These four paintings were part of the recent Robert Houle exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Houle is a respected artist with an international reputation who comes from Manitoba’s Sandy Bay First Nation.
Houle says his four paintings depict a spiritual place, the Narrows of Lake Manitoba where the water beating against the limestone cliffs and pounding on the pebbled shore creates the sound of Saulteaux ancestors’ voices, believed to be the voice of Manitou.
“To the Saulteaux,” Houle says, “the Narrows are known as Manito-waban, meaning the ‘divine straits’ or ‘the place where god lives.'”
On the official government site for Manitoba, it says that newcomers to the province were told by the Indigenous people on the prairies that at the Lake Manitoba Narrows the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks of an offshore island was the voice of Manitou or the Great Spirit.
A man named Thomas Spence used the word first in an official way. He was the leader of a settlement near Portage la Prairie and they decided in 1868 to call their community and the district around it The Republic of Manitobah.
ThomasSpence was part of Louis Riel’s provisional government whose delegates went to Ottawa to negotiate the terms for the establishment of a new province they initially wanted to call Assiniboia.
Louis Riel didn’t think Assiniboia was the best choice however and in a letter of instructions to one of the Ottawa delegates suggested either North-West or Manitoba be the name chosen.
When Sir John A Macdonald the prime minister announced the name of the new province as Manitoba in 1870 he said it was chosen for its pleasant sound and importance to the original inhabitants of Manitoba.
In May we celebrate the official founding of Manitoba and so it’s a good month to remember that the name of our province has strong roots in its Indigenous and Metis heritage.
I watched the video recording of the budget presentations made to the Winnipeg City Council by concerned citizens in March.
Two different presenters (at 1:27 and 3:22) spoke regarding the inclusion of certain books on the shelves of the city’s public libraries. Both presenters claimed there were books in the public libraries in Winnipeg that could be labelled pornographic and that violated the criminal code of Canada.
One presenter suggested the city freeze funding to the libraries till these books were removed or the library entered into meaningful dialogue with those who wanted them removed.
At one point when a presenter was talking about a book with LGBTQ content councillor Sherri Rollins who sits on the Winnipeg Library Board warned that the presenter’s references, in her opinion, were coming dangerously close to hate speech.
The city councils in Winkler and Altona have had a similar request with regard to the books in the South Central Regional Library and just a few days agothe Brandon School Board heard a presentation by parents wanting certain books removed from school libraries in their city.
In my opinion, banning books is always a bad idea. Of course, parents should be able to decide what their children read but they should not be allowed to decide what other people’s children read.
What will be left on library shelves if every special interest group is allowed to have a say in what kind of books should or should not be in libraries?
People who serve as head librarians are highly trained individuals most with degrees in library science. They are hired to do a job and we need to let them do it. Part of that job is selecting the books that will be in the library.
I have served on many different library boards and committees in the past and know all libraries have selection policies in place to provide a guide for determining what kinds of books go into their library collections. These selection policies are created in a reasoned way with input from stakeholders.
Here in Manitoba,we need to be very cautious and thoughtful about how we handle requests for banning books lest we go inthe direction of our American neighbours.
Requests for book banns and restrictions reached a record high in 2022 in the United States and what is even more scary is the American Library Association is getting reports of librarians receiving threats to their personal safety and being threatened with legal actions by those who don’t agree with their book selections.
Judy Blume a children’s author whose books were often banned in the 1960s has become a spokeswoman for the current effort in the United States to stop book banning.
She says…….”It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”
Banning books is a political act. It is harmful to authors, readers and the intellectual integrity and freedom of society as a whole.
I hope we are able to put a stop to any attempt to have it happen here in Manitoba.
It’s become a kind of tradition for us to head out to our friend Bill and Marie’s cottage in Woodridge, Manitoba to look for crocuses every spring.
Usually it’s pretty easy to find the crocuses but this year we had to go a little further afield and keep our eyes glued to the roadside to see any.
I spotted a crocus first but once we got out of the car to inspect the one I’d spied we discovered that in fact there were budding crocuses all around hidden in the dry grasses.
The crocuses were in different stages of unfurling.
As I mentioned we had to go a little further afield this year to find the crocuses so in our search we visited the community park in Carrick Manitoba a neat little place full of history.
