means that at any point in the year, one can visit the area for an entirely different experience than in any other season.
“If you’re coming in the summer after we’ve planted our annuals,” explains Visitors’ Services Manager Jennifer Beard, “you’re going to see a stunning array of thousands of flowers in unique arrays, natural play areas, kayaking, and hiking trails. If you come in the fall and spring, you’ll be able to hit the hiking trails at their most gorgeous times. In the winter, you’ll get snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails, in addition to the Conservatory opening in December.”
This abundance of activities means that particularly outdoorsy families can spend multiple days, and even quite possibly entire weeks, exploring everything the Peace Garden has to offer. Thankfully, the area also features a large campground for RVs, as well as multiple cabins that include full lounge areas, kitchens, and bedrooms. Although the cabins are generally used as staff and volunteer housing during the summer months, they are open for attendees to rent during the fall and winter.
Altogether, the garden is stated to host at least 200,000 visitors annually from across the world — many of whom go to enjoy its beautiful outdoor environment and wide open spaces. Even when the weather gets chilly, though, there is still plenty to discover there. Here’s a list of some of the most popular attractions and features throughout the Peace Garden that are open for everyone to enjoy at any time of the year.
Raised and Sunken Garden
Arguably the most famous part of the Peace Garden is, understandably, its carefully cultivated central flower display area. The area is particularly noted for its tremendous floral designs of all shapes and sizes during the summer months– which are typically designed in a new theme every year. A grand total of 60,000 – 80,000 annuals bloom each year in the Peace Garden, according to employees. The Sunken Garden, located even deeper inside the flowering area, features a massive and beautiful octagonal pool, as well as two reflecting pools with water features — all of which are decorated with blossoms, rocks, and sculptures. To the sides of the pools lie a pair of stone garden houses, which mark the avenues of America and Canada.
While the park may not have as many blooms or water pumps active now as it does during the summer, there are still plenty of things to see during a visit in the fall or the winter. A large portion of the garden is dedicated to perennial flowers — those that bloom at all times of the year in different forms. This means that even touring during the colder months can be extremely rewarding, as it’s the only time to spot some truly unusual flower displays and multicolored blossoms, both in the public displays and private greenhouses alike. In 2023 alone, the Peace Garden ordered 500 new perennial plants at the very least — and while an exact number cannot be given, representatives of the organization state there are over 2,000 varieties of perennials in the Sunken Garden alone.
As for what lies in store for the future of the Sunken Garden, we have it on good authority that next year’s floral arrangements will be themed around famous children’s books — including a complete “Alice in Wonderland” display at the entrance to welcome visitors to a truly beautiful rabbit hole.
Game Warden Museum
The North American Game Warden Museum, which is nestled in the garden, is a perfect place to unwind during your trip and learn more about those who keep nature safe from those seeking to exploit it. Although the building is owned by a completely different organization than the Peace Garden, it is still considered to be a part of the territory, and a visit to the museum is included with any ticket into the area. In addition to a small series of displays about the work of game wardens throughout the continent, the area is also home to a memorial honoring every warden who has died in the line of duty in both the US and Canada — including those here in North Dakota.
Inside the small building, guests to the Peace Garden can see a series of displays pertaining to the day-to-day life of game wardens and rangers throughout both the United States and Canada — including badges, vehicles, uniforms, and a massive display of patches from around the continent. Those who want to learn even more about Game Wardens can peruse the museum’s section of reference materials, and both books and television programs about their exploits can also be found (and purchased) on-site.
For those who are more interested in the wildlife that Game Wardens tend to associate with, there is plenty of that on display at the museum as well. In addition to displays of claws, bones, and fur from common animals one would encounter throughout the wilderness of North America, the museum also features real taxidermied animals and fossils recovered from poachers throughout history, complete with actual reports and recollections of the events that led to their discoveries.
The Peace Chapel is the only building directly on the border between the U.S. and Canada. This stunning structure features both French glass and limestone walls, and is considered by many of the Garden’s staff — including Beard– to be the highlight of the entire park, due to both its enchanting atmosphere and the enduring message of hope and peace the Chapel stands for.
Within the Peace Chapel, one can find not only a small area that allows for worship, but also a series of some of the world’s greatest quotes on the subjects of peace, unity, and the fragility of the world. Although it can be rented out for weddings or important event, it is generally open at all hours of the day to provide a quiet and hallowed space for reflection and quiet prayer, regardless of one’s beliefs.
“I truly believe the Peace Chapel is the center of the garden,” Beard states. “You’re not going to find another building like this anywhere else in the world. It’s right on the border, and filled with some of the best inspirational quotes out there. You get a sense of complete and total peace when you’re inside. It’s the heart, and everything around it is what gives the Peace Garden its soul.”
Carillon Bell Tower
The Carillon Bell Tower is a hallmark of the Peace Garden, and stands proudly beyond the Sunken Garden, sounding out the Westminister chimes every fifteen minutes. These bells were donated by the Central United Church of Brandon in Manitoba when the bell tower was built in 1976, but their journey to the garden is much longer.
