Did you know that there’s an Austin in Manitoba? It’s a tiny town, located about a two hour drive west of Winnipeg along the TransCanada Highway. I was on my way there to experience the 59th annual Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede, held over an entire weekend at the 50 acres site of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, home to Canada’s largest collection of operating vintage farm machinery.
Because Manitoba has a rich agricultural history, many of the small towns like Austin host annual events celebrating their agricultural legacies and traditions, where generations of people come together to celebrate a shared cultural heritage. But the Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede has to be one of the largest, where people travel from all over the province to take part. I came by one Saturday afternoon to experience what it was all about.
Starting things off on a good note, I got talking to two locals, Doug and Cheryl Berry, while waiting in the admissions line.
Longtime attendees of the Thresherman’s Reunion, they enthusiastically shared with me their passion for the community, and all the wonderful things to see and do at the festival. They even invited me to stay with them on their farm if I had some free time later on during my trip. While all my time was accounted for, I was truly humbled by their kindness to me, a stranger. It reminded me of the Manitoba licence plate, “Friendly Manitoba”. Sure, it may sound cliché, but if there’s one thing about Manitoba that continually shows itself to visitors, it’s the genuine friendliness of the people.
With Doug and Cheryl’s guidance, I decided to meander into the Homesteader’s Village, one of the many parts of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum. During the festival, all the exhibit buildings were open to the public to explore as they pleased. I visited the blacksmith (who made me an iron ring!), the livery, the general store, the printshop, the Arizona United Church, and several original houses.
I even toured a historic Masonic Lodge with its unique blue tiles – something I had more interest in now that I had done the Hermetic Code Tour.
The sweet man volunteering reminded me of my grandfather, who also was a Mason.
Walking around the village, people were dressed in period pieces, and some were even driving vintage cars. In a way, it was like going back in time.
I’d round a bend and there would be steam-powered threshing machines. I’d turn another corner and there was an old-time band performing old classics.
A highlight was walking to the grandstand, where I imagine the stampede was going to be taking place later that evening, except there was a parade of gigantic steam-powered threshing machines on wheels.
These antique gas tractors and other threshing machines would go chugga-chugga-chugging, noisily along, the audience waving as they went by I had to call my parents and tell them how cool this all was. I felt like I was having a quintessential prairie experience.
The sun was hot and I was hungry, so I went to study the menu from the various vendors such as the local Lions Club and the the Army vets. One of the things I came to notice in Manitoba is that amongst the the regular hot dogs and hamburgers were often Ukrainian dishes like perogies and kolbasa. Though Ukrainian food’s always tempting, I decided to go with a BBQ beef sandwich. It totally hit the spot.
While I could have easily spent the whole day at the Threshermen’s Reunion, I had to be back in Winnipeg for an evening at Celebrations Dinner Theatre with my friend Eugene, and he was meeting me at the hotel. Of course, as I walked back to the other end of the grounds, I realized I didn’t even explore the museum exhibits, so did a quick detour through there.
All I can say is that one afternoon wasn’t enough, but if you find yourself in Manitoba in late July, the Threshermen’s Reunion and Stampede is a quintessential Manitoba experience that can’t be missed.