Category Archives: Ghost Towns

Portals to the Past

Reid Dickie

The road is long. In fact, it cannot be stopped. Sometimes, across open prairie, the road is obvious with lines and arrows; sometimes the road disappears into the bush or grass but it’s always there, unstoppable. The road possesses the souls of those who travel it in a particular way, not as a path or a conduit but as a Holy Mile, The One Mile, The Only Mile, Unending, Endurably Far, Replicating Itself to The Vanishing Point.

Yet, beside the road, the haunted souls of the long gone find solace and sanctuary in the tumbledowns, the neglected and abandoned places that once danced with the rhythms of lives but now succumb and succumb. Visit six lonesome places by clicking on the pic.

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Hebron School

Reid Dickie

Cities weren’t the only place the post-war baby boom occurred. Suddenly the countryside was alive with newborns who needed an education. To remedy that, just outside of Hayfield, MB, a one-room schoolhouse – Hebron School – was reopened which I attended for two and a half years. My account of those days is called Hebron School – 1 Room, 8 Grades, 30 Pupils, 1 Teacher 

I hadn’t been able to find a very good picture of my old school until I was checking out the Manitoba Historical Society website, a regular haunt of mine, and found this great shot of the place. The Classical Revival columns that supported the little portico roof were a sharp contrast to the bucolic scene around – open fields, rolling hills and dry dusty roads. It gave me a warm yet lonesome feeling when I saw this picture of my first school.

Once again I am grateful to Gordon Goldsborough, Webmaster, Journal Editor and Secretary of the MHS, for his diligence and integrity at finding and reporting Manitoba heritage sites. He has tracked down 3600 so far and now we can discover them first on this great map on the MHS website and then out there on the road. Thanks Gord.

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Filed under 1950s, Family, Ghost Towns, Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage

Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, Kosiw, MB

Reid Dickie

Located in the Kosiw district south-southwest of Dauphin, MB, near the northern boundary of Riding Mountain National Park, the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church of Sts. Peter and Paul is a fine interpretation of a type of traditional church architecture found in Western Ukraine. Overlooking pastoral rolling farmland, the cruciform wooden church with its five, eight-sided, metal-covered banyas (onion domes), including the large two-tiered central dome that opens into the church below, has served area pioneers and their descendents since 1921. The figure of the arched sash windows is doubly replicated in the attractive entrance to the place. On the same sheltered grounds is a well constructed wooden belltower, typically separate from the church proper, housing two bells. Watch my one-minute video of the church.

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Filed under Churches, Ghost Towns, Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Spirit, Uncategorized

Manitoba Heritage – Union Point United Church

Reid Dickie

Union Point United Church, Hwy #75

Two lanes of Hwy #75 flow northward and two lanes flow southward and between them is this pretty little Gothic wooden church, the last remnant of a ghost town. Situated a few kilometers south of Ste. Agathe, MB in the Rural Municipality of Morris, Union Point United Church is a dramatic, albeit final, vestige of a pioneer settlement called Union Point. A few dozen headstones near the church also memorialize the community; the oldest stones read 1879.

According to Manitoba wood carver Warren Breyfogle, who was born on his grandparent’s farm at Union Point, the community was so named because it was the stopping place for both the paddlewheel boats that plied the nearby Red River and for the stage coaches that traveled north and south along the river between Winnipeg and the U. S.

The first Union Point Church, originally serving a  Presbyterian congregation, was built here in 1887. Destroyed by fire in 1939, the present building replaced it in 1940.

Simple Gothic details abound on this little church: the rectangular shape, the pointed windows all around and complementary tracery, similar pointed openings in the off-centre steeple with its steeply pitched roof and wooden pinnacle pointing heavenward, off-centre entrance with pointed arch over the doorway and the octaflor stained glass window above the trio of lancet windows. Classic materials were used to build the church: clapboard siding and plain wood trim, all painted white, exposed rafter tails and buff brick chimney. Watch my 2:09 video of Union Point United.

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Two Days Out On the Prairie

Reid Dickie

Hot and windy, the temperature hit 30 degrees today (about 86 F.), amazing for early October. Something similar for the next two days before seasonal temperatures prevail. The warm weather stoked my wanderlust and I headed into southwestern Manitoba on Tuesday, doing a couple of video reports and gathering images for a large video project I’m working on.  This red maple at Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Park was in full blaze.

I stopped by Campbell Lisk Heritage Park below Hwy 10 next to the Souris River. The first picture is the flooded park taken in June and the second one I took yesterday.

The little park, at flood peak, had over seven feet of water in it from the Souris River. Now the water is gone, the flood cake has dried out and turned into a fine grey powder that sails on every gust of wind. The vegetation has started to return; the spruce trees suffered and each is surrounded by a circle of brown dead needles, waterkill from the flooding. The other difference in the two pictures is how everything has dried out. The recent shot shows how arid we are now after a hot virtually rainless summer.

I took a hike halfway around Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Park today to survey the hiking trail. The flood cake from the flooding Assiniboine extends well back from the lake, in some places over fifty feet. The grey floodcake is dried out but several plants have asserted themselves quickly, notably grassy sedges and horsetail along the wettest parts. Further back and in the shade poison ivy, now scarlet and quite evident, flourished in the grey dry soil. Though the day was hot and sunny, I didn’t see any turtles sunning along Marsh Lake. The flood changed the ecology of the lake so it will take time to restore it or evolve into a new habitat. The turtles know what to do.

