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Recent History News Items from 2021

News and Events, February 2021

What’s up. What do committees do when the world around them goes into lockdown and face-to-face projects are on hold? It seems that C/D MHAC members have heeded the advice: ‘When nothing goes right, go left’. With the Province still under fairly tight pandemic protocols, Heritage Committee work is still going forward, but most of it is happening in the privacy of our homes or via email and telephone calls.

Our Treasurer Shirley Snider has picked up on a project she began a few years ago—identifying the location of the multitude of businesses that operated in the Town of Carman over the decades. At that time, C/D MHAC placed signs on several local buildings to outline their history. Shirley is trying to unravel a complicated, musical-chairs pattern of occupancy as the center of the growing town shifted north along Villard Ave./Main St. and as new buildings appeared, changed hands, burned, were replaced. We have been scouring early newspaper ads and enhancing old photos to try and read signs and identify locations—and of course, raising even more questions about our past.


Do you know where the first Carman post office was located?

A couple more of our members are working with the Boyne River Keepers (BRK) on revitalizing one of the key features that drew people to this particular area of Manitoba. C/D MHAC involvement to date has been mainly providing historical background on the river, its use and transformation over the years. Our research has documented early pride and concern over condition of river. Back around 1900, both local groups and excursions from as far away as Winnipeg held picnics in the many beautiful treed groves along the Boyne River. One of these outings was reported in the local Dufferin Leader, 1900-08-02:

Last April, we documented early concerns over the impact of growing human presence on water quality (News and Events April 2020)

Part of our interest in the river restoration has been towards encouraging reintroduction of native plants along the banks. This ties in with our current research on natural history of the area. Over the past few months, BRK has been working closely with the local Communities in Bloom (CIB) group to restore the riverbanks and create more attractive green spaces in Town. At a time when our municipalities and organizations are under increased financial pressure, it’s encouraging to see local organizations coming together to collaborate on these initiatives.

CIB also happens to be looking at greening a vacant town lot—the same one we were interested in developing two or three years ago as a showcase for local heritage. It was a large project, and was beyond our human and financial resources at a time when we also were installing signage to mark the Missouri Trail and Îlets-de-Bois heritage sites. We are now looking into the possibility of moving forward on the project in collaboration with CIB other local groups.

Another at-home project that has just been completed is scanning and organizing the Hopeland School material that was donated to us last year by former pupil Bob Briggs. We’ve just finished scanning, editing, organizing and collating over 600 files. These include the School history, an autobiography, school records (student enrollment and attendance, minutes of meetings, financial records) as well as photo collections of family and community activities. All this material is now on disks. A copy has been returned to the donor and others will be placed in our usual repositories. We are waiting delivery of another pioneer family album, as soon as services normalize.

The website also received a request from a researcher in England inquiring about the local Sons of England Lodge. We have information on several businesses that operated on the ground floor of their building on Fournier Street (1st St. SW) and on meetings and events held in the upper lodge chambers, but so far, are having difficulty locating details of S.O.E. activities in the community. Does anyone out there have ancestors who belonged to the local S.O.E., know of existing memorabilia, even the local lodge number?


Sons of England Block in early 1900s

Now and Then. Last month we introduced the first in a series of ‘rollover’ photos with present/past views of local scenes. This month, we’re looking at the former St. Andrew’s Church on 2nd Avenue SW as it is today and as it appeared when it was built back in 1898–99. Be sure and check out the accompanying links for further information on this impressive structure.

Click on the image or go to our new "Now and Then" page of our Vintage Photos collection and see what was once there.



 

 


Riel Day. Each year on the third Monday of February, Manitobans now commemorate the part Métis leader Louis Riel played in the birth of our province. Locally, we’ve looked at this part of Manitoba history mainly as a prelude to the arrival of settlers in the area, the resulting tension between the new arrivals and local Métis population and the resulting changes in the socio-cultural and economic life of the area. A note in the Dufferin Leader (1901-11-21) alerts us to a forgotten closer contact with the military activities of that era.