A historical marker in the park explained its significance as a place where trains stopped to pick up coal and water on the Winnipeg to Sprague railroad line built by the Manitoba Southeastern Railroad Company in 1898.
There is a model train on the site.
Dave and Marie gamely clambered up inside for this photo.
The Spurgrave School was in the park. Although it is now covered with siding beneath that siding are the rough hewn logs it was built with in 1909. It is one of the only log schoolhouses remaining in Manitoba.
Note the little building on the left which was the teacherage- a home for the teacher of the school. The school is named for man named Spurgrave, a railway worker who died and whose grave is located at the site.
There was an old fashioned water pump near the school. Dave tried it out and it worked! He had a refreshing drink!
For Dave and Marie who are avid birdwatchers the highlight of our stop at the the park in Carrick was spotting this bird, one neither of them had ever seen before. After we were back at Bill and Marie’s cabin and bird books had been consulted they determined it was a yellow-rumped warbler.
There weren’t as many crocuses out yet this year as there have been on our past crocus escapades but as always crocus hunting was plenty of fun and an interesting adventure.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am vehemently against any attempt to limit a woman’s control over her own body. Every woman should have free and easy access to an abortion if she feels she needs to have one. It is totally her own decision!
However, I would be very happy to see abortion rates in our province continue to fall as they have been for many years now. Since 2008 the number of abortions performed in clinics and hospitalsin Manitoba has almost been cut in half.
I was SO excited on Sunday when the provincial NDP promised that if they are elected in the fall they will provide free birth control to everyone in the province. More good news for both those in the pro-life and pro-choice camps who want to see a continued reduction in the number of abortions.
Research has shown that providing free and easy access to birth control can reduce abortion rates. A study was done in an area of Louisiana where free birth control was made available to residents. It reduced the abortion rate by 62%.
For six years beginning in 2009, Colorado provided teens and low-income women with free IUDs and implants. In four years the abortion rate had dropped by 40%.
The price tag of $11 million for the proposed program in Manitoba sounds expensive but a March 2022 article in the Winnipeg Free Press outlined the high costs to society of unwanted pregnancies. It cites an American study that showed for every dollar invested in providing free contraception a saving of $7 in future healthcare costs was realized.
NDP parties in both British Columbia and Alberta have made similar commitments to the one the Manitoba NDP just announced. Free birth control is something the Canadian Pediatric Society, The Canadian Medical Association and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada have been recommending since 2019.
There is a lot of dire news about abortion coming out of the United States where legislators are ignoring all the research and deciding that the most effective way to lower abortion rates is by making women who get them and doctors who provide them, criminals. It is good to see some Canadian provinces taking a much more progressive and positive approach.
Of course, we can’t be assured that free birth control for all Manitobans will become a reality until we know whether the NDP party will form the government after the fall election.
But for all those who want to see the abortion rates continue to decline in our province, the NDP plan for free contraception is one very good reason to vote for them.
I wasn’t surprised when the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba called a news conference recently to expose the provincial government’s ineptitude in distributing the new federal subsidy for daycare.
I wasn’t surprised to learn Manitoba wasn’t getting the federal dollars for daycare into parents’ hands because I have two granddaughters in daycare, one in Saskatchewan and one in Manitoba. My children in Saskatchewan noticed a substantial drop in their daughter’s daycare fees, as did all Saskatchewan parents, shortly after their province signed a childcare agreement with Ottawa, but….. my children in Manitoba have received no price reduction at all in the fees for their daughter’s care.
In September I was visiting my niece in Ontario who owns a private daycare facility. She spoke positively about how the federal subsidy was lowering rates for all her clients.
My anecdotal family evidence had me wondering why Manitoba daycare fees hadn’t been reduced like those in other provinces. Now I know.
Apparently, the Manitoba government wanted to be sure the federal money went to the neediest families. That’s admirable. But they set the bar for what was needy at a level that meant few families could qualify.
Then they failed to advertise properly, so most parents weren’t even aware they qualified, and finally, they made the red tape and paperwork for both parents and daycares so onerous that applying for the subsidy was a challenge.
The province also didn’t use the money to add more childcare workers, increase their wages, or improve their working conditions and benefits. My member of Parliament Leah Gazan raised that concern in the House of Commons just last week.
