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The Faces of War

Reid Dickie

Eleven years ago today my dad, Bruce Dickie, died. He was 83. I miss him every day. I wrote about Dad last year on this day, too.

Recently I came across an article about how the ravages of war become etched on the faces of young soldiers. They show close-up pictures of dozens of Scottish soldiers before, during and after serving in Afghanistan along with their comments. If you ever needed further testimonial to the insanity, destructiveness and uselessness of war, look into the eyes of these men. In every case, the innocence, hope and clarity of the first photograph transmogrifies by the third photograph into reflected horror, soul death and hopelessness. Instead of innocence, their faces convey only fear, instead of hope there is loss and despair, instead of clarity, they are haunted by memories of unspeakable horrors.


Similar changes were wrought upon the face of another Scotsman, my father Bruce Dickie, before, during and after he saw combat as a lance bombardier in WWII from 1942 to 1945. In a series of pictures he sent Mom while he was overseas, the transformation of my father’s face is obvious and frightening.

This first picture was taken in London just after he arrived overseas in 1942. He was a fresh-faced farm boy from the Canadian prairies.

 The next picture was taken in Aberdeen, Scotland in late 1943 after Dad had seen combat. Experience and sadness lurk in his eyes and his serious expression.

The third picture was taken in Amsterdam near the end of the war in 1945. Innocence is gone, replaced with aggression, his eyes are wild and his teeth are bared. No other image ever taken of my father is more heartbreaking for me than this one.

The horrors of battle that Dad witnessed become progressively more evident on his face in each photograph. Dad signed each picture he sent to Mom but it was only on the last one that he mentions love. Dad lived another 55 years after that last picture was taken. Quietly and peacefully he died of old age eleven years ago today. Luckily he never had to live in a post-911 world.                          


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Filed under Deathday, Family, Images, Momentous Day, Prairie People, Spirit

Manitoba Heritage Buildings – Downtown Baldur

Reid Dickie

Brick Commercial Buildings, Elizabeth Avenue, Baldur, MB

Baldur is a little community on Hwy #23 in southern Manitoba named after the son of Odin, a major deity in Scandinavian mythology. Baldur personified the nobler qualities of human nature. Known for his beauty, Baldur was also the god of innocence and the summer sun. A few years ago I took some pictures of two fine examples of early prairie commercial buildings that still stand on Baldur’s main drag. The above picture shows the contextual view of the two tan brick buildings. 

Now Kay’s Place, the smaller, more modest brick building was built in 1910 and sports fine brick detailing on the second floor. The corbelling under the cornice and the broad fanned arch with datestone highlight the roofline. The three bay façade has inset windows with rough limestone sills and regular pilasters to offer movement. It is a shame the ground floor façade is such a mess. What wonders once lurked, perhaps still do, beneath the poor cladding? In this case, half a building is better than none.

The Fowler Block, the larger commercial building, was built in 1899 by Alex Fowler from a design by Brandon architect W. H. Shillinglaw. Fowler arrived in Baldur in 1891 to operate the new facility for the Manitoba Elevator Company of which his father was president. Fowler purchased the local saddlery business of C.W. Watson in 1895 and by 1899 had commenced construction of this building. The saddlery business occupied the smaller of the two retail spaces on the main floor with various merchants renting the other space. In 1904 Alex became Baldur’s postmaster and for the next 31 years the town post office was located in the Fowler Block. The structure remained in the Fowler family until 1978.

The Fowler Block is an excellent example of the type of commercial block commonly constructed in southern Manitoba between 1890 and 1920. The design is straightforward and attractive with vertical brick pilasters separating the stores.  The second storey windows feature segmental arches with rough limestone keystones and a limestone belt course running below. The most eye-catching features are the rich double rows of corbelling along the cornice and the fanned brick arch with the datestone, similar to the other commercial building. A rather amazing feature of the Fowler Block is the integrity of the original façade, which hasn’t been trashed with inappropriate signage or colour, other than the vertical cladding above the windows. The brickwork on both buildings is standard running bond.

 The exterior ground floor is original, attractive and well maintained, featuring indented entrances with opposing sidelights and carved entry surrounds. Existing signage is appropriate in size and content and does not detract from the overall beauty of the building to any large degree. Fortunately, the interior retains many original features including decorative pressed-tin ceiling panels. The overall condition is excellent which bespeaks the fine originality of the design and the presence it has in this small town.

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Filed under Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Pioneers

Manitoba Heritage Building – Boyne School

Reid Dickie

Boyne School, Highway #3, east of Carman, MB

Few 0ne-room schoolhouses remain in Manitoba, especially ones that have been maintained and loved by their communities. By now most of the old schools are granaries, sheds or firewood, making the remaining ones precious.

Boyne School is a prime example of a popular standardized school design. Located right next to Highway #3 just east of Carman, the first school here was built in 1872. Comfortable, well-lit by a bank of transomed windows along the east side, front cloakroom with side windows, raised basement and hipped roof, the present building was erected in 1930.

Closed in 1966, community efforts saved the school which was deemed a municipal heritage site in 1988. Occasionally it is used for community activities. Now a group in Carman is trying to raise $75,000 to move Boyne School from its present site to the museum grounds in King’s Park in Carman. The aim is to restore it as a museum attraction. Fundraising is underway.

Boyne School is unique because it sits intact on its original school grounds surrounded by a fenced playground with a flagpole and the stable where students housed their ponies during classes. Heritage sites maintain their value by being intact in situ. Purists tend to think of museums with moved-in buildings as heritage petting zoos. If Boyne School is threatened in some way – it is very vulnerable along the highway – then the relative safety of the Carman Museum may prolong its existence.

Find many more stories about Manitoba schools on my Schools page.

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Filed under Heritage Buildings, Manitoba Heritage, Pioneers