Thirty years ago on Monday last the second Red River expedition reached Winnipeg in command of Capt. Thos. Scott. They were sent to quell a rumored Fenian invasion on Manitoba and consisted of two companies of 100 men each. A fact of local interest in conjunction with this expedition is that hearing the enemy were lurking somewhere in the southern part of the province, one company of these volunteers was sent out from - Fort Garry and were camped for a couple of weeks on the north side of the Boyne two miles east of here.

This would have been just east of the Missouri Trail—another tie with the past for what was once the main route of passage through this area.

Valentine’s Day. February 14th is a day when we put aside thoughts of rebellions and conflict and celebrate the warm, fuzzy parts of our lives. Remember back when everyone in your class made and exchanged Valentines each year? They all went into a big decorated box and were handed out by the teacher. It was maybe years later before you appreciated the pathos of the whole scene—big smiles on the faces of those who got the most cards; near tears for those who only got one from the teacher and a classmate or two whose parents insisted they send cards to everyone.

This year, COVID protocols will no doubt put a damper on the day. We’re being warned that exchange of cards is a possible source of virus transmission. In keeping with protocol, and since we’re focussing this winter on our natural history, here is a Valentine’s Day ‘card’ featuring one of our local ladies. She’s not wearing a mask, but she’s outside, properly distanced and virtual.

Happy Valentine’s Day to the rest of the herd.

 

 

 


Natural History.
Groundhog (woodchuck). Spring has its Easter Bunny, Christmas, its reindeer, but February is one month in which we recognize one of our real, live, native animals, the groundhog.

Groundhogs are native to many parts of North America. They are usually found in grassy, dry, open areas such as fields, clearings where they can dig their deep burrows and have close access to food. They are noted for their hole-digging ability, huge appetite for fresh green vegetation, love of lying in the sun and hibernation practices. The groundhog’s main claim to fame is its supposed ability to predict the weather. For more details on their lives and habits, visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation's website.


The clover patch is eaten, now it’s time for a sunny nap

Our animal of the month has the distinction of having a day named in its honour. On February 2, Groundhog Day, ceremonies are held at locations in the U.S. and Canada to find out how long winter will last. By tradition, if the local groundhog comes out of hibernation on February 2nd and sees its shadow, we’ll get another six weeks of winter. No shadow, we’ll have an early Spring.

Several locations have joined the prediction business with their own pet groundhogs. The most famous of these prognosticators Pennsylvania's ‘Punxsutawney Phil’, made his predictions virtually this year. He called for six more weeks of winter.

His Canadian cousins are more optimistic. This morning (February 2), Nova Scotia’s ‘Shubenacadie Sam’, was the first to make his prediction. He apparently was reluctant to emerge from his den, no doubt sensing the huge snowstorm that’s approaching from the south. However, he failed to see his shadow and predicted an early Spring, so he may be confused by the weather reports.

In Quebec, Fred La Marmotte also is reported as reluctant to leave his cozy nest. Ontario’s albino groundhog, ‘Wiarton Willie’ wasn’t even disturbed as local dignitaries went virtual. They followed the original tradition of throwing a fur hat in the air and called for an early Spring.

Even though Winnipeg has just recorded the second warmest January since records were kept, it seems unlikely we’re through with our snowy season anytime soon. And, from the groundhogs I’ve known, it seems they’re a bit too smart to wake up this early during a Manitoba winter just to see how much longer they should sleep. Wildlife folks found that the biggest challenge in making a prediction for Manitoba was finding a groundhog. That problem has been settled by having hand-puppet ‘Merv’ proudly do the honours. This year Merv appeared wearing a COVID mask. He didn’t see his shadow so it looks like an early Spring. We’d like to believe him. However, in this little corner of the province, the resident groundhog has yet to be seen, the sun is shining and shadows abound. I think I just heard Mother Nature chuckling.

