Category Archives: Accommodations

Request for Rooster Town Information

I received this comment from Lawrence Barkwell of the Manitoba Metis Federation:

A welcome addition to our knowledge of Winnipeg. The Louis Riel Institute and Institute of Urban Studies are beginning a study on Metis community life in Rooster Town, and wish to contact people who lived there or had relatives living there. Contact Lawrence Barkwell at 586-8474 (ext 298) lbarkwell@mmf.mb.ca to participate.

 In the past I have posted about Rooster Town and what it meant to Winnipeg. There is plenty of misinformation about Rooster Town so it’s good to see someone is trying to clarify the events from this era in the city’s history.

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Filed under Accommodations, Local History, Manitoba Heritage, Winnipeg

Nelson Hotel, 9 Main Street, Carberry, MB

Reid Dickie

As promised, here is the first post in my series about buildings in Carberry’s Heritage District – two blocks of the town’s Main Street.

Pa Tuckett remembers stepping off the westbound CPR Night Flier in Carberry at three in the morning in 1912, the sky speckled with constellations and, there, across the street from the station, glowing huge in the full moon, a welcoming site – the Nelson Hotel.

Today, the Carberry railway station is gone, freight trains still ply the line regularily, passenger trains don’t, but the hotel is still there. Now it’s called the Carberry Motor Inn. A three-storey brick anchor in a prominent location at the south end of Main Street, the Nelson Hotel was the most hospitable place in town after it was built  in 1909. Set flush to the Main Street sidewalk, the Nelson maintains an air of security with its flat roof, symmetrical facades and imposing bulk. Study the placement of the windows for a moment to get a sense of their unusual rhythm. The lone front entrance flanked by large awninged windows interacts playfully with the upper windows.

Somewhere between being called the Nelson Hotel and Carberry Motor Inn, the place was known as the Royal Alexander Hotel. Travel has changed from trains to personal vehicles and so did the hotel. Today Carberry Motor Inn also includes a one-storey, L-shaped motel next to the old place.

As part of Manitoba’s first Heritage District, the Nelson Hotel remains a conspicuous reminder of the hope and change early pioneers brought with them. And it’s just one of dozens of reasons for heritage buffs to visit Carberry.

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Filed under Accommodations, Carberry, Day Tripping, Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Pioneers

Along the Road with Reid

Reid Dickie

I’ve traveled in three different directions from Winnipeg in the past week. First I headed northwest of Winnipeg toward Dauphin, one of my instinctual homes, a  familiar haunt. Along Hwy #5 east of Riding Mountain National Park the clear view stretched for miles. I passed through two towns I’d never visited before, Laurier and Makinak, both on the northeastern edge of RMNP. In Makinak, in addition to a couple of old no-name churches, I found this storefront with living quarters above and to the side and a picket fence balcony, rather New Orleans style.

My trips included a days loop through several communities that I had never visited north of Dauphin. On a mission of heritage recon, my cousin Vonda and I set out, first to Gilbert Plains to get a peek at an old building that housed an interesting method of supplying beef to families before electricity. Then north to the Negrych Pioneer Homestead, one of the best preserved and complete Ukrainian homesteads in North America. The site includes this rare handmade clay bake-oven or peech.  The oven is located in an extremely rare Canadian example of a traditional long-shingle Eastern-European style roof. Vonda commented on it looking very Hobbitt, very medieval. The gable end covering forms a protective porch over the entrance. Well-tended and obviously loved, we were a bit ahead of the July/August season and realized it would be much enriched by a tour guide. I’ll return with video camera in hand for that!

Northward we went to Garland (pop. under two dozen) in search of a designated heritage site,  Andrew Kowalewich General Store from 1913. Alas, it was gone, torn down about ten years back by a subsequent generation. This is what it looked like.

Frank, at Garland’s current general store, showed us the artifacts he and his brother had collected in the area. Arrowheads, pounders, scrappers, fire spinners, dozens of curiosities from the past. We found Garland Airport – a real jet next to the street – and here you can see lovely flight attendant Vonda welcoming you aboard AC flight 620 from Garland to Rome non-stop.

After a picnic lunch in quiet Garland, we backtracked a bit and went to Winnipegosis. Onward to Sifton looking for Holy Resurrection Church with its squat onion domes and vertical massing. Alas, also gone, eaten by fire in September 2010. Here is what it looked like.

We finished off our day trip by revisiting the giant sinkhole near Keld that occurred at this time last year. I created a short video update on the site. Despite two of the sites I went seeking being gone, the trip was a success for the accidental discoveries like the two old churches in Garland that I’ll be featuring soon along with all the sites mentioned here.

