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Romantic Canada
Chapter XXV Romance Clings to the Skirts of Winnipeg

AN extended sojourn in Winnipeg is in the nature of a revelation. One goes to Winnipeg expecting and finding it as a city—the Colossus of the Plains—modern, business-like, a pattern-builder in wide streets, with everything else in keeping on a big scale, but just a little crude and bare along certain lines, as every new city, or even house, is bound to be. That is the picture one draws aforetime. But the fact is that a few weeks in Winnipeg reveal it—and the revelation is almost sharp enough to be a shock—as a centre of the Romantic—itself a personality, involving the life of the entire West and especially the Prairie—combining the east and the west, the great north and trailing south, the old and the new, the Indian, the French and the English—the great epic of fur and afterwards that of wheat. No city of the Dominion is more closely of the same Romantic blood as Quebec, than Winnipeg, and strangely enough, one conceives this western city of Canada, from the viewpoint of a sculptor, not as "a strong man" but as a woman, eternally feminine, with trailing garments, with the immediately surrounding country out and beyond as far to the north and west as Canada goes, extending the hands of Romance, to cling fast to her skirts; as the figure of a mother held in leash and hardly able to step for the many loving hands of clinging children.

Romance is a free spirit of the air. One cannot tell where she will alight, or what she sees that makes her choose some one spot and reject others. But when you recall the many characters of history who have written their sign manual across the Winnipeg page, these mellow and tone the sharp edges of big business until you regard it not as the growth of a day, but as the attainment, the reward, for which all the fine personalities stepping up to recognition out of the colourful pageant of the Past gave their best efforts and their lives. These towering buildings, these wide streets, are the fulfillment of the dreams of men who looked forward.

When Romance takes your hand in Winnipeg she leads you first to, and then out on her favorite trails, via the Fort Garry Gate. And there she conjures up vast companies, organizations and individuals, enough to fill a library and to cover every canvas in the largest gallery. Book on book has been written on these

old forts and their occupiers, and still there remains material galore—a store which will never suffer exhaustion. But the fact to be dwelt on in stepping here with Romance, is that they were touchstones drawing together men from enormous distances, obliterating distances and difficulties, creating Cartographers of Canada, soldiers who subdued the part to the whole; that in the gatherings around their hearth-fires, Hudson Bay, the Northwest, the region of the Mackenzie, the Saskatchewan, the names of the Fort-posts of the then almost unknown new North, tripped from men's tongues as if they were out there just a little way beyond the Gate. It was the love of the Romantic, the love of adventure, and the love of action, in the hearts of the listener and the stay-at-home to which the story-teller, arriving from who-knows-where in the wilderness, appealed. It was the human interest that centred around Winnipeg and radiated thence, that, trickling back to the Old Country, determined new spirits to leave behind the old lands and step out boldly into the new country, though it were becurtained of hardship, cold, hunger and promise. One cannot very well hang back when Romance takes one's hand. So you think, when some bright summer morning you motor down to Lower Fort Garry with your clubs, "Here is another old Fort given up to Golf." And at once you recall the morning you tramped the Fort Missisauga links, fanned by the breezes of Lake Ontario. Strange, the eternal kinship of the Romantic in Canada!

It is a far cry from an Old Fort to truck farms. Yet Winnipeg changes from one to the other with the ease of a dancer of the minuet coping with the jazz of the moment. The big thousand acre wheat land represents the loaf, but the vitamine of the vegetable is as necessary as bread to the modern table, keen on the chemistry of foods. The truck farms encompassing Winnipeg and doubly upheld by her home-tables and her pickle factories, stage an army of picturesque foreign-folk—Galicians, Russians, Ruthenians, Mennonites, Dutch—who have the art of truck-farming at their finger tips. This is no mere figure of speech but a simple fact. And this knowledge they have employed to make Winnipeg one of the richest cities in the Dominion in this matter of fresh vegetables.

But the human interest centres in the picture made by these cauliflower, cucumber and rhubarb stretches. Especially since the laborers in these field-gardens are mostly women, one of the farms, if no more, being owned by a woman and personally operated by herself, with the aid of skillful woman employees. These women in the beans make picturesque figures with heads in white kerchiefs, full skirts tucked in gracefully at the waist and the big bushel basket in hand. Chatting with a motherly soul, broad and short with blue eyes it is revealed that she is a Mennonite, straight from Holland. Talking with a tall, thin young woman she tells that she came from the borderland of Poland and Russia, and that she speaks seven languages, but that she has always worked on the farm. And she touches the beans with a sort of stroking tenderness, as if she loved all things that grew.

In the onion field seven or more women working together make the weeds fly. They, too, cling to the kerchief of the Old World rather than to the hat of the New, as a protection against sun and the weather in the fields.

