Winnipeg author highlights Manitoba’s rural history

Writer Gordon Goldsborough’s goal in his series of Abandoned Manitoba books is to surprise people with the interesting stories behind the dilapidated structures and points of interest throughout the province

An aquatic ecologist from the University of Manitoba is taking a deep dive into the hidden history of rural Manitoba with his second non-fiction book, More Abandoned Manitoba: Rivers, Rails and Ruins.

Two years after the publication of his first book, Abandoned Manitoba, author and biologist Gordon Goldsborough has compiled more stories about abandoned sites located outside of Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway, looking at everything from neglected quarries to old dance halls, farmyards and hospitals.

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Goldsborough has had an interest in the province’s rural history since he was a youth. His parents were both history buffs and as an adult, he traveled throughout the province keeping an eye out for historically significant places and an ear for the stories behind them. A past-president of the Manitoba Historical Society, Goldsborough figured more people should know about the province’s small-town museums and the hidden treasures within their vicinity. In 2010, he and the organization set up a project to map them out.

“Along the way, we found a host of other things that would be interesting for people to see,” Goldsborough said. “There are cemeteries, military bases and old buildings like schools, churches, stores, homes and grain elevators.We mapped all kinds of things besides the museums. To date, we’ve mapped about 7000 places around Manitoba. Pick any part of the province – especially in southern Manitoba – and you’ll find there’s 40 places to see in that area.”

In 2015, Goldsborough was asked to speak about his findings on CBC Radio’s Weekend Morning Show. The segment was a success and he is now a regular contributor with more stories about Manitoba’s rural history. A few months after first appearance on the show, a publisher called and asked if he would be interested in compiling a book based on his research.

“I wasn’t considering that at the time. I had just finished a book and didn’t think I wanted to do another one,” the Winnipeg writer said.

Nevertheless, Abandoned Manitoba was released in 2016 and more than 6000 copies have been sold since. Goldsborough thought he’d be lucky if a hundred people purchased it.

Based on the success of Abandoned Manitoba, Great Plains Publications requested another tome. Goldsborough was hesitant about the idea, thinking there may not be enough material for it.

He was wrong.

“When this second book was finished, I brought it to the publisher and they asked how many words it was,” he said. “I said I didn’t know because I don’t keep track of those things, but after we did a calculation, we found out the book was 45 per cent bigger than the first book. It was too big and would be too expensive for customers, so we cut 40 per cent of the manuscript out. That means I’m now sitting on one-third of another book.”

One of the stories in More Abandoned Manitoba: Rivers, Rails and Ruins – which will be released on Oct. 25 – features the life journey of Virden-area resident James Scallion, who established “The Grange” farm in the late 19th Century. Although he intended on becoming a teacher, Scallion was instrumental in establishing the Manitoba Grain Growers Association while doing social activism for those working in the early 20th Century agricultural industry. From there, he became politically active and planted the seeds for a party that would one day govern the province.

The book’s excerpt on Scallion can be here.

“I’ve tried to include something for everyone in the books,” said Goldsborough, who visits each site with a drone to fully investigate its location. “If you’re from Northern Manitoba, there are at least some places you can relate to.”

While working in Churchill, he spent three days collecting data on 35 sites of historical significance. Some were well known places, while others were hidden treasures that will grant readers – alongside residents of and visitors to the northern community – a new perspective on the region.

“That’s my incentive; to surprise people. To find places that they’ve never heard about or, if they have, tell facets of the story behind the sites that they’ve never head of,” he said.

For many, Goldsborough is speaking on behalf of the roughly 48 per cent of Manitoba’s population that lives outside of Winnipeg.

“Some say it bothers them that rural Manitoba falls off the radar a lot of the time, but I say we want to draw attention to rural Manitoba,” he said. “There’s a map included in the book that shows where all the places are located and people will be surprised at how it covers all of southern Manitoba and at least a portion of the north. No matter where you live, there will be something for you in this book.”

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