Some of these short Day Tripper reports from around Manitoba went out with the 12 Sacred Places series. Others are new and I will be adding to them often. Come on. Let’s go for a drive, work off some of our wanderlust!
WHERE I’VE BEEN, SO FAR
Carberry- Manitoba Heritage Gem!
Fort la Reine Museum & Pioneer Village, PLP
Wakpa Tanka Lookout/Silver Bend Trail
2012 MB & SK Sacred Places Locations
Alexander Ridge Park
The Halfway Trees
Three Videos from Marsh Lake
The Arches of Russell
The Babushka Trail, Parkland
Snake Season, Narcisse
Assiniboine Valley Arboretum
Riding Mountain National Park/Mountain Road
Kiche Manitou Yurt
Camp Hughes Rest Stop
Pembina Valley Provincial Park
Barney’s Motel, Brandon
St. Leon Wind Farm
Summer Shack, Carberry
Carberry – Manitoba Heritage Gem!
Most prairie towns in Manitoba have experienced ongoing physical renewal over the last 130 years with older commercial and residential buildings burned or torn down and replaced with new structures. The faces of Main Streets all over the province are in continuous flux. Exceptions to this process are rare and precious and one in particular stands out – Carberry, Manitoba.
Located 42 kms east of Brandon and three kms south of the Trans Canada Highway, Carberry bucked the typical raze-and-build trend of most small towns and proudly retained most of its original brick and mortar architecture from its formative years in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Because of this, Carberry has garnered the distinction of having Manitoba’s first and, so far, only Heritage District. Designated by the provincial heritage people, two blocks of the town’s Main Street comprise the district, which includes 28 buildings, all of them deemed significant for their architectural and historical value. It’s a little slice of heritage heaven.
As a bit of a teaser, this shot shows one section of Carberry’s Main Street – a continuous row of original brick buildings sporting the elaborate decorative brickwork of the era. Though the first floor facades have been changed over the decades to accommodate various tenants and owners, the second floors remain mostly original, an exceedingly rare example of an early small town Manitoba streetscape.
Here’s my plan: I have photographed all the buildings in the Heritage District and plan to develop written descriptions for each, posting them individually on this blog over the summer. With my trusty JVC Everio I have shot video of the district which I will edit and post on my YouTube channel soon along with this series.
Its central location makes Carberry a great destination for daytrippers all over southern Manitoba. Besides its amazing Main Street, Carberry has several other heritage gems. I have blogged about their White house, Lyon house, agricultural display building, octagonal silo, St. Agnes Anglican Church, Carberry United Church Be sure to check out the Carberry Plains Museum and the building it is housed in.
For clarity, this project is of my own volition and I have no connection, financial or otherwise, to Carberry or any business in the area. I do have an appreciation of its architectural uniqueness and its location in the world, both of which motivate this series. My first post will be in a few days. As ever, I welcome all feedback.
Fort la Reine Museum, Portage la Prairie
Under an overcast sky, the mighty Avenger and I took a spin westward on the TCH to Portage la Prairie last Friday. A quick shop of PLP’s thrift shops, it has three, yielded just four classy 1950s glass tumblers @ $1 each at the MCC. A slow cruise through Island Park, literally a park on a large island in the middle of the Assiniboine River, and a pause for a Horts got me homeward bound. But not before a stop at the Fort la Reine Museum on the east side of PLP. The gate and all the buildings were open but Tracey Turner, the museum’s curator and manager, said they don’t officially open until Monday, May 7.
I spent half an hour roaming the sprawling museum which is comprised of 27 different pioneer buildings and items brought into the site creating the feeling of a village. Heritage purists disparagingly refer to these kinds of museums as “petting zoos.” They believe that heritage value exists only when the place is in situ and that value disappears when a building is moved. Not being a heritage snob, I like the clustering of buildings from various times and uses. Fort la Reine Museum displays all the qualities that I appreciate in a museum.
Such as? The pleasant feeling of an early pioneer village. When you enter there is a row of old buildings as you might find on a main drag of a prairie town around 1900. The pictures at the top are of the interior of the museum’s general store. Also on site are a replica of Fort la Reine (the original was built by La Verendrye in 1739), a red barn, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church, fire hall, print shop, school, doctor and dentist’s offices and West Prospect Church.
Specific items on display include a York boat, Musketeer aircraft and several houses. The houses range from a reproduction of a trapper’s crude shack, the Paul family’s log house built in 1879, the Hourie house built in 1890, the Burton house from early 1900s and the Douglas Campbell home. Each house represents an improvement in accommodations and demonstrates the development of prairie architecture from rude shacks to elegant Queen Anne Revival style homes.
The museum has a significant railroad component which includes the private rail car of Sir William Van Horne, the flamboyant general manager of the CPR, a superintendent’s car, a signalman’s shack and a caboose.