I haunted some cemeteries on my drive and have some interesting epitaphs to report. In the little cemetery just outside of Margaret, MB I found these three, the first rather common but profound: Sleeping in Jesus, the comforting Under His Wings and, chiselled into an old old stone, Nevertheless he lives. In my hometown cemetery, I found the most effervescent one of the trip: She has joined the dance, the sprightly dance, the dance ever-existing.

By the way, everything is up-to-date in Treherne, MB. Besides having buildings made of bottles, nice people and a pretty location, Treherne has the Birch Motel which is all mod cons as you can see! Waterbeds and direct dial phones…a little slice of heaven on Hwy 2.

Ghost towns are appearing more frequently now. The siding of Kelloe and fading village of Solsgirth are no longer acknowledged with signs along Hwy 16. Kelloe consists of a family home with modern kids stuff in the yard and a few tumbledown houses in the bush. Solsgirth appeared to have two houses being lived in. The entire population of McConnell when I went through it this morning was two horses. Although the school, church and an old house or two survive, no people live there. Instead the people erected a cairn to signify where McConnell is/was. Apparently you can’t rely on the memories of horses for this kind of thing. Cardale was pert and mowed, the few souls it supports keep busy and wave at me. Margaret has 9 people and 30 boxes in its post office, mostly farmers. I mention to the postmistress (how quaint does that sound?) that my parents lived in Margaret when I was born and so did I until we moved to Hayfield four years later. She remembered hearing our family name in the district.

I’ll end with two pictures of a delightful old weather-depainted Queen Anne style house I gaped at in Newdale today. The lovely gables with elaborate carved bargeboards and the over window and door detailing make this almost ghostly pile extra special. I wonder if it glows in the dark? It has a little satellite dish!

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Filed under Day Tripping, Flood, Ghost Towns, Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Prairie People, Roadside Attractions

Fieldstone Bank Vaults

Reid Dickie

When town building began in earnest on the prairies in the late 1800s, most little settlements had a bank. Often they were private banks, such as the one in Old Deloraine which was owned by Cavers and Stuart. Toronto Dominion opened a bank in the original site of Pilot Mound. As was frequently the case, the railroad decided the locations of towns despite the best intentions of early pioneers. Usually the whole town was moved next to the railroad. Early bank vaults were made of fieldstones and due to their clumsy weight were left behind. There are only two such bank vaults in western Canada and both are in southern Manitoba. One rests on the lower slope of Pilot Mound and the other sits in the middle of a farmer’s yard which is the site of the original Deloraine.

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Hebron School – 1 Room 8 Grades 30 Pupils 1 Teacher

Reid Dickie

HEBRON SCHOOL

Part 3 of 3

Though I was home schooled early by my teacher mother, my formal education began in Hebron School, a one-room schoolhouse. This sounds like a pioneer situation but it was actually the 1950s. The area south of Brandon had plenty of young farm families at the time. Dad and Mom along with several neighbours with school-aged children petitioned the provincial education department to reopen Hebron School. With the baby boom in full bloom, the province agreed with the local wisdom of using an old one-room school to help educate the population surge. The school reopened in 1955, the year I attended Grade One. Hebron School sat at the intersection of two gravel grid roads, three miles from Hayfield, one west, one south, one west.

Hebron School as recorded in A Study of Public School Buildings in Manitoba (1994) by David Butterfield for the Historic Resources Branch of Manitoba Culture Heritage and Citizenship (as the department was known then)

Between 1903 and 1918, the building of one-room schools flourished all over Manitoba. About 400 new schools were built over that 15-year span bringing the total number of one-rooms in Manitoba to 1,400. Built about 1910, Hebron School was a traditional one-room country schoolhouse, wood frame with a pyramid roof and a low dormer above the front entrance. The doorway sported a small porch with modest Classical Revival stylings in the form of a pediment supported by columns. Almost square with a small cloakroom at the entrance and a little office for the teacher on the west side, the rest was the classroom with blackboards around two sides and a row of large windows facing east. A flagpole flew the Union Jack. The school’s amenities included a small stable out back where you could tie up your pony or mule for the day while you went to school, and a manual pump for water. In the spring and fall, I rode my little two-wheel bicycle to school.

About 30 pupils demanded the attention and wisdom of Miss Bernice McRae, a young local woman fresh out of Normal School. During the school day, Miss McRae moved from the large Grade One row to the much shorter Grade Eight row, giving each her own special attention, their lessons and the direction their attentions needed to go. I learned everyone’s lessons in one year. It was impossible not to, a bright, curious child getting eight years of knowledge at once! It was school immersion. I attended Hebron until the middle of Grade Three.

Every year the School held a Christmas pageant that disrupted the room completely because the stage, built on wooden trestles, took up a third of the classroom. The show consisted of the familiar songs, drills, costumes, the usual Christmas trappings all cute as the dickens when done by little kids, your little kids! I “sang” and “acted” in the nativity play, usually as a shepherd.

Hebron School had a basement, which meant it had a furnace that kept it relatively warm most of the winter. On the coldest days, we lit an extra stove on the classroom.

When Miss MacRae noticed black clouds streaked with lightning building in, she’d herd us all into the cement basement of the building to wait out the storm in safety. I recall the sound of the daily attendance binder she kept as she snapped it shut after taking attendance as we entered the basement. I suppose she brought it to account for her small brood of charges should we be hurled into oblivion or taken to heaven by a twister. 

My Grade One picture from Hebron School 1955

Like Hayfield, Hebron School no longer exists. Sold and moved off the original site in the 1990s, its corner of the world has turned into cropland. Often unused schools became granaries, shops or sheds but I’m not sure of the eventual fate of Hebron School. A stone with a commemorative plaque marks the spot where the school stood.