Here are women with bundles of rhubarb in their arms, loaded up to and steadied by their chins. These are assisted in the bundling by a homemade wooden contrivance for holding the refractory stalks together, while the strong fingers of the women gather and jam into a slipless knot the coarse cord which enables the bundle of pie-plant to come invitingly to the Winnipeg market. And here are cabbages fit for kings, whose heads, though they look solid and heavy enough, are evidently touched with the wand of wanderlust, since the farm-superintendent explains while we stand looking at them, lost in amazement, that these same cabbages charter whole cars to themselves and go off some fine morning east and west and even over the border to points South, he knows not where.

And there, in the cucumber fields, is Old Kitty wearing her bag apron, her old face cobwebbed with the fine lines etched by a long life spent beneath the Manitoba sun that ripens the wheat. Kitty belongs indeed to old times. She must have been among the first of the women emigrants to these parts. She speaks little English. Schools were not for her. In her youth it was not "Kitty against a Textbook", but "Kitty against the Wilderness", and the prize was Existence. And Kitty won; so that her aged dumbness before you, is the most eloquent oratory. And her smile is like a benediction.

While you watch Kitty with her stick carefully turning aside the leaves to discover thereunder the cool-green cucumbers, and wait for the moment when she straightens her back to rest and give you that whimsical, sweet smile that bids you stay though no word is exchanged, the man who partly owns this farm, with his sister, comes up, and as you move away with him to watch the carts loading ready for the early morning start to market, you speak of Kitty and he amazes you with the intelligence that he and his sister called her "Mother".

"Our own mother died when we were children and perhaps we would have died too if it had not been for that old woman. Those were hard times, and life was difficult enough for grown-ups on the Prairie in those days, let alone children. But she pulled us through. And she still orders me around and tells me what to do," he added, laughingly.

So that was old Kitty's "bit"—her contribution to the life-line of Prairie settlement! Yet if Kitty had to come over now she might be debarred on the score of illiteracy.

At Selkirk, before you have forgotten the towering offices and the bustle of Winnipeg not an hour behind you by trolley, there is the same little scow ferry on a wire, by which to cross the Red River, as that by which you crossed the Saint Francis at Pierreville. It would seem, too, as if this calm water and its wet reflections of grass and trees, were a re-cast of the pastoral streams meandering to the Saint Lawrence. And, having hailed the ferry, turning toward the city again, following the road of the East bank, one comes upon Gonor, a village that follows the highway for several miles. This village, which might have been lifted up root and branch from somewhere in the Carpathians and set down here in the heart of the Canadian West is made up of row on row of little foreign houses with quaint, whitewashed sides and the steep hand-split shingle roofs, set about by little farm-buildings, with overhanging Swiss log-roofs and everywhere, farmyard chickens, ducks and tiny porkers! And here and there down the long street a little church peeps out, each with its own distinctive architecture, the straight, almost Puritanical lines of the Swedish, the breath of Asia in the minaret of the Russian, the voice of poverty and hard struggle in the low unpainted little Bukowinian.

Back from this village and the River stretches mile after mile of sparse settlement and pioneer farm, some well on the road to prosperity and others still rough-cast; and here and there the neat little cottages of the Manitoba Department of Education—the little cottages that are a part of the new scheme for having the teacher reside among the people, maintaining in these home-like, modern houses an example of the kind of comfort to which the foreigner on the land can aspire. The school is a centre for drawing the parents as well as the children together. It is a very practical idea, but compared with notions only lately prevalent, there is certainly a touch of Romance in the determination of Manitoba to bring the school to the child rather than the child to the school.

Here on these roads and others in the vicinity of Winnipeg, and in fact everywhere throughout this Province, on the small farms just hacking their way out of the bush with rows of wheat— rows every year planting their feet to a longer stride—the Scare-crow is a character not to be despised. In fact, he plays the important role of a Knight of the Fields, defending the defenceless wheat from the piratical incursions of crows and small birds. The Scarecrow is a substitute for a man. And wherever one defying the battle and the breeze is spied, it unfolds the story of some man who has planted his foot on a portion of land and is tenaciously hanging on by the aid of any invention or device which he can bring to his assistance.

It must feel less lonesome for the man, toiling alone in these fields out of sight of any neighbour, and sometimes of his own little cottage, to look up and see that "the other fellow" is still on the job and means to stick it. O, there is no doubt about it that even the Scarecrow has its psychology! Why else has it stood the test of Time, come up simultaneously from the fields of all lands, crossed the ocean and surmounted every difficulty in its path across the continent, arriving here to hold its own as "Knight of these Western Plains"? Oh no, you cannot take the scarecrow from these old-timers—these old flotsam and jetsam farms and gardens, East and West, without a distinct loss in Romance to all Canada. For this old man of the fields speaks a universal language which appeals to all hearts, young and old. In fact, he seems to be the very fountainhead of youth. For whenever one happens upon him unexpectedly, instantly, swift as light, there is an outburst of laughter—"The Scarecrow! The Scarecrow!"