Another reason I like this museum concept is, without it, most of these buildings would have been destroyed, converted into sheds and granaries or left to rot into the prairie. Even though they aren’t in their original location, they do still exist thanks to the museum.
Tracey Turner told me they are doing something new this summer. In July and August the museum will host an exhibition about the various traveling vaudeville shows that crisscrossed the country in the early 1900s. Called Voices of the Town, Vaudeville in Canada, the exhibit is on loan from the Peterborough Museum and Archives. I’ll provide more information about the exhibit when its opening day draws nearer.
Meanwhile, the Fort la Reine Museum offers plenty to see and be amazed by. There is lots of space for the kids to run about, fascinating one-of-a-kind exhibits and friendly knowledgable staff. The museum makes a terrific Manitoba day trip. Find out more about the museum here http://www.fortlareinemuseum.ca/
Wakpa Tanka Lookout – Miniota
In 1992, pipeline crews discovered a rare campsite on the banks of the Assiniboine near Miniota, MB, rare because the site was used only once before it was covered with river sediment from flooding. The archies thoroughly dug the site and preserved dozens of artifacts dating back 1000 years to the Avonlea people. Today a viewing platform and information board perched high above the river offer access to a millennium of river history.
Called Wakpa Tanka Lookout, the site provides a panoramic view of the river valley, which includes an oxbow of the Assiniboine. Translated from Dakota, Wakpa Tanka means “great river.” A sturdy well-constructed kiosk provides written and pictoral background on the site’s history and details about the grand valley view before you.
Also at the site is the trailhead for the Silver Bend Trail, a trail with exceptional vistas of the Assiniboine valley. Signage along the trail speaks of aboriginal peoples and settlers offering insight into their daily lives. Steamboats plied the river delivering supplies to settlements along the banks.
The site is easy to find. Access to the trailhead and Wakpa Tanka Lookout is off Hwy #83 about a mile and a half north of Miniota. By the highway is a sign for Silver Bend Trail. Turn west onto a good gravel road, drive over a small wooden trestle bridge and into the site. This trestle bridge, which spans CNR tracks, is a rarity in Manitoba as it is completely constructed of wood, even the driving surface.
2012 Sacred Places Locations
Now that summer is returning to the prairies, you may be planning personal journeys to some of the Sacred Places I have written about on this blog. Several of the sites are on private land and require special permission to visit. However, some are accessible without consent.
I have developed driving directions to six Sacred Places in Manitoba and seven in Saskatchewan, which are not on private land and are accessible by car and hiking. I don’t plan to publish the directions. Instead, if you’d like specific easy-to-follow driving/hiking directions to any of these sites, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll supply the details. Please include a bit of information about yourself such as where you live, your interests, what direction you’ll be coming from, etc.
The six Sacred Places in Manitoba are:
- Medicine Rock
- Star Mound
- Boissevain Dancing Ground
- Thunderbird Nest
- Bannock Point Petroforms
- Spirit Sands
Rock effigy at Bannock Point Petroforms
The seven Sacred Places in Saskatchewan are:
- St. Victor Petroglyphs
- Minton Turtle Effigy
- Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy
- Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site
- Pine Cree Park
- Castle Butte
- Herschel Petroglyphs – limited access
Spirit pole with cloth offerings at Big Beaver Buffalo effigy
Alexander Ridge Park
Most Manitobans know we live on a flood plain due to the regular reminders of our rivers. Many don’t know that we live on a lake bottom, Lake Agassiz to be exact, which accounts for the flatness of the land. For several thousand years this massive lake harboured the meltwater from glaciers, some of them a mile and half thick, that covered the province during the last Ice Age which lasted about 85,000 years. Other than the thousands of lakes that dot the province, most of them remnants of Lake Agassiz, we still have a few beaches remaining to remind us of the huge glacial lake.
In eastern Manitoba there is evidence of various lakewater levels along the edge of the Canadian Shield. In the western part of the province, the Manitoba Escarpment formed the boundary of the big lake. There still remain a few places where the beaches of the lake are visible. You can clearly see evidence of numerous levels of the lake on the Arden Ridge off Hwy #16. Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Provincial Park is, in fact, the delta of a huge river that drained meltwater into Lake Agassiz at that spot. Around Riding Mountain National Park there are still beach ridges visible. The park offers a short hike that takes you along the ridges.
Just a few miles west of Miami, MB as you climb up the Manitoba Escarpment on Hwy #23, an opportunity to drink in the vistas of the old lake bottom has been created. Called Alexander Ridge Park and located almost at the top of the escarpment, the site features grand views of the flatland below and a satisfying roadside stop. The top picture is one of the long views of the plains below offered from the park. Signage explains the origins of the park and its lighthouse theme, picnic tables await and a wooden lookout tower enhances your 20-mile view of the plains. Several Sea Buckthorn bushes flourish in the well-maintained park. Last fall they were loaded with bright orange berries.
