DELORAINE — Residents gathered on Sept. 11 for the grand opening of the newly named Prairie Sentinels Park.
Park Project manager and Deloraine-Winchester Historical Society member Jan McClelland said she was excited to see the park celebrating the rich history of the area open to the public.
The outdoor space, formerly named Nygard Park, celebrates the history of grain elevators, affectionately known as Prairie sentinels, in Deloraine.
“They called grain elevators the sentinels of the Prairies because they kept watching over farms and communities. Everybody had one,” McClelland said.
The park features 19 storyboards celebrating 23 historic grain elevators in the Rural Municipality of Deloraine-Winchester, she said. The installations complement the Flags of the World project installed at the park featuring 60 flags of countries that purchase wheat from Manitoba.
When the project first began, it was unclear how many stories could be uncovered and shared at the park. But as the project progressed, McClelland unearthed a rich history about the giants of the Prairies.
When she was a child, there were four elevators in Deloraine, and these started as the basis for the project. However, McClelland had the goal of including the entire region on the park storyboards.
“I very strongly felt that it shouldn’t just be about Deloraine, it should be about the entire municipality. I knew there were elevators down south, and I knew there were elevators up north,” McClelland said.
“We wanted to give as much history as we could. The upside of this is you need to come back because you can’t take it all in in one day. You’re going to have to come to visit again.”
Prairie Sentinels Park is the first project completed by the Deloraine-Winchester Historical Society, which held its first meeting in January 2020.
COVID-19 served as the perfect opportunity to dive into the park storyboard installations, McClelland said, explaining how she spent countless hours researching the history of the region.
It is important to hold onto that history, especially in an area that boasts farms spanning back five or six generations.
“I grew up on a farm. I grew up on the Prairies. Elevators were landmarks on the horizon all the time. You knew how far away you were from home when you saw the elevator,” McClelland said.
A specially installed sign is planned to go over the entrance of the park and will feature silhouettes of grain elevators. The sign will be plasma-cut steel and showcase the six elevators featured on a popular Deloraine postcard.
When Prairie Sentinels Park was originally developed, the naming rights were awarded to Nygard International. Former fashion mogul Peter Nygard and his parents moved to Deloraine from Finland in 1952. They later relocated to Winnipeg, where Nygard founded Nygard International in 1967.
However, Nygard’s reputation was stained after many women accused him of sexual assault — accusations that have not been proven in court.
The community called for a new name for the park due to the controversy.
In search of a new name, the historical society’s discussion quickly narrowed in on grain elevators because of the key role they played in the town’s history.
When Deloraine was founded in 1880, there was no rail line in the region. The Ogilvie Flour Mills built the first elevator in the region, located where the park now stands, around 1886. McClelland said the elevator construction was an exciting time and saw four other elevators built in the span of about five or six years.
It was a race to get the edge on nearby towns, and twice in Deloraine’s history the town had the most elevators in the province — in 1896 with the construction of the fifth and in 1904 with the building of the sixth. McClelland added former Manitoba premier R.P. Roblin also built an elevator in town.
“I don’t think a lot of people know that,” McClelland said. “There’s so much history.”
Deloraine-Winchester Reeve Gord Weidenhamer said he was pleased to see the history of the municipality celebrated at the newly named park.
“We needed a new story,” Weidenhamer said.
He praised the Historical Society for embracing the project to re-christen the park and their ability to develop the idea of dedicating the park to the rich farming history of the area.
The Historical Society and its enthusiasm for antiquity have been a “breath of fresh air,” Weidenhamer said, especially given the negativity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grand opening was the perfect opportunity to unite as a community while learning about the history of the area. He could feel the excitement of residents as they celebrated the reopening of the park.
Weidenhamer said he has enjoyed the personal stories the Historical Society uncovered, including tales linked to his great-great-grandfather. It’s essential to pass these stories on to ensure people understand where they came from.
“We’re one of the historic farms here,” Weidenhamer said. “I come from a long history in the area. I’m the fourth generation. I have two sons that farm here and I have a granddaughter that’s the sixth.”
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun