Ancient Lake Agassiz Adventure!

This past fall, I attended an event titled “The Beaches of Steinbach” and am only telling you about it now. Classic me. I can explain!

In Saturday, October 22nd, 2022, the EastMenn Historical Committee and the Mennonite Heritage Village hosted Bill Redekop to talk about his sold-out book titled Lake Agassiz: The Rise and Demise of the World’s Greatest Lake.

I wanted to check out the talk because there are no “beaches of Steinbach”… OR ARE THERE??

Also, it seems to me that perhaps the idea of evolution and the world being more than 2000 years old is still offensive to some people and anyone who believes the world is older than 2000 is gonna be disagreed with and I want to be in the audience to support them in their scientific beliefs. Not sure if anyone still holds to that “young earth” idea and I dare not google it. (I don’t want to lose faith in humanity anymore than I already have, okay?)

All this to say, learning about the ancient beaches that surround Steinbach sounded pretty enticing to me. I’m not much of a beach person but these ancient ridges that had become routes for humans here in this place really fascinate me.

Anyway. I attended the talk and never wrote about it. Here’s a candid photo I took at the event:

My friends Ernie Braun and Glen Klassen hosted a Q&A with Bill Redekop at the MHV on Oct.22, 2022 and I’m only telling you about it now.

As I mentioned, the book is sold out. At the event, Bill revealed that he didn’t think many people would be as interested in this subject as he was… but he was very wrong. I believe the book is in its second printing but when it’s going to be released, I do not know. Hopefully soon because I owe Glen Klassen a copy of this excellent book.

(Here we descend into me revealing why you shouldn’t ever loan a book to me. You may not get it back. And if you do, you will find it much changed. I’m terribly sorry about the coffee spill, Glen. I’m eagerly awaiting this book’s second printing so I may get you a pristine copy.)

Moving on! I made notes on my phone as I read. I’ve pasted them below and they’re barely edited and super-messy. Yikesss

Looks like a coffee table book, but it’s actually much more substantial (or maybe I just don’t understand coffee table books!) 

Bill Redekop reports that he knew nothing about the subject of Lake Agassiz at the outset but ventured out to learn, and tell us what he learned. I find these kinds of books easier to learn from, since I too am starting from nothing. He boldly goes “to the front lines of embarrassment” and for that I thank him. Now that’s true journalism! (Maybe. Or perhaps it’s just my favourite kind.)

I’m interested in this because it links directly to what I know of Ridge Road. It already was a well established path when Mennonites arrived in the 1870s. Indigenous people used it because the ridge rose up above the surrounding land, so in times of flood of rain, it remained solid and a clear way forward. Even today you can see it. But how did it get there? Lake Agassiz and the retreating glaciers, that’s how.

He says that maybe this book will help “understand, at last, why southern Manitoba floods”. 

Okay, let’s see!

The book contains a lot of great background information, written pretty accessibly… however I’m not retaining much of it.

Redekop calls Morden the boulder capital of Manitoba.

Says that in Boissevain, there is a house made entirely from one glacial erratic (boulder)!!! This I need to see!

Page 56 says a mastodon tooth was found in Blumenort!

Page 66 — Percy Criddle found a significant extinct bison fossil.

A musk ox fossil from Grunthal is at the Manitoba Museum.

Around page 88 I began to get particularly intrigued because here Redekop began telling of his road trip trying to follow one of the ancient ridges. He writes, “In Manitoba, the escarpment starts south of Morden. Travelling south of Morden on provincial roads 432 and 201 leads to a spectacular vantage point overlooking what would have been Lake Agassiz. The escarpment also greets you as you travel on Highway 3 on the western edge of Morden. Its steep incline meets you again on Highway 23 driving west of Miami. There’s a small viewing area called Alexander Ridge Park just west of Miami. Clamber up the tower for a spectacular view of the Agassiz Lowlands.”

And thus I plan to someday follow his journey. I love that he even spent a night or two in his car. Great adventurous (or fixated?) spirit!

Why am I enjoying reading about geology? I think, because this book was written by a journalist, who is essentially leaning about geology as he writes it, is a huge factor. But also, this is about here. The geology of this place. What happened here, before? I’m curious about it because it has impacted the history of this place. I mean… it’s because of Ridge Road. A trail already was there, long before Mennonites arrived. Indigenous people (Cree, Ojibway, I need to learn who else) used this trail. Why? It’s a ridge — when floods come, or in spring melt, this ridge stayed above water. It was the obvious route. But why? I think we’ve all heard about the ancient Lake Agassiz. I pictured its waves lapping on shore, as it receded, forming ridges. I don’t know if that’s how it all played out exactly (I’m in the process of reading the book and can’t remember these details!) But geology impacted history, locally. 