The tower’s musical bells originally come from the Sifton Chime — a set donated to the First United Church of Brandon, Manitoba in 1932 by the four sons of Lady Sifton as a memorial to their mother. The chimes were moved to the Peace Garden in 1969 when the church reorganized, where they currently remain as a beautiful piece of heritage. Currently, only four sets of similar bells exist across the world. While the origin of these chimes is clear, it’s worth noting that very few visitors to the park — and even some staff themselves — are unaware of the reason for the tower’s unusual (but visually striking) design.
Across from the Carillon Bell Tower lies a solemn reminder of one of the most tragic events in American history — the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. This memorial is one of the Peace Garden’s more recent additions, having been constructed with help from Rotary International, the North American Firefighters Union, and Manitoba Infrastructure.
The memorial consists of a small plaza — at the center of which lie some of the actual iron girders from the collapsed World Trade Center towers. A series of displays surrounding the area also explain more about the events of 9/11 and the everlasting impact that it had on not only the United States, but the entire world at large. In modern times, according to the Peace Garden’s website, organizations use the area to host remembrance events.
In addition to the larger, more explorable buildings throughout the Peace Garden, there are a tremendous number of smaller displays and areas that can be visited across the park — all of which can either be walked to or driven near. Here’s a brief run-through of some of the smaller and more unique offerings we were able to discover throughout our trip.
The Dedication Cairn: The Dedication Cairn is nestled near the entrance of the Peace Garden, and was placed during the location’s grand opening on July 14, 1932. It has since become known as the ‘Symbol of Hope’ in the garden, and serves as a memorial of just how enduring the message of peace can be, even in darker times.
Floral Clock: Near the Dedication Cairn and the accompanying monument, one can find the Floral Clock — a working, 18-foot timepiece. The original framework for the clock was received from the Bulova Watch Company in 1966, and was a duplicate of a similar Floral Clock in Switzerland — but the current iteration was replaced in the summer of 2005 by a clock from St. Louis. Much like the other bulbs during the summer, it is planted in a new and unique way every year. The number of flowers on the clock itself ranges from 2,000 to 5,000, and depends on both the yearly design and the type of plants in question.
Friendship Rock: Near the 49th parallel of the border lies Friendship Rock — a special stone that has weathered the years before becoming a hallmark of the garden. The rock is a ‘bluestone’, similar to those that were used to construct Stonehenge, and has traveled through the United Kingdom to eventually come to its current location.
Picnicking Areas: Multiple picnic areas are scattered throughout the Peace Garden, in both the wilder and more structured areas. In addition to picnic tables and benches for relaxation, there are multiple large shelters located in the natural loops of the park — many of which boast not only spectacular views, but fire pits and occasionally full playgrounds. One of Beard’s favorite shelters includes a vintage cooking area, originally used by the Civilian Conservative Corps (CCC) during their own time in the Peace Garden.
Historic Lodge: This structure, which rests on the American side of the Garden, is the oldest building in the park — having been constructed in 1937 by the CCC. Although it was not open at the time of our own visit, it can be reserved for special events such as weddings and meetings.
When one takes into account the massive number of different attractions and ways one can enjoy the Peace Garden, it’s no wonder that the place is such a beloved part of North Dakota and Canada — and even after years of working in it, many of the complex’s volunteers still believe it is a place unlike any other to both work and visit.
“We get comments from visitors all the time saying that it’s beautiful,” Beard explains, “but also that they never realized it existed. Most importantly, they say that they’ll definitely be back. For me, I love the ability to get out in nature — how many people can say that they can take a walk through the flowers during their lunch break? Depending on the time of year, the time of day, and even if you’ve just had a recent soft rain, you get all sorts of different images and smells in your mind. It’s very relaxing, because you’re not only seeing our work, but what nature itself has done on both sides of the border.”
All of these different aspects of the garden make it not only a special place that symbolizes the bond between two countries, but a symbol of hope, progress, and unity during the darkest times in the nation. And even now, amidst more threats to the world’s stability, it is important to note that the garden — and the meaning behind it –are still standing just as strong as ever.
“The message of the Peace Garden is definitely ‘peace’,” says Beard, “but it’s also exploration. It’s imagination. It’s seeing yourself in different photos every day… you’ll never be able to replicate a photo here based on the blooms. To me, inspiration and exploration are some of the biggest things that make it special.”
While many of the area’s attractions are older, having stood the test of time for many years, more are still being added even in the modern era as well. During the second half of this column, we’d like to showcase some of the newest additions to the Peace Garden — including an in-depth look at the massive Cacti and Succulent exhibit opening in December. The last part of our double feature (and likewise, of One-Day ND Destinations for 2023) will be coming next week, so stay alert — the feeling of missing this exclusive article will truly be a thorn in your side. Or perhaps 5,000 of them.