minnedosa musings

The Greyhound bus made it to Minnedosa, Manitoba, but no further. We had started out on a newer Motor Coach Industries bus at 12:01 a.m.

The Greyhound bus made it to Minnedosa, Manitoba, but no further.

We had started out on a newer Motor Coach Industries bus at 12:01 a.m. from Edmonton.

The Winnipeg-bound schedule posted our arrival time there exactly 20 hours and 44 minutes later if all went well. It didn’t.

No signs of trouble disturbed the road hum as we sped into the dawn near North Battleford.

The yellow squares of maturing canola fields brightly patched the prairie quilt work landscape from Saskatoon on to Dauphin, Manitoba.

The last farm before we climbed up into Riding Mountain National Park, though, had grown a thick crop of cars.

Countryfest was going strong.

No sound made it as far as the highway from what advertises itself as the longest running if not most well-known country music festival in Canada.

The spruce-dark outline of the park had fallen well behind us when we headed down into the valley of the Little Saskatchewan River.

A traditional river crossing initially provided the rationale for the siting of Minnedosa who’s Sioux name means ‘flowing waters.’

The Carlton Trail then the railroad provided permanence and eventually settlers to the area.

We made it past the agency stop at a convenience store, across the bridge and a couple of blocks further on up Main Street when we pulled over. The brakes on the cargo trailer had seized.

Our veteran driver did everything in the book to get us back on the road but nothing helped.

Finally he called the depot in Brandon an hour south of us for assistance. They sent a relief bus out.

We waited. Minnedosa on a long holiday weekend like Whitehorse is definitely quiet.

The attraction of the nearby national park and Countryfest surely accelerated the exodus from this town of 3,000.

A real permanent decline, though, had already been affecting Minnedosa and the whole of western Manitoba for well over a couple of generations now.

When the first European homesteaders came into the region they were pretty much wed to the land.

For a $10 fee they could claim 64 hectares, a quarter section, of prairie parkland.

To win permanent title they had clear two hectares in the first year. By the second year those broken acres had to be cropped and another four hectares cleared and turned.

Finally a house had to be built and occupied by the end of the third year.

A quarter section of reasonably good land could and did support many a family. After a couple of generations, changes in agricultural and transportation technology began to alter the demographic landscape.

Harry Zoltok, a Winnipeg motor and body shop owner, would indirectly contribute to those changes by building his first bus in 1933.

By 1941 when Motor Coach Industries evolved from Zoltok’s initiative, the Depression and collapse of agricultural commodity prices had begun a serious rural flight to the cities across the West.

A postwar boom accelerated the trend towards bigger and bigger farms.

The broad based skill set needed to run a mixed farm gave way to increased mono-cropping and specialization.

Fewer farms meant fewer people on the land.

Schools closed.

Hamlets and villages vanished from the map. Agricultural service centres like Minnedosa just barely held their ground.

The advent of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 certainly contributed to the continued outflow of human and financial resources from rural Canada.

Global economic integration on all fronts helped to seal the fate of such Prairie icons as the once-ubiquitous wooden grain elevator. Like those quarter-section family farms, they are now nearly historical landmarks.

Greyhound of Canada took control of MCI in 1948.

They operated it until 1994 when Grupo Dina of Mexico bought them out.

Our bus was built in Mexico by a company now headquartered in Illinois.

Their corporate history mirrors the trends affecting rural Manitoba.

Efficiency and profitability in our globalized era trump local social and political concerns.

Economic globalization can’t continue to be rationalized at the expense of basic democratic values and human needs.

A spare bus came and eventually we got back on the road.

Somehow we need to get globalization back on the road towards basic social justice, environmental integrity and equality as well.