Though I excelled in terms of the requirements of Miss MacRae and Hebron School, and despite school immersion, in Shoal Lake Grade Three, I was behind. I couldn’t multiple or divide for my level. Before and during Christmas, while I recuperated from an accident, Mom taught me math at the kitchen table. Dad would come home from work and we’d report how the multiplication was going, complete with demonstrations. “Six times nine,” Dad would say and I would spout out the answer. I caught up.

In addition to the plaqued rock, there is one other reminder of Hebron. Hebron Road, a good gravel road, runs off Hwy 2 east of Souris and goes right by the former school site.

 

Find more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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My Memories of a Ghost Town

Reid Dickie

Part 2 of 3

HAYFIELD, MANITOBA

This article about Hayfield along with a store picture was supplied to the Souris and Glenwood Municipality history book, published in 2006.

    I may be the last person alive who ever lived in Hayfield, Manitoba.

    My parents (Bruce and Helen Dickie) and I moved from Margaret, Manitoba in 1952 when they purchased the Red and White store in Hayfield. I was three years old. Dad bought grain in Margaret for Pool Elevators after he returned from the war and wanted a new experience.

   Hayfield provides my earliest firm memories. The country general store my parents bought was a huge two-story rectangular building with shed-roof wings, slat siding and Red and White Store emblazoned across the front. We bought the buildings, not the name, from Mrs. Canning after Mr. Canning passed away. Thereafter it became Dickie’s General Store though the white with red trim remained. As you came over the rise traveling west on Hayfield Road, the store, blazing white in the bright sun, stood against a rolling landscape of crop and fallow making it impossible to miss.

Front view of Dickie’s General Store in Hayfield. Note the handpump-style gas bowser. The child in the picture is me.

    The store, which faced east, had a flat roof and façade with a central entrance and sidelights bracketed by two large multi-paned display windows. The sidelights sported large Coca-Cola decals. On the façade a pair of narrow rectangular windows opened into the second floor. The wing on the south housed vehicles, the one on the north a storage area with its own entrance. A windbreak of trees to the north and west of the store helped protect it from inclement weather.

    Don’t mistake Hayfield for a town or even a village. It was mostly just a store. Besides my parents and me, just two others resided in Hayfield: the hired man, Lawrence Murphy who rented a room from us and an older man named Dave Rogers who lived in the only remaining house in Hayfield. More cats and dogs than people lived in Hayfield.

   On the main floor, our store sold groceries, dry goods, house wares and a few farm supplies. A soft drink cooler – the kind with a tank of cold moving water holding drinks like Kik Cola, Wynola, cream soda and a myriad of Stubby flavours – stood next to the front door. Customers came in from the summer heat, opened the large lid of the cooler and either poured over the vast variety of drinks or reached right for their brand, likely Cokes all clustered together. I accumulated a huge bottle cap collection from the sticky catch bin of the cooler.

    At the rear of the store, a post office offered the services of the Royal Mail. Mom was the postmistress and Dad delivered the mail to the local farms. In winter, he drove a horse and cutter, in summer he used a half-ton. The post office was the only place off limits to me, federal property and all – there and Lawrence Murphy’s room upstairs in the corner, personal property and all.

    Oiled wooden planks, likely original to the place, covered the floor of the store. I recall the slightly chemical smell of the crumbly green stuff we put on the floor before we swept it. In front of the store in the parking lot was an Esso gas bowser, the kind with the glass tank overhead into which you hand-pumped with a handle the required number of gallons then gravity pulled it into the tank.

   We lived at the back and above the store. Behind the store were our kitchen, family room and mudroom. A crude summer room led off the kitchen. Our bedrooms were upstairs, my parents in the front corner, Lawrence’s in the opposite back corner, mine along side Mom and Dad’s. These bedrooms all opened into a huge living room with linoleum floor and four wood frame windows across the south side We never had much in the way of furniture up there (our financial situation was modest at best) so I rode my tricycle around and around in the bright airy empty room.

    In one upstairs corner down a short hallway, a dusty storage room housed an enchanting assortment of things from the store’s past. A moveable type printing press, in pieces but with the type open and available to my little fingers sat next to store displays for products that hadn’t been made in decades and a few personal effects of families who lived there before us. I’m not sure why but my parents completely ignored this room and its contents. It became my secret place.

    The mysterious and intriguing thing that turned the storage room into a secret place was not left behind by a person. On the sill of a west window, I found the perfectly preserved skeleton of a mouse, bleached white by the sun. It provided my first exposure to death encountered suddenly in an unexpected place. I remember how the sheer brightness of the tiny bones reached out and grasped my attention, how I would stand and stare at the glowing white structure, arranged like jewelry on the grey wooden ledge, the sun pointing slanty fingers through the slowly moving dust.  My young imagination strained to picture those frail dry bones supporting a tiny body in a soft fur coat, tail sweeping back and forth, warm life pulsing inside. Over the years, I watched these fragile bones turn to a soft white powder.

This promotional item from Dickie’s General Store is a small first aid kit in a plastic box containing an antiseptic solution, cotton absorbent, a spool of tape and basic first aid instructions.

      By the time we arrived in Hayfield, only a short section of the raised grade across the prairie remained to remind you that railway tracks once ran through here. At some point Hayfield had at least one elevator but all that remained of it was a metal grain bin set deep into the ground, its shiny slanted metal sides gaping and open to the sky, a great danger to anything that fell into it. It usually held enough water in the bottom of the hopper to drown a child, a constant worry to my parents. I recall Mom’s frequent warnings not to go near the hopper. It was the most dangerous thing I ever encountered in Hayfield.