I’ve just learned that the Red River existed even before Lake Agassiz, when a glacier 300 meters high covered what is today Manitoba. This is blowing my mind. The Red River is far more significant than I’d imagined. 

Isostatic rebound is wild. (Glaciers melting = weight pushing down on the earth’s crust lessens = land rising as glaciers recede!) It’s shaped Lake Winnipeg, and continues to make the lake travel southward, toward the city. Look at its southerly shoreline and you’ll see it’s not a line — it’s easing south.

It seems like Manitoba’s north holds much for geologists to see and measure. I think if I ever visit Churchill (as a Manitoban, it’s strange I’ve never been!) I’d like to take a geological tour. Apparently the land in that area is rising at the rate of one meter per century!

I’ve heard cabin-owners declare that Manitoba Hydro is causing shoreline erosion, but geologists say the shores have been eroding for forever. It’s what these lakes do. Forever changing. I have concluded that in such matters, geologists are good folks to consult. (Unless you’re skeptical of “Big Geology” 😂)

Page 118 — This sentence is so fantastical, I keep reading it over and over: “The wall of water that crashed into Lake Agassiz where Brandon is today was 150 metres high and three kilometres wide.” (This to explain the giant sand deposit at Spruce Woods.) (“about 13,000 years ago“)

Separate post about Spruce Woods —“the last remnant of the Assiniboine Delta”—“the last obvious vestige of of our ancient geological history”—how it is shrinking because the sand is no longer being disturbed (by bison, ATVs…) and Redekop laments the loss of this “heritage landscape” as it’s taken over by vegetation… but I find this hopeful. Because vegetation winning is a good think my books. Yet at the same time, I recall my own relationship with spirit sands… at Carberry Bible Camp with extended family… and visiting Spruce Woods with my parents when I was 20. 

Page 132 talks about the beaches of Steinbach. Page 134 is all about the Sandilands.

Like many story-filled books, this one just keeps getting more interesting. Suddenly we’re joining Bill on his lone adventure, exploring Campbell Beach. This led him to Edrans, where I visited with my mom and aunt in 2020. I took the same route as Bill, and my prairie sensibilities were challenged and alarmed by the sudden steep hills the vehicle had encountered. Campbell Beach. 

As I stood on the gravel road in front of the farm where my mom spent her earliest years, I looked west to the land rising on the horizon. “What is that?” I asked her. “You lived on the shoulder of something significant.”

Later Bill attends a kitchen party (where did he come across this invitation in his exploration adventure of Campbell Beach?!) and concludes “I’m a horrible person.” Which I am very sure he is not.

155- mentions stopping at a berry farm, the religious plaque, and a thank you to the many rural folk who helped him. “About as much fun as you can have.” I totally agree and it’s now a goal of mine to mimic this trip (with my own spin on it).

Chapter 14 is my favourite. It concludes on Page 159 is like a love poem to a rural Manitoba road trip. Someone should sing it. Absolutely beautiful and true. If you know, you know. If you get it, you get it. It’s not for everyone. But it’s for people like us.

I find myself wanting to linger over every page, take in all the information well. Yet at the same time, it’s a real page-turner!

After reading about Bill’s solo adventure chasing Campbell Beach across Manitoba’s back roads, we switch gears quite aggressively. Chapter 15, Crash, Boom, Bang, gets enormously scientific, yet maintains the book’s overall readability. Bill outlines various scholarly geologist’s theories, research… and drama.

Observation re: chapter 16, Tyrell Rex. Of Joseph Burr Tyrell, Bill writes, “some of his geological work was sketchy and obviously written by someone not formally schooled.” (#relatable)

Red River Valley does not exist. We live on the bottom of an ancient glacial lake bed, and as it retreated, it left behind fine clay… which is our Red River Gumbo today. It’s why this place is a swamp, and why drainage ditches and canals cross the landscape. It’s why we still flood significantly every, what? 100 years? Ish? 

He explores the controversy regarding theories of where Lake Agassiz went. When experts in their field race to be the first to discover or prove extraordinary theories and with evidence. When they defend their theories against upstarts. Or abandon them. A fascinating glimpse into the history of how they play out against each other. And of course we see how money and power allow certain people to tell their stories more widely.

Which I guess applies to a lot of things.

Andrew’s going to tell me this should’ve been more than one post. But honestly, I have to go to Japan now.

But don’t worry!