Category Archives: Heritage

Miami, MB: museum capital of the world?

Miami, Manitoba, has got to be right up there among the towns/cities with the highest ratio of museums per capita, not just in Canada but in the whole world. According to Wikipedia, the population of this southern Manitoba small town is about 500. And as tiny a place as it is, it has not one but two museums –both of them very interesting if you are seriously curious about life one hundred years ago.

So the title of this entry is only half an exaggeration.

First stop: Miami Museum (a.k.a. Miami Pioneer Museum)

The Miami Museum, which opened in August of 1972,  is housed in an old building that used to be the St. James Anglican Church (built in 1910). The moment you step in, you realize that this museum is a true, humble labour of love. This is the epitome of genuine. You see a great collection of artifacts labeled in odd-shaped cards handwritten by your host, Mr. Jim Woods (a volunteer who has been greeting people and telling them stories of the town for longer than he can remember).

Twenty Five

Twenty Five

The artifacts are organized without either rhyme or reason, yet – ironically – this adds to the attractiveness of the place. This is a collection of objects depicting life in old-tyme Miami and area, aligned here for you to join the dots and discover.

Handmade graduation dress, 1932

Handmade graduation dress, 1932

As Mr. Woods explains, many of these artifacts are old personal objects that the townspeople were ready to throw away because they no longer served any purpose. The fact that someone collected these objects and decided to put them on display is our gain.

Old products

Old products

The disparate collection ranges from old grocery products, war uniforms and documents, to travel gear, books, photographs, kitchen utensils, bedding, farming tools, women’s fashion… There are even bones of a couple prehistoric animals!

The museum looks fairly small from the outside, but it’s easy to lose oneself in it for more than an hour. Highly recommended.

Location: Cole St. at Kerby Ave., Miami, MB

Hours: June to September, weekends only, 2:00 pm-5:00 pm (or by appointment, calling (204) 435-2305 or (204) 435-2782)

Admission: by donation ($5 is suggested)

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Second stop: Miami Railway Museum

Here is yet another great place to spend an hour discovering snippets of the past. The Miami Railway museum is not only a National Historic Site but also one of the oldest museums in Manitoba. From the marker placed outside:

“The Canadian Northern Railway was begun in 1899 when the entrepreneurs Mackenzie and Mann brought about the amalgamation of two old railways. Although they began to build a new track, they also acquired other existing lines including the important Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway in 1901. When the Canadian government took over the Canadian Northern in 1917, the railway spanned the country. The Miami station, built in 1889, is a rare surviving example of a Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway station which was used for many years by the Canadian Northern and the Canadian National Railways.”

Book of Records

Book of Records

The station was converted into a museum in 1975. In 1994 a local non-profit committee took over the building and has been repairing it and improving it since then. The museum now doubles as the local “tourist information booth” and even hosts art shows.

Old doors

Old doors

As opposed to the Pioneer Museum, the Railway Museum is organized in rooms/exhibits, separated in two levels, each depicting different facets of the life of the rural railway station agent. (Back in the day, the building was both the station and the house where the agent lived.)

Not all the artifacts and pieces of furniture are the originals that could be found in this station more than a hundred years ago. However, the local volunteers have made a great job of finding similar local objects from the same time period, and the results are worth the trip from Winnipeg –or from wherever you are in southern Manitoba. Also highly recommended.

Location: Letain St. at Hwy. 23, Miami, MB (impossible to miss from the road)

Hours: early June to late September, weekends only, 2:00 pm-5:00 pm (or by appointment, calling (204) 435-2013 or (204) 435-2115)

Admission: $2 per person, or $5 per family

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Planning your visit

How to get there (from Winnipeg): from the Perimeter souothwest, take Hwy. 3 (McGillivray Blvd.) and drive 77.5 km, then turn right on Hwy. 23 and drive 18 more kilometres  (Click for map)

When to go: June to September. It would be ideal to go during the weekend of the Miami Agricultural Society Fair and Rodeo (2009: June 26-28); however, the museums could be closed due to the fair, so call the numbers above in advance just in case.

Why this place is important: The Miami Railway museum is both a National Historic Site and one of the oldest museums in Manitoba.

