Exploring the Backroads of Manitoba

When you travel on the backroads of Manitoba, you really can go to the “Back of Never”. A country drive off the main roads consists of miles and miles of gravel roads – if you are lucky! Otherwise, it’s mud and dirt, maybe even Red River Gumbo – a sticky, clay-like substance that can clog your wheels solid… the only recourse, in that case, is a tractor to pull you out. 

I try not to venture on mud roads if I can. Chances are, you are beyond the reach of cell phone coverage, and if you plan to go those places, you should inform your loved ones of where you are going and, much more practically, use a quad, not a car – not even four-wheel drive will help you in those parts.

Lately, I’ve been pursuing a project for the Manitoba Historical Society, which consists of tracking down historical sites from their online database that lack photos and taking the photos that should go on the site. It’s been an interesting project, allowing me to visit parts of the province I wouldn’t normally even know about. I’m currently exploring the Manitoba Interlake, a large area of the province between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. Most of the roads are gravel backroads. These roads are usually very passable all year – except when they need grading badly! Since they usually grade in the late spring, the roads were good and we didn’t have to navigate extreme washboarding and humungous craters. Besides, some of the places I’ve visited seem to get so little traffic, I doubt they ever get that worn out.

North Foley – at the end of the road

The first place on the list was not that far off the beaten track, although you wouldn’t know it to get there. Not that far from the resort areas around Gimli you wouldn’t think the paved roads would peter out to gravel and then to dirt… but once you get away from the lake shore, where the tourists don’t go, the backroads get pretty basic. At the end of the road (pretty much) we found St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church with it’s associated cemetery. The cemetery also seems to serve the German Reform Church and the Ruthenian Mission – the church must not have a lot of attendees to combine all those faiths, although they do have church services through the summer months. It must be hard to get back here in the winter… In all, it was a peaceful and scenic place to spend eternity. But difficult to follow the road from there any further where it fords Willow Creek. Looks like some folks do however… Love the “Caution” signs!

Fraserwood

Population from the rural parts seems to continue to decline, between people moving the the city and larger and larger farms taking the place of the small family farm. We continued on to Fraserwood, a small Manitoba town that looks like it has seen better days. Many buildings were boarded up or badly in need of repair. Even the poor church was “for sale”… So sad! It is a pretty area, only a stone’s throw from bustling Gimli. The Church there is called Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church. The cemetery for it is down the road – funny, that seemed to be the case for many of these rural churches. The church is in one place and the associated graveyard is down the road. An interesting tumbled-down log cabin nestled in the trees behind the church. Did it belong to the original settlers of the area, or perhaps it was the original church? 

Beyond the Map

Fraserwood was on the main paved road – we continued on to places barely on the map. In fact, if you want a map, you have to use the Manitoba Backroads publication. And some of the “roads” they show are merely a suggestion when you get there to see them. Rembrandt Pioneer Cemetery supposedly was down one such “road” – turned out to be only a dirt track. Fortunately, we found another way back there. A fellow with a quad was taking his dogs for a run on the other so-called road. Kinda says it all… However, the cemetery itself was small and well-kept. I noticed that many of these tiny rural graveyards were still in active use and had modern as well as historical graves, and that relatives still attend to leave flowers. It’s nice to know the descendants of the original pioneers still live in the area.

Arborg Area

A number of larger cemeteries we visited were situated around Arborg, a larger population centre in the northern Interlake. Sacred Heart Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery, St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery, and the Hamirlik Community Cemetery were all located right outside the town. All appeared to be well attended and maintained. Surrounded by a chain-link fence, they all had outhouses, trash bins and other facilities for visitors. 

Backroads That Are Truly “Beyond”

Many miles down various gravel backroads, we came to the ghost town of Skylake – I call it a ghost town because there is nothing left there – no buildings or foundations – except the abandoned Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church and its attendant  cemetery down the road. The church appears to have been abandoned for many years and the remains of what looked like the sign-post for a realtor’s “for sale” sign was still in the ground on the corner of the property. I guess the realtor gave up. No wonder – there is nothing in the area except a few very large farms. Most of the Skylake population must have moved away. But what a pretty name! And, indeed, it was a very pretty area.

The saddest cemetery of all was located nearby, far down the backroads. St. Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery is a forlorn place. The poor graves mostly seem abandoned and overgrown. There were only about three newish graves where someone had left flowers, so at least some family members must still visit. But it is a truly sad place. The old grave stones were very beautiful – they were all written in Cyrillic. The original pioneers in the area must have only spoken Ukrainian.

I had quite a few more places on the list to visit, but it takes ages to drive to these far flung sites, especially given conditions on the backroads. It was raining off and on so it got dark early and we had to quit for the time being. I’ll be back to visit the rest of the Interlake soon!

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One Reply to “Exploring the Backroads of Manitoba”

  1. Thanks for sharing the words to go along with the images. The early pioneers as well as the original peoples living in these areas were tough, hardy folk!

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