Along Hwy #10 Vonda pointed out this old bridge with concrete balusters that was probably where the original Hwy #10 crossed Garland Creek. There is a tree growing out of the centre of the bridge. Vonda knows of other heritage gems north of Dauphin so we’ll be embarking on another heritage recon mission soon. Stay posted to this blog. Thanks for that, by the way, that staying-posted thing. Much appreciated.

The next morning I took this shot of a healthy and keenly green hemp crop that stretched for acres behind my Dauphin hotel, the Super 8.

In Ladywood I saw this retired store right along Hwy #12 that is now a family home. The flexing and rolling grey clouds, beggingly bright blue patches of sky and silky mists of rain were the perfect palette for its yellow roadside declaration of independence.

Next week is shaping up to be somewhat more relaxing with a day trip or two to quell the wanderlust. Have you ever been hit by lightning? What was it like?

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Filed under Accommodations, Blog Life, Churches, Day Tripping, Fires, Manitoba Heritage, Spirit

What Are These?

Reid Dickie

Here and there across the Canadian countryside you’ll see these bright blue shelters placed in patterns in pastures. Their openings all face the same direction and their presence has a rather otherworldy feeling about it. What are these things?

They are plastic shelters for alfalfa leaf-cutter bees, a native North American bee that has been domesticated. The blue dome is used in western Canada, variations in other parts of the continent. The shelters, usually found in alfalfa pastures, are needed for their warming ability and as a place for the bees to build their nests out of alfalfa leaves. One shelter for every 4 to 5 acres contains about a dozen nests.

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Convergence – 35 Years Ago Today

Reid Dickie

As John Lennon would say, today is a “red lettuce” day in the history of Linda and Reid. On this date, 35 years ago, we formally amalgamated our households and our lives by moving into a small house at 729 Lorette Avenue in Winnipeg. Since we had fallen madly in love, the move was inevitable. It was an usually hot April day, at least for back then, as the temperature soared into the 80s. Sweat was pouring off us and my friend Ted who helped with the move but we managed to clear out two apartments and find space for our combined stuff in the little house.

The house had been a rental property for some time before we moved in and had been reasonably well-maintained. I think we paid $130 a month for it which was appropriate. It became our “one-and-a-half-storey utopia” as we called it, alternating with “the boxcar” because it was long, narrow and open. This picture shows 729 Lorette in 2010 just before it was demolished. It hadn’t been lived in or heated for several years and was deemed “unihabitable.” It had served its purpose, satisfied intent and provided all its shelter.

About Lorette Avenue: it’s a Winnipeg anomaly, a “hermaphrodite street,” as Guy Maddin calls it in My Winnipeg (See this movie please). The front yards of one side of the street, our side, face backyards across the street. This odd bit of urban planning goes on for a couple of blocks then shifts over a block then dissolves into correct property lines. “No one speaks of Lorette Avenue,” again from My Winnipeg. This is the view directly across from 729 Lorette today.

Putting Lorette Avenue’s hermaphroditic charm to use, during the hot summer of 1978 I shot a fast frame Super 8 film out our front window into the backyards across the street. It wound up with a great Pere Ubu soundtrack, a song called Go, and is a popular choice on my DickTool channel on YouTube. Catch a glimpse of Lorette back then.

Linda and I lived on Lorette for two years, making our early art together – photography, films, collage, video. You can find the detailed chronological history of our artlife on my DTC Art page. Some of our strangest video art ensued from the Lorette house. Videos shot on Lorette include Cheap Grace, No Shirt No Shoes No Service, The Yard, Evidence of Winter and Video Shoes. The Super 8, Passionate Leave, was also shot there.

The little house was demolished and replaced with a spanky new duplex over the past year. This is what stands at 729 Lorette Avenue today.

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Filed under Accommodations, Art Actions, BEAUTY, dicktool co, Family, Linda, Love, video art, Winnipeg

Spruce Woods Park Today

Reid Dickie

Last Friday I took a drive out to Spruce Woods Park to see how the little park overwintered. Park workers have cleaned up most of the debris that cluttered the ditches. The plastic and metal grid dams that were washed away and strewn about the park have been removed. Some infill in wash-out areas, such as around the park sign and in ditches where water stood all last year, has been done. The huge pile of trees next to the bridge has been removed, likely providing the park with firewood for the next five years. The low road to the campground is still impassable and there remains plenty of evidence of the flood’s impact on the landscape. 

According to Manitoba Parks, the entire lower campground (bays 1 – 7) and all the campground buildings at Kiche Manitou in Spruce Woods were completely destroyed by the floodwaters. Currently the department is assessing damages and planning reconstruction, however, the lower campground will NOT be open for the 2012 season. The upper campground and yurts will still be available.

