The Ethelbert Connection

It amazes me how often you can find someone who has a connection to one of the same small towns that you do.

My dad is from a little town called Ethelbert. It’s a quaint little town nestled just east of the Duck Mountains in Manitoba, and it blows my mind to find out how many people are connected to Ethelbert in some way or another.

There are often little connections among people I meet in Manitoba, which isn’t so crazy. But it’s kind of crazy when I find connections to Ethelbert when I’m far away from home.

ethelbertschool3

Ethelbert School (2012) Photo credit: The Manitoba Historical Society http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/ethelbertschool.shtml

EXHIBIT A

I went on a family road trip a number of years ago, and we spent a couple nights in Deadwood, South Dakota – a western-style town in the Black Hills. Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark in the United States, and every day visitors get to watch re-enactments of the stories of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

We spent one of our evenings in Deadwood watching the trial of Jack McCall, the coward who shot Wild Bill Hickok. My dad was called to the stand as a “witness,” and the “prosecutor” asked him where he was from. Ordinarily, he would just say Winnipeg, or even Canada, but when he wants to mess with people, he says Ethelbert.

“I’m from Ethelbert,” he said.

“Oh, that little tiny town just east of the Duck Mountains in Manitoba?” the prosecutors said.

That prosecutor was not a person to mess with.

EXHIBIT B

This is another family trip story. This time, we were driving along the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Our next stop on the trail was Baddeck, and we had heard from other travellers that there was a fantastic dinner theatre in an old church in Baddeck. My dad called to reserve seats, and that phone conversation turned into something like this:

“Great, you’re booked in for tonight. Where are you guys from?” said the dinner theatre guy.

“Ethelbert,” my dad said.

“Oh, neat. Ethelbert, Manitoba?” said the dinner theatre guy.

“Yes!” My dad said, surprised.

“I lived there for a few years as a kid while my dad was working as a cop in the area,” said the dinner theatre guy. He was very familiar with Ethelbert.

Small town connections are crazy. There was another time on a tiny island in southern Thailand when I shared a Morden, Manitoba connection with someone – that was neat.

– Janet

Small town pizza

It seems to me that restaurant options in small towns across Manitoba usually look something like this:

  • Locally-run diner/bar
  • Chicken Chef
  • Subway
  • Chinese restaurant

(all of which smell like an old curling rink, except for Subway, which smells overwhelmingly like Subway)

When these are the only options, which is the case in many Manitoba towns, one of these places has to fill the pizza void. None of these establishments specialize in fine Italian food, but the pizza demand is real, so the local bar/restaurant usually makes it work.

Q: How do they make it work?

A: cracker crust

Cracker-crust-pizza-is-so-thin-the-light-shines-through-it

If you’ve ever eaten pizza in a small town, this photo likely looks familiar. It’s doesn’t taste bad; it’s just different – less authentic italian, and more flakey, crumbly crunch. I call it the cracker crust. Small town diners order frozen cracker crusts by the case to fill the pizza void.

Small town pizza has grown on me as a sort-of comfort food. On Friday evenings when I don’t feel like making supper, a loaded cracker crust pizza from the River Inn sure hits the spot!

It’s funny though, when you hear someone refer to small town cracker crust pizza as “good pizza,” especially when they’re not saying good in the sense that it’s yummy, junkie, comfort food. When someone thinks this type of pizza is good pizza, it leads me to believe it’s the only pizza they’ve ever had. For me, any big slab of carbs smothered in melted cheese is always going to be enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean it’s good pizza.

I’m sure there’s a small town out there somewhere with a great pizza restaurant. But for the majority of us, it’s cracker crusts for supper on Fridays.

Small town diners filling the pizza void with frozen cracker crusts – just another one of those small town things

pizza

Street Names

I don’t know if this is a small town thing or just a thing that some people, including me, do – referring to street names by the people who live on those streets or anything else that isn’t the actual name of the street.

