Emerson, Manitoba, incorporated as a town in 1879, population 671 (2011c), 689 (2006c). The Town of Emerson is Manitoba's main port of entry on the international boundary. It lies 96 km south of Winnipeg and was named after the American poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When settlement began in 1874, the area already had a varied historical heritage - as the site of fur trading rivalries; a link in the movement of people and goods between St Paul, Minn, and Manitoba; the site of an 1871 FENIAN raid; and the building of Fort Dufferin in 1872, staging area of the newly formed NORTH-WEST MOUNTED POLICE. Two Wisconsin businessmen sought to make Emerson a railway centre and gateway to the Northwest. The town did become a trade centre for the border region. A population and building boom occurred in 1880-82 based on efforts to establish a new railway, then to draw the Canadian Pacific Railway to the town. Both schemes failed and Emerson was bankrupt by 1884. The province intervened to restore stable government.
Although the dreams of making Emerson the gateway to the Northwest were not successful, it is today a busy border crossing. Tourism is gaining in importance as the town is capitalizing on its geographical position and history. The neo-classical Emerson court house and town hall, built in 1917-18, is a provincial heritage site and is one of many buildings of historical and architectural merit. A hiking and cross-country ski trail runs along the Red River between Emerson and Fort Dufferin.