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The original marsh that existed at this location was called St. Andrews Bog. It extended north from the edge of present-day Winnipeg to Teulon, Manitoba and covered approximately 47,000 hectares (116,139 acres, 470 square kilometers or 181 square miles).

The name “Oak Hammock” dates back to the early 1870’s. Settlers from Lower Fort Garry and St. Andrews used to gather for community picnics on an oak-covered knoll bordering “The Bog”. Its owner – Adam MacDonald – called the heavily treed knoll “Oak Hammock” and the name was eventually adopted for the whole area.

Boardwalk at the marsh

The boardwalk at the marsh.

A less romantic theory is that the name is simply derived from “Oak Hummock” – a term that is sometimes used to describe a raised stand of trees. Whatever the origin of the name, the area became known as Oak Hammock. The name became official with the opening of the Oak Hammock post office, which was used until the early 1900’s.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Provincial Government acquired 3,450 hectares of land from local landowners with financial help from the federal government’s FRED program (Fund for Rural Economic Development). In 1972, with the assistance of Ducks Unlimited Canada, the Government of Manitoba began constructing 22 kilometers of earth dykes to restore a small portion of the original marsh. Construction was completed in the spring of 1973, and the restored marsh and surrounding upland areas were officially designated as Oak Hammock Marsh Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The WMA is 3,581 hectares or approximately 3600 hectares (36 square kilometers or 8,896 acres or 14 square miles) in size. It is operated by Manitoba Sustainable Development.

Construction on the Conservation Centre began in 1991. Much of the work was done in winter, reducing efforts during the spring and fall migration periods. At a cost of $11 million, the building was designed to blend in with the landscape as much as possible, using local limestone on the face of the building. The entire area was landscaped with native grasses, shrubs, trees and flowers to provide a more natural and productive setting for wildlife and people. Construction was completed in the fall of 1992. The Conservation Centre hosts Ducks Unlimited Canada’s national headquarters, as well as the Harry J. Enns Wetland Discovery Centre. The official opening for the Centre took place on May 1, 1993, twenty years after the original restoration of the Marsh.