Other places to visit on the same trip: there are several interesting small towns and cities nearby –click on the Wikipedia link above for details.

Weather: check it here.

Will your MTS wireless device work there? The signal is too weak, so don’t count on it.

Additional links:

Town of Miami

Miami Online (blog)

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The first Ukrainian church in Canada

While it is estimated that 3.5% of Canada’s population is of Ukrainian descent, the Ukrainian presence in Manitoba is close to 15%. This only makes sense, considering the rich history of Ukrainian immigration in our province. In fact, the first permanent Ukrainian Orthodox church ever built in Canada is in Manitoba, and some pioneer Ukrainian settlers are resting in the cemetery right behind that church.

The Church

The Church

St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a Manitoba Provincial Heritage Site since 1974 (also the first Ukrainian Heritage Site in Canada), is located just an hour’s drive from Winnipeg. (Note: this is a different church than the one in nearby Gardenton also consecrated to St. Michael.)

Pioneer settlers buried in the cemetery

The cemetery

Quoted from the historical marker:

“Constructed in 1899, this church is a fine early example of Ukrainian ecclesiastical architecture in Canada. Its distinctive massing, plan and bulbous cupolas reflect the Byzantine-influenced architectural heritage of the homeland of the settlers in the region. The traditional free-standing bell tower was built in 1906 and, like the church, is distinguished by the high quality of its wooden craftsmanship. Built by the first generation of Ukrainians to arrive in Canada, St. Michael’s served as an affirmation of their natural identity and remains today as Canada’s oldest existing Ukrainian church.”

Gravestone detail

Gravestone detail

From another historical marker:

“Until the parish joined the Greek-Orthodox Church of Canada in 1922, it was served by a Russian Orthodox Mission. The church was built by immigrants from northern Bukowyna, now the western Ukraine, who settled the Gardenton area in 1896. Measuring 48′ x 22′ x 33′, the structure exemplified Bukowynian piooneer craftsmanship in architecture, interior decoration and religious furnishing. St. Michael’s served as a focal point of spiritual and cultural life in the first Ukrainian settlement in Manitoba, and remains a symbol of the continuity of the Ukrainian identity in Canada.”

According to this website, “there are only short inscriptions on the tombstone crosses: just the name and the date of death. It is interesting that the word for ‘year’ used for this purpose alternates between the Russian ‘god’ (more often on the older graves) and the Ukrainian ‘rok’.”

Other towns in the area with Ukrainian roots are Tolstoi, Stuartburn, Sundown and Vita, but – at least for this outsider – the Ukrainian heritage is more apparent in Gardenton than in any of the towns mentioned above.

Planning your visit

How to get there (from Winnipeg): from the Perimeter, take Hwy. 59 and drive 90 km south, then turn left on Provincial Road 209 and drive 5 more kilometres until you see the small brown & white “Heritage Site” sign, then turn right (Click for map)

When to go: May to October. It would be ideal to go when the Ukrainian Festival is taking place in nearby Gardenton (2009: July 11 and 12) to kill two birds with one stone and save gas/time.

Why this place is important: St. Michael’s was the first permanent Ukrainian Orthodox church erected in Canada (1899). As such, it’s now a Manitoba Provincial Heritage Site.

Other places to visit on the same trip: Gardenton (3.5 km east of the church site on Provincial Road 209), Tall Grass Prairie Preserve (about 2 km west of the church site on Provincial Road 209 – best to visit in July/August)

Weather: check the weather in Vita (a close location) here

Will your MTS wireless device work there? Yes (although Provincial Road 209 being so close to the US border – just 10 km –, you might receive long-distance charges).

Additional links:
Manitoba Heritage profile
Historical context: “First Ukrainian Church in Canada”, by John Panchuk

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Doors Open Winnipeg this weekend!

Doors Open returns to Winnipeg this weekend (May 23-24). Dozens of historic buildings around town will open their doors (and some will even feature guided tours) for all to visit. In my personal experience, this is a hit-and-miss affair, but well worth coming out. Free admission (expect lineups at some of the buildings, especially the Government House on Kennedy St.). More info here.

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