Last summer, Andrew and I took a quick trip to Brandon, just to go somewhere else. But quickly. Easily. So, Brandon it was!
A quick 3-hour drive west from Steinbach (is that really quick? you’d drive through an awful lot of countries if you drove in one direction for three hours in Europe) gets us to Manitoba’s second largest city so why not. Also, their brewery, Black Wheat, finally opened! So we wanted to go check it out.
Here it is! It was literally the first thing we did in Brandon. Good beers, good vibe. Congrats Brandon on getting Black Wheat! And congrats Black Wheat on being first!
We’re coming up on vacation season once more and I’m realizing I never finished telling you about the neat things we’ve done other years when we stayed here in Manitoba. Andrew posted his version of our adventures but I figured I should tell you my thoughts, too.
Between the way we pack so much into our trips, and the way that I can’t actually remember details very well (that’s why I type out cairn plaques for you), this’ll be one very quick, ignorant overview of our time in Brandon. Also, it was pretty rainy so we spent much of our time darting about, not lingering in the rain too much.
The second thing we did was take a historic walking tour of downtown Brandon. I don’t remember much about it by now, but below is a picture of a skatepark on the site of the former Prince Edward Hotel, which was built by the Canadian National Railway, completed in 1912. Six stories, I think, pretty huge. Closed in 1975, the hotel was destroyed in 1980. Then, a neat thing happened in 2006 — a group of skateboarders proposed the demolition site become a skatepark that pays homage to the original hotel. You can’t really see it in the photo, but it says LOBBY on the middle-right of the picture below. The stairs you see, were stairs in the original lobby.
We were the only ones on the tour, and were outnumbered by the tour guides (there were three of them), which was kinda neat. We had chosen the early time slot for the tour and we still showed up even though it was raining, so I guess that was why. I love it when we’re the only ones that show up to things! (We passed the later tour and there were like 20 tourists in that group. We definitely got the better deal!)
Downtown Brandon has a lot of history you might miss unless you were being toured around by someone who knows. And, there are some fantastic murals.
Following our walking tour of downtown Brandon, we stopped at Chez Angela for this lemon thing which changed my life:
Being me, we also stopped at the Brandon Municipal Cemetery. Since it was raining, I didn’t feel compelled to wander the grounds, but when I saw this monument, I had to get out of the car for a closer look. It’s a Chinese Head Tax Monument, sculpted by Peter Sawatzky (who also sculpted the Dirk Willems Peace Monument at the MHV). Looking closely at it, you see images of a Chinese Laundry, chop suey house, fish monger, railroad builders, doctors, engineers. The Manitoba Historical Society notes that beginning in 1886 the Canadian government made it increasingly difficult for Chinese immigrants to come to Canada, effectively separating families when men were unable to bring their wives and children to Canada. Things didn’t get better until 1967, but even then the government did not apologize until 2006. This monument was erected in 2011.
I’m in the picture below. In the driver’s seat of the Jetta. I guess I was driving, and Andrew got out of the car to take this picture? (Weird, I remember it being opposite. Sometimes I think we spend so much time together we get ourselves confused with each other.) Anyway, that’s Brandon’s Exhibition Hall, built in 1913. The Historic Sites plaque in front calls it “a rare surviving building constructed for the Dominion Exhibition, an agricultural fair held annually in various Canadian towns and cities from 1879 to 1913 to promote progressive farming methods. The building’s classical entrance facades and domed corner pavilions reflect the architectural influence of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. A simplified example of the Beaux-Arts style, Display Building No.2 evokes both the festive character of the fair and Brandon’s vital role in the agricultural history of the Canadian West.”
There’s another Historic Sites plaque next to the above-mentioned one, which says: “Established in 1882, Brandon soon became one of the foremost agricultural exhibition centres in Western Canada. In 1913, the city was the site of the Dominion Fair. Display Building Number II was constructed in that year to promote agricultural and manufacturing innovations from across Canada.” It says more than that but these two signs kinda echo each other. A lot.
I was exhilarated from seeing the exhibition hall. Honestly I hadn’t expected it to look so obviously old. Old to me, a Manitoban, anyway. It just feels special and storied. I’d heard a lot about it for many years but had never actually seen it until last summer.
We went for lunch to Sabor Latino and it felt like we’d escaped to Mexico — a really great way to step out of the rain.
After dinner, I noticed we had parked near another historic marker, so I went to take a look. The below plaque reads: “Brandon Interment Camp. Thousands of Ukrainian Canadians and other immigrants from eastern Europe were unjustly imprisoned as ‘enemy aliens’ during Canada’s first national internment operation of 1914-1920. This plaque is dedicated to the memory of those held in Brandon’s Exhibition Building on Tenth Street and Victoria Avenue from 27 November 1914 to 29 July 1916.”
I had no idea the government of Canada had imprisoned Ukrainian immigrants. And to think they’d been held in the historic exhibition building. What the what.
It was raining so we then went to check out the Daly House Museum. It looks pretty compelling from outside. I like this random pic Andrew took of me wandering around. Also, nothing says “this happened during a pandemic” like my mask and those directional arrows on the floor.
At this museum we saw Morden Roses growing outside. In the basement, we found a sports hall of fame. And attached is a replica of a store, and a gun that I think the shop owner used to defend the store? Or am I making that up? I thought I’d taken pictures of all this but I think I’ve misplaced them. Anyway, it’s a great “museum of Brandon” (it doesn’t purport to be that, but this is what I think of it as) in a really cool huge old historic house. I should say, this is also a historic site as Thomas Mayne Daly was the first mayor of Brandon in 1882.
Our final stop was Brandon University. I hadn’t realized it’s a historic site too! The sign in front says: “Brandon College. Higher education in Western Manitoba traces its beginnings to Rapid City where in 1880 the Baptist community established Prairie College. In 1884 it was succeeded by the McKee Academy, which moved to Brandon in 1890. Brandon College was established by the Baptist Union of Canada in 1899, and became an affiliate of McMaster University in 1910. Financial difficulties forced the Church to withdraw its support in 1938, after which Brandon was incorporated as a non-denominational college of the University of Manitoba. Brandon University was established as an independent institution in July 1967. The original building was constructed in 1900 and Clark Hall, then the ladies’ residence, annexed to it in 1906.”
The cairn next to it says: “Prairie College 1880-1883. This cairn is faced with stone from the walls of Prairie College, the forerunner to Brandon College and Brandon University. It was constructed in 1999, Brandon University’s centennial year. Prairie College was the first post-secondary institution on the Canadian prairies west of the original Manitoba border of 1870. It was established in 1880 just north of the village of Rapid City to train Baptist ministers for services on the western agricultural frontier and to provide general literary instruction to the rapidly growing population of the area.”
There is a picture on the cairn, of what Prairie College had looked like. Seems to be a two-story stone house. It’d be interesting to find the site in Rapid City!
Andrew enjoyed walking the campus, as it reminded him of the basketball games his family used to watch when they lived here in the early 90s. Check out the Brandon Bobcat!
One other important site we visited, was his old neighbourhood. I was intrigued by the path behind the house, which connected the various neighbourhoods to a hidden park. I like how we were able to chase Manitoba history and also Andrew’s own personal history when we visited Brandon last summer!