Andrew Unger’s Brandon, Manitoba Childhood

I (this is Andrew Unger speaking) lived in Brandon from 1989-1992. Not a long time really–just three years–but they were formative years between the ages of 9 and 12. My father entered seminary the year I started kindergarten in Steinbach. When he graduated he took on his first pastor job at a tiny church in Brandon, Manitoba. I lived in Calgary after that and have lived in Steinbach most of my adult life (and early childhood), but Brandon definitely had an impact on me.

Recently, Erin and I took a trip to Brandon, which is in Western Manitoba about two hours west of Winnipeg and about three hours from Steinbach. Erin will be sharing a lot more about the historic buildings, but here are a few very personal photos from our recent Brandon trip.

When we moved from Steinbach to Brandon in 1989, my parents bought this house on Darrach Bay. I was 9 years old and had trouble pronouncing the street name. (It’s something like Dare-ah).

My brother and I were known as the neighbourhood swindlers. Not really. Ha. But we did set up a “miniature golf” course in the backyard using my dad’s old set of clubs and the base of a few tall trees as “holes.” We’d charge neighbour kids for the privilege of playing our course.

I also had Smurfs wallpaper, a show that some folks in those days said was “New Age” but one that my parents were, apparently, chill with. The wallpaper was already in the room when I moved in. My younger brother Colin got to select his own wallpaper, which I think was a montage of footballs, baseballs, and basketballs. I wonder if the current owners still love that Smurfs wallpaper as much as I did.

I was in Grade 4 when we moved. It was the middle of the school year, around spring break, when my brother and I enrolled at Valleyview Centennial School. It was on these walks from Darrach Bay to Valleyview where I first heard about The Simpsons¬†and other worldly shows that a kid from Steinbach wasn’t supposed to watch. It was quite the education. This is a recent photo. I haven’t seen this building in nearly 30 years.

On my first day of school I chipped my tooth on the swings in the playground. Actually we were standing around near the swings, and an unoccupied swing, with its medal chain, came barreling towards my face. It was a significant chip. I was at the dentist for a repair a few days later. I recall they said the repair might last five or ten years. It ended up lasting 30. I re-chipped that exact same tooth tripping in the parking lot at Yosemite National Park in 2019.

I have some fond memories of Valleyview School, like the time a friend and I wrote and performed our own version of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” for Everybody Loves to Read Month. “U Gotta Read This”. My first song parody. In general, though, I don’t think I was a very popular kid. In Steinbach, and later in Calgary, I was well-liked, but not so much in Brandon. I’m not sure what it was. The chipped tooth? Coming from Steinbach? My selection of MC Hammer when Vanilla Ice was clearly much better?

My father pastored a very small church that rented the common room at this apartment block on North Hill. I remember one day, early on, when we all gathered to wash the walls, which were yellowed with years of cigarette smoke, to make them more suitable for a church meeting. It was a great learning experience and had the added benefit that I never took up smoking.

In grade 7 I was enrolled in Christian Heritage School on the edge of town. Here it is 30 years later and not much has changed. My brother and I were there for less than a year before moving to Calgary where we attended a school called Heritage Christian School. I’m not kidding. Anyway, I don’t have many memories of this place, but I do recall the principal (I have no idea what his name is/was) wrote a play for the students to perform. It was essentially a satire on all the churches in town. I didn’t have a big role, but my job was to yell out to a girl behind the pulpit to “get down from there” or something along those lines. The girl, a fellow student, was also a pastor’s child. At that time, her father’s church was just debating women in pastoral roles and I guess the playwright/principal thought this was a funny joke. The parents didn’t think so. And one day the play was cancelled for “technical difficulties.”

I had forgotten all about that incident until revisiting the campus a couple days ago. It’s interesting that now, 30 years later, I’m the satirist “ruffling the feathers” so to speak.

This is downtown Brandon where I first ever exerted my independence. In those days there were only two old movie theatres in Brandon, both downtown. The Strand Theatre had Saturday matinees that I convinced my parents to let me attend alone. Here I saw Home Alone, Fievel Goes West, The Adams Family and others. I remember standing in line proud that I was doing this all by myself. Sadly the historic Strand Theatre was demolished in 2018 after shutting down as a theatre in 2005. When the building was removed, however, this beautiful historic Christie Biscuits sign was revealed on the building next door. Erin will say more about historic downtown Brandon in a future post.

Well, that’s about all I have to say about my Brandon years. Short and sweet. Thanks for joining me on this tour of Andrew Unger’s Brandon.