________________ CM . . . . Volume III Number 11 . . . . January 31, 1997

A Celebration of Rural Manitoba.

Penny Ham.
Brandon, MB: Compascor Publishers, 1993. 188 pp., paper, $14.95.
ISBN 1-895624-05-3.

Grades x - 4 / Ages x - 9.
Review by Ian Stewart.

*** /4


Whenever I see an abandoned railway station I¤wonder, "What stories would it tell if the walls could speak?"

╠For many readers, the station holds a host of memories. But I╠cannot remember the time when the railroad station was the hub of¤the community and the link with the outside world . . .

╠In the era of the train nearly every facet of life in a rural╠community was connected in some way with the railway station and¤its agent. After all, the agent was often the first to know¤everything from the declaration of war to scandalous developments¤. . .

╠Stations, once vital cores of all rural towns, are now vanishing╠monuments. The ghosts of other times still linger within their¤walls. Here young men prepared to go to war. Immigrants¤disembarked to begin a new life on the Prairies. Curious¤townspeople traditionally gathered to watch the next train come¤in.

╠Once Prairie people asked, "Who came in on the train tonight?"╠Now we wonder, "What was it like when passengers congregated on¤the station platform everyday?"

      If you've ever picked up a rural newspaper ä it doesn't matter if¤its from Snowflake, Manitoba; Pincher Creek, Alberta; Eccum¤Seekum, British Columbia, or Sioux Lookout, Ontario ä you always¤see a column named "Coffee Break" or "Around the Town" or "Coming¤and Going" or something along those lines. And, most of the time,¤there's a picture of a little old lady beside it. Isn't that¤column always the most interesting part of the paper? I love¤those columns. The best of them can take you into the heart and¤soul of a community.

      A Celebration of Rural Manitoba is a collection of Penny¤Ham's columns, published in the Brandon Sun between 1982¤and 1992. The collection represents Ham's reflections and¤observations on rural life, its customs and manners, and how the¤world of rural Manitoba has changed from the time of the pioneer¤to the modern day. There are plenty of interesting tidbits of .h)5 whimsical rural historical lore and enough description of¤contemporary rural life to give even a born and bred urbanite a¤wellärounded picture of life in rural Manitoba.

Ham is the author of Place Names of Manitoba and has¤included in this collection a number of articles exploring the¤origins of rural town names and the controversies and mysteries¤surrounding these names. Ham is also a history buff and she has also included in¤Celebration many articles on Manitoba's famous and notäsoäfamous¤attractions. Interesting and surprising facts abou nd. For¤instance, did you know that that Souris Manitoba is home to the¤longest suspension bridge in Canada? Or that some people in the¤1920s complained that the Golden Boy, the statue that sits atop¤the Manitoba Legislative Buildings, was "pornographic"! Ham also¤reveals that the dance pavilion at Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg was the largest in the British Commonwealth and that every week¤thousands of Winnipeggers took the "Moonlight Special" train to¤Grand Beach to enjoy special summer nights ( say no more about¤babies named Sandy!).

      Most of the columns, however, tell the stories of ordinary people¤and their lives in the small towns of southern Manitoba. From¤Austin to Zhoda, we experience the successes, the challenges, and¤the misfortunes of their everyday lives. These are stories of¤good people struggling to raise families and make their farms or¤small businesses viable. They care for their neighbours when they¤are in need and they fight a good fight to keep the community's¤schools, hospitals and churches alive.

      Ham dedicates A Celebration of Rural Mani toba to the¤"people who 'lived' the stories recorded in this book." As I grow¤older and remember the stories that my grandparents and parents¤told me about their lives on a farm and in a small Alberta town,¤I begin to believe in the value of collections like this. Celebration of Rural Manitoba. They¤remind us that the virtues of simplicity, work, family, and¤community are to be valued more than that thin veneer of sophisticated disdain affected by Generations X and Y.


Ian Stewart works at Lord Nelson School and at the University of Winnipeg Library. He believes that a tlitle dung is good for the soul.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364