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Chris Melnick: Reads & Watches

Aug 1, 2022

[Editor's note: Chris Melnick is the Executive Director of Share the Magic Book Program, which is a federally registered charity that distributes books, from books for babies to adults, fiction and non-fiction to underserved communities in Manitoba.  To date, Share the Magic has given away over 630,000 books at an estimated value of over $4.2 million. You can follow Share the Magic on Facebook by searching "Share the Magic Book Program"]


     If July was all about relaxing with good summer reading, August is about getting out to explore Manitoba.  I am so pleased that we are finally acknowledging and celebrating this wonderful place in which we live.  To plan a few day trips, I recommend two home grown books.  Although both are available in book format only, I can see several good movies coming from them.


Abandon Manitoba: From residential schools to bank vaults to grain elevators

Book:  971.27 GOLDSBOROUGH 2016


More Abandoned Manitoba: Rivers, rails and ruins.

Book: 971.27 GOLDSBOROUGH 2018


     Both of these fun and interesting books were written by Gordon Goldsborough of the Manitoba Historical Society and published in province by Great Plains Publications.  They are a compilation of sites that Gordon has personally sought out, hearing about some from local story-telling, others from personal friends who grew-up in the areas of the sites.  All are positively presented through well-researched vignettes, complete with photographs and directions to each location.  They can be as close as Winnipeg’s Masonic Temple, located on the corner of Donald and Ellice or as far away as Churchill to explore the Churchill Naval Building.  Many are just a day trip’s drive.


     One of my favourites, of the over 60 locations explored in both books combined, is the humorously depicted Bowsman Biffy Burn Monument, found in More Abandoned Manitoba, and if you know what ‘biffy’ means, you are a true Manitoban!  The vignette celebrates the December 1966 installation of a modern sewage treatment plant, after which “the residents of Bowsman drove around town, picked up all the outhouses and took them to a central spot”, where they were ceremoniously burned.  A photo displays the biffy burning in action with several hundred residents standing around the sight watching.  A few years later, in 1970, The Bowsman Biffy Burning Monument was officially erected, to remind local residents of the late 1966 events.  It is a cairn-type structure which sports a miniature wooden outhouse on top. 


     The Elva Grain Elevator is another favourite, especially for its explanation of how the iconic, for us prairie folks, grain elevator actually works.


     I was particularly interested in the Negrych Homestead, south of Dauphin, found in More Abandoned Manitoba, as some of my people too, were from Ukraine, they settled farmland in the Interlake.  This homestead, settled more than one hundred years ago by a western Ukrainian family is one of the best kept secrets and best preserved homesteads in the province.  Now designated as a National Historic Site, it is open to the public though the months of July and August.


     The Birtle Indian Residential School, found in Abandon Manitoba is a somber reminder of the criminal treatment of the indigenous people throughout the history of Canada, up to the present day.  A part of our history that we cannot be proud of and that we must acknowledge and take whatever actions we can to hope for a better future for all.


     In an Appendix at the back of each book, you will find the Site Coordinates for every location, making it easier to visit any that you are interested in.  Many of these sites are off the beaten track, so be sure to seek permission, as some are on privately owned land.


     I would like to end this column by thanking Gordon Goldsborough very much for bringing abandoned sites, which may have been lost to the general public, back to life!

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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