‘Walking tour’ preserves the Solsgirth of bygone days

As the village’s eldest resident, Garry Workman made himself its biographer

Garry Workman (right) with Paul Brennan at the Strathclair Old Iron Club’s threshing day.

“Straw hats and old dirty hankies, Mopping a face like a shoe, Thanks for the meal here’s a song that is real, From a kid from the city to you.”

These words serve as the verse to Murray McLauchlan’s, “The Farmers Song.”

Released in 1972, the song is a snapshot of the changing place of farming in the culture of North America. Sixty-three per cent of Canadians lived on family farms in the year 1900. Despite trying times, generations of families continue to live off the land.

Among them is 82-year-old Garry Workman, who returned to his Solsgirth roots after his father Osmar’s death in 1962. Before returning home at age 24, Workman got his degree in agriculture at the University of Manitoba, and then spent three years with the Manitoba Department of Agriculture as the 4-H Club specialist for the province.

“My first harvest experience was picking up grain from the combine with a team and wagon then shovelling the grain off into a paddle elevator powered by a stationary engine,” said Workman. “Remember there were no cabs in those days.”

It was difficult for Workman to witness his home community’s decline over the years, though he felt it was inevitable given the trend of rural depopulation.

“Solsgirth was a ‘movable feast’ from the beginning,” said Workman.

Solsgirth sits along the Yellowhead Highway south of Riding Mountain National Park. The village began as “Toddburn,” six miles (10 kilometres) north where the railroad was surveyed to go, said Workman. The railroad changed its mind, so the town moved.

“Once a bustling thoroughfare of businesses, homes and residents, a mere three families now live in the village, counting myself as a family,” Workman said.

People in search of their roots often come to him as Solsgirth’s oldest citizen.

Workman began writing A Walking Tour of Solsgirth, As I Knew it as a Boy Growing Up in the 1940s and 1950s early last year. In part, it addresses these history seekers and honours Manitoba’s 150th anniversary.

The book incorporates information from a village history scrapbook, assembled by women of the community around 1950. Workman rescued the book from the Solsgirth Hall.

He made copies, but the old pages didn’t reproduce well — unfortunate, since the book contains stories written by the first settlers in the area.

The original scrapbook is now in the Birdtail Country Museum in Birtle.

Workman is distributing copies of his history book to anyone interested.

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