Where The Fields End And The Forest Begins

The first thing I think about Riding Mountain is the ability to connect with nature, wildlife, and authentic Manitoba hospitality.  We were not disappointed.

We arrived after a long flight and coach ride through the wide open prairie spaces, and a climb over the mountain ridge to enter the forests of Riding Mountain National Park.  Greeted by friendly staff at the rustic Elkhorn Resort, we entered a great Canadian lodge nestled in the forests and  settled into our comfortable accommodations. We were wowed by a large fireplace. Our first night we enjoyed a relaxing dinner in front of a roaring fireplace of Manitoba Pickerel , a delicious white fish with a sinful mystery sauce.  The outdoor hot tub was the perfect ending for a long day …

Snowshoeing Riding Mountain National Park

We awoke to a beautiful warm sunny winter day with a hearty breakfast before leaving for our snow shoe adventure at Moon Lake.

  • Sheer beauty.
  • Tranquility.
  • Stimulated all senses.
  • The sounds of the wind blowing through the aspens.
  • The white of the snow. Untouched, except for animal tracks.

Usually snow is an annoyance, a make-work project.  Today, we embraced the snow and  connected to nature.  Following a stream naturally funneled us to our discovery of Dale, a Parks Canada employee, in a Quinzee hut while observing moose tracks and other wildlife.  We shared  a Manitoba  blend of tea.

We learned new technologies used by Parks Canada to capture wildlife activities as they occur in Riding Mountain including a motion-sensor camera. Parks Canada staff have a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm which they are happy to share.  Another “creature” discovered on our journey was Dean Gunnarson, World Famous Escape  Artist , now living in Riding Mountain.

A cross-country ski excursion allowed us to discover more of the Park for 15 minutes, before someone injured themselves. The Elkhorn hot tub and a Fort Garry Pale Ale was the perfect medicine to ease the pain of body and pride.

Riding Mountain is a place where we could reconnect with nature and replenish our soul. We left  of our fields of everyday life and monotony and embraced the rejuvenation of the forest.

Blog post by Calvin D’Entremont and Maegan Power-Noble,

Participants on the Nova Scotia Best Practices Mission to Manitoba, February 2010


Lost in the Wilderness!!!

Snowshoeing Moon Lake

Help!!!  We arrived in “total desolation” not knowing what to expect.  It was a “barren wasteland”.  The waiver we signed said “not responsible for death caused by wild animals and parasites”.  Oh-oh! They said this was going to be fun.  They said we were going to learn to partner, to build relationships, and to experience the “T” (tourism) word in a funky value-added format. This was going to be new, fun, interactive, exciting and ultimately beneficial to the bottom line. Ok…sure..whatever…  We had our doubts initially…but now we’re believers!!

The next day was looking up…a bit, at least.  Breakfast was great…generally a good sign, so all was not lost.  Our group was obviously in the same frame of mind.  They didn’t know what to expect either.  However, after a little tongue-wagging we soon learned that their trepidations and expectations were quite similar to our own.

Earth Rhythms was phenomenal!!  The experiential outings were enlightening.  We were drawn to the local customs and traditions.  We were absorbed in the uniqueness of a distinct culture and way of life, feeling as if we belonged to it ourselves and that it had always been our own.  That’s the power of experience and it’s something that everyone can benefit from.  We never dreamed we would dance a traditional Ukrainian jig that looked so amazing in its natural state…until it was utterly destroyed by a couple of rookie bluenosers.  Fortunately for us, we weren’t alone.  The others in our group were as equally “talented” and forgiving.  We felt much better!

It all boils down to this…no matter who you are, or where you go, everyone is the same.  We’re all interdependent and herein lies our strength as human beings.  Together, we can tap into a vast supply of resources that, with a little ingenuity, can benefit one and all.  Together, we can experience, learn, adapt, grow, and profit from each other’s experiences, perceptions and opinions.

We’ve learned to look in our own backyards for the plethora of valuable resources that go un-utilized every day.  These do exist and they’re there for the taking, but sometimes they aren’t revealed until another point of view is expressed.  The full value of those hidden treasures then manifest in a flash of insight, and the hidden economic potential that lies just under our noses is finally revealed.

Our backyards, like the Manitoba “wilderness” may at times seem barren, cold and forbidding, but they can also be warm and inviting.  A cozy bonfire, starting with a tiny glowing ember of warmth – friendship, camaraderie, revelation, and knowledge – eventually grows into a fiery, consuming blaze.  That’s the power of “experiencing” over “observing”.  That’s the power of networking, building solid relationships and lasting partnerships. That’s the power of Best Practices Missions in Manitoba.

Thank you Earth Rhythms!

