Hi Dee Ho FANtestilites,
Newly-young (surgical) Shirty upcluing you on my careening career.
It’s all good news!!
Contagiously, the bumph of this Brotish Curlumpian band I’ve been promoting to the globals of late is reaching stratospheric proports!!
Tapioca Hot Tub Mania has been declared!! (Well, almost. I’m urging Prim Loobster Sylvia Hampster to make it official and some day in May or June be deemed National Tapioca Hot Tub Day when all Canadians will be required to eat tapioca, bathe in tapioca or somehow perversely include tapioca in their lives while humming the band’s catchy little melody that will get them singing in the showers. Pending…)
Evidence you need?
This week’s Brain Failure Top 10 contains no less than two, count ‘em, TWO tunes by Tapioca Hot Tub (THT), new darlings of kinky food fetishists, no niblets please.
Watch Sheila countdown the Top 10. She is downright kind to the new THT ditty by saying merely, “This is lame.” She’s always right! Click the pic to see if you agree. THT’s mega-hit Marshall McLuhan Steels His Gaze remains atop the chart at #1 for the third straight week. Debuting at #5 is THT’s next mega-hit Calypso Mind Control, a spunky formulaic re-upchucking of their first smash but with spooky weird images that will follow you to bed tonight.
Described by Mother’s Little Helper magazine as “harrowing” the disturbing new video for Calypso Mind Control is now available free for human eye viewings by simply clicking the pic below us. Tapioca Hot Tub Fan Fun Factoids: the total IQ of all five band members combined is 107. The average IQ of Tapioca Hot Tub fans is 9.
Elsewise in my career, the idea I pitched to the Penetration Channel for a reality show that follows newly-ejaculated human sperm attempting to fertilize a human egg inside the female was turned down even though we have the technology to record everything everywhere – management caved due to blow back from the Spermists, I persist.
Pinin’ for the fjords,
What news there is appears to be good!
According to the latest daily flood update from the province the water over Highway #5 has receded and the highway has been reopened. Repair crews are working on the highway.
Apparently damage to the rest of Spruce Woods Park is minimal. The ice jam that caused the back-up remains on the Assiniboine River but for now poses less of a threat. As the rivers break-up more ice jams are likely.
The high water advisory remains for the Assiniboine from St. Lazare, where it is joined by the Qu’Appelle River, to Portage la Prairie. Overland flooding due to ice jams is possible along the river. While the Red River appears to be comfortable between its banks so far this year, that pesky Assiniboine, unpredictable and bendy, is full of surprises. Be aware.
The Portage Diversion is operating in an attempt to manage the ice on the lower Assiniboine.
The Whitemud River between Gladstone and Lake Manitoba is rising quickly and at the top of its bank in Gladstone. Area residents need to heed the high water advisory and be vigilant for flash flooding.
So far daytime temperatures are well below normal and below freezing. This is will slow the melt rate and possibly mitigate the run-off. Seasonal temperatures are predicted for later in the week.
Today’s flood update from the province completely ignores the current status of the Souris River, one of the rivers mostly likely to flood, and what’s happening in The Pas. These are two areas the province knows will flood. Where’s the info?
More updates to come…
Today the province released its second daily flood update and little Spruce Woods Park appears to be flooding again.
An ice jam upstream from the park caused the Assiniboine River to rise seven feet overnight. Its waters now overflow Highway 5 which is closed for 2 kms in both directions from the bridge. The update says, “Maintenance crews have been dispatched to investigate where the ice jam is located, if it is in an accessible location ice jam mitigation action may be undertaken.” Let’s hope so.
If its flowing over the highway the water is also making its way along the ditches toward the access road into the Spirit Sands trail head and Marsh Lake north of the river and the oxbows to the south. Hopefully it won’t spill over into the lower campground as it did in 2011′s flood. The campground has been repaired over the past two years and just reopened last summer.
Several secondary roads have been closed due to flooding. You can find current information at http://www.gov.mb.ca/mit/roadinfo/
Otherwise the province has issued a High Water Advisory meaning ice jams along Manitoba rivers, which are just starting to break up, could cause sudden overland flooding. Be especially alert if you live near the Assiniboine or Whitemud.
People living near Whitewater Lake in southwestern Manitoba should know the lake is at a record high level this spring. Provincial hydrologists are monitoring the lake’s outflow carefully. Be alert for possible overland flooding near the lake.
Southern Manitoba received a heavy wet snowfall today. Thankfully it didn’t amount to the 10 cms predicted but there is a fresh coat of snow itching to melt and drain. Areas around Riding Mountain received more snow than southern regions.
The daily flood updates can be accessed at http://www.gov.mb.ca/flooding/news_bulletins.html
During the 1950 Flood, many Winnipeg schools on higher ground were pressed into emergency service. Luxton School became headquarters for the Police, the Navy and the Scotia Street Flood Sufferers Association. Located east of Main Street, the school sits at the top of a steep rise that falls away to the Red River. During the flood, the water rose so high that the Navy docked their boats near the school door.
Luxton School was among the first in a series of increasingly larger schools designed by Schools Architect J. B. Mitchell (right) and built between about 1907 and 1915 in what is today Winnipeg School Division #1. Among these enormous buildings were Laura Secord (1912), Isaac Brock (1913), Earl Grey (1915) and the two original Technical High Schools, Kelvin (1910) and St John’s (1912).
Luxton was the first school to utilize a modern and safer layout – a wide central hallway with rooms along each side. Previous schools were boxy and three-storeys while the new design was two-storeys with horizontal massing and sprawled out on its large lot.
Construction by building contractor John Saul began in 1907 with the cornerstone laid on September 28. Completed the following year at a cost of $86,167, Luxton School had 12 classrooms and a manual training area. When it opened in 1908, Luxton School employed eight teachers instructing 338 pupils, average class size was 42. In 1920, the school had an average monthly enrolment of 1048. Enrolment in 2014 is 250 students from Nursery to Grade Six plus Special Education.
Luxton School was equipped with the latest technology as recommended by Superintendent Daniel McIntyre and Architect Mitchell. The building was heated by direct and indirect methods of steam heating with mechanical ventilation and an air washer.
Winnipeg experienced a boom time in the early 1900s and as the School Board’s ability to accommodate the influx of new students diminished, schools were often put into temporary use to teach certain grades. In 1909, four of the upper rooms in Luxton School were used for a Technical High School teaching Grades 7 through 9. When St. John’s Technical High School opened in 1912, these students moved there. With the addition, Luxton held Grades 1 to 9 until 1967 when the Junior High grades moved to St. John’s Technical. For a few more years, until 2000, Luxton was a Junior High again.
The building we see today is actually two distinct places, both designed by J. B. Mitchell but built seven years apart. The original 1908 section (left and below from 1910) is on the east end and the 1916 addition on the west. Although the designs are similar, the detailing and execution of the 1916 part are better quality.
Contractors Worwick Brothers added the eight rooms onto the school in 1916. Every school on which the Worwicks worked has excellent quality craftsmanship in its masonry, especially in fine details like corbelling, window surrounds and gables. Cost of the addition was $50,479.
In this early picture (above) of the completed Luxton School you can see the differences in styles that architect Mitchell employed on each section. Note the wrought iron cresting along the roof peaks.
Set on a tall limestone foundation Luxton School’s architecture is a mix of Georgian and Classical Revival, two of Mitchell’s favourite styles, both popular at the time. Two pale shades of Manitoba pressed brick, a light tan and a pale yellow, along with Tyndall stone combine to create a subtle palette to which elegant decorative elements were added. The masonry style is American bond with every sixth course of bricks headers. Limestone sills and lintels are used at every window.
The 1908 entry pavilion (above) is an off-centre widely projecting portico supported by smooth round pillars. The original pressed tin remains on its ceiling. A broad and elegant limestone arch frames the double doorway. There is a fanlight over the main entrance.
Above the original entrance (above) on the projecting bay and all around the entire 1908 section the roofline features a low ornamented parapet, short columns topped with orbs and the school name in stone.
The entrance on the 1916 addition is a bit of Classical Revival whimsy (right), something Mitchell was not averse to including in his designs. A portico with square pillars and an open arcade along each side, thick entablature with a decorated and corbelled parapet and two octahedral urns create an elegant and elevating entry. An arched entrance surrounds the double doors and the school name is carved in stone.
The side entrance uses a variation on a Dutch gable featuring a trio of arched windows surmounted with a bull’s-eye.
Distinguishing features of Mitchell’s work are a variety of dormers seen here (above) on the 1916 addition only, the attractive limestone parapet with orbs and the corbelling which richly accentuates the head of every second floor window and the base of the cornice. The corbelling on the 1916 addition is different from and much more intricate than the corbelling on the original building. Viewed in full, the school has an aura of stability, promise and hope.
Safety and lighting are always a concern in school design, accomplished here by the extra wide hallways and large windows in every classroom. The wide central hallway with rooms off each side accommodated physical exercises, previously done in classrooms. The classrooms and hallways retain the pressed copper ceilings and some original stained glass windows.
This view (above) of the rear of Luxton School shows the brick detailing was not just for the front facade but extended all around the building.
For fireproofing, the door and window frames leading into stairwells are brass and the original dividers in the washrooms were made of slate. Luxton’s pillar-free auditorium (a rarity at the time) in the basement, complete with hardwood floors, came into use in 1919. Today it is used for the lunch program, Mary Kardash Child Care Centre and the before/after school program.
Contractor Peter Leitch added two more rooms and a gym in 1949 at a cost of $72,150. A newer gym complete with equipment storage, change rooms, showers, phys ed office and a kitchen was built in 1989 by Westland Construction at a cost of $457,410.
The first Home and School Associations in Winnipeg was started at Luxton School and Wellington School in 1915. Luxton got a public address system in 1962.