If we’re really interested in our heritage, we should be asking how and where this tradition began. The likely assumption is that belief in the predictive abilities of groundhogs was a product of indigenous knowledge of the natural world or the observations of early settlers. The IrishCentral website (February 2, 2021) speculates that, because February 2 is situated halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, Groundhog Day may have deeper roots in pagan Celtic rituals. As with other aspects of pagan ritual, elements may have been incorporated in Christianity, now reflected in Candlemas and St. Brigid’s Day.

The site also points to a precedent for Groundhog Day in early Roman pagan divination based on the hibernating hedgehog. If the hedgehog came out of his den on February 2 and saw his shadow, it meant six more weeks of winter. The tradition spread to other countries such as Germany; German migrants brought it to North America where, in the absence of hedgehogs, the groundhog inherited the starring role.

Whatever the origin, it’s useful to explore how deeply the roots of our beliefs and practice really go, in this case, the origins of what might now be seen as largely an entertaining tourism ploy.

Gleanings from Local Life Stories. Remember when groundhogs were known locally as woodchucks? And schoolkids tried to see how fast they could recite “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He’d chuck all the wood a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” Who said kids in rural schools didn’t get a well-rounded education?

Then there’s this groundhog memory:

Since early childhood, whenever someone mentioned my uncle’s name, I had a vision of a bed of brilliant orange and yellow nasturtiums. I don’t really remember their house, but back in the years after the 1930s depression, most farm families didn’t plant flower beds, just things you could eat. Years later, I tilled up a new flower-bed in a sunny area of the lawn—it was a no-brainer what should be planted there. The nasturtiums that year outdid memory and we often took our coffee outdoors just to be cheered by their brilliant show. Then, early one morning, I looked out, I blinked and looked again. There was nothing there—except a fat groundhog, stuffing the last plants into his mouth. I’ve never planted nasturtiums again. And I still find it hard to really warm up to the groundhogs that still appear from time to time to feed on the big patch of clover growing in our front yard.

In spite of that sad story, I’ll likely still end the day by watching Bill Murray’s 1993 bizarre movie ‘Groundhog Day’. Wonder what March will bring?


News and Events January 2021

Ring in the New Year. The world has been impatiently waiting for 2020 to end. The rapid development of vaccines gives promise of a safer year ahead—after most of us get vaccinated. It’s likely to be a few months yet before we can resume some of our heritage projects that depend on face-to-face contact. Or we can change our strategies.

Our small group life-story sessions are on hold right now, but what about all those long conversations most of us are having these days with isolated family members and friends. You’ve probably talked about some of the Christmas traditions they’ve had to forego or modify this year.

Did you ask how long has this been part of their family traditions? Do any of them date back to the ‘old country’ before the family came to Canada? What was their childhood Christmas like? These memories no doubt helped fill a lot of lonely hours. Be sure to keep notes and share their stories with other family members. If your family is like ours, you’ll likely get the family network sharing stories, checking family trees and digging out old photos.

Christmas village 2020 – restaurant (no lights) in lockdown;
carollers ignoring distance protocols?

“The Past” is relative. Sharing stories across generations also helps put your own life in perspective. A colleague shared the following story: “In a clinical teaching group, we were talking about our outside interests. The students asked me what I liked to do to relax. I told them I like to watch old movies. Their response was that ‘they sure made some good movies in the 70s.’  (Actually I was thinking of the 40s).”

Now and Then. Nothing brings the past to life like a good photograph. One of the most exciting projects we had planned for 2020 was a series of photographs showing local scenes from the early days alongside the same location today. The project is the work of our website manager. It involves taking a current photo from exactly the same location and angle as the original picture. If the match is perfect and the technology is in place, a simple scroll across the photo instantly transforms it to the corresponding view. Prepare to say “Wow!”

