It Should Be near Here: The Hunt for Manitoba's Historic Sites

By Mason, Alan | Manitoba History, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

It Should Be near Here: The Hunt for Manitoba's Historic Sites


Mason, Alan, Manitoba History


In the early 1970s, I was fortunate enough to be able to return to England in order to see the "Treasures of the Tutankhamen" exhibition at the British Museum in London. My grandmother, then in her early eighties, and I queued for eight hours in December weather. The exhibition was magnificent: the golden mask, superbly and dramatically presented in a room on its own, was the unquestioned highlight. It was in this room that we were politely told to hurry up and move on by a young male museum official. My grandmother, never at a loss for words, turned to him and said, "Young man, I have waited over eight hours to visit with him," pointing at the mask, "and he has waited over 3,000 years to visit with me. Therefore, we both need a little longer to savour the moment." She got away with it.

Some years later, I was staying on an island off the coast of Honduras. I had inquired as to whether there were any Mayan ruins on the island and had been assured that there were some rather modest ones. Was I interested in visiting them? I naturally agreed and a date and time was set. My guide duly arrived at the agreed-upon time and date, carrying two machetes. We set off literally hacking our way through fairly dense rainforest. Finally, thank goodness, we reached the site. It consisted, as far as I could see, of two fairly small mounds. Tikal and Copan it was not. It did, however, reward me with half a dozen painted pottery shards and an obsidian blade--still one of my treasures. Needless to say, my guide had not offered his services exclusively for altruistic motives, and I was not above wondering whether the site had been previously seeded with these pieces. In the end, it did not matter because it had been an exciting adventure and the Indiana Jones in me had been happily satisfied.

The above incidents have been related to demonstrate the pleasures that discovery can afford one. In the first episode, what my grandmother and I experienced was, in its way, linked to what Howard Carter must have also felt. How could one not be moved by what was before us, staring not only at us but also seemingly into us? The second example was no less exciting in its way, because who had crafted those pots, what had they been used for, who had created that blade, and what had it been used for? I shall never know but the imagination provides interesting scenarios.

Egypt and the Maya may seem a long way from a field or a gravel road in rural Manitoba, but the sense of discovery is not. True, if Gordon Goldsborough and I were to discover a lost this or that, we would certainly be humbled and excited. But that is not necessary. Our rewards have come from much more modest discoveries.

Imagine driving down a dusty back road. A building is sighted, tucked, half hidden in the corner of a field, partially surrounded by a shelterbelt of trees. Maps and notes are consulted. Discussion takes place, the car is stopped, and we start to explore, checking for clues. The windows give it away. It is an old one-room schoolhouse! Out comes the GPS and the camera, and we go to work. The position is noted and the building's exterior is fully photographed. Then we venture inside and are met by a sagging ceiling, and an equally sagging floor. But on the wall is a blackboard and in the ceiling are two original light fixtures. There is a broken desk and there, a crumbled notebook with an illegible name. Everything is photographed. Dust motes drift lazily through windows that have been unwashed for years. My thoughts soon begin to wander and the questions come. How many teachers worked here? How many students passed through that door? Where are they now? Are there names and dates still extant and, if so, where are they? …

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