In 2008, Luxton School was named one of the top 25 best elementary and middle schools in Canada by Today’s Parent magazine.
Illustrious alumni of Luxton School tend toward the arts and show business. Acclaimed novelist Adele Wiseman (left) who wrote The Sacrifice (1956) and Crackpot (1974) attended Luxton as did actor, sportscaster and game show host Monty Hall (right) who is best known for his hosting of Let’s Make a Deal.
Guess Who singer and songwriter Burton Cummings (left) attended Luxton and returned for the centennial. Watch Burton Cummings perform at his alma mater during the centennial celebration.
A Luxton student, artist and cartoonist Jim Simpkins (right) was one of the original artists with Canada’s National Film Board and the creator of Jasper the Bear (left) who is still the mascot for Jasper National Park.
Luxton School is named after a major figure in Winnipeg’s history, William Fisher Luxton. Born in England, Luxton came to Canada as a child. He learned the newspaper business in Ontario and was sent west as a correspondent. Persuaded to be the first teacher at the first public school in the city, he taught in a log shanty located between Henry Avenue and Maple Street (now Higgins). Though Luxton (right) only taught for one year at the school, he remained active as a school trustee.
Luxton was a founder of Winnipeg General Hospital, a charter member of the Winnipeg Board of Trade, a member of the provincial Board of Education and active in provincial and federal politics.
Another of his lasting contributions was the Manitoba Free Press, which he started with John Kenny. It’s first issue went to press on November 9, 1872. The newspaper evolved into the Winnipeg Free Press in 1931.
Luxton died the year construction of the school began. His portrait still hangs in the school.
The Lauzon family ran a farm and abattoir on the land where Luxton School sits. They sold it to the School Board in 1906. Jean Baptiste Lauzon (left), a Montrealer, came to Winnipeg in 1876, opened a thriving butcher shop in St Boniface, prompting a second location in the now-demolished Public Market Building behind old City Hall. Lauzon served in municipal and provincial governments and, like proper public figures, required a dwelling to match. The original 1896 Lauzon home (right), a dainty Queen Anne style two storey, still stands directly behind Luxton School.
Luxton School celebrated its centennial in 2007.
Additions 1916, 1949, 1989
Materials: two shades of pale tan brick, limestone
Style: Neo-Georgian and Classical Revival two-storey
Architect: J. B. Mitchell
Contractors: 1908 John Saul, 1916 Worwick Brothers, 1949 Peter Leitch, 1989 Westland
Original cost $86,167
Current assessed value $1,556,000
Acreage 2.3 acres
When I was twelve years old I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a disc jockey on the radio. That was my dream job, I told my parents.
As a kid growing up in a small prairie town three hours away from any big city, my best escape was listening to the radio. Transistor radios came out in the late 1950s. I got my first one for my birthday in 1961. It was a six transistor York, made in Japan for the New York Transistor Company on Fifth Avenue, NYC. My York had a gold metal front with perforated metal speaker, black and cream coloured hard plastic case hiding its guts and a heavy 9-volt battery. (Factoid: 9-volt batteries were invented to power transistor radios.) It was encased in a “genuine leather” case with YORK embossed in gold on the front.
As you can see (above, right) I still have the radio. It no longer turns on or off. It’s gone to radio limbo.
That little York became my constant companion filling my life with an ever-changing but comfortable soundtrack of pop music given extra depth and excitement by the on-air antics of the personable guys who spun the discs. That’s who I wanted to be.
Disc jockeys like Daryl B(urlingham), Jimmy Darin, Mark Parr, Peter Jackson PJ the DJ, Chuck Dann, Porky Charbonneau, Dennis Dino Corrie at CKY, Canada’s Friendly Giant originating in a little room on Winnipeg’s Main Street, came pounding across the prairie riding 50,000 clear watts. Here’s their chart from the week I turned 16. Click to enlarge.
CKRC, Winnipeg’s other less powerful pop station whose signal strength varied out in my little town, still managed to leave an indelible impression with DJs like Boyd Kozak, Jim Paulson, Don Slade, Bob Washington, Doc Steen, Ron Legge. Here is their chart from the week I turned 12 and got my York radio. Click to enlarge.
Near dusk when radio stations changed their signal patterns, WLS, 50,000 clear watts from Chicago came booming in. DJs like John Records Landecker, Dick Biondi, Larry Lujack, Chuck Knapp had incomparable pipes (voices) and songs never sounded better than on WLS. The massive wattage carrying the signal buoyed even the most banal pop ditty to powerful new heights. And WLS made great songs sound even greater. I was never sure how that mystical condition was achieved but I knew I wanted to be part of it, to ride those invisible waves crashing onto transistor beaches and young hearts across the continent. It was a big dream for a little kid.
All the hits, all the time! John Records Landecker’s motto was, “Records is my middle name.” That’s how I felt about records and pop music in general starting in 1960. This feeling increased by quantum leaps in 1964 when The Beatles et al were released to North America. I encouraged the local radio/TV repair shop in the little town to carry CKY’s weekly hit parade charts and I amassed a fine collection that I referred to often for this post. I loved poring over the charts, tracing the arcs of my favourite songs, what song debuted the highest, all the permutations and changes I could wring out of fifty pop songs.
How does the announcement by a 12-year-old that he wants to devote his existence to playing records on the radio go over with his parents? Some amusement at first but I was adamant about this which led to bewilderment then concern. Mom definitely wanted a doctor son to cure all her ills and Dad wanted a hockey player. I had to disappoint them both. They eventually understood. By the time I was sixteen and steadfast in my future career choice, my parents started to come around and say things like, “If you are going to be a radio announcer, we’ll send you to school to be a damn good one.” The universe was unfolding as it should.
Disc jockey was generalized and upgraded into radio announcer by my parents and in the 1960s the best place to learn how to be a good one in Canada was at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in downtown Toronto. The course was called Radio and Television Arts (RTA): three years of hands-on technical training on top quality, modern equipment mixed with psychology, sociology, writing, speech training and even a class in foreign pronunciations. First year was mostly radio, second and third all TV. I’m not photogenic so radio was my only interest in taking RTA. The program sounded interesting to both my parents and I so we started working toward it.
The day came in late August 1968 when I stepped off the train at Union Station in downtown Toronto on my way to Ryerson. The culture shock of moving from a town of 700 people to a city of two million (then) excited and stimulated me. Any fears I had struggled beneath a heavy covering of optimism and hope. It was the Sixties when anything was still possible. Everyone felt that.
Ryerson (now a university) is located one block off Yonge Street’s section called The Strip, at least it was in the late 1960s. Strip clubs, bars, XXX movie theatres, organ grinders with monkeys, chestnut roasters, buskers, Hari Krishnas, hippies and hipsters, the denizens brought throngs downtown every night.
The first year I stayed in Ryerson’s residence across the street from the school. Sam the Record Man and A & A Records were right around the corner on Yonge Street. Ronnie Hawkins’ club The Hawk’s Nest where I saw the Kinks and Parliament/Funkadelic (not on the same bill) was two blocks down. The Rock Pile, a Masonic Temple converted into a Rock & Roll Shrine where I saw Led Zeppelin two days after their first album came out, was a ten minute walk away. On the way you could stop at the Riverboat Coffeehouse in Yorkville and see John Lee Hooker or James Taylor. At the Ryerson folk club The Onion you could watch Bruce Cockburn begin his glorious arc or Leon Redbone perform to a tomato. At Massey Hall I saw The Fugs and Laura Nyro (not on the same bill). I had moved from lonesome howling prairie wind song to the 24-hour thrum and throb of Canada’s pop cultural heart.
My first year was intense and exactly what I needed and wanted to learn about radio, not just as an announcer but as a producer with awareness of potential future career growth. I wasn’t as ambitious as many of the others though I succeeded the first year. That summer I worked at Clear Lake and went back to Ryerson in the fall of 1969 much less enthused.
Culturally Toronto still overwhelmed with the new and the shiny but TV was the main focus that year and, at the time, I hated TV. As a result I developed a kind of accidee, a good old word meaning torpor or sloth, which combined with a yearning to be away from the cold city and back on the prairie. It made for a rough year.
My saving grace came in the form of a radio station. As much as the DJs on CKY, CKRC and WLS had inspired me and the teachers at Ryerson had taught me, CHUM-FM, Toronto’s underground radio station, completed my radio education. CHUM-FM was my post-grad work.
Underground radio was free-form radio, usually on FM, no format, few ads, the announcers played what they wanted usually in long music sequences, lots of brand new music mixed with familiar tunes, unpredictable crazy fun to the highest degree. CHUM-FM was Canada’s premier underground station.
I remember listening to Dave Marsden doing a laidback but amusing persona completely opposite that of his previous role, Dave Mickie on CBC-TV’s noisy Razzle Dazzle. The graveyard shift on CHUM-FM was filled by David Pritchard (left) whose delivery, style and choice of music had an enormous effect on me and the radio would later create. Pritchard had a dark and dry delivery that was full of surprises and always made you wonder if he was putting you on. Frank Zappa described his show as “an utter freak out.”
That year I lived alone in an apartment paid for by a classmate as a cover so he could live with his girlfriend elsewhere. The apartment, across the street from Allen Gardens, had at least two inorganic occupants as well. David Pritchard and I became adept at scaring away the night spooks. I saw many sunrises and few classrooms that year.
The summer of 1970 I worked in the little town until I got my first radio job. Dad had a drinking buddy who had a drinking buddy who had a buddy who ran CFAR, the radio station in the mining town of Flin Flon, Manitoba. Connections!
I started at CFAR in October 1970. On my first day station manager Jay Leddy had me run the controls for him early Sunday morning for an hour then stood up and said, “You’re on your own, kid.” No net! It was delightfully terrifying. The first song I played on the radio, real radio with people listening, was Sunday Morning Coming Down by Johnny Cash. By the end of shift I had settled in, almost comfortable, getting chatty. Ryerson was right! I’d been taught well.
