Posted by: Silver | September 4, 2011

Brandon to Portage la Prairie

Brandon to Austin:
Distance: 87 km
Ascent: 248 m
Cycling time: 5 hours, 11 minutes

Austin to Portage la Prairie:
Distance: 51 km
Ascent: 68 m
Cycling time: 3 hours

“Of course, I don’t suppose that’s very old by your standards…”
Western Canadians have sometimes seemed a little embarrassed when pointing out their ‘heritage’ buildings to a Brit, but just because the ‘white’ history of this side of the country only stretches back a little more than a century, it doesn’t mean it’s not interesting, and as chance would have it, both of my last two stops provided me with the opportunity to learn a little more about it.

The tiny community of Austin is home to the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, and since the person I’d been in contact with to arrange a billet in the town just happened to be the museum’s president, I was privileged to receive an after-hours personal guided tour of the whole facility. The insights the museum offered into life for the early settlers would have been fascinating enough on their own, but to have them elaborated on by someone so knowledgeable, enthusiastic and rooted in the local land (his family still farms the land his ancestors homesteaded*) was a real treat. Seeing the resident ghost as well would have truly rounded off the visit in style, but sadly, my eyesight doesn’t seem to be good enough for that…

Portage (‘portidge’: once again, the name is anglicized and usually shortened) also has a ‘pioneer’ museum, consisting of a number of old buildings that have been moved to the site and adorned with a wide variety of period artefacts. This was another very entertaining visit, but for slightly different reasons: the lack of interpretive labelling became something of a running joke by the end, and led to increasingly ‘creative’ personal interpretations of what we were seeing… (Given the shoestring budget that most of these museums run on though, I’m really just very grateful that there were any labels at all!)

Of course, I’ve still been working hard for SOS Children’s Villages as well, and indeed set what I think is a new personal record of three newspaper interviews in the same day!

* For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘homesteading’ is what you do over here when you take a piece of virgin land and turn it into a home / farm.

Especially for my step-dad: a picture of the only home-grown Canadian steam engine in the Agriculture Museum (all the others had been built in the States)

And for my Mum: the inside of the 1894 Anglican church. Apparently, they didn't start making coloured glass in Canada until the 1950s, so these windows would have come all the way from England

You really can buy anything by mail order over here: this house would have arrived - piece by ready-cut piece - in horse-drawn wagons

The pioneer settlers certainly had to adapt pretty quickly to the Canadian weather: this baby sled was in the museum in Portage

Lack of labelling was one theme, so here's a continuation of another: ice cream! I was very happy to see that life for the new Canadians wasn't entirely devoid of creature comforts

OK, so my itinerary wasn't entirely intellectual and life-improving... This was glow-in-the-dark mini golf: very silly but lots of fun!

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