In the early days of the Northwest, the days when the Garrys and 6ister forts were in their heyday, before the city was; in the days when dog teams and sleds furrowed their paths along the big trails north and south, when the patient ox-teams motored the would-be settlers from Auld Scotia and elsewhere, from Winnipeg to some land-grant along the Buffalo Trail; in the days when the farmer hauled his wheat in the creaking ox-cart back to Winnipeg to be ground into flour by the one gristmill that then served this now elevator-dotted land; in other words, in the days when red men and furs held revelry, and agriculture was yet hidden in the womb of Time, the wander-loving French-Canadian came here in the character of settler, trapper, canoeist, fur-dealer, boatman and coureur de bois out of Old Quebec, much as he is now pushing out to settle his own Provincial north.

In such suburban towns as Saint Boniface and Saint Norbert, and in their citizens, present-day Winnipeg traces her French strain back to Quebec and through Quebec to Normandy and Brittany, whence came many of the customs and touches met with here, clinging so curiously to the skirts of the West.

These little French "Bluffs" loom on the landscape not only in the vicinity of Winnipeg, but are happened upon here and there throughout all the Province, especially in the North.

At Saint Norbert one steps down out of the car to be met by a colourful wayside sign of the Jefferson Highway, "From New Orleans to Winnipeg", with '"Palm to Pine" illustrations in colour. The Romance covered by this sign, cosmopolitan as any on the continent, lies in the complete metamorphosis suffered by Winnipeg and the middle west for which it stands, in the matter of distance. Distance with a big "D" has been wiped out. You are as near to the world, in touch with it as intimately in Winnipeg as anywhere else in Canada or over the American border.

This elimination of distance, owes its being to distance-created needs. In this, Winnipeg was a pathfinder, an urge. The things which she stood for in the North led Prince Rupert and navigation to conquer Hudson Bay. Raw trails were broken and river-boats built to reach her fur-preserves and fur-market. She shod the ox and designed the big wheels of the prairie-cart to recover the waste lands of the Prairie from the heel of the Buffalo. The Prairie and the Pacific called for the railroad that primarily grouped Canada into one whole, with a united morale. It was the remoteness, once for all definitely broken by the railroad, which hatched the modern passion for "close connections". The voice of the West is passionate in its demand for great highways like this, bringing within hail the sunny seaports of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico on the one hand, and the equally individual climate-and- trade-romanticism of the New North, practical Hudson Bay ports with navigation and ships coming and going, piloted hither by the wraiths of the Elizabethan Galleons, pioneers in sea-adventure, on the other. Distance, for which this section of Canada once stood, sponsored the automobile, the airship, the telephone, the radio—the things that are drawing individuals and families together, co-relating separate businesses into one great co-ordinated momentum, called Trade, making every city suburban to all the others, and uniting, supporting and developing the National consciousness. Transportation, good roads! They introduce the man in Vancouver to his brother in Winnipeg and Halifax. Canada is a unit. There is psychology and powerful suggestion in linking up the fronded palm, fanning beside the Gulf, with the sturdy evergreen of the North.

At Saint Norbert there are touches of Quebec, in a little altar-chapel in the woods, to which small pilgrimages are made. There is the Church and Convent and a most picturesque group of Holy figures about Le Crucific in the cemetery.

The French language commingles everywhere with the English. In the little shops here, as well as in the big shops of Winnipeg, two delicacies are offered for sale—Frontage de Tntppe and Miel de Trappe—Trappist Cheese and Trappist Honey. And here, within a stone's throw of Saint Norbert, is situated the Trappist Monastery whence these products hail. This Trappist Monastery is the only door we have ever found closed to us in Canada! But that makes it the more romantic. Nevertheless, we have ridden in their empty wheat-cart, driven by a Trappist brother in his flowing habit, the reins in one hand and huge rosary with individual beads, comparable in size with small crab-apples, in the other. We passed on this ride other brothers swinging down the beautiful tree-line approach to the Monastery, driving spans of horses with full cartloads of "No. 1 Northern", and saying their Rosaries at the same time—a rare subject even in Canada's immense gallery. Surely, Prairie wheat rides to the elevator in a variety of carts, and many languages urge the horses to their task. A little office at the gate was as far as our driver dared take us. The Brother in the office takes orders for the cheese and honey, and entertains us with a book of photographs showing the chief Trappist Monasteries of the world. We returned by a little foot-bridge over a stream, and by a woodland path edged with blueberry-bushes and other attractive undergrowth of the cool woods.

Although the immediate vicinity of Winnipeg is able to show such a profusion and variety of colour, the entire Province of Manitoba, together with Saskatchewan and Alberta, produces a riotous line of romance equal to these nearer roads or any of the older Canadian Provincial gardens. The little Russian boy standing by a window blowing soap bubbles, through a wheat-straw, unconsciously presents a symbolic picture of the romantic dream both projected and fulfilled by the Prairie. To all those with vision, its Voice called. It called above all to the home-hungry children of the Old World to come and settle here. Called them to visualize their dreams, and, is still calling. But its call reached only those with initiative, for it offered on the surface only tasks and difficulties—put the wheat-straw in their fingers and said "Build your own dream-castle. Here is land without boundary. But the vision, the dream,—is yours."

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