   North of the wooden store, two small sheds and a barn, all with gable ends, sat next to a corral. The last building in the row, a big wooden hall, provided me with endless hours of amusement. (This was formerly the Hayfield church.) The hall consisted of a large room with rectangular windows along both sides and an open raised stage at one end. Used for storing lumber, the place was full of planks in piles. I found some old drums left behind by a band that made music there at some previous time. The skins were broken but I can recall standing on the stage all alone banging on the drums with a stick singing at the top of my lungs to my captive audience of old planks.

   Being an only child in a rural setting without nearby children, I became a self-amusing kid, my performances to old lumber an example. I roamed the area with our black lab, Jet. Mom could always tell my whereabouts because she’d see Jet’s black tail above the tall grass or crop and know her son was safe. 

   left: Bruce and Reid at front door of Dickie’s General Store in Hayfield, 1955  below: Mom in front of store 1955

    Cats abounded in Hayfield. I recall one rainy day racing back and forth from barn to house excitedly reporting every new kitten our cat Freckles produced. A few barn cats tried to keep the mouse population under control.

     Southwest of the store, a dilapidated wooden fence encircled a space for an ice rink in winter, another hint of Hayfield’s past. Unused by the time we arrived, Dad would cover a small section of the rink with water, clean off a smooth patch with a rusty old ice scraper and let me skate. I learned to skate on this bumpy ice by pushing a small kitchen chair ahead of me.

     In summer, wild windstorms swept in from the northwest or, more scarily, from the east. Dust devils as big as funnel clouds came swirling across the black summer fallow, lifting cones of dry dust into the heat. The wind would pop out a pane of old glass in the upper floor of the store, sweep through the place looking for egress, punch out a window in the back room downstairs and continue its desperate journey across the prairie. I have jumbled, frightening recollections of the wind and thunder pounding outside while we frantically held pillows to the windows on the storm side of the house. On more than one occasion, the weather became our enemy, vulnerable as we were out there.

    Dickie’s General Store would be the last store in the old building. Newly mobile, people found Brandon nearby, alluring and centralized. Our country store was obsolete. In the fall of 1957, we held an auction sale liquidating the stock. Dad found a job running a Texaco consignee business delivering bulk gas and fuel oil to service stations, farms and homes in and around Shoal Lake, Manitoba out on Highway 16. He moved there first and we followed a month or two later. I don’t know the arrangement but Lawrence Murphy stayed on as caretaker of the Hayfield buildings. He may have run the post office for a few more years after we left. Later Lawrence lived in Souris.

The store and all the remaining buildings in Hayfield came to a sad but useful end in the 1990s when firefighters in training from Brandon and Souris used them for practice. They set the buildings on fire then put them out, set them on fire then put them out, and so on until they were gone. It brought a tear to Dad’s eye when I told him the details of Hayfield’s demise but we agreed the cause was worthy and a fitting finale.

Helen Dickie passed away in 1993, Bruce in 2001. They lie side-by-side in Shoal Lake Cemetery. I make a living as a freelance writer, working out of Winnipeg although since my wife Linda passed away, I am trying to retire. My areas of interest include urban and rural architecture, history, heritage issues, music and spirituality.

My years in Hayfield, ages three to eight, were formative in my life and in the world. Humanity emerged out of the darkness of a great war into a time of sunny optimism when hope invaded our hearts and souls. The future glowed with promise and prosperity. Somehow, that sense of optimism filtered through to our little family and gave us the strength we needed to move and survive in a new town.

Though I consider Shoal Lake my hometown, Hayfield, Hebron School and the Brandon Hills left indelible impressions. That was where the mysteries of life and death revealed themselves to me in obvious and subtle ways, where I learned lessons that are still useful and relevant to me every day. Hayfield is gone but I expect its lessons will last a lifetime.

A bluff of trees in a cow pasture and the grade of the lane suggest Hayfield but its only a suggestion against the big prairie sky.

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Filed under 1950s, Family, Ghost Towns, Linda, Manitoba Heritage, Prairie People

Hayfield – A Manitoba Ghost Town

Reid Dickie

   

Part 1 of 3

Hayfield History

     Hayfield, Manitoba no longer exists. It’s gone, expunged, vanished. Located 10 miles south of Brandon on Highway #10 and 4 miles west on 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.

    An article in a September 1906 issue of the Souris Plaindealer stated, “Hayfield is to be the name of the new town on the Brandon Saskatchewan and Hudson Bay Railway, northwest of Carroll. A. Wilson will be the pioneer merchant of the future city, having decided to establish a branch store this fall.” Despite the best efforts of all the storekeepers and area residents, the City of Hayfield was not to be.

An early picture of Hayfield with the store on left, then barn and church. The railway station is obscured by smoke from the locomotive but the water tower is visible behind the train. The elevator was on the left out of the picture.

   The original store was built on the future site of Hayfield even before the railroad tracks were laid. In 1906, A. Wilson and his sons, Guy and Red, built the two-storey wood frame store. With the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad (the subsequent name of the BS & HB Railway), Hayfield began to grow. The store, which included a post office, did a thriving business.

    Over the years, Hayfield General Store became an important meeting place for the community. With the store 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 willingness to share it.

    The Great Northern Railroad built a station at Hayfield in 1907. The busiest place in the community after the general store, the railroad station served residents and visitors for 22 years before being relocated to the place known as “The Diamond,” three miles west of Carroll. This was where the Canadian Pacific and Great Northern Railroads’ tracks crossed. Here it was known as Griffin Station and continued to operate until 1933.