Like this:

Nick’s street
Mel’s street
The Co-op street
The school street
The street by the dam

I didn’t know many of the actual street names in my hometown until long after I probably should have. I still don’t know some of them!

Growing up, we just made our own names based on particular landmarks, and those names stuck. Some of the names stuck even after the people who the streets were named after moved out of town – Kayla’s street is still Kayla’s street even though she hasn’t lived in La Salle for six years.

In recent years, I’ve learned that the street-names-based-on-landmarks system doesn’t always work, especially when giving directions to someone who isn’t familiar with your system. In this situation, I usually turn to the wonderful tool of street addresses and Google Maps.

This is a luxury that I didn’t have growing up, because I didn’t have a street address, or Google Maps for that matter. I grew up outside of town, and we didn’t have an easy address like 93 First Avenue; we had a land description with letters, numbers, and dashes. It didn’t work quite like an address…

Me: “Hey, want to come over and play?”

New friend: “Sure, where do you live?”

Me: “NW 29-8-2E”

New friend: “Oh… right… NW 29-8-2E… ”

This didn’t work, which is why relied on descriptions of physical landmarks like trees, fences, and big rocks instead of an address.

Like this:

Me: “Hey, want to come over and play?”

New friend: “Sure, where do you live?”

Me: “Go west past the Hall. There’s a really big rut in the road by the Mosowich’s place – keep going past that. Our driveway is on the north side of the road. There’s a long one with an curve at the end – that’s not ours. Keep going past it until you see the driveway lined with spruce trees. One row is tall, and the other is short. Go down that driveway. At the end, there will be two big rocks and the driveway splits in two. Turn into the yard with the goats, and you’re there. Easy.”

New friend: “Got it.”

Calling a street anything but its actual name – just another one of those small town things.

Janet

The Dump

I grew up outside of town, and we didn’t have garbage pick-up. I think we probably could have arranged for it if we really wanted it, but my dad secretly loved going to the dump.

Every few weeks, when the garbage barrels behind the garage filled up, we’d head to the Brady Road Landfill. It was kind of a father-daughter bonding experience – we were weird.

My dad even had a dump song that we’d sing on the way there. The lyrics consisted of two and a half words repeated over and over again to the melody of Rossini: William Tell Overture.

“To da dump, to da dump, to da dump dump dump! To da dump, to da dump, to da dump dump dump! To da dump, to da dump, to da dump dump dump! To da duuuuuump, to da dump dump dump!”

Like I mentioned, we were weird.

After dumping our garbage in the stinky landfill, we’d sneak over into the scrap metal pile. This pile was the reason I enjoyed going to the dump – it was always full of hidden treasures.

Brady Road Landfill

We picked up all kinds of things from that metal pile over the years – bikes, basketball hoops, weed wackers, a Super Nintendo with controllers, and other stuff that you wouldn’t believe someone would just throw out. We’d come out empty-handed pretty often, but it was still fun to scavenge. Sometimes our dump finds would need some work, like fixing the chain on a bike, but my dad was good at that stuff.

Now-a-days, they don’t really let you scavenge anymore.

This post makes my family sound like a bunch of hillbillies, and maybe we were, but I like to think of us more as conservationists, reusing usable dump stuff.

Dump scavenging isn’t necessarily limited to small town folk, but I’d imagine it’s not a common activity for city dwellers with regular garbage pick-up. Now that I think about it, it’s likely not a common activity for anyone, just good-hearted, dump-scavenging conservationists (who also happen to dump garbage in the landfill).

– Janet

Sports

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 8.11.09 PM

A few nights ago, I was over at my friend Nancy’s place. I was flipping through the winter recreation guide for our area, and I discovered that La Salle is starting up an adult mixed dodgeball league.

