“If we want something, we have to make it ourselves.”
If the city of Havre had an alternative motto, those words of Havreite Lindsey Bennett’s would be sufficient. Unless traveling laterally across the state, one isn’t likely to visit Havre as often as the other Montana cities, but with one visit to the “Jewel of the Hi-Line,” a trip north to this city may become ritual for many.
The ninth-largest city of Montana, Havre stands a handful of miles away from the Canadian border in North-Central Montana. Havre flourished by riding on the back of the former Great Northern Railway and a major stop on U.S. Highway 2 in later years.
Today, Havre serves as more than an oasis for trains in North-Central Montana. It is home to shy of 10,000 people with enough can-do attitude and true Montana prairie style to keep it pulsing well throughout its second century of existence.
Havre has enough tourist attractions to keep a family busy for days. Between Havre Beneath the Streets, Wahkpa Chu’gn Buffalo Jump, and the summer festivals and celebrations, finding reasons to visit is made easy.
Havre Beneath the Streets, voted second place in USA Today’s must-see underground attractions in 2016, offers visitors an opportunity to experience history standing still. In 1904, a great fire that took out much of downtown Havre forced business owners to set up shop in rooms below street level, many of which were connected to allow people to travel between them without seeing the sky. Havre Beneath the Streets is a must-see for antique enthusiasts, as the curators of the attraction have done their best to recreate the shop scenes with items that would have been used during that era.
The summer and early fall months are busy. In July, the Great Northern Fair brings visitors to the city in droves and offers many entertainments, such as the standard carnival and rides, musical acts, and rodeo.
After the fair, the next big event arrives generally in August — the Rocky Boy Powwow. The nearby reservation that belongs to the Chippewa Cree Tribe attracts hundreds of dancers from all over the continent and the surrounding areas. The full powwow lasts for three days and participants use the time to dance in intoxicating and vivid displays of color and music before a backdrop of the sacred Bear Paw Mountains.
A more detailed schedule of the festivals and celebrations can be found at the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce’s Web site and is a good tool to use when deciding when to stop in Havre.
After a full day of sight-seeing and partaking in the arts and culture of Havre, the city’s streetlights illuminate another kind of activity. When night falls, many move indoors to partake in the bustling nightlife of Havre.
Driving into town from the west, one passes Triple Dog Brewery — Havre’s claim to fame in the craft beer world of Montana. The brewery offers a friendly atmosphere and interesting selection of unique brews.
For those with a taste for wine Vine 19 at the Prairie Farms Golf Course just outside city limits stocks assorted varietals and a clean, well-lighted tasting room. After playing nine holes of golf at the course, the wine room is the perfect way to wind down.
Aside from the brewery and wine bar, Havre proper offers myriad bars and clubs within walking distance of each other. Many people, especially during the summer months, can be found traveling between bars like the Oxford Lounge, Vic’s Place, The Shanty and many more of the establishments that line the city’s main street. Each offers their own atmosphere and many have a storied history, told both through the architectures of the building and archetypal Montanans who enjoy them.
Will Devries, the owner of the Oxford Sports Bar, said his establishment is a hotspot of Havre. “I’d say atmosphere-wise, we have the day crowd, which consists of regulars that come down to hang out with friends, who also happen to be regulars,” Devries said. “We get a great mixture of different age groups, whether they come to drink and eat a burger or to gamble, play pool, and throw some darts.”
The walls and ceilings of the Oxford are lined with history themselves. Sports memorabilia, historical photos, and nostalgia give the bar an aura that is uniquely Montanan. “Like the saying goes — Havre, it’s the people,” Devries said. “People here are hardworking. They like to have a good time, but they also are very proud of Havre and of Montana. It’s a melting pot of different cultures and we all find something to talk about over a pint of beer.”
Havre’s position in North-Central Montana offers ample opportunities for outdoor sport and recreation.
Outside city limits to the south lies Beaver Creek Park, which is said to be the largest county park in the United States. The park encompasses 10,000 acres in its 1- by 17-mile strip of land on the north side of the Bear Paw Mountains. Many Havreites consider a summer incomplete without at least one trip to the park to camp, fish, and hike.
Havre Trails, a local nonprofit group whose aim is to increase the opportunity for outdoor recreation in the Havre area, organizes events to guide people to experience the area with experts. In the past, they have visited Beaver Creek Park to discover flora and fauna, hike and view the night sky.
“One of the things I love most about Havre is the open landscape and the recreation that it offers,” said Lindsey Bennett, president of Havre Trails. “Up here on the plains, we have gorgeous skies almost daily, especially at twilight, which can transform an ordinary walk into something completely breathtaking.”
During the winter months, Bear Paw Ski Bowl, a small ski area allows visitors to continue utilizing the park when the snow blankets it. Ice fishers take advantage of the cold and dot the ice-covered lakes of the park. The Mt. Otis Trail and Bear Paw Nature Trail provides snowshoeing.
Just west of Havre lies a popular destination for anglers: Fresno Reservoir. Fresno is a popular destination for those seeking to catch Perch, Northern Pike, Whitefish and, perhaps most sought-after in the area, the Walleye. Each year, a Walleye Fishing Tournament brings dozens of competitors to Fresno to enjoy time on the water.
“Havre has a ‘crossroads’ culture, where many different ideas and images of Montana converge around one community,” Bennett said. “I see Havre at a crossroads between the past and future as well. There is a grittiness from the past still that reflects our history as a far-flung frontier town, but there is also a sense of new energy in the way the community has been rallying around theatre, public art, historic buildings, hockey, trails, craft beer, and all kinds of other stuff.”
No trip across Montana should be stamped complete without spending a day or two in the Jewel of the Hi-Line, a town where memories are plentiful and where relaxation and excitement are low-hanging fruit. Havreites have a friendly Montana spirit that takes life by the horns.
"Backroads of Montana: Episode 7 - Havre to Hamilton" (1995)
VIDEO DESCRIPTION: Episode Seven "Havre to Hamilton" takes us to Havre Beneath the Streets, to the Pitchfork Fondue in Chinook, shows us the Shiniest Oldsmobile on Earth in Butte, and introduces us to Hamilton jazz pianist Jean Wrobel.