At a little 1,000-watt station like CFAR, whose staff was maybe six people, I got to do everything: play records, prepare and read news and sportscasts, interview people on-air, read the daily stock market closings, answer the phone, write and read ad copy, type logs, sell ads, sweep the floor and even train announcers newer than me. Gary Roberts from Winnipeg was one such guy.
We both cut our teeth at CFAR, became good friends and shared lots of small town fun. Admirably ambitious, Gary, real name Reg Johns, went on to program radio stations in the U.S. and now runs Mass2One Media in Carlsbad, CA. We chatted about a year ago.
I spent ten months at CFAR. In July 1971 I got my second radio gig at CKX-AM in Brandon, an hour from my hometown. Mom was thrilled! She could finally listen to me. Frank Bird, whom I had listened to since childhood, hired me to do the CKX all night show 1:00 to 7:00 a.m. six nights a week. The only music restriction was I had to play country music from 5:00 to 7:00, otherwise I could play whatever I wanted. The music library at CKX was adequate to my needs and the record companies were generous with new releases. I had my own underground radio show for four hours a night. The freedom was delicious! It was heaven!
I was required to rip and read a three-minute newscast at the top of every hour. My time at CKX coincided with Watergate and Richard Nixon’s destiny. As a consequence I honed a passable Nixon impression often using it for the whole newscast. This is a shot of me (below) at 6:00 a.m. in the CKX studio about 1972. Although not a major market, Brandon was a step up in my career. CKX had an FM station that was on auto-program during the day and simulcast AM all night. CKX-FM leaked into Winnipeg somehow, maybe cable TV. I recall several Winnipeg people calling me to say they’d listened to me on CKX.
I did the CKX all-night show for twenty-three months having no ambition to do a day shift. I was happy with my freedom and whatever audience was generated all night. I was getting tired of Brandon though, overly familiar Brandon, the city of my birth was getting real stale at 23.
In July of 1973 I scored my major market job. Duff Roman hired me to do an evening underground radio show from 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. on CFRW-FM. During the day, FM simulcast CFRW-AM until I took over for the evening. Again free form, no format, run wild. So I did.
When I started at CFRW-FM the office and studios were in the Confederation Building on the curve on Main Street. They were cramped and chaotic. A few months later CKY moved their studios to Polo Park. CFRW bought the former CKY studios, which were located in the London Block, a three-storey building at 432 Main Street N. next to the McIntyre Building. All are gone now.
Turns out after the move, the studio where I did my show was the same one the CKY DJs I admired so much on my York radio had used (left about 1965). It was a shivery and wonderful completion of a life circle for me.
The precedent for underground radio in Winnipeg had been set a few years before my arrival by Now Flower on CKY-FM. On-air from 1968 into 1971, Now Flower was created and manned by Jan Thorsteinson and Harold Gershuny who called himself Gersh. It broke the ground for me by creating an audience and a taste for free-form radio that lingered then disappeared briefly to be reincarnated on CFRW-FM.
FM radio was relatively unknown in the 1960s, having been used mainly for classical music. Underground radio helped change that. This Advance ad (left) indicates how popular and cool Now Flower was. The late 1960s ad for a Lloyd’s FM/AM radio mentions Now Flower on 92.1 CKY-FM along the bottom of the ad. I spoke with Jan Thorsteinson recently to do some fact-checking of dates for this post. He’s happily retired in rural Manitoba. I’m not sure of Gersh’s whereabouts.
With the benefit of The Long View, I see Now Flower as the opening bracket and my show on CFRW-FM as the closing bracket since it was the last underground radio on a commercial station in Winnipeg. Between us lies the full extent and duration of alternative radio in Winnipeg. Thereafter, university radio stations began filling the gap. Click to enlarge
As these two diverse lists of albums I played in 1974 and 1975 indicate (above, right), music on underground radio needed to be unabashedly varied because the element of surprise (never knowing what you’re going to hear next) had to be maintained – the less predictable the better.
The first two Bruce Springsteen albums came out in 1973 and I played tracks from both of them every night in Brandon and Winnipeg. CFRW-FM had a very active and demanding audience so I played lots of requests.
Manitoba had a rash of UFO sightings in the 1970s. During self-proclaimed Alien Week, I did a bit where every night at a certain time I would announce the co-ordinates of our transmitting tower and invite any amenable aliens to contact us using our transmitter. Two minutes of silence, dead air, followed. The aliens never took me up on my offer but apparently there were more than a few earthlings glued to the silence.
In the 1970s it was illegal to advertise alcohol before ten o’clock at night (imagine that!). CFRW-FM had a heavy contract with Club Beer which meant I had to play three or four beer commercials an hour. Though humorous and nutty, the ads wore thin fast.
In 1975 CHUM from Toronto purchased CFRW AM & FM and the death knell for underground radio began to sound. CHUM changed the call letters to CHIQ which became Q94-FM and adopted a nauseating ice-water format of banality and conformity.
The irony is that CHUM, whose FM flagship station taught me so much about free-form radio, were the ones to put the kibosh on alternative radio in Winnipeg.
Since I could think and talk at the same time, CHUM kept me on to do a 90-minute afternoon talk show on Q94 called Forum. I interviewed people on the phone and live in the studio, like the 12-year-old evangelist preacher and Mr. Manitoba, adding in interviews from my Toronto counterpart. There was still something unpredictable and free-form about a talk show plus I got to ask weird questions. I enjoyed that greatly. Extra bonus: I loved pissing off the “music director” by playing Tom Waits instead of Elton John during my musical interlude.
Looking back it seems as if the main reason I worked at CFRW was to meet, fall in love with and spend my life with Linda. She was the boss’s Girl Friday, traffic reporter, occasional copywriter and all-around beauty. Though mostly an evening creature at the station, I did appear occasionally during the day after making sure she’d be there. I quit CFRW in early 1977, Linda and I moved in together and we lived a bohemian lifestyle, making art, meeting new people, having fun. Much of that era is documented on the DTC ART page.
My next and final radio gig was at CJUM-FM where I was hired by Brent Mooney as music director for the struggling University of Manitoba station which had come on the air in September 1975 and closed in June 1980. New wave was just underway when I started there in 1978 and we ran with it. With niche tastes serviced while enlightening others, CJUM-FM had even more diversity than underground radio. We played plenty of Winnipeg bands as you can see by the music lists from 1979 (below). Click to enlarge
Though the 1980s and 90s were dry radio-wise, CJUM-FM returned in 1998. The following year CKUW, at the University of Winnipeg, debuted on air. Both continue to provide high quality accessible radio.
My childhood dream came true. I was a disc jockey for ten years. Then I had the epiphanal moment: when one dream is realized, another begins…
The spring melt is inevitable, though it doesn’t feel that way with massive amounts of snow everywhere. To give you some idea of the kind of winter it’s been, I shot this from the train coming in from the west in late-March. This mountain of snow that dwarfs the heavy equipment tending it is some of the snow cleared from Winnipeg streets this winter. Click pic to start 30 second clip.
Depending on snow quality and quantity as well as melt rate, Manitoba could be in for a heavy flood season..or not. The province has another new flood watch manager who on March 31 predicted the potential for spring flooding is near normal for most of the province. Translated out of Steve Ashtonese, it’s goodish news!
In fact, the flood news is downright rosy. We won’t need the Winnipeg Floodway nor the Portage Diversion this year, well, maybe we’ll just use 10% of them. Highway 75, frequently bathed by floodwaters, won’t get a bath year. The Shellmouth Reservoir has been drained down to catch all the incoming Assiniboine River. Oh yeah…this depends on cooperation from the weather which hasn’t been very cooperative so far this year. Flood predicting is hydrological guesswork, playing the odds as discerned from computer models.
There are three Manitoba sites where flooding is very likely to occur: The Pas, southwest Manitoba and some low-lying areas of Winnipeg due to run-off. Above normal soil moisture and snow pack means The Pas will likely experience localized flooding from run-off. The Souris River, whose headwaters has above average snow pack this year, will threaten the Souris/Melita area and points south. A Winnipeg flood truly depends on a slow melt. Our sewers are old. The whole flood report is here.
If the province is inundated I will start my summer travels early to provide firsthand flood reports. Otherwise I’ll hit the road in early May.
My summer travel plans will have a distinct focus this year which can be described with one word: inside. I’m always looking for new wrinkles on old stuff. Blog readers and viewers flock to my heritage reports from inside old abandoned buildings so that is where I will focus my cameras this summer. I have a short list of places to record and I’m open to suggestions. Watch for my reports starting in May.
During our gorgeous Manitoba summers we are treated to a panoply of festivals, events and happenings.
World-renown Winnipeg Folk Festival July 9 to 13, 2014 enlivens Bird’s Hill Park for the forty-first time. Among the performers this year are Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, John Hammond, the Sheepdogs and a hundred others. Every second year Cooks Creek becomes the scene of jousting, fair damsels, ogres, armoured hand-to-hand combat, fire dancers, jesters, archery and all things medieval. This year their Medieval Festival on the grounds of Immaculate Conception Church and Grotto will be held Saturday, July 26. At $10 a ticket it’s one of the best festival bargains in Manitoba. Watch my report from the 2012 festival. The first annual Carberry Heritage Festival last year gave the town an opportunity to celebrate and share its past, show off its wealth of heritage buildings and its hospitality while bringing some new faces to town. It was deemed a success and this year’s Carberry Heritage Festival will be held Friday and Saturday August 8 & 9, 2014. Once again I will help promote the event and document the festivities. I’ll be posting their schedule of events closer to the festival. Watch my report from last year’s festival. A brand new idea that should appeal to communities of all sizes was hatched last year by the people who promote Dauphin. They created Yardfringe, the first event of its kind anywhere. For the gist of it, read my report from last year’s event. In 2014, Yardfringe will happen Saturday September 27 as part of their Arts Alive Day. I’ll have more details as they become available. Other events are yet to be announced but when they are green-lit I’ll post them here. We Manitobans have waited with varying degrees of patience for this winter to end. When it does, all the more reason to celebrate. See you on the road.
