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.
Lenswood Road (paved) presents a full open view to the north-west of the Porcupine Mountains (a northern extension of the Manitoba Escarpment marking the ancient shoreline of Lake Agassiz, the largest glacial lake in North America when originally formed some 11,500 years ago). The colours of the heavily forested Porcupines shift with the season, from winter-grey to spring-green to summer-blue and close in the mixed fall-splendour of yellows, reds and browns with an underlay, still, of green. Deer, moose, elk and bear brouse throughout and are hunted in season. Mountain lakes west of Birch River and #10 (chiefly Bell and Steeprock) offer trout, jackfish (pike), walleye and whitefish.
The land sweeps eastward and downward from the Escarpment towards Swan Lake pressing on the fringe of Lake Winnipegosis (the ghost of Agassiz) and squared fields of dark alluvial soil grow wheat, barley, oats, canola and flax and herds of cattle, bison and horses munch fields of alfalfa and brome grass or, eastward, the rougher wild grasses of lake-flats. 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.
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 regular newsletter for the area (The Porcupine Quill), café facilities, 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. The Swan Valley School Division, moreover, provides a fleet of buses for students attending the exemplary and technically advanced collegiate in Swan River with access to university-level credits through Campus Manitoba. 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). And always you can join in any of the many fall suppers or festive occasions that occur regularly. And on any typically clear winter night you can step outside for a feast of stars.
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.
For more information on Birch River contact the RM of Mountain office at 1-204-236-4222