One grows, one shrinks…

Oct 12, 2023
Written by: Marvin Baker

During the second half of the 1990s, I operated the newspaper in Langdon and often made short, 38-mile trips to Morden, Manitoba for various reasons.

At the time, Langdon’s population was about 2,500 and Morden was just shy of 5,000. That has always been a snapshot in my mind, until a couple of weeks ago.

I was looking through some information about the Corn and Apple Festival in Morden and saw that Morden’s population is now nearly 11,000. When I checked Langdon’s population, it was 1,884.

These communities are right next to each other. Why is one growing rapidly and one shrinking more than any of us would like?

Right now, Morden is the eighth-largest city in Manitoba and is the fastest growing community in the province. At the same time, Langdon continues to shrink by 2 percent annually.

Consider these similarities, which makes this even more of a puzzle.
Both communities are about the same distance from the nearest city. Langdon is 114 miles from Grand Forks and 110 miles from Winnipeg while Morden is 79 miles from Winnipeg. Langdon has a North Dakota State University Extension Research Center and Morden has a Manitoba Provincial Agriculture Experiment Station.
In addition, the newspaper I worked for in Langdon, the Cavalier County Republican, closed in December 2021 and the Morden Times closed in May 2020.

One thing Langdon doesn’t have is a bigger community next to it. At one time Langdon and nearby Cavalier were both growing communities so there was robust competition between the two county seats in northeastern North Dakota.
Ten miles to the east of Morden is Winkler with nearly 15,000 in population. Over the years Winkler has built an impressive industrial complex and I suspect that a number of people live in Morden and work in Winkler.

It reminds me of what Hazen and Beulah were like in the early 1980s. Beulah had all the industry with two massive power plants being built and Hazen was more of a traditional North Dakota community while Beulah continued to grow rapidly.
It appears the only obvious difference in Langdon and Morden is the Morden Community Driven Immigration Initiative.
The initiative offers eligible skilled workers an opportunity to immigrate to Morden through the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, strategic initiative pathway with the formal support of the city of Morden.

The website for the initiative also states that only people outside of Canada may apply. In other words, Canadians from one part of the country who might want to move to Morden can’t use the initiative. But those outside of Canada, especially Europe, are encouraged to apply.

And right now, many of the applicants are Ukrainian and totally by design in cooperation with the city of Morden, the province of Manitoba and the Canadian federal government.

Nothing like that exists in Langdon, or anywhere in North Dakota that I’m aware of, except maybe Luthern Social Services resettling refugees from war, which is mostly taking place in the city of Fargo.

Perhaps small communities and the state of North Dakota, should take a look at something like this. We continue to complain that our small towns are shrinking and that nearly every business right now is short staffed.

Take a day trip to Morden and see the difference for yourself. This is a community about the size of Jamestown and if you compare those two communities, it’s like night and day. Morden is lively and robust and Jamestown simply exists.
An initiative like this is one way to “manufacture” growth. It could save a lot of small North Dakota towns.

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