Waddell: Learning from history


By: Ken Waddell


I’m thankful for the many people who have taken time to compile community history books.

In Neepawa, there has been at least three, in Arden/Lansdowne, two that I know about, while in Rivers, at least two. The books show up occasionally in used book stores, sometimes at auction sales and occasionally at yard sales. I wouldn’t mind if I had one for every community in Manitoba, but that would cost a small fortune.

The local history books are a treasure trove of information about family and community histories. Many times I have flipped through their pages to check ancestry or the history of a business. These books offer us an insight into what our forerunners went through to bring us and our communities to where we are today. Their sacrifice and hard work have given us a tremendous advantage over many other parts of the world.

The books also show, in many cases, the decay and decline of rural Manitoba. Some of the decline may have been unavoidable but there are cases where government policies have put the skids under communities.

I can remember when Edson Industries was in Neepawa. It was a thriving manufacturer of motor homes and travel trailers. It moved to Rivers air base and I distinctly remember that the manager of the business during that time period said the government incentives were just too high for the company to resist.

In the short run, it may have been good for Rivers but it was bad for Neepawa and it certainly was bad for the company.

Edson went out of business.

With the government incentives, they expanded beyond their abilities and the market’s ability and soon closed their doors. It would be good if someone close to the Edson experience at Rivers could shed more light on the venture. The product was certainly OK as many of the Edson vehicles are still on the road today.

My point is that governments should not be in the business of giving grants to businesses. Governments shouldn’t be sloping the playing field, creating winners and losers in a commercial world.

Government policies on schools has also been a major downfall for smaller communities. Arbitrary school enrolment numbers have led to the demise of many small schools. Without a school, some would say a community loses its heart. Maybe schools needed to become bigger and certainly no one would say we should go back to having 25 kids in one room with eight grades but somehow, the enrolment figures might have justified keeping the smaller schools.

You have to remember that the one room schools educated a couple of generations of Canadians that fought two world wars and won. Those same folks refined the modern automobile, created modern air transportation, modern medicine and much of the aerospace industry. Not too shabby a record.

Maybe those old open-concept classrooms weren’t so bad after all.

The biggest downfall for communities has been attitude. Parents discouraged children from farming, going into business or staying in rural Manitoba. There was a long list of reasons, but most of them no longer exist. The so-called luxuries of city life came a long time ago to rural Canada. While we are still short on cell service and some places don’t have good internet service, many of the old complaints are long gone. Hot and cold running water, along with decent sewage service, has been common place for 50 years.

Electricity has been on the farm for 60-plus years. Good phone service and good television service has been around for a long time. The list of excuses to abandon rural areas is dwindling and has been for decades.

Ironically, many city dwellers can’t wait to get to the campground or the cottage for the weekend or holidays.

If we were to suddenly transport ourselves back in time to those earliest days in the community history books, I think our ancestors would laugh at how spoiled we have become.