Recently, my husband and I visited Star Mound School in the south-central part of Manitoba, which now operates as a museum. It is located northwest from the village of Snowflake (GPS co-ordinates N49.05975 and W98.72491).
Also called Nebogwawin Butte and Merry Dance Hill, Star Mound is thought to be a glacial moraine from the time of the Ice Age. It rises above the surrounding fields, with scenic views from the top stretching in all directions. It is believed that this mound was once the site of a long-abandoned Aboriginal village, probably used only in summer, as it would not be at all sheltered in winter. The area was no longer inhabited by 1738 when the explorer La Verendrye visited it.
At the top of the mound is a burial site, which is said to be beaver shaped, as shown by excavations undertaken between 1912 and 1915 by archeologist William Baker Nickerson. He uncovered several graves with skeletons, and a variety of artifacts including arrowheads, pottery shards, weapons and stone and bone tools. Today Star Mound is home to an original one-room, wood-frame schoolhouse — Star Mound School, No. 413. The burial mound itself has been so disturbed that no more artifacts remain there.
Star Mound School District was established nearby in June 1885, but the school was actually about two kilometres to the south, not on this hilltop. While in operation, the schoolhouse was moved twice, first in 1901 to a location that was more central for the pupils, and then in 1962 to the nearby village of Snowflake, where it was used for high school students for about four years, after which they were bused to Manitou. At that time a local group — the Star Mound Historical Society — acquired the school and in 1967 had it moved to the top of the mound.
Today the school operates in summer as a municipal heritage museum. It is easily accessed by road (although with steps at the entrance, it is not wheelchair accessible). The school is one of the oldest remaining ones of its type. Inside are single and double wooden desks, each with a prominent inkwell, a pot-bellied stove, a teacher’s desk and a couple of benches. Atop a storage cupboard is a globe, along one side sits an organ, and Aboriginal stone hammers are displayed in a wall case. Various historical pictures line the walls, along with a list of all the previous teachers.
Outside, there is a large winnowing stone once used for threshing grain, and a buffalo rubbing stone. The hill was formerly a well-known place for crocuses, but now the long matted grass makes it hard for them to grow, and also recent tilling near the school has probably disturbed them.
There is no charge to explore the museum. A sign and box indicate that donations are gratefully accepted, as plans are underway to do some repairs and put new siding on the school in the near future. In summer the museum is sometimes visited by bus tours, and the community holds an annual picnic there on July 1. For more information and photos visit: www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/starmound.shtml.
The museum is open to the public from April to October. From the village of Snowflake (which is south of La Riviere), drive two miles west and one mile north. Be sure to sign the book before you leave, as grants are sometimes dependent on the number of visitors.