Nancy and I got really excited. This is new for La Salle. We’ve always had curling, and of course, yoga has grown over the past few years, but we’ve never had a dodgeball league. Our excitement got a little out of control, and after about ten minutes, we decided on our team name, thought of ideas for team jerseys and sweatbands, and planned a possible synchronized dance routine to perform before each game (or match?). We also rounded up 17 players. Our team, the Dodgefathers, would be the team to beat! At least, this is how we envisioned it.

Our dodgeball dream died about is fast as it started. The deadline to sign up for the league was last week, and we’re still the only team registered. I suppose La Salle just isn’t ready for a dodgeball league right now. Hopefully one day the Dodgefathers will get to rule the La Salle dodgeball league, but until that day comes, curling it is!

Single-team dodgeball leagues… just another one of those small town things!

–Janet

The Farm Auction

Farm auctions are pretty neat. Yes, it’s possible that you may have to stand around for hours in the sticky summer heat waiting for the item you want to bid on to come up for auction. It’s also possible that the guy who’s farm is being auctioned off was a crazy collector, and the auctioneer has 167 different tractor seats to auction off individually. That can take a while. But those collector auctions are the ones that also have the hidden gems – things you’d never think of picking up at a farm auction.

auction

My dad enjoys auction sales – so much so that I’ve started to verbify the term auction sale – like this, “Are you going auction-saling?”

He has come home with all kinds of crazy auction sale finds over the years, some practical and some just ridiculous.

Last summer I was over at my parents’ place for supper one night.

“Hey Jan, come outside,” my dad says. “I picked something up this morning that you’re going to like.”

Outside, there’s a trailer hooked up to his truck with an extremely weathered clawfoot bathtub sitting on top of it. I’m happy to learn this isn’t the item he’s excited to show me.

Next, he goes into the truck and pulls out an antique fiddle. OK, neat. He plays it for a bit (failing at pretending he knows how). Rufus, the dog, stands by his side howling away. It’s all very funny and cute, and then he puts the fiddle down.

“And that’s fiddle number one!” He says loud enough for the neighbours to hear.

He goes back into the truck and pulls out another rickety old fiddle.

Two fiddles and a clawfoot bathtub – maybe not your average finds from a farm auction. But like I said, you can end up coming home with something boring and practical, like five rolls of snow fence, or you can end up with some hidden gems.

I’d like to write about the kind of crowd you might find at a farm auction, but that’s a whole new post by itself. As you can probably imagine, farm auctions usually attract an array of quirky characters. I’ll save that one for another time.

– Janet

On the Road

Road

I’ve found that my friends from small towns don’t consider a commute a commute. They’re used to being on the road, and many of them wouldn’t think twice about driving to Winnipeg from La Salle three separate times in one day. I’m not one of those people. I hate the commute.

Aside: When I was in high school I only had to drive for ten minutes down a gravel road to get to class and my work was a 30-second bike ride away. It was fabulous. When I started at the University of Winnipeg in 2009, this all changed. I was living with my parents in La Salle, and my commute to school involved a 20-minute drive, a five-minute walk, a 25-minute bus ride, and another 5-minute walk. I soon realized that I was taking my high school commutes for granted.

Back to the story here – my small town friends don’t know the meaning of a commute, or at least it doesn’t bother them much. They’ll drive two hours to play a hockey game, because the league has teams all over the Interlake. They knock off a four-hour drive (driving alone) like it’s nothing. I just can’t do it. A long drive is always an ordeal for me.

A few days a ago I was driving to a New Years Eve party. On the way, my friend Darcy was complaining because our friend who was having the party just bought a new house and it’s not anywhere close to our usual stomping grounds. Darcy is originally from St. Claude, Manitoba. He mentioned that in his St. Claude days, his crew wouldn’t think twice about driving two hours to go to a party, but now that he’s been living in Winnipeg for the past few years, driving to the other side of the city is an ordeal.

Driving two hours to go to hockey games, parties, or just about anything like it’s no big deal – just another one of those small town things!