I stopped at the trailhead of Spirit Sands and took a few pictures. Though they never moved all last summer, the three covered wagons await their horses and a flood of tourists to carry out to the dunes. Other than the lower campground closure and most of the trail system needing repairs, the park will  operate more or less as usual this year. I’m looking forward to watching the natural changes the park will undergo this summer.

The status of several other provincial parks damaged by flooding last year remains uncertain. The department is reporting that availability of parks around Lake Manitoba inundated by high lake levels will vary. Since its campground and park infrastructure were completely destroyed, camping at St. Ambroise Park will not be offered this year. Also on the lake, Watchorn Park was damaged badly and assessments are currently underway, but it’s uncertain whether camping will be available this year. The campgrounds at Rainbow Beach and Manipogo Parks are now under repair with the intent that they’ll be open on May 11. Lundar Beach Park suffered extensive damage and, although repairs are underway, availability of camping this summer is uncertain. Slowly our parks will bounce back.

There have been changes this year in Manitoba Parks. Camping fees have increased slightly, between $1.05 and $3.15 depending on services offered. Park entry fees will be charged this year, ending three pleasant years of free park entry. Annual permits are just $30, amongst the lowest in Canada. Three-day passes are $8 and single day is $4. Permits are required after May 1 and can be purchased by mid-April at any Manitoba conservation office including campground offices, large stores like Canadian Tire and small stores that cater to fishers and hunters.

The Manitoba Provincial Parks Reservation System kicks into life tomorrow, April 2, 2012 at 7:30 a.m.  They should have the latest information on campground availability around the province. In Winnipeg call 948-3333, elsewhere toll-free 1-888-482-2267. Their website is manitobaparks.com

The mighty Assiniboine that caused havoc last year at this time is a much more peaceful river today as you can see. Here it’s rounding the bend at Spirit Sands trailhead. I’ll have many more reports on Spruce Woods Park and my other travels this summer on my blog. Stay tuned. Happy trails!

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Filed under Accommodations, Carberry, Day Tripping, Flood, Natural Places, Parks, Spirit

The Convent B&B, Val Marie, SK

Reid Dickie

I’ve spent more glorious nights at The Convent Bed & Breakfast than any other lodging on my prairie travels. Its appeal is powerful and pleasant, relaxing yet stimulating at the same time. The combination of a serene old building and the caring owners creates a peaceful and rare experience. The picture above is The Convent’s charming dining room overlooking Grasslands National Park.

Val Marie (pop. about 130) is located at the western end of Grasslands National Park and features the park office and visitor centre. It’s about an hour south of Swift Current off the Trans Canada Highway. Few accommodations for travelers exist in the little village making The Convent even more precious. An actual convent used as a teaching facility into the late 1960s, the Ducans converted it into a bed and breakfast in the late 1990s. They retained many of the features, such as blackboards, chapel including confessional and woodwork from the original building. Take a video tour of The Convent inside and out with me by clicking on the pic below.

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Filed under Accommodations, grasslands national park, Heritage Buildings, Old Souls, Saskatchewan, Spirit

Manitoba Heritage House -Beechmount

Reid Dickie

A short feature article and picture of Beechmount can be found on my Houses page but the house and its owner richly deserve a more thorough report. A few years ago I visited Beechmount and was given an enchanting tour by its owner, Christine Common. 

Beechmount, 134 West Gate, Winnipeg, MB

“Someone told me before you do anything radical to a house, live in it for the four seasons of a full year,” says Christine Common, proud owner and restorer of Beechmount at 134 West Gate in Winnipeg.  “Do little things the first year,” but get a personal feel for your old house before you begin the major work.

She took that advice over 30 years ago. Today, Christine Common and her partner Giovanni Geremia share the wholly restored house with hundreds of people from around the world. Twenty-room Beechmount is now a four and a half star bed and breakfast. Though its adaptive reuse is modern, the house’s history connects inextricably with Winnipeg’s history.

Beechmount stands on a bend in the Assiniboine River, set back from the river and street. Lendrum McMeans, a barrister and politician, built the house in 1895. He sold it to bank manager John Benning Monk who named it Beechmount after his home back in Ontario. Later in the 20th century, it became known as the J. B. Monk House.

Few architectural styles are as picturesque as Queen Anne Revival, popular about 1890 to 1910 during Winnipeg’s building boom time. Broadway, its cross streets and new residential areas like Armstrong’s Point, teemed with Queen Annes sporting jaunty roofs, effusive decoration, elaborate verandahs and often, turrets or towers.

Beechmount, the second house built on West Gate, is an extraordinary example of the style, rendered with class, sincerity and just a touch of whimsy. Call it genteel. Eastlake decoration, characteristic of Queen Anne style, adorns the verandah with turned spindles, finials and posts. In 1980, the house looked nothing like this.

