Carman - Treaty 1 territory
"It's a nice day for a drive," he says. "The crops are looking real good this year," she says.
And so began my day trip with my Boomer parents. I invited my mom and dad along to Carman, an agricultural community (pop. 3000) about 80 km southwest of Winnipeg, because a) it's a town we visited often in my youth for countless sporting events and b) if anyone can appreciate day tripping in Manitoba, it's my parents who are farm kids at heart.
None of us had been to Carman in decades, so we were curious to see if the town had aged...like we had.
Turns out, a day trip to Carman is a trip down memory lane. The thriving community - despite all its young families and growth in the last 20 years - still offers bits of nostalgia, along with a chance to slow down, breathe in prairie charm, and swap family memories.
Syl's turns 60 and goes golfing
We arrived in town just as our stomachs starting grumbling, so it was a no-brainer to head to Syl's for lunch, the iconic drive inn that welcomes visitors arriving to Carman on Hwy 3. Syl's has been serving great burgers and thick shakes to road tripping Manitobans since 1960. With the hot prairie sun beaming down, we opted for a few prairie dog specials and pink lemonades and settled in under a shaded picnic table as the locals started arriving.
While the squat red and white retro building remains in its authentic form, a lot is changing around the Syl's property. A neighbouring hotel is slated to break ground soon. More notably, in July current owners, Travis and Stacey Enns (who purchased it from the Sylvester family), added a sparkling 18-hole mini golf course to mark the company's 60th anniversary. The retro gas station-themed course immediately draws in visitors - both young and old - with its cartoon Cars-inspired obstacles. After lunch, my dad and I dusted off our putting skills and played the immaculate course ($9/per person).
My mom opted to keep score, and was entertained by singing along to the 'Best of the Golden Oldies' soundtrack that played throughout the park. For a moment, I felt like I was watching my parents transported back to a date night they once had in 1967.
Memories of the good ole days
To escape the midday heat, we decided to spend some time reminiscing at the Dufferin Historical Museum at King's Park. Heritage museums are at the heart of many prairie town across Manitoba, and I've come to learn there is truly no better way to get a sense of a community than visiting them to appreciate the endless donations of artifacts and time from townsfolk to preserve history.
The museum is well organized into more than seven themed areas, and my parents were entranced with items that they recalled from their childhood, or even, their grandparents' generation. At the impressive wall of farming gadgets, my dad and I engaged in a game of "what's this for?' (of course, he won) and he shared memories of my grandfather using a double-handed scythe in his fields. My mom and I spent time oogling over the vintage dresses and furniture. She pointed out an old Manitoba sugar bag in the corner and explained to me how my homesteading maternal grandma used to upcycle the bag fabric to make embroidered handkerchiefs. We lost track of time as we wandered - each in our own worlds and family memories - and ended up spending much more time than anticipated.
On the museum grounds is the well-preserved Boyne School, an exact replica of the one-room schoolhouse that my parents attended in their early years. Stepping inside was like stepping back time - my parents giggled like school children at all the familiar school supplies and books they recalled. Then, we skipped over to the 1875 tiny log house to experience how pioneering families (some with over ten children) lived and farmed at the turn of the 20th century.
Just a walk in the park
We snapped back to present day by going on a walk through the rest of Kings Park where young families and active golfers abound. Squeals of delight greeted us from tots runnning amok at the Kin Splash Zone. Nearby, school-agers completed swimming lessons at the outdoor Carman Aquatic Centre, while rural families gathered with RVs in the campground. The fairgrounds and grandstands sat quiet, but in a normal summer the Carman Country Fair draws visitors to the town from around the region.
Seeing the park - and laissez faire vibe - reminded us to exhale, drop our shoulders, and remember fondly the many camping trips we took as a family in the 80s and 90s (unfortunately, often out of province). We all agreed that returning to King's Park - this time with the grandkids in tow - will be added to our 'Manitoba bucket list' before summer's end.
After all the fresh air, we hopped in our car to tour through downtown Carman. We drove down Main Street, witnessing locals out supporting their town's small businesses. New additions like the Boyne Regional Library and outdoor amphitheater of Ryall Park complement all the old architecture and design at the town's historic core.
We just had to stopped in at the Golden Prairie Arts Council, located in Carman's retrofitted historic train station, because frankly it was too enchanting to pass by. The station has been converted - by love that you can only find in a small community - into a bright and airy gallery space, gift shop and workshop space. The gallery rotates installations regularly: the current 20/20 Vision installation is a collection from across Western Canada that displays personal reflections of the year 2020 using fabric art and quilting techniques. The collection got my mom thinking about her own quilting skills - a craft passed down from her mother - and how it's becoming a lost art.
Out back, the art council's courtyard and garden is lined with colourful murals depicting bygone days on the Canadian Prairie. My dad took the moment to rest (he had skipped his afternoon nap, after all) and reminded me how the railroad was the life line of many of these communities across southern Manitoba - not just for arriving visitors but for farmers conducting business, too.
A pathway through time
While golden prairie is a defining characteristic of a central plains town like Carman, the meandering Boyne River quietly winds through it and provides another level of nature. Carman is very proud of its five community pathways; outdoor lovers come from as far as Winnipeg in all seasons to walk the network of trails. Before our one-hour drive back to Winnipeg, we decided to walk a two km portion of the main six km loop from downtown to Carman Collegiate. The pathway hugs the Boyne where the view changes from babbling rapids, to tall grass prairie, to old growth forest. Along the way, my mom pointed out an explosion of chokecherries - nicknamed 'grapes of the prairies' - a favourite of hers for making syrup and jam. My dad taught me about his favourite tree - the old gnarly oak - because it reminds him of growing up on the farm.
I could have lingered a few moments longer along the trails in Carman - swapping stories with my parents about prairie life - but responsibilities back in Winnipeg beckoned. It was only a day trip within Manitoba, but we somehow we managed to travel between worlds all within an afternoon.
"Well, that was a great day," he said. "Thank you for inviting us," she said.