The Backroad Boys Rock the Fields of Minnedosa

For many, music festivals are the crowning jewel of summer. There’s not much better than getting a group of friends together to go camping and listen to your favourite music. For prairie residents this often means travelling a few hours though — but this isn’t necessary when your town throws its own festival. 

This is what has been happening in Minnedosa for the last couple of decades. Locals don’t have to travel far to attend Rockin’ the Fields of Minnedosa (RFM). This music festival run by a co-op lights up this town for one weekend each year. This festival pulls names like April Wine, Collective Soul, Tom Cochrane, and others these days but at its beginning this festival was a group of locals that wanted to enjoy some shows. 

Vaughan Boles, one of the directors for RFM, talked to us about the beginnings of the festival. He said that, before the co-operative, two separate companies tried to get a festival to take off in Minnedosa but were unsuccessful. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, Vaughan and a group of others decided they would make a go of it. 

As Vaughan explains, a co-operative model was their only option to make the festival work.

Not only has the festival kept up a good relationship with the community, but it’s gone on to benefit the community. Vaughan tells me that the festival space is used for community events like charity walks or the highschool’s safe-grad.

Monetarily, the festival has sponsored a scholarship for a student in Minnedosa looking to pursue music. The added traffic over the weekend also supports the local economy. Economic development officer Chantelle Parrot explains.

RFM is held in a hilly field on the edge of Minnedosa. The stage looks out at this steep hill (for the prairies at least) that serves as a natural amphitheatre. The festival takes advantage of this hill with permanent bleachers. Truly a prairie festival, the camping area is wide open, making it optimal for a mixed use of trailers and tents.

While we were there, Tanner and I saw and chatted with some very interesting people. Festival-goers are usually quite open to meeting new people and RFM is no different. To give an example, I thought I saw someone waving to me and I waved back only to find out they were waving at the person behind me (a classic blunder I know). 

This turned out to be a friendly, rather than awkward, encounter as they said “hello” to me. This person even called out to me “Welcome to friendly Manitoba!” — a play on the provinces license plate slogan.

The festival venue is right beside Lake Minnedosa and, while swimming is not allowed, Tanner and I did see someone cross the lake in a boat to get to the festival. We both agreed it seemed to be a great idea given the traffic festival entrances often experience. 

Minnedosa itself is a beautiful town. With plenty of trees amid the rolling hills as you drive in, it feels like a hidden gem. There’s plenty of amenities and I would recommend exploring the town! Be it for the rowdy time you can have at RFM or to experience a beautiful, slow-paced, prairie town checking out Minnedosa is definitely worthwhile! 

Aboriginal Designers Co-op (VIDEO)

In the heartland of Turtle Island, a small group of Indigenous designers join in laughter, combine resources and support each other through a shared purpose. Celebrating three years running, this unique designer co-operative helps ensure their voices and cultures are heard and experienced throughout the world.

The Backroad Diaries is a Co-operatives First project.

Dauphin, Manitoba

For a small town, Dauphin has a lot going on. We arrive a few weeks too late for the massive annual country music festival that draws around 14,000 people to the area, but we did get there just in time to see the street fair that kicks off the Ukrainian Festival. It’s clear that this is a town where people work together to make things happen.

Parkland Industrial Hemp Producers

Keith shows us a variety of hemp developed by the co-op.

Our first co-op stop was the Parkland Industrial Hemp Producers Co-operative. Keith, the Associate Plant Breeder, and Clare, the office manager, have lined up interviews and tours of the area to give us a glimpse of how the crop and the co-op has had an impact on the region. After chatting in the office, we hop in Keith’s truck and head out into the countryside. We stop at co-op member Chris Federowich’s farm, where he tells us all about the equipment he uses to harvest his hemp crops (hemp is notoriously tough on machinery). He and Clare also chat about the role the co-op has played for local producers.