A worthwhile roadside stop but you have to be vigilant to find it. Located on the north side of Hwy #23 is a large sign with a lighthouse on it that identifies the park but you have to doubleback on a side road to get into the place.
The Halfway Trees
Regular, intercity travelers along the Trans Canada Highway between Brandon and Winnipeg will be familiar with the halfway trees, trees that local lore says mark the midpoint between the two cities.
The halfway tree on the north side of the highway is about 14 kms west of Portage la Prairie, right next to the road and protected by a steel guard rail.
This tree is a 40-foot common willow and is the last survivor of a willow planting next to a drainage swale. Twinning the TCH caused the other willows to be removed but this, the largest one, was spared. This tree is a Manitoba Heritage Tree and is listed prominently in Heritage Trees of Manitoba, a publication of the Manitoba Forestry Association.
The other halfway tree, situated about 23 kms west of Portage on the south side of the TCH, is a gigantic, old cottonwood. This is the tree most recognized as halfway despite lacking heritage status. I have often seen the lower reaches of this tree decorated with an occasional Christmas ornament, ribbons, shoes and assorted stuff. It has been the scene of various life-changing events over its 100 year history including at least one marriage proposal.
So we have two trees nine kms apart that both claim to be halfway between Winnipeg and Brandon. Fact is, neither tree is exactly halfway but, by actual miles, the cottonwood is closer to claiming that title than the willow. I suspect building the Portage bypass and twinning the TCH changed the mileage between the two cities, thus neither tree is pivotal. The cottonwood certainly merits heritage status and the Manitoba Forestry Association is taking nominations now to update the protected tree list. See their website for details on the process.
This moody photograph of the cottonwood at night was taken by Brandon photographer and videographer Derek Gunnlaugson. Thanks, Derek. Check out his website, Dex.
How To Measure the Height of a Tree
Have someone stand next to the tree. (It doesn’t have to be a person but should be something of a specific height.) Holding a ruler vertically, walk backwards from the tree until the person is one inch tall on the ruler. Note where the top of the tree is on the ruler. Take that number and multiple it by the height of the person (or object) next to tree and you have the tree’s height. Easy!
This idyllic place is at Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Provincial Park. The lake is actually an oxbow of the Assiniboine River. Horseshoe-shaped, it was created when erosion changed the river’s course, isolating a bend in the river. The water is fresh and abundant with life. Painted turtles catch some rays on fallen logs, deer, raccoon, rabbits, coyotes and the occasional elk call it home. I have seen cormorants, pelicans, swans, cranes, geese and ducks on the water. Around the water’s edge there is a self-guiding hike through the forest that’s one leisurely kilometer long. At the apex of the hike, there is a tiny island accessible by a floating walkway. The island’s park bench offers a grand view of the red sands, green spruce and blue water. Adjacent to Highway #5, Marsh Lake has picnic facilities, primitive restrooms and huge mature cottonwoods that sing the happiest songs on hot summer days. Linda and I stopped here many times, to hike, sit by the water, be free.
Top: the blue waters of Marsh Lake. Hwy #5 along the left.
Centre: painted turtles sunning themselves on a log.
Bottom: the view from bench on the island at the tip of the oxbow.
Three Videos from Marsh Lake
This is a shot from the summer of 2010 of painted turtles sunning on a fallen log at Marsh Lake. The lake looks much different this year.
Here are three short video reports from my recent travels to Spruce Woods Park.
Marsh Lake is an oxbow of the Assiniboine River and offers a pleasant picnic spot and easy hike although the trail is closed since the lake was severely flooded by the river this spring. The first video (2:33) shows the once-verdant picnic area next to Marsh Lake and the grey flood cake that covers it now.
Red maples are rare in Manitoba, their usual habitat is in the eastern U.S. Several of the trees grow at Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Park. They appear to be in full bloom but that’s not the case. Watch my short video report (00:37) on what’s going on anyway with those red maples.
Best Outdoor Sex EVER
I’m always curious what people write in the guest books at various places in my travels. Recently, at Marsh Lake, a couple of couples seemed to have excelled at one of the endless opportunities that our provincial parks offer – great outdoor sex! Watch my short video report (00:42).
The Arches of Russell
A drive down Main Street in Russell, MB comes with a real visual treat. The story goes that these wooden arches were rescued from Dauphin when they were tearing down the old arena. Just 7 days away from becoming land fill, a senior Dauphin resident brought forward a photograph of the then-new wooden arches arriving by train. In the picture a clear stamp indicated the 32 ply nailed wooden laminate arches came from a former Russell business, the Glu-Rite Rafters Company, owned by Carl Mantie. It is now believed that this is a homecoming for the massive structures. The arches truly are both historical evidence of superior craftsmanship and modern engineering genius. That’s mostly what the town’s website says. Serendipitous, inventive and a fine recycling of history – huzzah to Russell!
