________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 20 . . . . June 6, 2002

cover Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West.

School & Library Edition.
Andy Blicq (Director). Jamie Brown (Producer).
Winnipeg, MB: Credo Entertainment (Distributed by Portage & Main Press), 2001.
120 min., VHS, $150.00.

Teacher Resource Guide.
Yolanda Hogeveen and Jennifer Janzen.
Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press, 2001.
142 pp., spiral bound, $25.00.
ISBN 1-8954110-97-8.

Subject Headings:
Frontier and pioneer life-Canada.
Canada, Western-Social life and customs.
Canada, Western-History.

Grades 2-12 / Ages 7-17.

Review by Ian Stewart.

**** /4

Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West is the documentary history of two modern couples, Tim and Deanna and Frank and Alana, who spent a year authentically experiencing a Manitoba pioneer homesteader's way of life. Unless the producers had a time machine capable of transporting the modern pioneers back to Manitoba in the 1870s, it is quite inconceivable that a more realistic portrayal of homesteading life in Canada's western prairies could have been created. Viewers who loved the History Channel's eight-hour television documentary will not be disappointed by the two-hour library and school edition. The shorter version is not only more useable from an educational perspective, it is dramatically better than the original: the narration is succinct, the editing is tight, and, most importantly, the harsh prairie elements and the passages of the prairie's seasons, rather than the modern pioneer personalities, drive the fundamental elements of the story.

     The creation of Pioneer Quest marks a fundamental shift in the way Canadians, and in particular Western Canadians, can appreciate the strength of character and physical courage the pioneers required to live and prosper in the unforgiving prairie environment. After viewing Pioneer Quest, it will be impossible to travel anywhere within the prairie confines and not be moved by the accomplishments of our immigrant forebearers.

     The video, Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West, is divided into four half-hour segments.

Episode 1:Working the Land

     In this episode, the producers choose the two modern pioneer couples. They are given a general idea of the hardships they will face during their year as homesteaders on the Manitoba prairie: only period-authentic tools and clothes are allowed; food will be 1870s fare; no modern amenities are permitted; money will be in very short supply, and so they will have to make hard decisions on the supplies they need purchase. When they reach their Argyll, Manitoba, homestead, they find themselves facing the same challenges the original 1870 pioneers endured. Like their predecessors, who, contrary to modern Canadians, were accustomed to lives of hard physical labour, they needed to establish a campsite, dig a well, and build a corral for the animals. Learning how to handle powerful draught horses was a first test; the virgin prairie land needed plowing and seeding, as well, a garden had to be dug. A late start and the wettest spring in 125 years put the pioneer couples weeks behind in the growing schedule. The first frosts and winter come early in Manitoba, and the success of their adventure seemed to be already in jeopardy.

Episode 2: Building a Home

     Once the land was plowed and the crops planted, the next priority was designing and building cabins that would meet the tests of Manitoba's harsh long winter. It was all experimental. Frank and Tim had only their common sense and their wits to solve building problems. There were no power tools; all the work was done by hand: tree cutting, log peeling and fitting, nailing, and chinking. The combination of wet spring and hot summer brought hordes of mosquitoes to torment the pioneers. Building smudge fires could only combat the mosquitoes, and disaster occurred when an old fire reignited and burned down the barn. The valuable pregnant sow was badly injured, and veterinary help was called in to assist. The sow had to be put down, and, because the pioneers had no way of preserving the meat, a valuable food source of winter food was lost.

Episode 3: Winter Comes Early

     The pioneer couples frantically prepare for winter by cutting wood, hunting deer, canning produce and working for neighbors in exchange for food. Once the cold and snow of winter arrive, the round of daily chores occupies their time, and they are one of the few ways to relieve the tedium of being trapped in the cabins. Activity returns with the Christmas season; the pioneers create handmade presents for each other and visit the friends they have made in the community.

Episode 4: Only 79 days 'Til Spring

     Winter continues, and the lengthening of the days is the only sign that the rebirth of spring is approaching. Deanna and Alana learn how to bake bread and quilting techniques. The all-important draught horses start to lose weight, and the pioneers need help from the veterinarian and neighbors. The quick return of spring brings new problems as the sudden thaw floods the pioneers' underground food storage area and forces them to rush to save their remaining food supplies from rotting. Spring also means the end of their yearlong adventure, and the pioneers reflect on how their lives have been changed by reliving the life of the land's original homesteaders.

Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West. Teacher Resource Guide.

     Yolanda Hogeveen and Jennifer Janzen have produced more than a companion guide to Pioneer Quest: A Year in the Real West. They have created a comprehensive document for teaching prairie pioneer history. Even without the video, this resource guide would be a valuable addition to any teacher's collection of social studies reference materials. The guide contains a one-page summary of each segment of the video, along with a selection of pre-viewing, during-viewing and post-viewing questions. A series of seven background information sheets is included to provide students with important prior knowledge on a variety of pertinent topics pertinent: First Peoples, Immigration and Settlement, Agriculture and Farming, Homes, Challenges, Lifestyles, Women's Roles.

     The guide is divided into two sections, an elementary/middle level and a senior level. Each level contains four major thematic units coinciding with each video segment:

     Unit 1: Aboriginal Peoples and Origins of Settlers

     Unit 2: Establishing the Homestead

     Unit 3: Pioneer Challenges

     Unit 4: Pioneer Lifestyles

     The early/middle level units have three to ten topics while the senior level has two to four topics. Each lists required teaching materials, valuable websites, a variety of activities along with black-line masters and extensions, all of which can be readily modified for different grade levels. The early/ middle level unit, Pioneer Lifestyles, contains the following topics: Games, Crafts, Education, The Role of Women, Pioneers in Fiction Literature Circle and Creating a Pioneer Board Game. The topics for the companion unit at the senior level include Gender Roles of Pioneers and Recreation and Community. The guide also contains an extensive list of resources: national and provincial government websites, research skill websites, teacher's bibliography, non-fiction and fictional literature.

Highly recommended.

Ian Stewart teaches in Winnipeg #1 School Division. He is a regular contributor to CM and the book review pages of the Winnipeg Free Press.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364