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Take A Day Trip In Southern Manitoba – for Aug. 12, 2010

If your holiday time is short, why not consider some rural day trips around our province? Recently we travelled around south-central Manitoba and found a day or two’s worth of interesting sights and activities in one small area.

We began by driving south on No. 244 from Rathwell (on Highway 2). The route, past Notre Dame de Lourdes, is a scenic one, rising steadily into the hills, and before long the towering structures of Manitoba’s first wind farm come into view. If you’re from that area, perhaps these towers are old hat, but for those who haven’t seen them, they’re an impressive sight. If a tower were situated in downtown Winnipeg, the top of the blade would reach as high as the 34-storey Richardson Building! Sixty-three massive turbines dot the countryside, and in mid-July many were surrounded by brilliant-yellow canola fields. There were photo opportunities galore!

Reaching Highway 23, we drove west for two miles until the St. Leon turnoff. On the north side of the village is a display where you can stop very near to one of the 80-metre towers and listen to the swoosh of the blades (41 metres in length). Together the 63 turbines produce enough electricity to meet the needs of a community of 35,000. The display includes many details about the surrounding wind farm, such as the fact that maintenance men must climb 320 steps up a ladder on the inside of the hollow towers. In St. Leon itself is an interpretation centre with further displays and a short video about the wind turbines.

From St. Leon we drove two miles west and five south to the Mary Jane Reservoir – good for fishing. Near there we visited the Archibald Museum, well worth a stop for anyone interested in Manitoba’s history. Of prime interest are two houses that were once occupied by Nellie McClung, the famous author and women’s rights activist who lived in this area. First, visitors are guided through a log house that was moved from nearby La Rivire where McClung – then Nellie Mooney – boarded in 1890 during her first teaching position (beginning at the young age of 16). The second house, built in 1896, was moved here from Manitou where it was the home of McClung and her husband, the town’s druggist. It was in this house that she wrote her first two books (of a total of 16). Both these houses are filled with furniture, dishes, clothing etc. from that period. I was particularly intrigued by a waffle iron set directly into the top of the cookstove, and by the hand-painted gramophone which uses cylinders. Privately owned, the museum is open afternoons and evenings May to September, except closed Wednesdays and Thursdays. Guided tours cost $6 and allow at least two hours for. Besides the McClung houses, visitors can examine old machinery and vehicles and tour the La Rivire Railway Station, a caboose, a tin house and the three-storey “Barn” jammed to the rafters with antiques of all sorts.

From the museum, a short drive south and east took us to the Binney Corner Nature Preserve, a 32-acre “oasis on the Prairie.” In the 1880s this was a railroad siding, with Mr. Binney as the first station master. Now the region has three major ecosystems: the original prairie grassland with native wildflowers, the aspen (white poplar) forest, and a beaver pond and marsh. It’s a good spot for a picnic, a chance to stretch your legs on three kilometres of hiking trails and boardwalks, and the opportunity to climb the viewing tower.

Next we drove two miles south and two miles east to Manitou. Here there are several interesting spots to visit: an 1884 log house furnished in historic fashion (which serves as the visitor centre) and the Manitou Opera House – built in 1930 – southern Manitoba’s oldest performing arts theatre, with a bronze bust of Nellie McClung in front of it. While in Manitou, check out the fire hydrants, painted to depict cartoon characters or items from the past.

From there, we drove west on Highway 3 to La Rivire. On the east side of that village is the Oak Valley Outdoor Theatre where the “Passion Play” is performed each summer. There we also discovered hiking trails, including a “Way of the Cross” walk. It meanders up the hill, so you need to be fairly active, but the views of the Pembina Valley are splendid and there’s a meditation pamphlet to read as you follow along. In town, we snapped a photo of the wild turkey statue, but we also caught sight of two live wild turkeys during our hike.

From Manitou you can drive north on 242, a good gravel road that will take you back to Highway 23. Then you can backtrack to your starting point or continue north on 242 to Treherne.

For anyone interested in rural day trips such as this, that take you off the beaten track, I recommend Backroad Mapbook (Southern Manitoba) which contains detailed maps, showing all the mile roads. We find it invaluable on trips through rural Manitoba.

– Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba

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