THE BABUSHKA TRAIL
A day trip, so far untaken
Ever gone seeking the perfect perogie? How about exquisite Ukrainian folk art and crafts? Now, thanks to the Babushka Trail, your search just got easier.
Ukrainians began arriving in Manitoba in 1892, many settling around Rossburn, Sandy Lake and Dauphin. Building on that history by researching and combining the ethnic and heritage resources available, Parkland Tourism has developed The Babushka Trail, a driving tour that focuses intensely on Ukrainian culture.
Stops on the tour include Ukrainian museums, churches, cemeteries, cairns, shrines, plaques, buddas, all mapped and described, restaurants serving Ukrainian food, gift shops featuring Ukrainian items and anything related to Ukrainian culture and heritage.
Spanning Rossburn to Sandy Lake along Highway #45, the trail turns north through Riding Mountain National Park into Dauphin and area. Some of the most spectacular Catholic churches in Manitoba are included on the Babushka Trail.
“Rossburn, Sandy Lake and Dauphin tourism representatives are enthusiastic,” says Kathy Swann, executive director of Parkland Tourism. “The Babushka Trail will be featured in the Parkland Tourism Guide and on our website.”
To satisfy a growing craving for authentic heritage experiences, innovative tourism promoters like Swann are developing town walking tours, self-guided driving tours and heritage packages on a variety of themes. Manitoba’s rich diversity presents opportunities for ethnic, religious, architectural, agricultural and nature tourism development. Add in people interested in family roots, cemeteries, railways, museums, hiking, geocachers and the Internet and the potential is vast.
“Shrinking populations and external changes are forcing people to work together. Towns need to realize that they shouldn’t be competing with each other, but rather working together in clusters or regions,” says Swann.
Using the Babushka Trail as an example, Swann says it is now necessary to form regional heritage partnerships to compete with other provincial and national places, and the entire world due to the Internet. “The percentage of travelers using the Internet to plan their vacations is very high,” she says. “Tourists are looking for varied, authentic heritage experiences with some kind of packaging or theme.” Researchers have found that heritage tourists tend to be more affluent, educated, family-oriented and stay longer than other travelers.
Swann says Parkland Tourism is marketing the Babushka Trail using old and new tools. “Probably a brochure but definitely on websites. Signage, both directional and interpretive will be addressed, as will markers with GPS coordinates.”
With Manitoba’s vast ethnic diversity and patterns of settlement, almost every area could develop a similar tour. Discover what’s in your own backyard then focus on your predominant heritage resources.
For details about the Babushka Trail and all tourist activities in the Parkland, visit http://www.parklandtourism.com/
SNAKE SEASON, NARCISSE, MB
It is one of those late April anomalies: 25 degrees C with a warm south wind, the kind of day that entices red-sided garter snakes from their cool winter dens.
In the Interlake on Highway 17, just north of the village of Narcisse, one of the largest populations of garter snakes in Canada is beginning its spring mating ritual. That is what I’ve come to see.
I’ve come to face a fear too. Ever since a small lime-green snake wriggled out of a crate of bananas in our general store when I was five years old and startled me to hysteria, I’ve feared snakes. Raised in a rural area but long a city dweller, I’ve recently reawakened my connection to nature. Hiking and camping in remote areas, I still find bears, wolverines and black widow spiders frighten me much less than snakes. The dry rustle of a snake in the grass raises the hairs on my neck instantly. Today is a good day to face that fear.
In the parking lot, a friendly Conservation officer gives out pamphlets and information about the snakes. An easy 3 km trail is designed so four snake dens can be viewed. At the first site, a snow fence separates the many human visitors from the den opening.
The sinkhole is in a stand of poplars, its rocky entrance covered with bright green moss in contrast to the brown wintered leaves and the darker highlighted greens of the snakes as they slide with keen grace.
Having overwintered below the frost line in deep caves eroded into the limestone bedrock, garter snakes emerge to mate. Starting in mid April for about four weeks, male snakes gather at the mouth of the dens waiting for females. As each female emerges, she is immediately beset with eager males, forming a mating ball.
Female garter snakes are easy to spot as they are thicker and longer than males. As I stand and watch, a female emerges from the darkness. With amazing speed dozens of males slither to engulf her. Moving over dry leaves and twigs, the snakes make a low static crackle, the appropriate soundtrack to their urgent impassioned dance.
Hundreds of males swarm about the female, a frenzied tangle that moves across the ground, over stones and around trees. Two more mating balls suddenly appear, snakes seem to materialize out of nowhere.
The snakes have drawn a good crowd on this warm Sunday. Small children react with either silent awe or curious delight. A German man, talking excitedly, holds a snake up to his companion who looks on in disgust. A white-haired woman squeals in fear, saying how much she dislikes snakes. Her shrieks mix with the joyous cries of her grandchildren as they interact with the critters. A crackle of ancient fear arises in me when a small male slithers over the toe of my boot.
