David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Can’t We Do Better Than This Same Old Political Routine?

Brandon Sun, December 15, 2007 - David McConkey

I thought I would end this year’s columns with some reflections on the future. Reflections prompted by looking back at the birth of Brandon 125 years ago.

I enjoyed the Brandon anniversary celebration during 2007, including the kick-off on New Year’s Eve, “Gossip in the Graveyard,” and the “Assiniboine 1882 Lager.” Thanks to everyone who helped make these community events happen.

I was treated to a new word: “quasquicentennial.” Thanks to Tom Mitchell and the special "Brandon 125" edition of  Manitoba History magazine.

This magazine will join other publications on my bookshelf describing early Brandon. One is G. F. Barker’s Brandon: A City. Another is Gary Palmer’s The Way We Were, which is about life in Brandon from 1900 to 1920.

I’ve been thinking about our local history during the anniversary year and while writing some columns this summer. One column was for the 125th anniversary edition of the Brandon Sun. A three-part series was about the Palliser Expedition 150 years ago.

I was struck by how global influences were important in those days. I was also struck by the basic technology of a century and one-half ago.

When John Palliser and his Expedition travelled and studied the Prairies in 1857, they observed what we would now call “globalization.” The fur trade had brought Europeans to the Prairies and also drawn the First Nations people into the global economy.

The Palliser Expedition group travelled on foot, by canoe, and by horse-drawn Red River cart. These carts were made entirely of natural materials, and were repaired with tree branches and bison hides found along the way.

Hudson’s Bay fur trading forts were the only permanent settlements west of what is now Winnipeg.

Ingenuity and self-sufficiency were taken for granted in those days. First Nations peoples lived on what they hunted and gathered from the land.

Palliser Expedition members also survived by eating whatever they could find. They picked berries in season. They caught fish and hunted animals and birds as varied as bison, skunk, and whooping crane.

(The challenge of a “100-Mile Diet” never would have occurred to people then. Except for a few items like imported tea and sugar, all their food was local!)

Interesting to compare what John Palliser experienced to life in the new city of Brandon just a few decades later.

In the 1880s, Brandon was connected to the wider world by railway, newspaper, and telegraph. The city even had telephone and electricity service.

People in Brandon continued to see rapid change into the next century, including the development of a wide range of industries.

One hundred years ago, a Brandon “25th Anniversary” beer would have been made right here. In fact, there were two breweries in town. Also locally made were drinks like “temperance lager,” birch beer, apple cider, strawberry soda, and ginger ale.

Other industries included furniture made from locally-cut wood, flour milling, and manufacturing of clothing, harnesses, mattresses, bricks, gasoline engines, and more.

There was even a plant in Brandon that made gas from local straw and piped the product to homes and businesses.

I am fascinated to think that the pace of technological change was much greater 125 years ago than it is today.

I have seen this in my own lifetime. The Manitoba of my youth in the 1950s and 1960s was quite similar to that of my children growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.

Now think of the changes people here lived through 125 - 150 years ago. In the 1850s and 1860s, travel was on trails in carts held together with animal skins. In the 1880s, there was a new railway city with stock market quotes telegraphed daily.
  
Today we are in a time of remarkable global and technological change.
 
Globally, because of factors like the “outsourcing” of manufacturing to the rest of the world – especially China.

Technologically, because of innovations like the Internet and biotechnology.

We don’t know how much our lives will change in the future.

But we could well encounter the kind of dramatic change experienced by the residents of Brandon – back in the 1880s.

* * * *
See also:  

Proud History of Looking Forward

Is It Time For A New “Palliser Expedition”?  (three-part series)

Discovering Historic Downtown Brandon

Manitoba History – A Citizen Appreciation

 



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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
204-726-9440
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