In the Black family photo collection at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, there is one of some of the family members gathered around a Ford Model T car, sitting on the running board or on the grass, relaxing and chatting.
The week’s work is all done as most of the people in the photo are well dressed, however, one man is in overalls which provides us with a clue. Sundays were strictly observed at the time, with work of any sort frowned upon so the man dressed in work overalls indicates this photo was not taken on a Sunday. Perhaps the photo was taken on a late Saturday afternoon and some of the people are getting ready to drive into the town of Douglas to take in the Saturday night events there?
Visiting with other farm families, shop for supplies at the general store, check in at the CPR station for the news. If they were lucky, perhaps an event of some sort was being held at the town hall.
The Black family operated farms near Brandon and Douglas and the photos hold no clue as to which farm the photos were taken on. So they could also be heading into Brandon to sample the delights this Prairie metropolis held. And who knows what could happen there!
Stroll down Rosser Avenue window shopping, visit with people they knew, sample some of the delicacies the Mutter Brothers Store held, maybe even go to a movie, perhaps the new Charlie Chaplin feature. They could even shoot the budget and purchase ice creams or popcorn. If their budget was zero they could just loiter around the fire hall on Princess, in hopes that a call would result in the firemen springing into action cranking up their new firetruck, or go down to the CPR station on Pacific Ave. to watch for one of the CPR’s crack passenger trains, the “Flyers,” coming into the station to see who was boarding or getting off.
A roundhouse crew came up to the station to service the passenger locomotive which always provided interest as the crew “oiled” round the locomotive, cleaned the boiler ash pan and crawled over the locomotive tinkering with various bits. The tender was filled with water and, if the train was headed west, a labourer shovelled coal forward in the tender so the fireman had coal close to hand for the run to Elkhorn, where there were coaling towers right on the main line. Lots of activity in the few minutes the passenger train was stopped at the station!
They could also do the same with the CNR but somehow that lacked the same drama as the CNR passenger trains had to back down the spur off the main line into the station behind the Prince Edward hotel. The CNR seemed more leisurely as a result. But then they could look through the lobby of the “Eddie,” Brandon’s leading hotel at the time, to see who was there that they knew. Perhaps even tell the younger members of the group of how the Eddie’s original order of furniture went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with the Titanic and so a second order was necessary.
But wherever they were headed, the photo tells a story of a late-summer afternoon in 1920. The week’s work is all done with some of the family taking a rare opportunity to just do nothing for a few minutes except visit. A time before radio, TV, even hydro, a time where most work was manual, a time where there were few conveniences, a time where pleasures were few and simple, a time where frugality was practised out of necessity, a time where a few minutes spent visiting was a luxury to be savoured.
The Black family no longer farm in the Brandon area and for the people in this photo their workweek is long over, as are their lives. Their descendants have moved on from farming to other occupations. New people came to these farms to work, struggle and make a life. But once the Black family were here.
More than this, the Blacks and other families left the province and Canada a legacy in the form of their hopes of a better future and what they built for this future, not only the farms but the infrastructure and institutions such as the municipal governments, village halls, co-ops and more.
Museums like the Manitoba Agricultural Museum tell a story with photos like this and all the artifacts that they contain. This story is the story of the Province of Manitoba, the Canadian Prairies and of Canada, how the pioneer era shaped the Prairies and Canada and how this influence still resonates to this day.
So come on out to the museum this year to help the museum celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this year. As part of this celebration, the Manitoba Agricultural Museum has identified the top 150 artifacts in the collection. You can find this list in the museum website. Visit the museum to examine these artifacts and others in the collection and then give us your opinion as to the top 150 artifacts.