Oblivious to our fears and our presence the preoccupied snakes mate on. The Eros of all those fleshy bodies entwined in procreativity is almost palpable. The spring air is rich with the aromas of thawed earth. The trees are early budding; the poplars give off their sticky smell.
It is a pleasant stroll along the trail in the warm sun. At each den, mating balls have formed, the biological imperative fully engaged. At one stop, a large ball of snakes has climbed four feet up a poplar sapling. Like a drop of water, the ball splashes snakes when it falls. Within a few seconds the ball re-forms and rolls away.
Once mated, female garter snakes disperse over an area of 30,000 hectares to have their live young in one of the many marshes or rocky bluffs that make excellent snake habitat. Some travel 25 kms or more from the dens. When all the females have mated and gone, the males leave as well.
Because they are cold-blooded, snakes must follow the cycle of the seasons closely. Adult garter snakes return to their hibernation dens when the weather begins to cool in September. Juvenile snakes stay where they summer, finding an animal burrow or crevasse that reaches below the frost line. The next fall they will migrate to a den and join thousands of their kind to overwinter.
If a mating ball has a hundred snakes in it, I try to imagine what it must look like with tens of thousands of snakes in a sleeping heap deep underground. That image leaves a thin film of sweat on my scalp as I sidestep a garter snake on my way to the car.
Did I face my fear? It was a beginning. Will I return to the snake dens? Yes, I must.
It was only a beginning.
ASSINIBOINE VALLEY ARBORETUM
July 28, 2010
On this warm July evening along Highway 83, the wide Assiniboine Valley a few kilometers south of Miniota, MB offers its beautiful vista including several fields flooded by the river. At the south end of the valley, just off the highway, I discover the Assiniboine Riparian Forest Centre, an endeavour of Manitoba Hydro’s Forest Enhancement Program.
Situated on the high banks of the Assiniboine and not flooded, the Centre covers several acres with dozens of varieties of trees and bushes, all well planted, mulched with straw and very healthy. Over 600 trees were planted in 2008 with more added this fall. Each variety has a written description and picture of it when mature, easily read from the winding well-maintained pathway among the flora. Along with Manitoba’s familiar coniferous and deciduous trees, the arboretum features many fruit trees, berry bushes and some hybrids.
A maintained pathway, accessible from the arboretum, offers a pleasant stroll through the forest along the banks of the Assiniboine, a river with many secrets along its wide valley. The trail has benches and picnic tables, school and public tours are offered. The Riparian Forest’s grand opening is set for Spring 2011.
RIDING MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK/MOUNTAIN ROAD
May to October 2010
Just a 45-minute drive from my hometown of Shoal Lake, Riding Mountain National Park, otherwise “The Park,” is familiar and comfortable. I worked in Clear Lake for a couple of summers in my youth; my parents had a trailer there for a while. It is part of my history.
This summer I drove through The Park five times, always north to south and always in the morning. Untainted and beautifully preserved, despite having about a dozen new hiking trails, The Park still offers a pristine landscape that teems with wildlife. On my drives, I spotted moose, deer, coyotes and, elk.
Grayling Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, summer 2009. One of the last pictures Linda took of me.
If you start it just as you enter The Park and drive the 80 kms an hour speed limit, the first Deep Forest CD lasts all the way through the drive and ends just as you leave.
South of The Park and just past Erickson is Mountain Road, Provincial Road 357, once renowned for Philip Ruh’s magnificent Catholic Church, which burned down some years back. The highway takes you across the rolling foothills of Riding Mountain then, step by step, delivers you off the Manitoba Escarpment back onto the floodplain at Highway #5. The descent clearly features the various beach ridges of Lake Agassiz as the lake filled and receded over millennia. Finally, the last mile is a glorious chute around a gentle bend that is a thrilling finale to the ride.
KICHE MANITOU CAMPGROUND YURT #4
September 24, 2010
My first yurt experience proved to be damp, cold, warm, fuzzy and not without many magical moments. It rained most of the afternoon as soon as I arrived. The park gives you two keys: one for the yurt and the other for your little red wagon! Chained up to a railing at the parking lot are ten oversized red metal wagons with inflated tires that you use to haul your crap to the yurt since you can’t drive right up to it. An excellent idea!
Yurt #4 (of ten, three more added for 2011) at Kiche Manitou Campground in Spruce Woods Provincial Park, just a hoot and a holler from the high dunes of the Spirit Sands, is a fine little affair. Sixteen feet across with hardwood floor raised on a short foundation, the yurt has ample room, both floor and headspace, that even three adults wouldn’t feel crowded. It opens into a large dome that lets light and tree laughter in. The proportion and angle of the ceiling gives the room airiness.