Hi Ho Fools and Tools,
What better day to update you on my alleged career!
Last missive I told you those numbed-down slotheads Tapioca Hot Tub hired me to promote their vile drivel. I seem to have a talent for it since their new “song” Marshall McLuhan Steels His Gaze just hit NUMBER ONE on the Brain Failure Top Ten!! Click pic and see for yourself. I guess my publicity stunt of having the band members waterboarded in public on the main drag of Vancooper has really paid off. You’ll be wondering how I can top that. Just watch me!
It’s our special day, widgets! Do something foolish!
My fly keeps unzipping itself and my shoelaces won’t stay tied.
When Elevators Dream
Two long-abandoned grain elevators have a wonderful dream.
AUDIO: CLANG OF CROSSING BELL
Huh? Huh? What’s that?
It sounds like the crossing bell.
The crossing bell!! You’ve gone mad! There hasn’t been a bell there for decades. There hasn’t even been tracks here for 20 years (PAUSE) but you are right. It’s…
AUDIO: train whistle
It’s a train! (PAUSE) It IS a train!
But…but…It can’t be…
AUDIO: He is drowned out by the sound of the train passing,
CREDITS: on a vertical roll, end credits over the invisible train. When the credits end, the train passes.
AUDIO: after train passes, the crossing bell stops, peace and serenity return to the prairie.
That was fun!!
I still don’t believe it!! We must be dreaming?
(MORE A MURMUR) ummm…maybe.
AUDIO: Prairie sounds arise
Written, Produced and Directed by Reid Dickie
Steve Black, Duane Braun, Troy Buschman, Reid Dickie, Mitchell Johnston, Borys Kozak, Carol Anne Miller, Nora Nordin-Fredette, Liz Olson, Allan Palmer, Chris Scholl, Dennis Scullard, Tannis Zimmer
Troy Buschman, Reid Dickie, Garcea Diehl, Liz Olson, Chris Scholl, Tannis Zimmer
Sound Recording at Video Pool, Winnipeg
Special Thanks to Kevin Uddenberg, Kenny Boyce, Terry Lewycky, Vonda Bos, Rick Fisher, Prairie Dog Central
Dedicated to Beautiful Linda
A BE HAPPY PRODUCTION
© REID DICKIE 2012
Both characters sound groggy and confused by what they are hearing because they are hearing the impossible. This is established quickly.
It’s the clang of the crossing bell that catches their attention then the train whistle adds further disbelief until they are drowned out by the sound of a modern fast freight with lots of low rumbles and screeching steel on steel sounds.
To create a crossing the end credits run on a vertical scroll over the elevators as the invisible train passes horizontally.
Once the train is gone, there is joy and disbelief. The prairie silence returns.
For her fourth appearance in The Lonesomes, Nora Nordin-Fredette plays the female elevator and I play the male.
This sad pair of elevators is in Isabella, Manitoba, again south of Shoal Lake. Long abandoned by the railroad and most of its residents, little remains of Isabella today.
I captured this bucolic scene one hot afternoon. The story is a conversation between the buildings resulting in an imaginary train passing by. I used it has the background for the end credits creating a crossroads with the invisible train moving horizontally and the scrolling credits moving vertically. I saw it as fitting end to The Lonesomes, reinforcing the dream-like quality of the piece.
A brief conversation with an old friend prevents a lifetime of confusion.
I used to stand in that big showroom window and wonder where all the customers were. People drove by but not many stopped in. Cassie, my wife, took care of the storefront and the books and I did the repair work in the garage in the back. We were a good team, at least that’s what I thought.
One Saturday night, when Cassie was visiting her sister in the city, my old buddy Hutch and I were watching the game. Between periods I was telling Hutch about how poorly the garage was doing and how confused I was about why it wasn’t doing better. I guessed that people in Marshallville didn’t think I was a very good mechanic and maybe I needed to find another line of work.
It’s not you.
What do you mean, Hutch?
It’s not your work that’s causing your business to fail.
Really? What is it then? (PAUSE)
It’s your wife. (PAUSE)
Cassie! What do you mean?
Cassie…exactly. To be blunt with you, my friend…people don’t like her. She came from the city and though you and she may not think so, she looks down on people here. At least that’s the impression she leaves. She’s not (PAUSE) small town stuff; she’s from (PAUSE) elsewhere, a square peg.
People treat me just fine, treat…us just fine!
They’re just being polite. How many times you two been invited over to anybody’s house but mine for dinner? I’m guessing, none. How often do you both go out to events in town? Almost never. People don’t see you anywhere but at the garage. You need to circulate, participate in the life of the town.
Cassie doesn’t like those kind of… (PAUSE)
As I got us both another beer, it was beginning to sink in but Hutch wasn’t done yet.
HUTCH (FAKE DISBELIEF)
Do you want me to believe that you moved to the city for a few years and forget how people around here think? What their expectations are? You come from here. It’s in your blood but you forgot. (LIGHT, A LITTLE TAUNTING) Love made you blind to what’s going on around you and to what’s always been going on here. It’s the same old story in this town. Nothing has changed, nothing ever will.
So…I…am a good mechanic?
People think so. I know so. It’s your situation that keeps you from succeeding here. You’re the rose and Cassie is the thorn. You cancel each other out in this town.
When Cassie got back from the city, we discussed our situation. A month later I started a real estate course, something I thought I’d be good at and I was. We moved to the city and had a happy and prosperous life together. I left that little town knowing I was a good mechanic but I never did tell Cassie what Hutch said.
I still feel enormous gratitude to my old friend for giving me the perspective I needed at exactly the right moment.
Sometimes friends save your life and don’t even know it.
The aging Narrator is recounting this story from his younger days. It recalls a milestone in his life, a pivotal moment. He tells his story with wistfulness yet reverence for its magnitude in his life. His gratitude to his friend is sincere and, perhaps, overdue.
Hutch and the Narrator were good friends at some point in the past and may still be. We don’t know. We do know that the Narrator is beholden to Hutch and feels that telling his story will help purge his gratitude, to find an outlet of expression that satisfies the depth and truth of his thankfulness.
The set-up in the first two paragraphs (under 130 words) is quick and simple. We get the characters, their relationship and the situation immediately in easy-to-understand terms. But don’t rush the audience’s understanding. Give the story room to move, to grow. Give the audience a chance to figure out what they are seeing.
As a counterpoint to the lonesome empty building, the tone of the actors is generally happiness, of friendship and sharing with good humour. Some drama occurs on Narrator’s part with his disbelief about the cause of poor sales but it, too, is good-natured and familiar. Deep in his heart, the Narrator knows Hutch is right and this is the moment he must end his denial and proceed with life. It’s truly a Get Real moment.
This is based on fact, sort of. A friend who grew up with me in Shoal Lake, married a city woman and they lived in the little town, with varying degrees of success. My story has a happier ending.
Wanting to reinforce the value of true friendship I came up with the story as a homage to lifelong relationships. Hutch, the old friend who didn’t leave home, says nothing ever changes in small towns but everything, all the changes we’ve just watched in every episode of The Lonesomes, refutes his words.
Dennis Scullard plays the grateful friend and eloquently brought the wisdom of the long view into sight. Watch Dennis’ demo reel. Dear friend Troy Buschman voices the younger Hutch.
This scene has a very structuralist feeling to it, an accidental modernist construct on a vacant building in a dying town.
The old garage is in Decker, Manitoba south of Shoal Lake. Several things appealed to me about the place: the greyness of the walls and boards, the smashed window with the perfect arc visible above the hoarding and the horizontal ladder. My two shots of the place were enough to accommodate the conversation. In the story, Marshallville is its location.
In the first and principal scene, we see the boarded up storefront of a long abandoned garage with a broken window covered by several planks and a horizontal ladder. As well as being an interesting solution to the broken window problem, the horizontal ladder is a large metaphor for lateral movement in small towns as they decline.
The second scene (above) is a medium close-up of the broken window with its perfect arc and the ladder dividing the scene a different way. The neutral dusted-out colours of the wood and the building suggest and reinforce the place’s and the town’s ongoing deterioration. Though dimmed by being reflected, the trees moving in the breeze are the only vivid colours, again suggesting what once was here.
Two retired telephone operators have a chance encounter with life-changing results.
Lil? Can that be you?
I guess it pretty much has to be, don’t it? How are you, Dort?
Great Geezers, nobody’s called me Dort in years.
Probably ’bout as long since I heard anybody say Great Geezers.
I’m doing fine, old gal. George and I are in town to visit his sis Ethel who’s not doing so well.
So I hear. How is George?
The same. Still loves to haunt musty old places. He dragged me into the museum downtown which I had never been in before. Lo and behold, there was our old switchboard from the telephone office! You coulda knocked me over with a noodle!
That old clutterbucket’s been in there for a few years since somebody discovered it in the loft of old Smoocher’s barn. You should drive down Larch. The old telephone building is still there.
We will. Old Smoocher! Great Geezers! His number was on the central party line, 23 ring 3.
Very good Dort! Your memory’s held up well considering we haven’t worked the board for over 30 years.
When I saw that old switchboard it all just came flooding back to me, Lil – the names, the numbers, the rings, the long distance codes, even the smell of the marigolds Juicy Jim the janitor usta plant around the building. Funny what you remember…
And what you forget.
(SLIGHTLY UNDER HER BREATH) Remember Lil? We usta have the best gossip in town, didn’t we?