“When this house came up for sale, I saw the huge amount of work it needed. This beautiful Queen Anne had been messed up big time.” Common winces when she thinks of her initial contact with the house. “The house was in good condition but it had undergone very insensitive renovation. Its original integrity and Queen Anne beauty had been badly damaged.”

Despite the ghastly décor and unsympathetic renovation, something appealed to Common. “Even in its ugly altered state, this place had a spirituality about it that spoke to me. There was something irresistible about its spaces, something here I wanted to undertake.” The job turned out to be much bigger and longer than she imagined.

“I had a monumental task in front of me so I took it on a little bit at a time. Sometimes I was discouraged, others I was elated. There were times when I almost gave up but I’d think, I’ve come this far, why quit now?”

Her first project was the newel post and banister you see when you enter the house. Under layers of paint, she discovered the intricate carving on the newel post and the luster of the oak handrails. It took over a year to finish that job. Thereafter it was one room at a time, starting with the dining room.

“The Historic Buildings By-Law came into being about the time I started my restoration so there wasn’t much in the way of government resources available,” says Common. She consulted with U of M Faculty of Architecture, attending restoration workshops by Professor Bill Thompson.

Today there are vast amounts of information, reference material and advice about heritage restoration and maintenance on the internet. The Historic Places Initiative has developed a set of Standards and Guidelines for Canadian heritage restorations along with resources for identifying, repairing and maintaining historic sites. The Historic Resources Branch, part of Manitoba’s Culture, Heritage, Tourism and Sport ministry, provides advice, specific assistance and general information on conservation and maintenance to owners of heritage sites.

Over the next fifteen years, besides restoring Beechmount, Common raised a family, divorced a husband and dealt with life as it arose. By 1995, enough of the history of the house had been unearthed and enough restoration done that the Winnipeg Historical Buildings Committee toured and decided to designate the house.

Common took advantage of the new funding benefits that arise when you own a designated property and started on the “serious external stuff” such as the verandah. The original verandah was torn off in 1958 to make way for concrete steps. Enough documentation existed to create replication drawings.

Architect Giovanni Geremia had renovated the kitchen in the house so Common contacted him. He was thrilled to be able to draw up the verandah plans for her. Promising her “a more authentic result,” Geremia even offered to do it himself, if she wasn’t in a rush to get it done. The verandah took three years to complete but the result is spectacular.

The replication is uncanny. Utterly appropriate in colour, dimensions, detailing and quality of craftsmanship, the wraparound verandah enhances the comfort and warmth of the welcoming buff brick home. It appears to have always been there. The large brackets at the gable corners of the verandah were constructed by Geremia to match the originals at the roof corners. Each contains 20 separate pieces of wood. Another exterior job restored the still-assessable widow’s walk on the roof.

A long-time environmental activist and conservationist, Common sees Beechmount from that perspective. “This house is a giant recycling project. We think of recycling little things like cans and bottles but restoring rather than demolishing buildings is also recycling. Personally and policy-wise, we need to think in those terms.”

“Now it’s the upkeep,” says Common. Upkeep maintains both the heritage and real estate value of a property by helping ensure its distinctive character-defining elements are protected. Appropriate maintenance demonstrates pride in the accomplishments of forbearers and the personal satisfaction of fulfilling your time of stewardship. Often mentioned by site owners is the enrichment of the community and respect that maintenance creates.

“My maintenance plan? I just watch. The house speaks to you. It’s never leaked. It’s structurally sound. There is a bit of painting needs to be done.” Asked about a maintenance schedule, Common says, “We do interior work during the winter and the exterior in summer.”

The rewards of the restoration are many and varied for Common. In 2006, Heritage Winnipeg awarded her the Best Residential Conservation Award, citing “the sympathetic and successful rehabilitation – a quarter century labour of love.”

“I thought it was nice recognition of work done over such a long time. As a bed and breakfast, the award adds exciting flavour to our advertisements and gets people interested in Manitoba history, bringing out the questions. Why is it designated? Who lived here? I enjoy sharing what I know about the era, style, architect, people who lived here. This house is exciting from all those perspectives.”

The heritage factor attracts lodgers. “Often people stay here because they have a connection to Armstrong’s Point or West Gate or they just like staying in old homes.” The house is included on the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

As satisfying as a heritage award and designations are, Common found a visit by a 90-year old woman in 2006 equally filled with delightful affirmation.

“She married one of the Monk boys and had often visited this house during their courtship. When she walked onto the verandah and in the front door, she said ‘Oh my Christine, this is just the way I remember it seventy years ago.’ To me that was such a positive affirmation! That one comment will always encourage me to never give up.”