Blog post by Gem Johnson & Dave Hovey,

Participants on the Nova Scotia Best Practices Mission to Manitoba, February 2010

Babas, Bread and the Ukrainian Beat

We spend so much of our time looking inside the physical space of churches; we never take the time to look at what goes on beneath.  Through the church hall doors, we could hear the pulsating, joyous beat of an Eastern European rhythm that led us down into a world beyond our own and yet so familiar.

Ukrainian ‘Babas’ are grandmothers to the community. And included in their community is anyone they meet.  Coming into their presence we were met with warmth and love.

Most grandmothers are eager to share their stories and traditions, and the Babas are no different.  Making Easter Breads in Dauphin ManitobaAnxiously pulling us over to the table, we were immediately put to work in learning the fine art of crafting ceremonial bread.  Taken under their wings, we kneaded and rolled, braided and decorated the Pascha bread.   Not written on the ingredient list was the huge dose of laughter and joy that goes into every loaf.

Food is the backbone of Ukrainian life.  Sustaining and celebratory, you can taste the pride in every hand crafted cabbage roll and pillowy perogy.  You are called upon to eat heartily and eat some more – so as to physically ingest the love that is put into every bite.

Then, you dance!

Learning Ukrainian dancing in Dauphin, Manitoba

Life does leave its mark on the faces of the Babas.  There have been hardships.  There have been trials.  But, at the end of the day, there is always celebration, joy, community and a respect for tradition.  Pulled out of our seats, we were swept up into lively dancing and laughter.

Whatever your religious or cultural affiliation, you walk away with a sense that these Babas are the true church – loving, sharing, caring and forgiving.  They hug you with their warmth and regret your having to leave.  But when you leave, you do so with the knowledge that you have left friends behind.

When and if we go back, we know the bread will be ready for us to braid and that a large plate of love and kinship will be set before us, with the inevitable smile and exclamation of “eat” whispered in our ear.

Blog post by Pat Hudson & Phaedra Charlton-Huskins,

Participants on the Nova Scotia Best Practices Mission to Manitoba, February 2010

Tracks in the snow

When we follow our passions, we leave good tracks!!

We are a group of tourism professionals from Nova Scotia, on a mid-winter Best Practices Mission to Manitoba. While flying in to Winnipeg, we got our first glimpse of the Canadian prairies.

We were welcomed by Celes Davar, from Earth Rhythms, our leader and facilitator for the week. Our first surprise stop was at Constance Popps’ chocolate factory and shop. Constance Popp ChocolatierThere we got to experience Chocolatier Constance’s wonderful chocolate creations, as well as her stories and passions. It was interesting to hear her story on how she left her lucrative job to follow her passion leaving her own footprint.

Imagine wakening all your senses to the cold and sunny Manitoba morning with a fresh layer of snow. After meeting our guide and strapping on our snowshoes, we headed out into Riding Mountain National Park – the only tracks ahead of us were those of elk, rabbits (snowshoe hares) and martens. Our mission was to bring a natural restorative tea to Dale, who was studying the effects of Park Maintenance on local wildlife!  As we experienced making our trails along Moon Lake we could hear the crunch of the snow under our feet as we created new tracks in the fresh snow.

We crossed the bridge where the stream entered the lake, paused for a magical moment to close our eyes and listen to the silence.  Following the stream we soon found a Quinzhee (snow hut). As we were wondering what we were looking at, Dale’s head popped out! Riding Mountain National Park, quinzhee, quinzeeDale is studying the impact of his Park Maintenance job on the Park wildlife. As Dale enjoyed his tea, we crawled in and out of his Quinzhee, truly surprised by the room and the warmth inside! Feeling more comfortable on our snowshoes, we were able to allow ourselves to notice the warmth of the sun and the cute little bunny that ran along side of our tracks!

Blog Post by Sam de Ruyter, Stephen Workman, and Trudi Curley

Participants from the Nova Scotia Best Practices Mission to Manitoba, February 2010

Outstanding 2010 principal of Canada – in Onanole

Laurie Bachewich_Onanole School Principal

Laurie Bachewich, Onanole Elementary School

Given that this is National Teacher/Staff Appreciation week, I thought that I would share some exciting news about one of Canada’s 32 outstanding school principals of Canada for 2010 who is right here in Onanole.  Are we proud!  It says a lot about small schools. As a resident in Onanole, and as someone whose entire corporate model is built around collaboration, I raise a hand in salute and tip my hat to someone who makes a practice of collaboration – Laurie Bachewich, Manitoba’s only school principal to receive this prestigious national award in 2010.  Laurie is the principal of a great teaching staff at Onanole Elementary School in Onanole, Manitoba.  Together, they rock! Innovative teaching methods, big vision, and a strong connection to community are the hallmarks of this team.