DORT LAUGHS NERVOUSLY
Always the best. If you wanted to know who was pregnant and shouldn’ta been, ask Lil or Dort. If you wanted to know whose business was about to go tits up, ask the phone gals. If you wanted to find out who gambled or drank too much, which men liked boys better than girls, and vice versa, who really stole the church statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, ask the busiest bodies in town.
It was quite a burden, bearing all that knowledge, wasn’t it Lil?
That’s how I found out my Dutch was cheating on me (PAUSE) and with who.
You look surprised, Dort!
(DISBELIEF, SOME HORROR) You knew?
(STILL HORRIFIED) You knew…all along?
All along. It wasn’t long before half the town knew.
(MOUNTING SHOCK AND HORROR) No!! What!? No!
(CHUCKLES A LITTLE) You two weren’t very good at having an affair, not very good at all. You lacked…umm…basic discretion. You thought people were stupider than they are which always backfires in a small town.
Did Dutch know that you knew?
Nope and that’s just how I wanted it. See what I mean about being lousy at cheating. George and I were much better at having our affair than you two.
What!? You and my George had an affair! (GASPING) I don’t believe you.
You don’t have to believe me, honey. It happened and we had a hoot because nobody, and I mean NO BODY, knew about us. Making sure of that was the most fun, well, some of the fun.
I don’t believe you!
You believe what you need to believe, Dort. Ask George.
I will. (TURNS FROM MIC, FADES IN DISTANCE) George! George!
God, I’ve waited a long time for that. I…feel…great! (CHUCKLES LOUDLY GENUINELY) And (CHUCKLE) she had Old Smoocher’s number wrong. Ha!
This story is about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that presents itself suddenly and perfectly. It has a lot of detail in it, starting with a historical set-up for the characters followed by a plot with a twist and another twist that are revealed quickly and simply, ending with a curlicue. This is a snappy story; it moves along. The pace needs to be bright but not speedy because we want the women’s situations to be fully understood.
Two old friends meet accidentally in a cafe in a small town. Back about 30 years, they both worked as telephone operators in the local telephone office, which is the building you see in the image. They seem friendly enough at the beginning of our story.
Lil is not short for Lillian or Lily, it is short for Lilac but still pronounced as if it was short for Lillian. Dort is short for Dorothy. Dort’s husband is George who is with her on this visit to their former home town. Lil’s husband is Dutch who isn’t referred to but in the past tense because Dutch is dead. Both women are in their 60s but young-sounding and distinctive, like telephone operators in small towns were.
At the outset, the two women are a little surprised to see each other but cordial, genuine. Dort has a favourite expression “Great geezers” she uses like a row of exclamation points. By the seventh line, we know their relationship – they were once switchboard operators in town.
By the time we hear about Old Smoocher, Dort is sounding less positive of what she’s saying, more disingenuous, challenged. This is followed with Lil’s false praise which becomes increasingly evident in her voice.
Sensing Lil’s change, Dort tries to endear herself with the memory of the gossip they heard as operators. Lil spouts some suggestive and lurid situations they both knew about, setting us and Dort up nicely for Lil’s next line about Dutch. Their chuckle after Dort talks of bearing the burden is the last cordial moment.
Then Lil goes in for the kill, not maliciously but pointedly, directly confronting Dort. Lil knows this is a shocker for Dort and relishes every moment. After the pregnant pause, Lil lures Dort in.
Dort is totally surprised and shocked; she almost whispers her next two lines, like a stage aside. Once she knows that half the town knew about her affair with Dutch, Dort is louder, flustered. This makes Lil happy.
Lil gets right to the point – Dort and Dutch thought people are stupid and that doesn’t work in a small town. Lil gets to drop another one on Dort, her affair with George. Dort is flabbergasted with disbelief. Lil encourages her to check with George and we hear Dort turn away calling George twice – the first time Dort sounds rather forlorn but the second time she says his name, she is irate, demanding, impatient.
Sounding enormously satisfied with herself, Lil states her present feelings and chuckles to herself. Then the kicker – Dort got Smoocher’s number wrong. The cherry on the sundae for Lil – a jolly Ha!
Even though Lil is the obvious “winner” let’s leave the listener feeling empathetic toward both women as well as for hapless George, whose life is probably about to change forever when Dort springs this on him. Maybe George has a heart attack, maybe not. Lil’s satisfaction is total, bliss.
Small town telephone operators always had very distinctive voices which were easily recognizable both on and off the phone. I wanted two such voices and thought of Liz Olson and Tannis Zimmer, neither of whom have done voice work but who both possess the vocal and dramatic qualities I wanted. Both women came completely prepared for their roles and The Muse followed us into the studio. In two takes I had my story.
Because I only had one shot of the building and the story is rather long, Kevin Uddenberg, in post production, suggested the slow reveal of the image strip by strip. I like the effect. It complements the story’s revelations nicely.
This piece has the most precious and unusual genesis of all the stories in The Lonesomes.
In the late 1930s/early 1940s, the Manitoba Telephone System (MTS) built dozens of these little Spanish Colonial style buildings with fake adobe awnings all over the province to house their offices, switchboards and operators. With the advent of dial phones in the 1960s these little buildings either were demolished or put to other uses. Very few of them remain.
I found this building in Hartney, MB and shot a few minutes of it on a warm day. I packed up my camera and by the time I was back on Highway #21 just outside of Hartney the entire story came to me in a flash. Writers love it when highly detailed stories are provided from a sudden, unknown source. I pulled over and made a few notes on the story which had come full blown with names, numbers, catch phrases and denouement – a rather mysterious event. When I sat down to write the story a few days later, it flooded effortlessly out of me, seemingly without conscious thought or the need for my presence other than to type it out.
In addition to the twists in the story, there was a twist in gathering the images. I always make notes along the road on what and where I take pictures or shoot video. I lost my notes for this trip which was in the summer of 2011 and couldn’t exactly recall in which town this building was located.
On the day of the cast and crew screening of The Lonesomes at IMAX I decided to track down the location of the building, in case someone asked where it was. I knew it was south of Brandon so I called a few little towns including Hartney. I spoke to the Hartney town administrator who recognized the place by my description. It had been used as the municipal office for a number of years after MTS left but had fallen into disrepair on the interior in recent years. He told me it had been torn down in early 2012, about 6 months after I recorded it!
I was flattered that the little place gave me a final story just before it disappeared. I’m happy to be the conduit for its past. In 2014 you can still find the building in situ on Google Street View.
A Town with Water
A defeated small-town mayor sheepishly tells his odorous story.
I blew it. I truly blew it.
In 1960 Marshallville became “a town with water.” As mayor at the time I’m proud to say I was instrumental in getting the waterworks to town. No more outhouses and public taps, no more hauling buckets of water in and toilet pails out, soon everything would be up-to-date: hot and cold running, flushing and showering. That summer, streets and yards were torn up all over town as the infrastructure for water and sewer went in. And then in early October, most of the town showed up at a ceremony to celebrate the arrival of “the waterworks.”
New “towns with water” usually hold a subdued ceremony with the symbolic burning of an outhouse to signal the end of the old well-worn path out back and the beginning of a bright sanitary indoor future.
Never a town to do anything in a small way, the council and myself voted on burning all the biffies in town at once. There was one dissenting voice – Mark Robbins. He’s now the mayor. Anyway, 171 outhouses were piled on the flats over at the north end of the lake, hauled and stacked by Dreidger’s Hough. The bottom openings, which once shielded holes filled with human muck, now gaped obscenely and odorously in plain view – not the most pleasant sight as you drove into town.
The local paper asked me for a comment about the forthcoming celebration and my exact words still echo through my memory: “It will make a fine blaze and leave an indelible impression. People will remember this night.”
At the ceremony, I gave a brief speech, Doctor Gault, in his British accent, remarked how a new era in our ability to fight disease and improve personal hygiene was beginning. I turned on a giant red tap, the water flowed in, the waste flowed out. It was a miracle! The 20th century had arrived! Everyone cheered.
Then Fire Chief Burley lit the outhouses, more cheers as our past went up in smoke, cutting a swath of light, heat and stink through the cold October twilight. It was a fine blaze, enjoyed on many levels but the outhouses had their revenge.
That night and for three days and nights afterwards, every nose in Marshallville knew we had the waterworks by a constant reminder – an acrid, burning-manure smell that arose from the smoldering heap of collapsed outhouses. The smell resisted arduous spraying from the town’s fire truck and produced a rank odour that permeated the whole town no matter which direction the wind blew. It was awful; some older people even went to the hospital for oxygen and relief.
In the aftermath, I bore the brunt of coffee shop condemnation. I couldn’t even go for a java at Jim Jim’s without being taunted, often not good-naturedly. But I was the one who said it would be “a night to remember” and it stuck. Unable to claim the waterworks as my victory because of the blowback from the fire, I was soundly defeated the following year. Marshallville had flushed me.
Even to this day, every time I flush the toilet, I can smell the stink from the burning outhouses. Apparently this still happens to other people in Marshallville, too.
When small towns got the waterworks it was truly a life-changing event. I remember the summer of 1960 when Shoal Lake became a town with water as described in the story. Often that phrase was then used on roadside billboards as an attraction to the town. I wanted to overwrite this story as it might have been told by the ex-mayor of Marshallville who recalls the biggest mistake of his political career.
The mayor has carefully written out his side of the story and almost recites it but not without some sheepishness and embarrassment at the whole event. There had to be a consequence to the folly of a mass biffy burning so I made it true for the whole town as well as for the former mayor. I wanted him to sound a little foolish but still humorous and sad at once.
The collective remembrance of the outhouse aroma lives on, not just in the former mayor’s sense-memory but in the whole town’s memory. It’s a legacy the mayor still can’t reconcile within himself so he leans toward resignation.