   Station agents at Hayfield over the years included Bill Lauterwasser, Mr. Henderson, Glen Carter, Gordon Maxwell, Mr. Lenarz and Bill Oty. Hayfield was one of the water stops for steam locomotives. A water tower was built north of the station and water was piped in from a spring located a mile to the north. GNR built two residences at Hayfield for company section men and their families.

Bustling Hayfield Railway Station in 1908 alive with prim and proper children, ladies in picture hats and gents in bowlers.

     The McCabe Grain Company began construction of their Hayfield elevator in the fall of 1906 but a severe winter delayed completion until the spring of 1907. The company placed railcars on the siding in the fall of 1906 so farmers could deliver their grain but it didn’t move until the following spring.

     The McCabe Grain Company supplied a residence for its Hayfield elevator agents. That house was later moved to Carroll then to east of Log Cabin as a private residence for the Flickwert family. The elevator continued serving the area until the railroad ceased to operate. McCabe closed the elevator in 1935 and tore it down the following year. Some of the material was used to build the Newstead Elevator, which operated until 1982 and was demolished in 1986.

   Some of the agents who ran the McCabe Company elevator in Hayfield were Charles Davidson, Bill Cameron, Bill Rathwell, Bill Porteous, Sweeney Bergeson, Bob Anderson and Curly Law.

    Baptists built Hayfield’s first church in 1910. The building included a baptism immersion tank and all the church furnishings. However, due to lack of Baptists, it became a Union Church in 1912 and served all denominations until 1925. Thereafter, the building became Hayfield Community Hall operated by a board of trustees consisting of Aaron Johnson, W. E. Lawson and William Cameron. The hall was used mainly for whist drives and dances. In 1957, the year the Dickie’s closed the store for good and left Hayfield, the hall building was sold by tender to Russell Cunningham who moved it to his farm.

   In 1929, Hayfield’s new rink opened. Surrounded by an 8-foot fence with a small opening on the east side for spectators, the rink was situated southwest of the store. A small shed accommodated skate changing. For many years, the rink was flooded by water tanked in from a spring north of Hayfield. Ron Sopp witched a well in 1940 just south of the store and thereafter, the well supplied rink water. A gas engine ran a lighting system for night skating and hockey games. Saturdays were a popular skating day. Sometimes hockey players spent the whole afternoon clearing the snow off the rink for a night game. Teams from Kemnay, Brandon, Beresford, Carroll, Roseland, Brandon Hills, Little Souris and Souris played hockey in Hayfield.

    The original builder and owner of Hayfield Store, A. Wilson, sold the business to another man named Wilson – J. B. Wilson who also owned Simmington’s Store in Brandon. J. B. hired Robert Scott to run the store. Scott eventually bought the store and ran it on his own for five years. The next owners were the E. C. Drury family who sold out to yet another Wilson – Mr. & Mrs. Vic Wilson who were proprietors longer than any other owners.

    Vic Wilson had an Imperial Oil dealership and sold International Harvester parts. Vic started the first mail delivery service for the Hayfield district in 1915, developing two routes. Mail was delivered using teams of horses. Wilson constructed a barn just north of the store to house the teams. The first mail carrier was T. Upton who was paid $600 a year for his services, which include four horses. Going the extra mile for customer service, on mail delivery days, area residents could phone the store with their grocery orders and have them delivered with their mail. Vic installed the hand-pumped gas bowser in front of the store.

   Other mail carriers over the decades were Vic Wilson, E. Lawson, W. Turner, Frank Beckett, Donald McCollum, Harold Rogers, Jack Davis, Alf Lovatt, Morley Lovatt, Bob Lovatt, Harold Brown, E. Canning, Wilmot McComb, Bruce Dickie and Lawrence Murphy.

    In the 1940s, the Wilsons sold the Hayfield store to Steve Kowilchuk who sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Ermine Canning in 1946. After Mr. Canning died, his widow sold the store to Bruce and Helen Dickie in 1952. Our family was the last to operate a store in Hayfield. In 1957, we held an auction sale to liquidate the stock and sold the building to Lawrence Murphy who continued to operate the post office and mail routes until January 8, 1968. The store had operated continuously for 51 years.

   Lawrence Murphy sold the property to Alice Magel and her son Mike in 1982. They occupied the place for a few years but by 1991 the building was vacant, its story almost over.

Hayfield as it looked in the early 1990s, just before it disappeared.

    The store and the barn in Hayfield came to a sad but useful end in the 1990s when firefighters-in-training from Brandon and Souris used them for practice. They set the buildings on fire then put them out, set them on fire then put them out and so on until they were gone.

    All that remains of Hayfield today is a small bluff, a little patch of gravel and the elevation for the ¼-mile lane overgrown with grass, all surrounded by fields and pasture. The name remains in Hayfield Road as the sign on Highway #10 states. Once a home to hopes and dreams and a popular oasis for locals and travelers – it existed for almost 90 years – Hayfield has now vanished into memory.

All that’s left to remind you of Hayfield

You can find my boyhood memories of living in Hayfield here and my experience attending a one-room schoolhouse here.

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Filed under 1950s, Family, Ghost Towns, Life and Life Only, Manitoba Heritage, Prairie People

Rooster Town: Hidden Winnipeg History

ROOSTER TOWN

 Reid Dickie

UPDATED: I found three pictures with captions from the Winnipeg Tribune from 1951 and added them on April 10/14.