“We go to our processor members first and say ‘how much do you want us to grow for you?’ So they give us their order for the year,” said Clare. “Then we go to our farmer members and say ‘okay, this is how many acres are required, so this is how many acres of production contracts we’re going to do’. The co-op has done that to protect our members so they always have a home for their grain and their grain is always moving. …it’s all about protecting the members, both the buyers and the farmers, so that the buyers’ needs are being met and the farmers aren’t over-growing and ending up with extra grain in the bins.”

The crop also becomes very popular with local kids when, once a year, Chris uses hemp bales to create a giant slip and slide.

Clare and Chris on the Federowich farm.

Remembering the co-op’s champion

On our tour we pass Hemp Sense, a processing business that has started up in the area, as well as miles of fields grown by local farmers. We stand in fields of two different hemp varieties – among the 10 varieties developed by the co-op and named for people who have been involved with it. In a field of “Joey” hemp, Keith and Clare reminisced about Joey Federowich, Chris’ father and one of the driving forces behind the co-op’s start.

Joey’s sharing nature was a big part of the co-op’s ultimate success, Keith said.

“He spent hours and hours on the phone talking to people no matter where about the crop, the machinery, about making it work and growing it. In the early days he was a real catalyst — he got information out to people, promoted the crop and the potential in the industry. He just never gave up.”

When it came time to name a new variety in 2010, the year after Joey passed away, there was no question what it should be called.

Catalyst Credit Union

When we arrived at Catalyst Credit Union the next day, Sisan’s reputation proceeded him.

“You’re the guy who got attacked by the goat!” said CEO Ron Hedley.

Catalyst (now temporarily known as Vanguard Catalyst after a recent merger), like many credit unions in small prairie towns, supports its community in numerous ways. It sponsors sports teams and the local arena, helped the cinema get up and running, and has supported local businesses when other financial institutions would not. In fact, said board member Stephen Roznowsky, many small towns might not have a financial institution at all if not for their credit union.

“Small towns would actually die faster” without their credit union, he said.

A unique tour of Dauphin

At the end of our interview, Ron said “We’ve got a surprise for you”.

The surprise is that the credit union owns a seven-seat bicycle that it brings out once in a while for parades, events, or just getting its staff to work (for fun) — and that we would get to ride it. Several members of staff joined us in pedalling around the main streets of Dauphin, as drivers honked and waved at our strange octopus-like bike in true small-town style.

Aboriginal Designers Co-op

When we arrived at the Aboriginal Designers Co-op in Winnipeg, Iris Lauzon was quietly and deftly sketching lines on a large, blank piece of brown paper. These simple and seemingly easy pen strokes were the very beginnings of what would, when she was finished, become a silver, full-length bridesmaid dress — one of eight — with a beaded Thunderbird symbol on the skirt bottom.

Iris Lauzon

Iris has been a seamstress for many years, having studied under Yvonne Yuen at her design school in Saskatoon. So impressive are her skills that she once created a custom beaded jacket for Senator Murray Sinclair that he wore when he was first sworn in.

Now she is one of four members of the Aboriginal Design Co-op: a small, colourful shop in the corner of what used to be the Neechi Commons. Though it was sad to see the remnants of the Neechi Commons through closed shutters when we visited, that the design co-op still exists is heartening. The local media and word-of-mouth support has been helpful in making sure people know that the design co-op is still up and running, Iris said.

Custom fabric by co-op member Roxanne Shuttleworth

The co-op model is ideal for the craftswomen who own the shop together. It gives them each a place to display and sell their work — clothing, jewellery, paintings, custom fabric, and more — while only having to be in the shop to mind the till one day per week and one Saturday per month. The rest of the time, Iris said, they can each focus on doing what they love — creating things.

“I think it’s a perfect set-up,” she said, “to just have to come in one day a week and then the rest of the time you can work on your pieces.”

Iris tells us this while doing a few quick measurements and then drawing the outline of the back of a dress in the paper in front of her. She’s lost count of the number of times she’s done this, and admits that even when she’s not working, she’s designing in her mind. Above her is a small sign that she embroidered and placed above the counter: “I might look like I’m listening to you, but in my head I’m sewing”.