A Town with Water presented visual and audial challenges. This was the most difficult voice to cast. I tried two men without success. It was a stroke of luck to think of Borys (Boyd) Kozak whom I’d listened to on CKRC growing up and have become friends with at the local Tim Horton’s. Borys grew up in Wadena, Saskatchewan, a town just a little bigger than my hometown by about 400 people. Borys jumped at the chance and brought the ex-mayor to life in just two takes, giving country authenticity to the piece. It was a delight to work with Borys.
In spite of the enormous number of miles I travel every summer, it is surprisingly hard to find classic outhouses these days. I used three different locations for the ones in this story.
The first is located at what once was Bryd Siding just west of Shoal Lake on Highway #16. The outhouse, overgrown with bushes, along with a crumbling barn and dilapidated house, are all that remains of Bryd.
The row of four biffies is in the churchyard of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church between Tolstoi and Gardenton on Highway #209 in southern Manitoba. The progressively dilapidated structures spoke to me about progress and regression. This site provided the lion’s share of the scenes.
The final classic biffy with the crescent moon cut out of the door I lucked into in Makinak, Manitoba on the northeastern edge of Riding Mountain.
Cribben McCue Froze to Death
The cranky town gossip shares too much information on how to freeze to death.
Cribben McCue froze to death. He lived in this house in Marshallville his whole life and cared for his aging and ailing mother, Ruthie. It was late fall in the early Fifties when he fell through the thin ice on the river. Cribs, as everybody called him, managed to get to shore. Dripping wet, the temperature well below zero with a stiff wind, he started for home but soon got discombobulated. I guess he staggered around for awhile but the cold overwhelmed him.
When they found Cribs, he was naked as the day he was born. Rumours went around that he’d been beaten, robbed and stripped. But he died alone, in the cold, his body wedged up between two big old cottonwoods trees. (SCORNFULLY) People don’t know.
Freezing to death is one of the worst ways to die. Slowly losing your heat, your essential fire gradually dimming then gone. It isn’t long before the cold starts to interfere with your ability to think rationally, to understand what is happening to you. Your confusion mounts; your movement is impeded by the cold, the awful, unforgiving cold. You shiver violently, uncontrollably. You stumble around. Your hands are useless.
(MORE SCORN) People don’t know. The constant cold induces some odd behaviour like wanting to burrow under something, behind something, between something like big trees. It’s similar to hibernation. When the metabolism slows down we begin to burrow, to dig in, like varmints.
Somewhere late in the freezing to death process, a strange thing occurs. You suddenly feel hot, unbearably hot. Unable to reason why this might be happening, you feel confined, your clothing imprisons you in the heat so you tear off your clothes, compulsively stripping every shred off your body to cool down.
Naked, you can only feel the dimly heated core of your body as your vitals collapse under duress, your arms and legs turn blue and numb, your skin turns brittle, your eyes freeze shut, your lips and tongue harden, your blood slows as it becomes ice in your veins, your organs succumb to the cold and there is a constant high pitched buzzing in your ears because your eardrums have frozen and broken apart. When the buzzing stops, so does everything else.
You are extinguished; your body becomes stiff, (PAUSE) solid, (PAUSE) like one stuff, (PAUSE) all ice and frozen bone. (PAUSE)
That’s how Cribben McCue died. (SCORN) People don’t know.
A bitter and miserable old woman tells this tale of woe about a family in Marshallville. Immediately we learn Cribs lived his whole life in the house we are seeing where he cared for his sick mother. What a nice boy, except to our story teller. She is sour about everything including her story. She doesn’t try to hide her scorn for others, ever, sees no reason to. She’s old; she doesn’t care.
Matter-of-factly but with great scorn, she recounts the dreadful experience of freezing to death referring to the death of Cribben McCue. As the horror of each freezing stage is explained, sourpuss lady takes a keener pleasure in talking about it, highly self-satisfied at her knowing what “People don’t know.”
Everything she says is true; this is what happens when we freeze to death. It delights her; she wallows in the horror, enjoying herself too much.
I didn’t have a story until I read the details of what actually happens when we freeze to death. The final details are largely embellishment but everything leading up to that, including the stripping and burrowing, is factual.
Carol Anne Miller did four takes of this story, each radically different. I settled on the grating crazy lady voice as there were at least two women in Shoal Lake with similar vocal tones who were terrible gossips and loved to embellish everything they heard. More than any other voice in The Lonesomes, this one gets an immediate reaction and thus works as intended. Thanks Carol.
This house is in Westbourne, Manitoba along Highway #16. The weather-worn colour of the house along with its long abandoned, paintless condition appealed to me.
I shot it twice, once for the long view and once for the details. In post, Kevin Uddenberg and I worked this into a vague Guy Maddin homage during post production with the colour changes and the negative (black) spaces.
I Don’t Like Trains
An old man recalls his dire railroad birth.
AUDIO: one blast of a steam train whistle
I don’t like trains.
AUDIO: another blast of the whistle
I was born on a train but it was a rude and crude way to come into the world. It surely was. (PAUSE) It was 1893 and even though Mama was round and ripe with me, she was travelling up to Russell to see her ailing brother Thomas. The train was a mile and half out of the little town of Marshallville and Mama had a big bathroom urge. To her dismay her water burst and she squirted me out like a bar of wet soap. In those days when you used train toilets, your leavings went right out onto the tracks. Well, I landed under the train with the cord that connected me and Mama still attached. I was dragged along under the train over the cinders until the cord got broken.
I was cut up pretty bad and bear the scars to prove it. This red gash on my forehead and below my right eye, that’s my tattoo from being dragged face down til the cord broke.
My whole right side and my back looks like a road map from being cut up by sharp cinders.
The doctor in Marshallville, his name was Doc Wensel, he heard about my desperate birth. The doc got in his horse and buggy and hightailed it to the train. Doc Wensel staunched up my bleeding the best he could, tended to Mama and made the train engineer agree to keep the train stopped for an hour. Thay way, me and Mama could get over the shocks of the day in a warm car before he took us to the little hospital in Marshallville.
(WISTFUL) If I’m very quiet, I can still feel the first warm hands that held me. A conductor named Gus lifted me off the cinders and placed me in a linen tablecloth from the dining car. I was bloodied and bleeding. He dried me off and I can remember feeling the heat from his big warm hands.
(PAUSE) Well, that was what the first minutes of my life were like. Luckily life got better. (PAUSE) Mama told me all this and ever since, I’ve had a great story to tell that always begins with I don’t like trains.
AUDIO: steam train whistle as at start
AUDIO: steam train whistle as at start
Another true story from the history of Shoal Lake!
In the 1890s just outside of town a baby was born as presented in the story complete with the doctor hurrying out to the train to tend to mother and child. The child lived a long life thereafter and I wanted to capture him as an old man with still-vivid memories of his birth. The first warm hands thing is pure fiction but the rest sticks to the facts. Marshallville is mentioned again.
The old guy has lived every day of his many years with evidence of his terrifying birth writ in scars on his flesh, on his face! The scarification on his body is severe. A large, red scar on his face looks like the number 3 and goes from above his left eye to a peak below his eye and continues around his mouth onto his chin. The scar is wide and thick; it is the defining characteristic of his face. You can’t miss it.
His body is even more severely scarred. As he was being dragged along under the train, the needle-sharp cinders minced his right side and all of his back leaving deep ragged furrows that still redden occasionally eighty-odd years after they were made. They healed in such a way that there are three perfect interconnecting circles that run diagonally across his back from his right shoulder to his left side, a bizarre fragment of order amid a chaos of disfigurement. All his life he has carried much shame about his body and only once appeared shirtless in company. On that occasion, a woman fainted when she saw the grotesque scars on his torso.
What a way to arrive in the world! He’s a little nuts and speaks in a strange gnarly voice, but he is thrilled to be able to relate the story of his gruesome birth yet again. He tells it with some humour, great familiarity and odd phrasing and tone.
There is much room to generate sympathy and my old buddy Mitchell Johnston did just that, creating a memorable character.
Every weekend during the spring, summer and fall, the Prairie Dog Central plies the rails between Winnipeg and Grosse-Isle, Manitoba. The train consists of an 1882 steam locomotive with five passenger cars and caboose dating from 1901 to 1913, all fully restored and operational. A ride on the Prairie Dog Central is one of the premiere tourist events in Manitoba! As a fun excursion for the whole family, I highly recommend it.
To capture the footage, I leap-frogged the Prairie Dog Central along Highway #6 one Sunday during its run, shooting crossing to crossing along the way. I shot more footage in Grosse Isle as the train navigated the wye. The old train is a visual treat and just being near it hearkens one back to a comfortable and simple time.
A resourceful pioneer scares off an opponent and his dream ensues.
Greetings. I’m Angus Marshall.
I wanted that whole quarter section of land at the end of that lovely blue lake but Aubrey Briers, a farmhand from Ontario just like me, was squatting on it, just like I was. Off in one corner Briers built a lopsided sod hut that looked about to be tumbling over any minute. I don’t know how long he’d been there but I was keen to find a way of getting rid of him so I could build my little dream.
What was my little dream? Well, before me stretches to the south a narrow shallow lake, five miles long. A little stream comes in from the north and feeds the lake. The land around rolls in gentle fashion, rich for farming. I feel in my Scottish bones that a town will grow on this very spot.
(BECOMING WISTFUL) One evening when I was sitting under a cottonwood tree watching the sun reflected off the lake, the shimmer of light and water sent a vision afoot over the landscape. Suddenly around me I saw little houses, churches, hotels and stores built along a railroad track, people scurrying about building and doing, building and doing.
I saw yet-unborn Marshalls: my sons and daughters walking on this land, growing and building here, too. And sharing, always sharing, for if the Good Lord teaches us anything, He teaches us that “there’s enough.”
Sitting under that old tree, I suddenly heard a sound from the future, the wet lonesome whistle of a steam train in the distance. It would be eleven years before the track was laid through here but I heard that train coming just as plain as day. I knew at that moment a town would arise here.