Several people with whom I spoke about Rooster Town stated it was a sad and sorry chapter in Winnipeg’s history, the shame of the city and one of many untold Winnipeg stories. Though this is not the forum for an in-depth account of Rooster Town, here is a tantalizing teaser about Winnipeg’s own barrio.

Winnipeg was cut from bush that grew thick and wild along the riverbanks and well beyond. The land was covered with native brush and savannah – open range dotted with bluffs of trees. To trace the physical development of Winnipeg as it was laid out on the prairie, start at the Forks/Point Douglas area and draw a series of ragged uneven concentric circles outward from there. Go north and east first, move westward then slowly south. Year after year, the increasing organization of streets, houses and services encroached into the wild land, eventually creating today’s still-evolving city.

In the 1920s, the area where Grant Park Shopping Centre, Grant Park High School and the Pan Am Pool are now was covered with bush. Area children used the meandering mazes through the dogwood, willow and saskatoon bushes as secret playgrounds. In 1908, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad had built a rail line along present-day Grant Avenue, cutting its own small swath.

Along a few mud trails hacked out of the bush on both sides of the tracks was Rooster Town, an unflattering name for a grim shantytown populated mainly by poor Metis families and transients. As the depression took hold after 1929, the city experienced a large influx of Métis, virtually the last group to move into Winnipeg until after the Second World War. Some of the Metis settled in the Dagmar District; others built or bought shacks in Rooster Town far past the streetcar’s last stop, even past the last road allowance. The Metis were among the first and among the last residents of Rooster Town. At most, there were probably 40 or 50 families living in Rooster Town.

The significance of the branch line of Grand Trunk Pacific to Rooster Town was twofold. It provided transportation in and out of Rooster Town during its 30-year existence. Steam trains needed water so they stopped at a water tower at present-day Grant and Guelph to fill up, making it an easy jumping off point for transients, hoboes and drifters with all manner of alibis. Rooster Town usually had a few shadowy nameless figures “just passing through.”

Transport wasn’t the only thing the railway offered Rooster Town. It also provided housing. GTP sold old boxcars cheap. The new owners hauled them off into the bush and set them up as houses. Some lived in them; others rented them for $18 a month. Constructed of uninsulated, weathered dry wood, the railcars quickly became tinderboxes. Used as houses, many tragic fires resulted. Other housing consisted of saltboxes, sheds and crude shacks with blackened shiplap walls and tarpaper roofs, poorly constructed from salvaged materials. Winters were especially cruel in these inadequate buildings.

One standing pipe for water, where Wilton meets Grant today, served all of Rooster Town. Water was hauled by hand, usually the role of the children. Even on the coldest winter days, they trudged the mile to the water spigot. Plumbing was strictly outdoors, bathtubs non-existent. ROOSTERscan0001

Above picture from Winnipeg Tribune December 20, 1951

ROOSTERscan0003

Above image from Winnipeg Tribune December 20, 1951

The lack of water meant sanitation was minimal. The poverty and crowded conditions of the shacks resulted on continuous waves of infectious disease sweeping through Rooster Town. Whooping cough and chicken pox were especially unforgiving among the children, impetigo and lice were common.

The name Rooster Town had two possible origins. It was common for families to raise a few chickens for eggs, which meant a chorus of cocks crowing welcomed every morning. Another source was the cockfights held there in its early days. Though the fine upstanding citizens of Winnipeg disparagingly named the area, there were more than a few such citizens, with a penchant for “betting the bird,” who snuck down to Rooster Town to wager on the cockfights, keeping the “sport” alive.

Ironically, Rooster Town had its own “suburb.” Tin Town, so named for the corrugated tin used in its equally squalid shanties, was located further south near present day McGillivray Blvd. In the summer baseball teams from the shantytowns competed.

During most of its existence, Rooster Town drew little attention from Winnipeggers. It was obscure and hidden in the bush, well away from their comfortable new houses. Viewed as a social problem by the media, none of the local newspapers gave the area much coverage, though the Winnipeg Tribune was more apt to report on it, especially when tragedy occurred. ROOSTERscan0002

Above image from Winnipeg Tribune December 24, 1951

Rooster Town was wiped off the face of the earth in 1959 during the reign of Winnipeg Mayor Stephen Juba. After WW2, development plans for the area were drawn up and the City began to expropriate the land. Some reports say people were forcibly removed, their houses burned and bulldozed. Some Rooster Town residents were unceremoniously relocated to a low-income housing development in the North End on Dufferin Avenue.

When construction began on Rockwood School in 1949, it was located on the northeast corner of Rooster Town and was the first opportunity for the children of Rooster Town to receive an education. In many ways, the school was viewed as a bastion against disease and lack of sanitation, similar in purpose and effect to the Little Nurses League in the 1920s and 30s. Metis children were often shunned due to the prevalence of disease especially impetigo. A typical warning of the time from parent to child was “Whatever you do, don’t touch the Rooster Town children. You might get a skin disease.”

Largely due to the presence of Rockwood School, the neighbourhood around the school became more organized and by the early 1960s, Rooster Town was gone, swallowed up by a spiffy new suburb of ratepayers – the middle class neighbourhoods spanning Crescentwood and River Heights and their amenities.

For more on Rooster Town look here  

Check out my report in pictures and video Inside Birtle Indian Residential School

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY SEVEN

THUNDERBIRD NEST

 July 31, 2007

“It amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom”

            It was the height of summer, the last day of July. A month of record-breaking temperatures and dangerous humidity was ending. Change was in the air.

            Originally, my friend Chris and I had planned a trip and hike to the Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Provincial Park but with daily humidex advisories, going to a place that was usually 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding area seemed unwise. Instead, we opted for Thunderbird Nest, an old Ojibwa site located about two hours north of Winnipeg.

