Going the Speed of Light in Hamiota, Manitoba

Hamiota, Manitoba looks like many other small, southern towns in Canada’s friendliest province. Under an hour’s drive away from Brandon, this seemingly typical prairie town is a bustling, agricultural borough. But there’s a lot more to this thriving farming community.

To truly see the difference of Hamiota requires you to dig a little deeper, as part of this town’s success story is actually buried underground. Underneath the town runs fiber optic cable that’s bringing some of the best internet available in Canada.

An Unlikely Pairing 

In today’s increasingly connected world, fast internet is critical to economic well-being. Having slow or no internet means being left behind and community leaders in Hamiota have no intention of coming up short. So, with the independence typical of prairie people, they figured out a way to bring fast internet to their region on their own.

Wanting better internet for their schools, Park West School Division reached out to the municipalities nearby to work together so that this new internet could be shared with residents. 

To formalize the partnership, a co-operative was created between 3 municipalities and the Park West School District. 

Today, the aptly named Park West Fibre Co-op provides much speedier wireless connections to rural homes and fibre to those in town who have signed up for service. 

The Impact of Internet

Tanner and I met up with Hamiota’s mayor Larry Oakden to talk about the impact faster internet has made. He said, it has allowed the town’s residents to have more stable connections over Skype and other communications tools. Another aspect he mentioned is that he hopes this innovation will help to put Hamiota on the map for more people.

Larry also talked about how everything needs a stable internet connection these days and that this realization drove the acceptance of fibre optic. Any town can recognize a need however, so I got Larry to explain to me what it is about Hamiota that made this come about: 

So, just how good is the internet in Hamiota? Well, with the fibre optic connection residents are capable of achieving 1 gbps (1000 mbps) download speeds. To put that into perspective, the internet I have in Saskatoon is 25 mbps and is the fastest connection I can get on the copper wires in my building. And my internet is not exactly slow — Hamiota’s is just WAY faster. Forty times faster, in fact. Moreover, it’s also 3 times faster than the very fastest fibre internet available in Saskatoon.

And if you compare these speeds to the satellite internet in many rural areas, which are high cost and slow speed, a typical rural home can expect a promise of 5 to 10 mbps from providers, but often a real experience speed of 1 to 2 mbps.

Not only is a connection like this great for personal use but with faster internet speeds it’s also easier to get a stable internet connection to a larger group. Jerry Crampain, a teacher at Hamiota Collegiate, explained. 

Not only do kids in this school district have amazing internet, Jerry also showed us his classroom’s 3D printer and explained how he teaches the students to repair laptops using old ones. 

These older laptops can keep up in the classroom because they use Chromium — an internet-based operating system that doesn’t need as much processing power due to its reliance on the internet. With their access to stable and fast internet, Hamiota Collegiate has no problems using this type of computing.

It’s little things like this that show off the subtle improvements and innovations having a faster connection can bring. For Hamiota it means school kids can be as connected to the world as their urban peers and grandparents have buffer-free Skype conversationswith their families. Like the qualities of Hamiota, faster internet brings successes that add up and make for a greater quality of life. Plus, it positions the community for growth and prosperity into the future, which is no small feat for a small, prairie community these days.

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!