That was my dream but Briers was in the way. I needed to get rid of him. He didn’t know me very well. I liked it that way so I came up with a plan.
I waited until the next starless night, dark as a dungeon. I had an old horse collar with a couple of cracked bells that sounded eerie so I put the horse collar around my neck and went to visit Briers. When I got to his hut the thought occurred to me to just push the precarious pile of mud over and smother him. But I didn’t need to resort to murder to get what I wanted.
I started to howl like a wolf which got Brier’s attention. When he came out of his hut, I introduced myself as Satan and asked if I could be of any service to him since he was squatting on Satan’s land. I transformed into a horse and snorted and neighed and whinnied, pawed the ground, telling him I lost my wagon a few miles back and would he help me fetch it. And so on, mad gibberish. Briers didn’t know how to react so he went inside his hut. I could hear him securing his door. As I left, I shouted I’d be back every night to see if he needed anything from Satan. (SMALL CHUCKLE)
It rained hard that night. The next morning, when I stepped out of my little hut, I saw a different landscape. No longer did Briers’s hovel stand out against the raw horizon. In its stead lay a pile of mud. I rushed over thinking the hut had finally fallen onto Briers and smothered him but a thorough dig among the muck revealed no Briers…or anything for that matter.
I never saw hide nor hair of him again. He had vanished. Gone as gone can get. I claimed that whole quarter and the rest of the section, too. (PAUSE) That’s why this town is called Marshallville and not Briersville.
That’s also why the war memorial in town has a monument that looks just like Reginald, my first born, who was gassed at Ypres in 1915. (PAUSE) People call the monument The Unknown Soldier (PAUSE) but I know who it is, (PAUSE) I know who it is.
Now we move off the farm into town and hear stories of town life starting with the genesis of Marshallville as explained by its founder and namesake.
Angus Marshall is in his late 70s and looks back over a long life to recount a turning point.
The first paragraph sets everything up. Take it slowly, evenly. Tho Angus and Briers are equals in their squatting rights, being a wily Scotsman, Angus has the edge and he knows it.
The second, third and fourth paragraphs become increasingly wistful as he recounts his dreams and visions. Paragraph five about the train gets almost spooky.
In paragraph six we return to the Briers problem. Here Marshall has a firmer tone.
Marshall gets great enjoyment recounting his plan in action in paragraphs seven and eight ending with a chuckle. Paragraph nine tells of the morning after and paragraph ten the plan is a success. He gloats a little over the town name, affirming his significance in the town.
The last paragraph explains what we have been watching for the last four minutes. Angus’ tone gets a little spooky here. He is still grieving. The implication is that Angus paid for the monument and had it built to his specs. His personal assertion of the statue’s identity is very satisfying for the old man. He tells his story with wisdom, kindness and understanding gained by a long hard life on the prairies.
The story and the image are both quite personal for me. The story is, in fact, the true story of the founding of my hometown, and the war memorial stands in the first village I lived in.
The genesis of Shoal Lake, Manitoba rests with Matt Thompson, the original settler who had to scare off another squatter to claim his land. My story, based on reports in the Shoal Lake history books, follows events closely including the horse collar and feigning madness. For the purposes of The Lonesomes, this is how Marshallville came into being.
Steve Black did a wonderful job bringing Angus Marshall to life.
The first town my parents and I lived in after I was born was Margaret, Manitoba, south of Brandon. I have vague memories of it since we moved when I was about four years old. I have returned to Margaret since and noted the lovely white statue of the soldier that sat in the small park. I wanted to use the statue for The Lonesomes but when I returned to shot it, it was no longer in the village park.
Fewer than a dozen people still live in Margaret. I chatted up the postmistress who said they had moved the statue to the cemetery just outside of town which is where I shot the scene. The water effect I created in my backyard and applied to the image.
God Moves in a Windstorm
A disharmonious choir churns away graveside.
God moves in a windstorm,
God moves in a windstorm,
God moves in a windstorm,
And heaven ain’t far behind.
A ragged choir sings off-key and unsteadily at a graveside funeral on a windy day. It could be Tillie Sweet’s funeral. The wind howls throughout, weaving in and out of the choir.
I wanted to capture the notion of praise but with uncertainty about the melody and the words like a real church congregation would sound without hymnals. The song is my variation on an old Kentucky coal-mining tune by Sara Ogan Gunning.
I recorded the choir in three different places with different people at three different times. Sound engineer Mike Germain did an excellent job combining the disparate pieces into the lop-sided round you hear.
The choir voices are Garcea Diehl, Tannis Zimmer, Liz Olson, Chris Scholl, Troy Buschman and Reid Dickie.
Just east of Komarno, Manitoba, right next to Provincial Road #229, I found this tiny cemetery with a single row of headstones. It felt very lonesome to me. The slow zoom, the drained colour, off-kilter choir and the howling wind combine to enhance a dream-like feeling of loneliness.
This is the last segment in the Farm Life section of The Lonesomes. Next we move into Town Life.
The vast blueness of the sky frightens a woman to death.
Out here most of the world is sky with just a little strip of land running around the bottom. Sometimes that little bit of land isn’t enough, especially when the sky… (PAUSE…UNCERTAINTY…SIGH)
Tillie Sweet lived in this house. (SIGHS) Aw, me. Tillie came from the big city of London England where there is more land than sky. Just off the boat, she married Willaker Sweet. People round here called them Tillie and Willie. Anyways, Willie moved her out here to the middle of the big sky, the biggest sky she ever saw. Tillie Sweet had never experienced anything so big, so blue, so unforgiving, so overpowering as the prairie sky. It became her prison but one that she eventually escaped.
It was during her second summer out here when the isolation, the homesickness and the desperation of her daily life overtook Tillie. It sent her running, running and running and running and running across the open prairie. She was running from the sky, trying to escape it. She ran and ran until her lungs burst and she fell face down in a clover pasture, never to arise.
When they found her, she was smiling. (SIGHS) Aw, me. (WHISPERS) It’s happened before. I know for truth, it has happened before.
(NORMAL VOICE) The night Tillie died, a thunderstorm came through here and lightning struck the big old cottonwood tree that grew by the Sweet house. (WHISPER) Some say lightning struck it three times that night. (NORMAL VOICE) In the morning all that was left was a jagged stump with a sharp tip, like a finger pointing toward heaven. (SIGHS) Aw, me.
An elderly woman, with great resignation, recounts this tale of prairie desperation. She speaks slowly, deliberately, with a world weariness that indicates her age and experience. She wants, needs to tell the story but there are taboos about it, its horror too vast to bear alone. She whispers two lines that are especially chilling but she gets the story told. The story involves conflict with the elements, resolution and the narrator’s familiarity with the feeling, suggesting perhaps she had similar urges.
Sadly, this is based on true events that occurred on the Canadian prairies as pioneers filled up the west. Perhaps an extreme form of agoraphobia or something inexplicable and individual, running yourself to death was an option for a few pioneer women. Although not widespread and rarely affecting men, running became a fact of some pioneer family’s lives.
The possible reasons or explanations for this behavior are laid out by the storyteller. Her burden of knowing what happened to Tillie Sweet expresses itself as fear in her voice. The script is explicit with directions.
The dramatic moment of Tillie’s death combines several small audio effects including time lapse clouds that speed up, her heart beating faster and faster, her frantic gasping and her feet running through the clover.
The end of the story explains the image of the tree stump, a satisfactory yet chilling end to the tale. The woman’s whispers must be convincing and she must know why she is whispering. Her world weariness is unabated by telling the story and her heartfelt sighs persist.
As ever, Nora Nordin-Fredette did a great job of capturing the sadness and world weariness of the narrator and the peculiarity of story.
This house is located near what remains of Mountain Road, Manitoba in the rolling uplands of Riding Mountain just off Highway #357. This highway offers some of Manitoba’s most stunning vistas. If you are eastbound, the road ends at Hwy #5 with a wonderful descent off the Manitoba Escarpment onto the old lake bed.
I was struck by the exposed bones of the house but it was the pointy stump and its location next to the house that drove my imagination.
Rusty old farm equipment suddenly spouts poetry.
Well, old friend, looks like we got through another summer without having to do a speck of work. How about that!
How many summers is it that we haven’t worked?
I lost track but I’m still tired. It sure is good not to have to pull a plough anymore.
You like just rusting away up here with this great view of the prairie and the highway, don’t you, old tugger?
I do, I love it. My tuggin’ days are long over. I pulled everybody and everything back and forth across hot dusty fields and down skinny little roads through the bush. I pushed snow away so everyone could move again. I pulled ploughs, harrows, wagons, stoneboats, binders, horses and wagons out of mires, big blocks of ice from the slough for the icebox, ha, I even pulled you a time or two, old thresher pal.
You did and you were strong and eager. Then they bought The Big Horse, as they called it, and you tugged other stuff after that. The Big Horse did most of my pulling. I mostly just sat there and let my gears tickle me once I was in action. But you were a strong tugger, my friend.
I had some fine metal days, didn’t I?
That you did.
You had your share of heroic days in the field, too.
Those times in late summer
when the heat was still on the land and the crop came in early,
those days, driven by more horsepower than I needed,
surrounded, serviced and fed by dozens of broad sweating men,
each trying to precisely match my abilities to reap,
to separate the seed from the stalk,
the gold from the grip
and deliver it
into a hopper,
the rich harvest bestowed.
I yearned all year for those weeks of thrilling work,
the rhythmic whine of the belt from the power takeoff of The Big Horse
playing counterpoint to the chugging beat of my cogs, gears and pulleys,
the dry shouts of the men feeding me the harvest,
the erotic embrace of virgin grain against polished metal,
that was my moment,
So that’s what you’ve been ruminatin’ about! You are a poet!
I am! I am the cutting edge of rusty and irrelevant farm machinery poetry which is rapidly taking over from cowboy poetry as the true voice of the prairie wind. Would you like to hear more?