Of her love for Beechmount, Common says, “If you find a suitable old building, as English critic and author John Ruskin said, ‘You’ll find walls that are washed by the passing waves of humanity.’ You won’t find that in a new building.

“It’s exciting connecting the building to its historical origins. It’s a little bit of archeology. I love to research and discover. You can’t do that in a new house because there is nothing to discover. I find the work and the research enormously interesting and rewarding. It’s a springboard for doing more.”

That is often how heritage is preserved. Satisfying feelings of accomplishment, pride and connection, a result of doing the work, inspire and expand the owner’s willingness to continue with the restoration or maintenance. The next project has the same effect, which spurs you on to the next and so on.

The responsibility Christine Common feels for Beechmount stretches in both directions from the present. It respects the origins and architecture of the building, its history and all the lives lived within it. It honours the present site with loving restoration and maintenance ensuring a significant piece of local history is preserved for future generations.

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Filed under Accommodations, Heritage Buildings, Houses, Local History, Manitoba Heritage

Manitoba Heritage House – Minnedosa Fieldstone

Reid Dickie

Fieldstone House, 27 Third Avenue NE, Minnedosa, MB

If there is one thing the prairies has, it is stones. Thank you retreating glaciers for sharing your billions of rocks. Minnedosa, MB, a small town nestled in the luxurious valley of the Little Saskatchewan River, has one of the best collections of fieldstone buildings on the Canadian prairies. Built over the course of just a few years, between 1892 and 1903, ten eloquent fieldstone buildings still stand in Minnedosa, all are occupied and maintained with love. Other stone buildings in the town have been demolished or stuccoed over, but these ten are the jewels in the town’s crown. Let’s start with this beauty built between 1892 and 1900 by stonemason Robert Gugin, one of several excellent masons who worked in Minnedosa and area.

This is a mesmerizing piece of work! Employing the popular Gothic Revival style with a bit of southern Ontario influence, Gugin found incredibly sympathetic stones in colour and size, creating an embracing texture on all sides. The lone steep gable suggests the style and the delicate woodwork on the porch adds to the lightness of the place.

The solid massing, soothing mottle of the stones and attention to detail make this a most attractive use of readily available materials in a popular attention-grabbing style. The rear of the house has a cinderblock addition that detracts somewhat from the lovely side façade. The contrasting red and white accent colours and the fancy woodwork give the house a delightful appeal.

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St. Claude Gaol

Reid Dickie 

The little town of St. Claude on Hwy #2 in Manitoba, besides having the second largest smoking pipe in the world, also has a quaint gaol (British variant of jail) restored to house miscreants and curious tourists. The nice ladies in the back room who gave out tourist information didn’t try to arrest me but they did offer to take my picture if I wanted to dress up in black and white striped prison shirt and pants and pose in the cell. I declined.

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Manitoba Boogeyman Percy Moggey

Reid Dickie

Booga booga, it’s Percy Moggey. In 1960 many Manitoba kids checked under the bed every night just in case Percy Moggey was hiding there. Portrayed in the media as a monster who frequently had shoot-outs with police, Percy was the only person to ever escape from Stony Mountain Penitentiary. He spent almost a year on the lam living in the bush near Eriksdale. In 2001, John Warms wrote a book about Percy called Over the Prison Wall. Can the movie be far behind? Today Percy’s log cabin is a tourist attraction located along Moggey Road. Join me in the bush at Percy’s hideout.

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Manitoba Heritage Houses – Two Mansards

Reid Dickie

On my recent travels in southwestern Manitoba I found two lovely examples of mansard roof houses, both have an additional distinctive feature. The first house, located on a residential corner in Boissevain, MB, is built of fieldstones with red brick accents. Each dormer has a small shed roof over it. The little brackets under the eaves have a pleasant appeal.

The other mansard roof house is in Waskada, MB and its construction is of formed cement blocks. This technique was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s and meant each block was made on-site in a press with various textures available for the face of the block. You can see the top row of blocks has a different texture than the rest of the blocks below it. This house has a much larger second floor with more elaborate dormers, each with a little pediment roof and brackets. The steepness of the roof pitch is accentuated by a swoop creating concave corners. This makes it appear as if the second floor is larger than the first giving the place an unusual massing.