The Learning Partnership announced on January 19 that 32 outstanding Canadian principals will be honoured in Toronto in February. “Great principals build great schools.  They communicate a compelling vision, they engage their communities, they nurture their staff, and they create an environment that increases student success.”  I have been fortunate to work with Laurie over the last couple of years in my capacity as program director for Sonics and Sojourns, an annual festival of music and learning.

I would like to share four characteristics of this school administrator that stand out for me:

  1. An outstanding and un-wavering level of energy that is put out to facilitate the support of the school stakeholder quadruple foundation: students-teachers-parents-community.
  2. Laurie goes out of her way to develop and maintain strong relationships with community representatives, parents, the parent council, and others with whom she has carefully built a long-term commitment to education, educational programming, enrichment, and new opportunities for her students.
  3. Her passion for education, for doing the best that she can for her students.  And, she works within a team of educators who all share that passion, and who bring innovation, great teaching methods, and inspired learning into the school.
  4. An open and willing desire to include innovations in education in partnership with other community initiatives – the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve, Sonics and Sojourns, and many other community initiatives.

The press release is available below for you to read.  We would like everyone in Manitoba to know of Laurie’s success.  Congratulations Laurie!!

Click here to read the press release:  Canada’s Outstanding Principals for 2010 Announced – Laurie Bachewich from Onanole, is the lone Manitoba recipient.  This press release also lists all of the other 31 recipients across Canada.  You may know some of them.

Congratulations and heartfelt thanks to those who nominated her, and supported the nomination. We appreciate your efforts to acknowledge those among us, whose dedication and passion to enrich the lives of our children and community sometimes go un-noticed. It’s also great to see the local papers like the Minnedosa Tribune covering her success.

Laurie’s achievements and recognition make me aware of some of the benefits of living in small towns. Good quality education with very low student : teacher ratios is one of them.  Living next to a national park is another. A great quality of life year-round is yet another. And, finally, having a community that supports its educators and local champions is another.

Please pass on this post to anyone who knows of Onanole, has lived in Onanole, or is a visitor to Riding Mountain National Park.  I’d like them to know about Laurie Bachewich.

I like what I read on the Manitoba Teacher’s Society web-site as a quote from Manitoba Association of Parent Councils (MAPC) president Judith Cameron…

Our teachers put a tremendous amount of effort into the learning experience for our children and they’ve become so much more than just educators,” she says. “They have become true partners with parents and other school community groups. They are part of a school-wide dynamic that sees children thrive when proper supports are put in place. Teachers and parents are working together to support classroom learning, and work closely as a team on initiatives that enhance the whole school community. It’s important that we let them know that their efforts are appreciated.”

Cameron encourages parents to take a moment ‘to say thanks to those people who help make their child’s school day a positive experience.‘ ”

Waking up to a world of magic crystals

Hoarfrost sunrise backlit

This morning, I woke up to a Riding Mountain world that was magically transformed. The aspen trees were thick with hoarfrost, almost like “winter leaves”. Instead of being able to see through the forest at this time of the year, we were looking at a magical forest of snow crystals. A combination of weather conditions (In an earlier post, I explained the origin of hoarfrost).

There are several online sources that offer an explanation of Hoar Frost (or radiation frost). Hoarfrost refers to white ice crystals, loosely deposited on exposed objects or the ground, that form on cold, clear nights when heat losses (infrared radiation) into the open skies cause objects to cool to a temperature which is colder than the dewpoint of the air next to the surface. Frost is frozen water that has condensed from some of the water vapour contained in the air.

The birds at the feeder, the trees themselves and the entire landscape was transformed. I am going snowshoeing today into this forest of hoarfrost. It’s kind of like a real-world pocket of some part of Lord of The Rings.

Hoarfrost and blue sky Manitoba

The things we don’t see in the woods

Black bear cub in aspen tree

Black bear cub eats aspen buds in spring

I love being in the right place at the right time when it comes to photographing natural phenomena, including wildlife.  This image of a black-bear cub emerging in spring to eat aspen budes is one of my favorite images of all time that I took in Riding Mountain National Park. It illustrates how amazingly honed black bears are to their food supply. Wherever the right food source is available, they will find it. Blue sky, white aspens, black bear. A photographer’s dream.

Then today, I received a link to a whimsically produced YouTube video of a bear scratching itself on a tree.  The video image was terrific because we become witness to the ordinary behaviour of a grizzly bear ( I believe that it was a grizzly bear given that it was identified as the Northern Divide Bear Project).  If you can turn down the music and just watch the bear scratching, it is quite remarkable.

What I am realizing is that today’s technology – remote or motion sensing and digital video – enables us to see things in the woods that we would not normally be privileged to see.  This helps us to communicate the remarkable bio-diversity of life here in Manitoba and elsewhere on our planet.