Furnished in rough hewn natural wood, heavily shellacked, the yurt has a comfy futon (my bed for the night), a lamp, a round table with four chairs, each weighing fifty pounds, a coat rack, the curtain rods, a bureau and bunk beds, double on bottom, single on top. The beds have the hardest mattresses I’ve ever laid on. The room has a small wall heater, which ran all night and barely kept the dropping temp at bay. The yurt has a roofed wooden porch/deck with cooking area and electrical plugs. The view from the porch is spectacular with the yellowing oak leaves and the Assiniboine River flowing by below.
The strangest part of the yurt was the diamond-shaped lattice that covered every interior wall space, even the windows. The lattice is used in the basic structure of the place but exposed 340 degrees around you (the door isn’t covered), sometimes the room would start to spin. In my peripheral vision, it would move but stop when I looked that way. Somewhat disconcerting at first but an easily-won tolerance to tacky design.
When I first arrived at the yurt, I heard a sighing sound coming from under one of the three windows. After a few times, I named it Debbie as it had a definite human resignation to it. I suspect it was some communal scrapping of nature and yurt but Debbie offered her small sounds many times during the night, changing from startling to reassuring.
Coyotes gave several insane choir recitals in the night, making me laugh every time. It was the full moon and I was sorry I wouldn’t see it for the rain. About 5 o’clock I got up for a pee and the clouds parted and the full moon shone heavy and gorgeous, illuminating the area around my yurt with a mix of shadows and sensation. A little smile from Linda. Beautiful!
Yurts are for non-campers who still don’t mind smelling of wood smoke for a few days. The accommodation for the price - $54 all in – was more than fair, for a family, very economical. It would be most enjoyable on warm summer days and nights. The view of the stars off the porch would be grand.
To make moonlight hikes on the Spirit Sands much easier with a place to come home to, I thought I would try to book a yurt there every full moon next summer. This can be done online starting in February. From Mongolia to Manitoba, yurts are funky!
CAMP HUGHES REST STOP
May to September
Troop training for World War 1 in Manitoba was largely done at Camp Hughes, located between Brandon and Carberry south of the Trans Canada Highway. The railway ran nearby and delivered so much cannon fodder daily that Camp Hughes, for a time, was the second largest city in the province. Today the trenches, foxholes and bomb craters have been filled in and the prairie reverted to peaceful pastures. Only a small plaque indicates the camp’s history.
Across the TCH, Camp Hughes Rest Stop offers travelers refuge from the road, washroom and picnic facilities and a fake forest to roam in. The trees are real enough, the forest isn’t. Constructed as a make-work project during the 1930s, the rest stop’s major feature are thousands of jack pines all planted in straight symmetrical rows. The pines, mature now, have foliage on the top third of the trunks forming a dark, shadowy canopy. The red bark flakes away and on hot summer days, the air is redolent with the smell of pine. Driving past the neat rows of straight trees gives your mind a nice spinning glow. Great movie location!
Covering several acres, the pines provide a sensual and sheltered place to stroll and stretch your legs. If you stop here, exercise caution because poison ivy is very prevalent on the forest floor. Otherwise, it’s a pleasant and unique walk.
PEMBINA VALLEY PROVINCIAL PARK
July 2, 2010
Before going to Star Mound, my wanderlust takes me on my first visit to one of Manitoba’s newer provincial parks, Pembina Valley. Located south of Morden on the banks of the Pembina River, this small park once encompassed part of a farm owned by Henry and Elma Martens. The couple wanted to preserve the area’s natural elements and landscape and offered to sell the land for a park. The combined efforts of Manitoba Conservation and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, who jointly purchased the land, resulted in this lush little oasis.
The day swelters but a sweet breeze whistles along the Pembina Valley, cooling the bare skin and keeping the mosquitoes away. Around me is an almost circular windbreak of mature spruce and blue spruce, three deep and very effective against the winter winds. I feel well tended and safe among these old trees. During my entire 90-minute stay, I am the park’s only user.
Numerous trails of various difficulties provide wildlife viewing opportunities and magnificent vistas of the Pembina/Tiger Hill region. Picnics and family gatherings can be accommodated although no camping is allowed and the washrooms are primitive. I am lazy today so prefer the shade of a beautiful basswood and the wiles of my pen to a hike in a forest full of bugs. I languish instead.
August 19, 2010
On Highway #5 along the east side of Riding Mountain National Park six kms south of McCreary a little roadside stop has given respite to weary travelers for over 115 years. Known as the Satterthwaite Homestead, the site contains several historic relics from the region’s early settlement.
If Highway #5 had flashbacks, it could easily recall being the Burrows Trail, which moved thousands of pioneers into the area around Dauphin. Before that, natives used the trail for its ease, as did untold herds of bison and other wildlife. The physical origin of the trail began when the last Ice Age ended. As one of the beaches of old Lake Agassiz – cold, deep and filled with glacial meltwater – the Arden Ridge, as it is known, stayed clear of overgrowth and become a convenient path, the only high ground between two lowlands.