So…. most of the federal money Manitoba received to lower daycare fees and improve the quality of child care is sitting in the bank untouched, while in places like the Yukon they have already fully implemented a maximum $10 daily fee for all families, have created 236 new childcare spaces with their federal funding and have increased the wages of fully qualified childcare workers to $30.00 an hour.
Some people have speculated Manitoba’s Conservative party didn’t want to make the Liberal leaders in Ottawa look good so they deliberately took steps to insure the daycare program the Trudeau government funded wasn’t successful.
I don’t buy that, because as my family’s experience proves, Conservative governments in Saskatchewan and Ontario have successfully lowered all daycare fees. In fact, it would probably be wise for the Stephenson government to consult with their politically aligned counterparts in other provinces, for guidance on how to make better use of the federal daycare subsidy.
The news is filled with stories about businesses and medical facilities and hundreds of Manitoba employers who are having trouble finding workers for vacant positions.
Many parents were forced to quit their jobs during the pandemic to care for their children. If we want to encourage them to return to work, we have to insure daycare in our province is affordable and high quality. Doing so makes economic sense.
I’d like to believe the daycare fee subsidy was ineffectively implemented in Manitoba due to a lack of planning and organizationwhich can happen when you are trying to figure out how to administer a new program.
I’d prefer to discount the nefarious political motivations some social media sites have suggested for the botched rollout.
However, now that the shortcomings of the Manitoba plan have been clearly exposed and other provinces and territories are providing models for more efficient and successful ways of lowering daycare fees and improving services for all families, we should expect our province to move quickly to make the necessary changes required.
Hopefully, soon the parents of my Manitoba granddaughter will see the same reduction in daycare fees the parents of her cousin in Saskatchewan are already enjoying.
In a new exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery called Headlines: The Art of the News there is a photographic portrait of Ella Cora Hind. Later she dropped the Ella from her name and came to be known as Cora Hind.
When I toured the Headlines exhibit with curator Riva Symko she told us Cora had been an agricultural reporter known for her uncanny way of correctly predicting wheat prices.
Cora often dressed in men’s pants, something quite shocking for a woman at the time, and tramped through Manitoba grain fields to collect information to write her agricultural stories for the paper.
Cora was born in 1861 in Ontario. Both her parents had died by the time she was five and so she and her two brothers went to live with their grandfather who taught Cora all about farming. Cora wanted to become a teacher but she failed the algebra part of her qualification exam. So together with her Aunt Alice, she decided to move to Winnipeg in 1882where they’d heard there might be employment opportunities.
Cora had always dreamed of becoming a journalist so when she arrived in Winnipeg she went to see William Luxton the editor of the Manitoba Free Press. He was a friend of one of Cora’s uncles and so welcomed her warmly to his office, but was shocked when she said she wanted to write for the paper. Luxton told Cora women didn’t write for newspapers. Being a reporter was rough work often involving interviewing less than-savoury people. It wasn’t for a woman.
Cora wasn’t deterred. She heard about a new office machine called a typewriter. She rented one, learned to type and got herself a job working for the lawyer Hugh John McDonald. But she was still interested in farming and grain growing and in 1898 started making crop predictions. Farmers came to trust her expertise and knowledge and she would submit articles about farming to the newspaper under the name E. Hind.
In 1901 the brand new editor of the Winnipeg Free Press John Dafoe, being a little more forward-thinking than Mr Luxton, hired her as an agricultural reporter.
Cora would go on to earn an international reputation as an agricultural journalist and her predictions about harvest yields soon were the accepted source for establishing the price of Canadian wheat. She became known as kind of an ‘oracle of wheat’ for her accurate crop predictions.
She was also famous for the way she strode through grain fields in riding breeches, high leather boots and a Stetson hat. She went across Canada inspecting farms. In 1924 she travelled more than 10,000 kilometres checking out crops.
Cora founded the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Women’s Press Club and helped form the Political Equality League with other Winnipeg suffragettes campaigning for women to get the right to vote in Manitoba which they did in 1916.
Cora Hind was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Manitoba in 1935.
When Cora died in 1942 they halted trading at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange for two minutes in her memory.
I was doing some research for a writing project and wanted to know what the most common last names in the province of Manitoba were. I found this site called Forebearers: Names and Genealogy Resources and it had a page for most common surnames in Manitoba.