I very much would and, hopefully, shall.
Indeed, you shall.
That small sound we both know so well,
it is the creep and peel of The Rust.
The Rust, The Rust, it rules us now.
Day and night, through every season,
subtle but unstoppable against the breeze and the dawn,
The Rust is omnipresent,
etching away at us.
We flake into the grey fall grass,
shatterings of us glint on cold snow and are buried,
only to glint again in spring turnings.
We are the hilltop beasts of burden,
brazen against the whip of the northerlies in January,
snapping in the August heat like brittle controlled insects
always the shedding,
the shedding Rust
speaking in its wee, timorous voice.
I can hear The Rust right now. (PAUSE) And I’m still tired.”
As the scene indicates this is a modern conversation between an old threshing machine and an old tractor, both from the early part of the 1900s. The tone here is light and jovial, familiar, sincere and endearing.
The two male voices sound old and tired but the thresher, having a poetry mission, is more cheerful and slightly more energetic than the tractor who is just plain tired. They’ve literally been put out to pasture, relegated to a rise with a view of the asphalt highway below in one direction and miles of monoculture spreading away to the horizon in the other. The two old machines have witnessed vast changes in farming, suggested by mention of The Big Horse which describes a new and large tractor, an increase in the scale and speed of farming.
Both machines are sincere in their comments and accolades about each other; their individual triumphs in the field are noted with understanding and kindness.
Thresher delivers the poetry professionally with perfect inflection and phrasing. He wraps you in his voice and holds you there. After the last poem, Tractor becomes rather wistful which is soon overwhelmed by his ongoing tiredness.
My dear friend Chris Scholl masters the voice of Tractor and I’m Thresher.
I found this location along Manitoba Highway #3 just west of Cartwright. I was struck by the positioning of the old thresher and tractor in relation to each other, the sky and the rolling land around. The highway runs by at the bottom of the rise.
This is a site I shot twice. Just as post production began, at Kevin Uddenberg’s urging, I re-shot the machinery one afternoon using the classic film language angles we know as cinematic conversation. It worked very well. The high contrast in the wide two-shot is intentional to make the close-up pans more intriguing. I lucked out with the abundant swallows sailing about on my second shoot.
On the second shoot I ran into the land owner whose permission I had not sought. He and his wife, Randy and Donna Pawich, were just curious about what I was doing. I talked to them about my heritage interests, leaving the story of The Lonesomes untold. They were friendly people and I’m sure they will enjoy the story I attached to their old equipment.
Creating the rust sound was a problem during the recording of The Lonesomes. I had a mental sound of the rust but didn’t know how to produce it. Finally I recorded the dragging of a metal rod over a concrete floor and slowed it down. Voila! The sound of rust!
A father commemorates his son’s birthday in a vehicular way.
I bought that Chevy half ton from Steve Twerdun. Me and Mary had just got hitched and we needed solid farm transportation. That Chev was a fine piece of truck. People noticed me when I drove it into Marshallville back when it was shiny and new (PAUSE) and I was shiny and new.
Luke, our first born, was conceived in that truck. It was a hot day in late August and me and Mary were drivin’ home from seeing her parents about an hour away. We stopped for a pee by the road when a prairie storm come up with thunder and lightning. It rained hammers and nails. We couldn’t see to drive so we had wild sex in the steamed up truck by the side of the road.
The next May when Mary went into labour, she woke me at three in the morning. We got two-thirds of the way to the hospital in town and she gave birth, right into the tote bag she had her clothes in. Luke just slid right out of her and into the bag. So he was born in that truck, too.
Seventeen years later on an August night Luke drove the truck into a soft embankment, uprooting a tree which came through the side window impaling his head. He died in the truck, quivering at the end of a broken branch. (PAUSE)
(STARTS TO SOB) I leave Luke’s truck up there to remind me and the sky what happened. (TRYING TO GAIN CONTROL) He’d a bin fifty years old…today. (SOBS)
This deep memory piece aspires to be a great country song loaded with irony and poignancy. An elderly man, 33 years after his son’s death, still grieves every day for his lost child. The old truck, slowly sinking into the prairie atop a rise, harbours his most significant memories starting when he was first married.
The first three paragraphs are delivered almost happily as he recalls the events of the story. In the first paragraph he sets the scene and remembers the shiny, new truck with delight but a bit of sadness creeps in when he says “And I was shiny and new” indicating his advanced age.
The second paragraph he delivers a little sheepishly but with enjoyment of the memory of the day Luke was conceived. The third paragraph again is a pleasant memory if somewhat surprising for the birth in the truck and the ease of it all.
The fourth paragraph is matter-of-fact, deadpan as if he is trying to hold back the emotion of the event. He is still stunned by it. The stark image of his impaled son is followed by a pause so the audience can realize Luke was conceived, born and died in the truck they are seeing. How horrible!
The final paragraph is the kicker. The truck is his personal memorial to his lost son, the object that still connects him every day with Luke. His voice is clogged with emotion as he speaks the second last line. After a pause, the last line is charged with cruel memory as he reports the special nature of the day. The pause between “fifty years old” and “today” and the way “today” is delivered are the keys to the story’s success. He has a hard time getting out the last line before he breaks down and sobs after the story is over. It’s an emotionally charged ending that shouldn’t feel manipulative but honest and sincere.
Since the background sound will only be the sound of the prairie wind whispering through the grass, this has much potential to be maudlin. I want to avoid that. I want the audience to see that although it’s a sad story and he is still heartsick over his loss, there is an underpinning of acceptance of how life is.
Dennis Scullard gave a superior performance as the still-grieving father expressing his deep and incurable sorrow, just emotional enough. Dennis is evolving into a very good actor and his roles are getting larger. Watch his demo reel.
Luke’s Truck contains the first mention of Marshallville which looms large later in The Lonesomes once we get to town life.
This old half ton was a familiar site to me from my sacred site tours as it sits at the bottom of the rise below the buffalo effigy in extreme southern Saskatchewan, again about a mile from Montana.
I love how the truck dominated the landscape while deteriorating comfortably into the prairie soil. I shot it twice on two separate trips, once with the hood open and once with the hood closed.
The truck belonged to Ralph Rasmussen who grew up on the family homestead just below the buffalo effigy. I met Ralph several times on my trips and have written about him on my blog. He told me his interesting history of the sacred site as well as his family background in the area. Ralph has since passed away but his truck still sits atop the same rise where he parked it years ago. Other than my use of his old truck, the fictional story of Luke has nothing to do with Ralph Rasmussen.
Wildfire races across the open prairie toward a homestead.
I ‘member Papa and I standin’ after sundown and watchin’ the red glow far off in the distance. I was skeerd and I think Papa was a little skeerd too. The next night the glow was even closer. In the mornin’ we all could smell the smoke.
Papa got the team out and ploughed a wide circle round the house, the barn and haystacks. We filled everything we had with water: barrels, troughs, pots, pans, kettles, pails, basins, jars, even the chamber pots. We soaked brooms, grain sacks, sheets and anything we could find that sopped up water and could be used to beat back the fire. My big brother Ivan pumped water so long that day his arms was swole and sore by the evening.
After dark we all stood and watched the fire comin’ straight toward our farm. The prairie grass was so high the fire ate it like it was breakfast. I can still hear the loud roar of the fire. We was lucky. Just when we started to beat at the flames, the wind changed direction and sent the fire across the ravine, away from us. Burned out half our wheat crop though.
The other thing the fire took was the outhouse. It was tinder-dry and it took but one spark to set it on fire. It was gone in no time. Mama and us kids talked Papa into digging the new outhouse closer to the house. Mama had to tickle him to get him to agree.
When we was lookin’ for things to fill with water, we even used the pretty teacups Mama brought over with her on the boat. There was only two of them and one got broke. (PAUSE) Mama cried.
Raging prairie fires were a frequent danger for pioneers after the buffalo were extirpated and the prairie grasses grew tall and dry in the summer heat. Often fires could be seen approaching for several days across the flat land. It was an all-out battle to prepare for an oncoming fire: from ploughing a wide fireguard around the property to collecting water and gathering materials to beat back the flames.
This story is told from the perspective of a bright eight-year-old girl who lives with her family on their prairie homestead in 1899. The girl’s English is colloquial giving the piece an atmosphere of the era when children’s education was often secondary to farm work. She recounts the story with increasing wide-eyed fear but comfort from having her family around her. There is palpable relief in her voice when the wind changes and their farm is saved. Things lighten up considerably with the outhouse story and we think everything is going to be okay.
Reality rears its head again in last paragraph when one of the two teacups gets broken and Mama cries. The irony and the happy/sad balance is maintained. The broken tea cup was a dramatic and poignant afterthought.
Once again, Nora Nordin-Fredette did an excellent job bringing the fearful little girl to life.
This lone abandoned farmhouse atop a rise in southern Saskatchewan was the inspiration for The Lonesomes. I had driven past it dozens of times over the years and everything about it was mysterious to me. It seemed to cry out for an imagination to commemorate its hardships, its joys and fears, its life and death.
It is located in extreme southern Saskatchewan along Highway #18 in the Missouri Coteau near the Big Muddy area. The symmetrical little house with its four dormers was familiar to me from my trips visiting sacred sites in Saskatchewan. One year turkey vultures nested in the house and when I drove by a vulture was perched on each of its dormers like elegant gargoyles.
I took a guided tour of the area in 2011 from Tillie Duncan, an elderly lady who’d lived her whole life in the region. She explained the house was built in the late 1890s and the family had to bring wood across the border from Plentywood, Montana, about a mile away, because there were no trees in this part of the country.
Combining live action with my still photos of the house the place looks vulnerable enough to suit the prairie fire story I had in mind. The close-up moving pan across the facade details the intricate decay of the old house.