Jane and Thomas Satterthwaite’s house sat right on the Burrows Trail. Built in 1895 from logs with a sod roof, it became a stopping house along the Trail. Whenever a traveling preacher came through, the house became a church. The Satterthwaite’s even built a large wood frame Eaton’s Catalogue house straddling the trail.
What’s left of the original log house tumbles down in the corner of the yard. An approximation of it has been built on the site. A section of the original Burrow Trail with ruts cut by Red River carts and wagons is fenced off and protected. A mature garden of local flora with signage and an information sign about the Burrows and other trails through the area give the stop extra interest.
October 3, 2010
I am the last person alive who ever lived in Hayfield, Manitoba.
Hayfield no longer exists. It’s a ghost town. Located 10 miles south of Brandon on Highway #10 and 4 miles west on the Hayfield Road, Hayfield sat at the western edge of the Brandon Hills just as the hills begin their final smoothing into farmland. Hayfield was west of the enormous broadcasting tower near the eastern edge of the Rural Municipality of Glenwood. Hayfield’s population was five people: our family accounted for 60%, the hired man Lawrence Murphy, who lived with us, and Dave Rogers, who lived in only other residence in Hayfield, filled out the roster. There were more cats than people in Hayfield.
Dickie’s General Store, Hayfield circa 1955, with hand-pumped gas bowser and me as a tyke.
Mom and Dad bought the general store in Hayfield in 1953. We lived in back and above the store. Huge and full of adventure for a little lad, the store was a piece of wild heaven for me. My parent’s experience was the opposite. Their timing was off. Rural people were becoming much more mobile and Brandon enticed their dollars away from Dickie’s General Store. The store went bankrupt in 1957 just before we moved to Shoal Lake.
Over the years, Hayfield General Store, built in 1906, was an important meeting place for the community. With the store and post office open from morning til night, neighbours visited while shopping, discussing issues of the day. Besides groceries, hardware and dry goods, you could have a sundae in its ice cream parlour. My father used to call the men who sometimes gathered at the store in the evenings, the Hot Stove League, no doubt due to their vast wisdom and unabashed willingness to share it.
My memories of Hayfield are fond and full of a child’s wonder. I learned to skate by pushing a little wooden chair across a patch of ice Dad flooded in what was once the Hayfield outdoor rink. The massive open living room that took up most of the second floor was the perfect place to ride my tricycle in winter. The stage of the large old Hayfield hall was where I put on my little solo shows to a room filled with nothing but wooden planks.
I drove past Hayfield twice this summer. This year it is, actually, a barley field.
BARNEY’S MOTEL, BRANDON
August 12, 2010
For no discernable reason I could see, the tourist guide says Barney’s Motel was nominated as “funniest motel in Canada,” unless they meant, “But not funny, “Ha! Ha!” and you consider red ants crawling about your room hysterical fun. All rooms face the highway but there is virtually no traffic sound inside the room. A friendly park bench under the front awning offers full view and ambience of the TCH with its non-stop rush of semis, SUVs, pick-ups and sedans – my evening entertainment already in progress.
Barney’s is the worst motel at the best location – an intersection with lights of the Trans Canada Highway and Highway 10 that runs from Flin Flon, Manitoba to Corpus Christi, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. And I am encamped here in Room 105 for the night the weather changes.
I saw it coming. I was having sacrament behind Barney’s asa sharp line of darkening cloud moved slowly in from the west creating a phosphorescent orange and silver sunset. That eveningthe arc of summer reached its zenith, acme achieved, its first and last gasp of Orgasm. The Hinge was moving. As I stood and watched the advancing cloud, a red-tailed hawk, familiar from every sacred site I’ve ever visited, cried twice over the fields.“Every moment sacred.”
After dark, the Hinge slowly swung, bringing rain, refreshment and a spectacular lightning and roar show when combined with the running lights of the big rigs (a ride at the Ex) and the howling of the trapped but untamed horsepower under their cabs, everything backlit by the flickering lights of the fry pits along the route. I had a front row seat for it all at Barney’s. (One anecdotal scene was the truck that usually had LIGHT SPEED in huge letters along its load had LIGHT PEED instead.)
I watched the dark silhouette of a hitchhiker become waterlogged during the storm yet, afterwards, dance in wild circles under the eerie orange glow of the intersection lights, getting a ride into the wild prairie night surprisingly quickly.
Barney’s Motel is a landmark in Brandon. It was there when we visited as a kid tho I don’t recall ever staying there. It always had a garish neon sign but the present endeavour is rather lame. Once a thriving concern with a reputation, fires and futility has left Barney’s bedraggled and sad. But what a location!