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Satterthwaite Homestead on the Burrows Trail

On Manitoba Highway #5 along the east side of Riding Mountain National Park a few kms south of McCreary a little roadside stop has given respite to weary travelers for over 125 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, built about 1885 using half-lap dovetail construction, rots away into the prairie in one corner of this site. 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. It is obscure and the signage is overgrown but it’s a fine leg stretching place and a fascinating glimpse into pioneer life. Watch my short video report about Satterthwaite’s homestead.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s03vTRvjr5I&feature=player_profilepage

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Manitoba Heritage House – Cypress River

Reid Dickie

Mansard Roof House, Cypress River, MB

This fine example of a mansard roof house sits prominently on a street corner in Cypress River, MB. The mansard roof is denoted by the different slopes of the roof with the lower slope steeper than the upper slope. This little house is loaded with detail! The massing is solid and practical with two bay windows, both featuring decorative coloured glass framing panes surrounded by wooden block and column design. Each projecting bay has three windows, all have the glass detailing and a simple but attractive design above the foundation, which I suspect was painted black. Mansards usually sport large dormers on each face of the roof. The coloured glass is continued around the upper portion of the rounded dormer windows which are hooded, have flares at the corners and extend above the bays on two sides.   Instead of a bay window but complimenting the arched dormers, the plain side features a small rectangular window and a round bull’s-eye window. Under the eaves is a broken beltcourse of black panels between the delicately detailed brackets that add credence and visual interest by using the high contrast black and white colour scheme. Black and white is frequently seen on mansard roof houses, affording the opportunity to be striking yet precious.

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Yurt #4 Spruce Woods Park

I’m just back from a couple of days yurting at Spruce Woods Park. Hot, hot weather – my kind of summer – and cool nights made for a pleasant and relaxing stay. Few neighbours, no sirens and a friendly firepit added to the enjoyment. As well, I hiked the nearby Spirit Sands several times. Watch my video of the accommodations at Yurt #4.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjaaUzSj4bI&feature=player_profilepage

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Filed under Accommodations, Linda, Natural Places, Parks, spirit sands

Dusk in Val Marie, Saskatchewan

The Antonioni cottonwoods (watch Blow-Up!) nuzzle the prairie breezes leaving symphonic rustles hanging in the late afternoon air. Nuance consumes nuance. I am mostly naked, cooled by the day as I am heated by the wine. The second floor balcony of The Convent is close to heaven. Linda occurs! I am a blessed being, lucky times infinity, living that same dream in the middle of now here, an exclamation point on the endless prairie! This is what dusk in Val Marie looked like that night.

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Filed under Accommodations, BEAUTY, Heritage Buildings, Linda, Prairie People, Saskatchewan

Out There It’s Summertime

Reid Dickie

I’m just back from a eight-day ramble on the prairies, mostly in the Missouri Coteau and Cypress Hills areas of southern Saskatchewan. I visited half a dozen new sites, revisited some familiar ones, shot almost 2 hours of video (expect plenty of reports from afar as a result), met wonderful new people and spent time with some old favourites. My intuition quickened, Spirit whispered through the trees in Pine Cree Park and Old Souls aided and abetted me along the way. My reward for the 2800 kms and ensuing events is serenity, a renewed sense of purpose and a bolstering of my humanity. You get what you intend.

The trip began with a perfect Saturday at the Regina Folk Festival with Linda’s cousin, Mike Panko and his beautiful partner, Brenda. Mike’s an Old Soul and a ton of fun. Here’s Mike and me at the fest.

A day of great music culminated with an energetic set from k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang closing the evening concert which also featured Taj Mahal. k.d. is in fine form these days with a new band, high energy, great new songs from her Sing It Loud CD (buy it if you haven’t already) and a back catalogue that would be the envy of any singer with perfect pitch. The show began with the lead-off track from the CD called I Confess, to my ears a Roy Orbison homage of high order. (That was one of the Tunes of the Tour as was Moonglow because Wendy Thomson performed it beautifully with the moon rising above her on the second floor balcony at The Convent in Val Marie. Both tunes sift through the inattentive spaces in my mind as the miles go by.) k.d. covers two songs on the CD and performed both of them: Heaven “by that great country band, Talking Heads,” as she introduced it, led eerily, perfectly into a new arrangement of Hallelujah; and she swung the Little River Band hit Reminiscing. She sang Miss Chatelaine, Western Skies, ending the show with a rockin’ version of her now-evergreen Constant Craving. To end the encores and evening she sang Neil Young’s Helpless.

After a restful night on Mike’s futon and a long, leisurely breakfast with him and Brenda, I was westbound onto the Missouri Coteau. The Coteau stretches from the northwest in central Saskatchewan south between Moose Jaw and Swift Current into South Dakota. It’s the next step up on the prairies after the Manitoba Escarpment and features lots of hills and gullies, some of Saskatchewan’s best scenery and worst highways, friendly people and endlessly changing vistas that surprise and enchant the curious seeker. It’s one of my favourite places to drive. The highways are lonesome and long, the sky runs ahead of me just as far as it extends behind me and there’s enough room to think, to evolve, to expand my awareness and discover what’s there. I head south from Moose Jaw to Assiniboia then west toward Pine Cree Park, my camping destination for the night.