I couldn’t believe it! At least 10 of the top 20 most common surnames in Manitoba were Mennonite names like Penner and Klassen and Reimer. Four other names that have English as well as Dutch Mennonite roots like my own maiden name Peters and names like Martin and Miller and Brown which are often considered Mennonite names, were also in the top twenty.
From what I could find online there are about 80 or so Mennonite churches in the province but of course not all attendees would have names traditionally considered Mennonite and many people with Mennonite names might not attend church at all.
Apparently in 1998 there were 60,000 Mennonites in the province but I couldn’t find any statistics for 2022. I did read that Winnipeg is the city in Canada with the most Mennonites.
I knew Mennonites had a big presence here in Manitoba but I was still very surprised to discover that the top twenty list of most common surnames in our province is dominated by traditional Mennonite names.
Last week my friend and I went to visit The Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery on the Canadian Mennonite University Campus to see the exhibit In the World, But Not Of It. In a series of absolutely stunning photographs Tim Smith reveals the intimacies and intricacies of life on Hutterite colonies. Smith has spent thirteen years building relationships with Hutterite families and photographing them at many different moments on their life’s journey.
Hutterite colonies are patriarchal and so what struck me about the collection on view at the gallery is the way Smith has captured Hutterite women. He presents them as daring, capable, independent, happy and quirky.
This is just a tiny sample of the wonderful photos you can see in the exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery. The exhibit will be there till November 12.
You can also view Tim Smith’s stunning photography on his website.
Note:I took the photos of Tim Smith’s photos used in this blog when I visited the gallery.
Last week I gave a tour of the Winnipeg Art Gallery to about thirty adults from many different countries who were students at a private college offering intensive English courses here in Winnipeg.
The thing I think the international group found most fascinating about the tour were the fossils I showed them in the Tyndall Stone which composes the floor and walls of many parts of the gallery.It is unique to Manitoba.
Tyndall Stoneis a kind of dolomitic limestone quarried near Garson, Manitoba by Gillis Quarries which has been owned and operated by four generations of the same family since 1910. It is cream-coloured limestone and is mottled with darker dolomite which gives the rock a tapestry effect.
One of the reasons Tyndall stone is so appealing aesthetically is because it contains numerous fossils.
Over 400 million years ago southern Manitoba was covered with a shallow sea called Lake Aggasiz and its muddy sea floor was home to many different kinds of creatures who became a part of that floor when they died.
As limestone was formed underwater by the action of organic and chemical agents the remains of corals, snails, cephalopods, trilobites, and brachiopods became part of the sedimentary layers.
Due to the receding of Lake Agassiz and glacier movement, the limestone deposits under the lake were raised to dry land creating a limestone belt about 100 miles wide that extends diagonally across Manitoba.
Tyndall Stone has been used in many different buildings of note in Winnipeg including the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
I suspect I could find literally hundreds of fossils in the art gallery’s walls and steps and floors if I ever took the time to count them.
Not long ago I did some research and a blog post about the Red River cart that stands at the entrance to Assiniboine Park here in Winnipeg. So I was delighted to find another Red River Cart in the little Manitoba community of Oak Lake last week. The cart is being pulled by Isaac the Ox.
The Red River Cart was an invention of the Manitoba Metis and played a key role in the settlement of Manitoba. Indeed Metis settlers were the first to buildhomes in the Oak Lake region in the 1870s. The southern branch of the Fort Ellice Trail which ran through the area had huge bur oak trees which were used to repair the Red River carts before they headed off full of furs to trade further west.
I discovered that Isaac the Ox is the official mascot of the town of Oak Lake. At one time there was a real Isaac the Ox which was purchased from the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach. He lived in a pasture in Oak Lake and was taken to fairs and parades and other community events to give ox-cart rides. Eventually, he passed away and a decision was made to not replace himand just have a statue of Isaac in town.
An antique store just across the street from the Red River cart features a mural that depicts Oak Lake decades later when trains and cars had replaced Red River carts.
The town has also preserved this bell tower which was installed in 1913. When a fire started the bell rang and everyone in town ran to get buckets and hoses to help put out the blaze. The bell also rang at 9 o’clock each night to announce a curfew for all children under the age of 16.
We were in Oak Lake for a family holiday but on a trip into town to replenish a few groceries it was interesting to discover some bits of local historyand to meet Isaac the Ox.