Winter in Burwalde
Regular readers of this column will recall that I spent the first 20 years of my life in the Burwalde School District between Winkler and Morden. The Dead Horse Creek runs through that area and was a source of great entertainment for me during those years.
I learned interesting things about beavers as I observed them building their dams and “houses” in the creek. Whenever we needed to open their dam to allow water into our farm’s irrigation reservoir downstream, the beavers would quickly patch the dam in an effort to keep the water level above the entrance to their “house”. I also enjoyed watching families of ducks swimming in the creek on quiet spring evenings.
In the wintertime the creek was a source of water for our cattle. Many days either my father or I would chop a hole in the ice and let the cows out of the barn to have an ice-cold drink. If the creek froze before there was a lot of snow, it became a scenic skating trail.
The Burwalde School was also located beside the Dead Horse Creek. During the summer months, when there was running water in the creek and the Peters’ cattle were grazing in the pasture around it, we were not allowed to play in that area. But in winter when the creek was either dry or frozen and the cattle were in the barn, it became a wonderful playground. We had the most fun immediately following a storm when there was a lot of fresh snow with new drifts to capitalize on. Tunnels and snow forts were great entertainment. We also learned that snow is a very effective sound barrier. It was very unlikely that we could hear the bell signaling the end of recess if we were inside a tunnel. On occasion we would build a snow slide into the creek.
I was reminded of those slides when I viewed the model slide gifted to Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) recently. It was built by Harold Fast and illustrates a slide that was constructed annually in the 1930s and 1940s by Mr. Gus Reimer and his students at the Gruenfeld (now Kleefeld) School. Mr. Reimer’s slide was much more elaborate than ours in Burwalde. While his slide included a complete 180-degree turn in the track, which returned the slider to the starting point, ours at best had only a 90-degree turn.
We experimented with various sliding devices and learned that the best sled was a round metal one then referred to as a flying saucer. Our six-foot-long wooden toboggan just couldn’t negotiate that 90-degree turn very well.
Mr. Fast’s model slide is a great artifact for MHV’s collection. It may not tell a profound story of migration, suffering or settlement as many artifacts do, but it does tell a story of community and of the culture in that community during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And for those of us old enough to remember, it brings back some wonderful memories and may on occasion inspire us to tell these stories to those around us. And that’s at least in part what museums should be doing.