Located in the foothills to the Cypress Hills between Shaunavon and Eastend, over the years Pine Cree Park has sheltered my little tent more than any other campground on the praires. This is a shot of the South Fork of Swift Current Creek, which runs right through Pine Cree Park; its pleasant burble can be heard from most campsites in the park.

Set in a deep mysterious coulee on a Continental Divide, Pine Cree Park is a truly rustic camping experience. There is no other like it in southern Saskatchewan. Soft-shell camping is encouraged, the park is non-electric, the width of the road and bridges prevents any unit longer than 28 feet from using the park and weight restrictions on the bridges apply. It gets extremely dark. Great for stargazing. Here’s another shot of the little stream through the park.

The little park has custodians this year, something new. Joan Hodgins and her nephew Darcy tend the park and live in two trailers just at the entrance. Both wonderful helpful people. I bought a generous tailgate load of firewood for $5 delivered. Joan offers outdoor programs at the park and both her and the lad demonstrated a great love for and understanding of this sacred place. Joan helped me understand the significance of a gift Spirit gave me just after I arrived in the park. I will have a video report on the gift soon.

The next night I moved from soft shell camping to luxury on the prairie, staying at The Convent Country Inn in Val Marie. A former convent saved from demolition by Robert and Mette Ducan about 15 years ago, this is my favourite bed and breakfast out there.  Other guests included Wendy and Eldon Thomson from Saskatoon who’d also attended the Regina Folk Festival and were out for a drive on the Coteau. Up on the second floor balcony, Wendy serenaded us with her lovely singing and guitar playing until way past dark. The balcony affords a wide view of the Frenchman River valley, Grasslands National Park beyond and the star-filled night sky. The Convent is for sale, a bargain at $525,000. Video coming soon. UPDATE: Watch my video tour. Here is a picture of me in front of The Convent.

Two more shots of The Convent: the first floor breakfast room and the second floor sitting room.

The next day I took the eco-driving tour of Grasslands National Park. There is some development occurring in the park. A small, primitive campground has been set up at the Belza Place which has a vast view of the Frenchman River valley, and closer to the prairie dog Dogtown, another development is being built. Spend a couple of minutes with the prairie dogs in GNP. Here’s a shot of the vista from the Belza campsite.

After a night at the Stage Coach Motel in Willow Bunch, I took a private tour of the Big Muddy Badlands offered through Coronach Tourism. Tillie Duncan, who’d lived in the area her whole life and knew it like the back of her hand, was my guide. She took me through the Sam Kelly Caves where outlaws like Dutch Henry and Butch Cassidy hid the horses and cattle they rustled back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We also visited two sacred sites that were new to me: a ceremonial circle and a turtle effigy, both high atop a butte on the Giles Ranch which is private property and accessible only through guided tours. Though elderly, Tillie was spry and full of vigour, offering countless entertaining anecdotes about the area. She still farms 13 quarters, growing durum and lentils this year! I recommend her highly for the Big Muddy tour. Here’s a shot of me taken near the turtle effigy.

A night in the Country Boy Motel then I re-explored a couple of the accessible sites Tillie had shown me, like the 1902 Big Muddy North West Mounted Police barracks and the family cemetery of an early pioneer, James Marshall, all with magnificent vistas of the huge Big Muddy valley. I revisited Castle Butte and took some great video of the place. Again coming soon to a blog near you. The only rain of my eight-day journey occurred Friday morning when I awoke in Weyburn. By the time I got to Manitoba, the sun was shining again. I was thrilled to discover Hwy #5 through Spruce Woods Park is now open and the park is slowly getting back on its feet. This is my report on the park’s current status.

I arrived home feeling rejuvenated and fully in touch with my humanity. The mighty Avenger and I will travel the prairies for another month. There is always room in the virtual passenger seat for you. Hope you are up to the drive all the way “out there” and back. Come on along.

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Filed under Accommodations, Ancient Wisdom, Natural Places, Parks, Pioneers, Prairie People, PRAIRIES, Sacred Places, Saskatchewan, Spirit, spirit sands, Video

Three and a Half Minutes at the Country Boy

Three Spontaneous Videos

 by Reid Dickie

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Filed under Accommodations, Day Tripping, Diversions, Humour, Prairie People, Saskatchewan

Firebugs in Winnipeg Busted On Camera

Reid Dickie 

I live under a canopy of majestic, mature American elm trees in one of Winnipeg’s many old middle-class neighbourhoods. I call it “the forest” – peaceful but ever-changing. Lately my peace has been shaken by firebugs in the ‘hood. At least twenty fires have been intentionally set over the last three months within about a nine block radius of my house. They range from pizza boxes in recycling bins to garbage fires to garages, vehicles and whole houses going up in flames. I suppose in an effort not to panic everyone but coming off sounding dumb and out-of-it, the Winnipeg Fire Department isn’t even admitting it could be arson. Nor does our city councillor, Jenny Gerbasi.  This inflames many of us in the neighbourhood. We’re adults. Tell us the truth! We can handle it! Do you want us to start defending our alleys and properties with baseball bats at night? I have heard of neighbours doing just that!

This creepy video was taken by the security cameras at a home in my neighbourhood between 8:35 and 8:46 in the evening on July 27. I don’t know where the specific house is. This is new on YouTube. It shows the arsonists lighting a fire! Since it’s eleven minutes long, I’ll give you the highlights timewise. At :55 two boys appear to be playing in the alley. They are the arsonists. They disappear  and reappear. At 3:13 in lower right frame, the firestarter walks into yard carrying jerry can. Thereafter the accomplice acts as lookout, at 4:29 hiding when a car comes down the alley. At 4:55 the accomplice walks down the alley, looking back. At 6:13 firestarter runs in opposite direction carrying jerry can. At 6:34 firestarter casually walks by and down the alley, no jerry can. Note the same boxy black runners with white stripe from early shots. By 10:35 neighbours are reacting to hearing the fire engines. As I write this, the video has less than two dozen hits. I hope at least one of them is from the Winnipeg Fire Department. (Update: Sunday, July 31: Wpg. Police Services arson task force is aware of the video.) With today’s face recognition technology, these two should already be behind bars!

Instead, I sit on my porch swing in the evening, a little dread edging in as the twilight deepens. Most of the arson has been between midnight and 4 a.m. – our nervous hours these days. The hair on the back of neck prickles when I hear sirens approach “the forest” and I sleep with my bedroom window open, hoping to smell the smoke before the house goes up if my garage is hit. In the still of a summer long weekend Saturday night, right now, at nine o’clock, I hear sirens.

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Filed under Accommodations, Life and Life Only, Oh Dear, Winnipeg

Yurting at Spruce Woods Park

Reid Dickie 

Watch my 3:17 video tour of Yurt #4.

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at Spruce Woods Park, staying in one of 13 yurts they rent out to not-quite-campers. It was a quiet stay. The park has been ravaged by the flooding Assiniboine River since break-up this spring and most of its amenities are inaccessible. There isn’t much to do except enjoy the outdoors and catch up on cloud watching.

Kiche Manitou campground is a shadow of its former self due to this year’s flooding. Only the upper campground and yurts are in use this summer with a makeshift camp office set up to process visitors. The lower campground has been under water for months. Just two other yurts were in use on Thursday and just five on Friday. It’s been a slow year, park staff told me. The detour map from the provincial parks website was easy to follow to the campground on good gravel roads. To cut down on noise, motorized vehicles are prohibited from getting close to the yurts. To haul your camping stuff from car to tent, the park provides good quality red metal wagons. Here’s a shot of my wagon.

Every yurt is electrified with a nice porch – mine faced northwest – fire pit, picnic table and chopping area.

The yurts sleep five and, although the days were very hot – both about 30 degrees C – the yurt has a domed ceiling that opens to allow hot air out. The place cooled quickly and adequately at dusk resulting in pleasant sleeps both nights.

I wasn’t completely alone for the two days. A little red squirrel adopted me and defended our territory against other squirrels, chipmunks and even a crow. I named it Tenacious. I think it was my constant supply of Spanish peanuts that ensured the critter’s loyalty. Here’s a shot of Tenacious.

Friday began with an intense thunderstorm at dawn. Heavy rains and a wild light show resulted but I stayed cozy and dry in the yurt. The rest of Friday was a perfect prairie summer day, hot and clearing. I caught up on my cloud watching and made this time-lapse video of the afternoon cloudscapes from my porch.

For the third year in a row, there is no entry fee for Manitoba provincial parks though camping fees still apply. In the case of the yurts, the charge is about $54 a night all in. Very economical for a family. If you are interested in a quiet getaway experience this summer, rent a yurt at Spruce Woods. Respite from the weary world, peaceful trees and easy accommodations await you. For information and bookings, the provincial parks website is http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/parks/

Today in Winnipeg the temperature is 34 degrees C or 93 degrees F, add in 63% humidity and it feels like 48 degrees C or 118 degrees F. Thunderstorms are predicted. Our precious prairie summers!!

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Filed under Accommodations, Critters, Flood, Natural Places, Parks, Spirit