Recognize this location?

Click on the image or go to our new "Now and Then" page of our Vintage Photos collection and see what was once there.

We planned on adding these bits of magic to our Vintage Photo collection as well as using them as highlights in the several displays planned for the 2020 celebration of MB150. The pandemic put an end to those displays and to completion of the project. We hope to present one in each of our next few monthly updates. They will be added to our Vintage Photos collection, along with a brief background on any changes over the years.

Natural History revisited. In the meantime, the pandemic has given us more time to focus on other aspects of local heritage such as our natural history. Over the past couple of months, we’ve been looking at our historic relationship with local animals as one of either food or sport. We know that our early settlers relied on hunting as an important part of the family food supply (Recent History, October, 2017). Another local account gives some insight into the importance of wildlife as food during another global crisis, the 1930’s Depression.

This life story describes how, as the depressions settled in, a lot of local families were hard pressed to survive. In those days, families were often large, with maybe ten or more children. There was little outside work to be found other than municipal projects like cutting brush along road-ways. Men who were lucky enough to get these jobs were paid about 50 cents a day.

The storyteller notes that, as newlyweds, she and her husband were just starting their family and they also had a large garden. So she always made sure she had a big pot of thick soup on the back of the cook stove each afternoon. She said “The men, when they were walking home from brush-cutting, always made a point of stopping in ‘just to see how our family was doing.’ And we always said ‘We’re just sitting down for some soup. Will you join us?’ So it was never taken as charity, just being neighbourly. But that was maybe the only hot meal some of them got for the day. Anything local families could trap or snare went into providing a bit of protein for the family. By the end of the Depression years, there wasn’t wildlife of any sort—including birds, rabbits, even squirrels—to be found in this area. It took years for wildlife to recover."


Seasonal change. Besides providing food or sport, wildlife and nature in general have always served as indicators of the changing seasons. The Dufferin Leader (1907-10-10) alerted its readers to the onset of winter:

It does not take the shortening of the days nor the lowering of the thermometer to warn us that winter is near; all nature, birds, animals, trees and flowers alike tell us the season is changing; and bid us, with them, make preparations for the reign of the Frost King.

These changes are so much a part of our lives that we pretty much take them for granted. It’s over a month since most of our plants vanished under the first snowfall and our migratory birds headed south. Hummingbirds were amongst the first to go, finishing their final frenzied feed before vanishing overnight for warmer climates. Robins were close behind, their cheery chirp replaced by the harsh voice of blue-jays and other winter residents.

By now, all have left except that other sad group of annual migrants, our ‘Snowbird’ retirees, whose migration to escape northern winters has been halted at the border this year by COVID-19 restrictions. This year they’re an extra grumpy lot, given the well-publicized holiday travel of several politicians.

Meanwhile, most of our animal population stick around for the winter, hibernating or adapting to the change in environment. Among the most noticeable seasonal changes we’ve been observing over the past couple of months are the highly visible changes in the coat of white-tail deer. Note the sleek, reddish-brown summer coat of the deer in the first photo. The fawn in front still has its camouflaging spots that help it blend in with foliage.


White-tailed deer in summer coat with spotted fawn

The young buck in the second photo is losing his winter coat and growing new antlers. The ‘velvet’ covering on the antlers nourishes growth of underyling bone, supplying blood, oxygen and nutrients for rapid growth. As autumn approaches, the velvet dies and sloughs off. The buck helps this process by rubbing against trees and other surfaces. The bone then hardens and it also dies. The antlers drop off during the winter months, ready for regrowth the following year.

     
Young buck in velvet, losing winter coat    Warm winter coats that blend in with barren trees

Some local animals such as squirrels and groundhogs, hibernate for the winter. Others, notably rabbits and weasels trade in their dull brown coats for white winter camouflage. These are just a few of the fascinating signs of changing seasons that are all around us, adding another rich dimension to the study of our natural history.