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Friday, July 13, 2012

Day 24 and 25: Neepawa

Manitoba, we soon realized, was becoming the RV equivalent of a social whirl...though in our case, most often with the RV getting left out of all the fun. After a quick drive out of Winnipeg on the TC 1 and, just after Portage la Prairie, a shimmy up the Yellowhead highway (TC 16) to Neepawa, we dumped Carmella in the Lions Riverbend Campground and headed up into the hinterland to visit Erin and Terry.

Erin and Linnet met in Montreal back in the nineties when they were doing their MA at Concordia...It had been a while since they had seen each other. Meeting up in a remote cabin in a 60 acre patch of prairie at what seemed like the top of the world was a far cry from those days of Niko Case concerts at The Spectrum and cappuccinos at Java U, but the conversation picked up just where we had left it...And the four of us had a terrific gab-fest together.

Erin and Terry even threw in a spectacular prairie storm complete with high winds and stunning black skies for our delectation...This, as we wound up an al fresco gourmet meal of marinated roast pork, spicy spuds and balsamic-glazed green beans - all of it cooked to perfection over the campfire.

The next day, after a hearty breakfast of pancakes, berries and good coffee, we sadly said goodbye to our pals and their delightful pugs, and headed back to Carmella awaiting us in Neepawa. En route, we took in the pastoral splendour of the Big Valley farm where Todd grew up, and Kim spent her summers, as well as the site of the one roomed school house Todd attended - now marked by a plaque on a huge rock. We were struck by how much rural areas like Big Valley must have changed...not so long ago bustling farming communities, now quite empty. We were also struck by the amazing roads traversing the surrounding countryside...thin ribbons stretching up and down, roller-coaster-like, for as far as the eye can see.

In Neepawa we visited the home of author Margaret Laurence's grandparents, where she lived from the age of eight to eighteen. It now houses an exhibition celebrating her life and work. We also visited Shirley's childhood home on Bradley street. From there, we went on to the beautifully manicured and flowered and shapely pined cemetery, which Shirley's father tended and which is home to Laurence's immortalized 'stone angel'.

It was interesting exploring the town upon which Margaret Laurence's fictional Manawaka is based. We loved all the purple marten houses...er, make that five star purple marten hotels! It was also interesting to learn that Neepawa is the lily capital of the world, boasting some 130 varieties scattered throughout the town's gardens. We were too early for the annual Neepawa lily festival which kicks off in a week or so, but a chance turn off highway 16 the next day on our way to Riding Mountain National Park did mean that we caught the annual Minnedosa street parade in full swing...Nearly ending up IN said parade. Roll on Day 26!