            Located just west of the Lake Manitoba Narrows, Thunderbird Nest was not a new site for me. I had visited it first and twice in 2001 but not since.  Chris had never been there.

Appropriately unassuming and humble, Thunderbird Nest brought visions of healing and the future to shamans who performed ritual here.

            The Thunderbird in Ojibwa and Cree legend was a super eagle with a wing span two canoes wide capable of transforming into human form. The Thunderbird spoke thunder and lightning flashed from its eyes. Difficult to see because of its disguise as black swirling clouds, the Thunderbird fed only on snakes and protected humankind from the Great Horned Serpent of the Underworld. This area of Manitoba supports a large red-sided garter snake population. Many Thunderbird Nests are found in eastern Manitoba but this is the only one west of Lake Manitoba.

             Thunderbird Nest may have been built to attract the Thunderbird, which would reward its builders with sacred powers. Used for at least 1000 years, one of its purposes has been as a vision quest site. Secluded and in self-denial of food, water, clothing and comfort, exposed to the elements, the warrior cried for a vision to guide and protect him, longing for the Thunderbird to appear in his dream.

            Shamans frequently used this site to acquire or contact helpful spirits and experience extraordinary ecstatic powers. This is part of my silent intent for today’s visit.

            Taking Chris’ car, we head north on Highway #6 into the Interlake. The highway follows the east coast of Lake Manitoba and passes through a number of small interesting communities.

            St. Laurent, a tiny Metis community, has a small stony beach and a reputation for frequent UFO and chupacabra sightings. A little further along is Eriksdale, which boasts of being the hiding place of Stony Mountain Penitentiary escapee Percy Moggey who spent 11 months in a shack after going over the wall in 1960. A replica of his shack is now a tourist attraction with tours available!

             A few kilometers north of Eriksdale, we turned off Highway 6 onto Highway 68. The landscape changed with more rocky areas and pastures replacing cropland. There is more bush, evergreens and little traffic. The highway is incredibly smooth and drivable.

             We reached the Narrows, with its small attempt at tourist amenities on the east side. Boaters, campers and some picnickers were immersed in the heat. We slowly drove over the long bridge that connects the shores, feeling the heart of Manitou beating nearby.  A kilometer or two later we saw a sign pointing out an upcoming historic site, Thunderbird Nest. We turned south onto a good gravel road into the bush. Soon a small area opened up on our left. Thunderbird Nest was about a quarter mile down a walking trail from here. We parked. My anticipation rose.

             Approaching sacred sites, I am always filled with an awe that quickens me, that strives to bypass my senses and make direct contact with my inner being. Some sites have more immediacy but eventually all of them produce this effect. Even writing this now, I feel some of the same joy and eagerness I felt at the Thunderbird Nest, attesting to its lasting and powerful effects.

            Chris and I smudged with sweetgrass before we got out of the car. I said a prayer of gratitude, asking for protection and positive spirits to help us.

            We stepped into the day, the place. It was sweltering. The high humidity persisted but there was a notion of change in the air, something imminent.

            Chris brought a large flat drum and some rattles which he opted to leave in the car for now. Carrying just light waters, we proceeded down the trail toward Thunderbird Nest.  Large flat white stones washed smooth by repeated floods cobble the path on this peninsula, which juts out between Lake Manitoba and Ebb and Flow Lake.

         Signs leading to Thunderbird Nest suggest some of the site’s uses.

            We turned right on the lead-up to the site. A few signs along the way gave some background about Thunderbird mythology and vaguely prepared us for the site. A hundred yards from the site the trees on both sides of the trail were festooned with brightly coloured cloths, small tobacco packets on strings and a few feathers, offerings left by previous visitors to Thunderbird Nest.

            Walking slowly we approached the Thunderbird Nest. I put down my sack, shirt, hat, and paused, waiting, waiting. There is a small contraction that you can feel behind your eyes, the contraction of being. It is usually tight and tense. At sacred sites, the contraction subtly loosens. I waited for the loosening that signals acceptance of me at the site. I felt it and a stab of joy shot through me. I began smiling, a prelude to ecstasy.

            Set in a small clearing among aspens and hoary bur oak rests a shallow indentation in the ground, about eight feet across, lined with lichened flat stones. Thunderbird Nest! Doesn’t sound like much in the description, which is exactly how it should be.

            My shamanic practice resulted in my gaining a spirit friend and helper, the adventurous soul of a shaman who lived in eastern Manitoba about 1200 years ago. Webbed Flight is what he prefers to be called; I sometimes call him Duck Feet to be playful. He is a daily presence in my life and has helped me through all the challenges I’ve faced since the mid 1990s.

            One of the obligations I have to my spirit friend is to help him “live again.” This is one form my gratitude takes for Webbed Flight’s help in my life. Sacred sites are excellent places to do this, especially this one since Webbed Flight had often visited similar sites in eastern Manitoba during his lifetime. I immediately gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight who began a slow ritual that involved spiraling into the actual nest.

            What do I mean by “gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight?” A fair question since it sounds frightening, dangerous and unpredictable. Without the appropriate inner technology, it can be a harrowing exercise. Ably and confidently applied, the way of presence, intent and awareness through love and trust opens your spirit to the inorganic world safely and in a sacred manner.

            Because all depth is interpreted, at this point, words become increasingly insufficient to express the rest of my experience but I’ll try to find a few more. Physically what happens to me is I begin to speak in Webbed Flight’s language, to express what he needs to say, the prayers he needs to give, the gratitude he needs to express, the laughter and tears he needs to experience. I laughed and prayed, danced and cried. It all came pouring out of me without stint, without reserve, without embarrassment into the heat of the afternoon.

             Other expressions Webbed Flight uses are gestures that involve his sign language, which acts as visual accent to the sounds he makes. His sign language uses the right hand to touch his left forearm and hand in various places with numerous motions. He often touches his face and head for emphasis. In India, these gestures and motions are called mudras.

            Verbally and visually, I have no idea what Webbed Flight is actually expressing. What I get, what I feel is the emotional impact of his experience. In a word, ecstasy. Whatever currents carry Webbed Flight along is what I feel. From his dark sadness to his bliss, no matter what the emotional signature is, for me it amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom.

             This ecstasy is the pay-off for my years of practice, for seeking out the inner technology discovered centuries ago, adopting it, practicing it, my reward for doing the inner work. The ecstasy is extremely state-specific so to attempt a description is almost futile. Suffice it to say the ecstasy flows out of the sense of freedom and detachment found when one rests as simple awareness.

            As I am expressing for Webbed Flight I walk slowly around the outside of Thunderbird Nest sunwise. My body is loose and full of energy but calm, able to strike angular poses that seem to strengthen my connection to Webbed Flight. I spiral toward the outer rim of stones of the nest. I pause, crouch and spend several blissful moments in silent prayer.  I am sharing a prayer with Webbed Flight.

            I rise from my prayer at the edge and step, welcomed, into the Nest. Webbed Flight’s singing rises louder among the trees. I stand, alone in the centre of the Nest. Yet I am not alone. He lives again. The ecstasy flows through me, stoned in the original sense of the word. Luckily, I am familiar and comfortable with the feeling.

            I rest in that place, that place of freedom and detachment from the land, the sky and the 10,000 things arising in my awareness. I sense joy pulse through me.

            All sacred sites have spirit guardians that watch over the place. Some have physical guardians that play the same role. Thunderbird Nest has fire ants as its guardian. The ground around the Nest and the Nest itself swarmed with large, red ants. They were aggressive and attacked our bare feet and legs, nipping at our flesh. Should you injure one of them, it sprays a fluid that attracts the other nearby ants, alerting them to the interloper and signaling a mass attack. They are hard to discourage and harder to ignore but after a while, they begin to pay less attention to us. They settle a little for us. Later Chris and I compared bites – round red bumps, not itchy…yet. Mine went away quickly.

            During our time at the Nest, the sky slowly changed. Darker clouds moved in from the west. Chris retrieved his beautiful drum from the car and beat a wilderness pulse into the afternoon. At times, the distant rolling thunder was a perfect echo to his beat.

            I found the drum provided a more balanced awareness in Webbed Flight and me as I began to sing my personal power song. He and I shared the joy of the sound. In a rather mad expression of silliness, we danced an exaggerated clown-like dance with large ragged steps and fanciful yips. Later I realized this was a balancing of the coming change in the weather, where humour and fun overpower any anxiety. It worked.

            There was a moment when I looked at Chris, walking past him, that I was seeing him for the first time using the eyes of Webbed Flight. Another similar moment occurred near the end of our stay.

            Suddenly a cool breeze that felt refreshing and new on our skin swept by us. It was the first sign of a change in the weather, the harbinger. Chris and I both felt its arrival. With a glance and a smile, we instinctually knew it was time to go.

            We smudged some sage and cedar in a shell before leaving, thanking the local spirits for their protection and for the bliss we had found in this wild place. As we did this, the first intermittent rain drops began to fall on Chris’ drum, each making a hollow lonely thud.

            On the way out at the offering site, I hung a flyaway I had made with some seeds from our backyard, jute string and a red feather. I hung it next to the path, commenting that some curious raven might like the feather to decorate its nest.

            We discharged any negative spirits that may have followed us. More correctly, Webbed Flight dispelled them with jagged gestures and sudden barks.

            The rain began to fall heavier as we walked down the trail. Chris used his shirt to cover the drum til we got to the car. The cool rain felt wonderful on our bare summer backs. We toweled down and as we sat in the car, lightning flared and thunder rolled above us. It poured rain.

            Though I do not presume to know his inner life, from our discussions on the way home, Chris said he approached the place humbly seeking acceptance and worthiness. Once he found that, Thunderbird Nest welcomed him. His beaming face was evidence of the ecstasy he, too, found there.

            The rain poured down as we crossed the bridge over the Narrows and Chris pulled off the highway next to the stony beach. He needed to wash a stone in the rain and Lake Manitoba. Lightning flashed overhead as the rain pelted down. This moment was utterly alive for me, so full of energy and bliss, a coda to Thunderbird Nest and the overture to the next stage.

            Toweled down again, we proceed retracing our path toward home. It wasn’t long before we drove out of the rain and back into the summer heat as the storm was slowly coming across the lake at an angle. At Lundar, about 45 minutes later, we stopped for country coffee-like substances. As we stood in the heat, the cool breeze came by, the same cool breeze that heralded the change at Thunderbird Nest. Both Chris and I noticed the breeze and commented on it.

             The rest of the journey into Winnipeg was the usual easy conversation that Chris and I share, enjoyable, a fitting end to the day.

             The city still sweltered, not yet getting the storm that brings the change. That evening, about a quarter to twelve, I stepped out onto the back deck at our house. The sky was clear, still muggy. As I stood there, the same cool breeze came by, the very same one. Later that night a thunderstorm brought the change.

DAY TRIPPING

HAYFIELD

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.

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