July 13, 2010
Neubergthal is one of the best preserved single street Mennonite villages in North America. Located southeast of Altona, the tiny spot is part of the West Reserve set aside for Mennonites when they immigrated to Canada in the late 1800s.
The outstanding features of Neubergthal are the eight intact housebarns aligned along the street, actually Provincial Road 421. The traditional building style shows characteristic Mennonite architecture with house and barn connected. In the 1990s, local people organized to save the buildings, many of them unique in Canada. Today a fully restored housebarn interpretive centre complete with a functioning Russian bake heater offer visitors a glimpse into a bygone era and lifestyle.
ST. LEON WIND FARM
May 29, 2010
Restlessness overwhelmed me around noon today. I checked the weather satellite and it looked promising so I headed out to Carman, had an unsuccessful rummage in their MCC, bought 6 fresh doughnuts at the bakery and proceeded west toward Miami and the Escarpment which loomed blue and dark on the western horizon under thin variable cloud.
I drove past Miami and up onto the first of the three steps of the Manitoba Escarpment. Up the second level and finally atop the next level of prairie. A few miles later on the very top of the Escarpment, I encounter the St Leon wind farm, my first experience with a wind farm. Those suckers are big! And stretch for miles and miles across the rolling hills. Dozens of them! Very strange and surreal motion relationships with the car moving horizontally and the huge turning blades right there next to the road. If Alfred Hitchcock were making North by Northwest today, he’d have a wind farm in it.
I pass through Notre Dame de Lourdes and descend off the Escarpment into Rathwell. As imposing as the windmills are, the rolling black shelf cloud that covers half the horizon before me is awesome! I am driving right into it, cloud darkening around me. I drove 240 north to Portage la Prairie and the rain begins, buckets by the time I arrive at the PLP Horts.
I have encountered the once-in-fifty-years rainstorm. I watch the streets of Portage fill up with water. It lets up a little after an hour and I decide to try the TCH home. I get to the rest stop just outside PLP and pull in hoping for better visibility. It eases once more. By the time I get to Elie, this storm is maelstrom proportions. Zero visibility with people still passing me! I sit on Elie’s main drag for half an hour and it lets up more. I keep driving back into it, of course. Stupid white man!
The result of the rainstorm is flooding over a large area, especially between PLP and Winnipeg. The land is drenched with standing water everywhere. The rains that came even before I left the city meant the ditches were full, fields inundated, both sides of the Escarpment alive with ditch streams, La Salle and Assiniboine Rivers and Tobacco Creek overflowing their banks. Ah, the joys of living on a floodplain.
CRIDDLE VANE HOMESTEAD
October 3, 2010
When well-educated Percy Criddle brought his wife Alice and his friend Elise Vane and the women’s nine children (all of them fathered by Percy) from England in 1882 he chose a quarter section of virgin prairie just south of what became CFB Shilo. He named it St. Albans and, though farming provided some income, Percy’s diverse interests included astronomy, music, medicine and sports, especially golf and tennis. Percy’s women had four more children in Canada. It was these thirteen adept, creative and hard-working children that made the place and the family a success.
The eldest Criddle son, Norman, a noted entomologist and artist, built a laboratory on the farm to study local insects. When I visited St Albans, or what remains of it, with my childhood friend Susan this year, Norman’s lab was still standing. We opened the door and the only thing in the bare room was thousands of flies swarming and buzzing loud and crazy at the far sun-lit window. Susan joked they were looking for Norman for revenge. Another visitor told us not to go into one room of the old house as it was filled with wasps. Nature bats last.
Norman Criddle in front of his first entomology lab at St. Albans. The current lab was built later.
Besides the house, lab and a few sheds, little remains of the Criddle/Vane homestead. Walking trails take you to the ruins of the tennis court and golf course with signage filling in the details. A pleasant way to wile away an afternoon tasting Manitoba history.
SUMMER SHACK, CARBERRY, MB
All summer long
Nearly every time after Linda and I hiked the Spirit Sands we drove north to Carberry and had chicken burgers and chocolate milkshakes at the Summer Shack. Our hill and gully hikes worked up two good appetites. Situated on Highway #5 (Check) the Summer Shack is a little fry pit that caters to locals in a paper plate and plastic utensil manner surrounded by over-shellacked, rustic, bolted-to-the-floor ambience.
Carrying on the tradition (and as homage to the inventor of the chicken burger – the Earl of E coli), the small coterie of souls who spread Linda’s remains on the dunes this August had some form of chicken afterwards at the Summer Shack. (Ordering tip: ask for extra mayo and lettuce on your chicken burger, to fend off dryness. They are a little conservative about that out there in Carberry.) A huge air conditioner above our heads vibrated the whole building while effectively providing coolness.
Of course, I would recommend the Summer Shack. It is three miles off the TCH and well worth the jaunt. Open only summers as the name implies, you order at a wicket and, miraculously, your food arrives. Yum, yum.