Carillon Column Here and There

Carillon Column # 111


Here & There by Abe Warkentin

Tired of working nine to five?

There are options.

But there is a price.

Option one

            We left the southern outskirts of Steinbach one lovely, warm evening recently while the bulldozers were still snarling around the south end, opening up more streets for the latest building boom that has hit this city. In less than half an hour we were east of Pansy in a world without streets, sewers, stucco and vinyl siding.

            We were politely and expertly guided through the Northern Sun Farm Co-op by Mike Jagues but also accompanied occasionally by a young lad with long blond hair and torn trousers that rather charmingly revealed, we thought, he was free of the modern bondage of wearing underwear in summer.

            Northern Sun Farm Co-op is a 160-acre, rural community with land owned by members. Their focus is alternative energy, appropriate technology, simple lifestyles and self-reliance.  Members have independent finances. There is no leader; decision making is by consensus. Joining fee is $2,000.

            There are some seven residences for around 15 people. One of the earliest residences is a railway car with additions. At a time when new homes in cities can easily run to over $200,000, the cost of the perfectly adequate, self-built homes in the commune is absurdly low. Some were built for less than $2,000. Our host’s home has an attractive roof of recycled offset printing plates that once printed copies of The Carillon. These people do not shop at Home Depot, they recycle.

No one is connected to the hydro grid. Solar power is big and you see that a lot when you travel the foot trails, edged with poison ivy, to the residences. There are solar ovens on several yards and everyone has a stack of firewood.

Worms are popular, for composting and toilets. (No “flushers” here, not even outhouses.) One home had a very lovely, circular, straw bale addition and there is a communal cedar sauna that shows someone has considerable skills in construction. Residents generally have at least some income from ‘outside.’

The road to the co-op is cleared of snow in winter by the RM of Hanover. Owners of vehicles leave their vehicles at a central point on the co-op but there is no electrical power and cold weather starting sometimes involves using coals from the wood stove under the oil pan.

(For more information contact Mike Jagues – 434-6887.)


Option two

            A week or so after this tour I had the good fortune to tag along on a tour to the site of the Pioneer Quest TV documentary near Argyle, Manitoba where two couples, modern day pioneers of sorts, spent eleven months to recreate experiences a family might have had pioneering in Manitoba over 100 years ago.

A horse-drawn wagon took us to the site and we were very fortunate to have Tim and Deanna Treadway, one of the original couples, as our hosts to show us how they survived a record wet summer and cold Manitoba winter in shelters they built themselves. The documentary that showed the lows and highs of their experiences was expanded on in wonderful detail by the Treadways whose great sense of humour undoubtedly carried them through the times when the pig died and the garden flooded time after time. 

The site, 20 minutes from the northern perimeter, 11 and ¾ miles north of Grosse Isle, is on private property and tours are by appointment only. (Charles Amy -- 467-2637.)


Option Three

            The ‘pioneers’ on the documentary Pioneer Quest had few neighbors but became close friends with residents in the nearby New Haven Hutterite Colony who visited the ‘pioneers’ and sang for them, breaking the aching loneliness.

            We visited the New Haven Colony after the “Pioneer Quest” tour. We had a hearty lunch and then a tour of the colony. Many readers are familiar with Hutterite colonies – or should be. They share a faith similar to that of their more worldly cousins, the Mennonites but believe in sharing goods and generally live a much simpler life in a setting where most meals are eaten together and everyone has his specific chores. It is an agricultural lifestyle with modern farming methods. Hutterites produce most of their own food.

            After a hearty meal of noodle soup, chicken and strawberry shortcake with whipping cream, two young women gave us a tour and very competently answered questions. We learned the colony had some 95 members and a shortage of eligible bachelors.

One of our pretty, young hosts told us with a fairly straight face that the colony supplied all their needs, if not wants but later added the young people regularly met with other young people from other colonies for various events like berry picking. (We didn’t ask whether outings like that increased in times when there were shortages of one kind or another in the marriageable categories.)


            The reason I presented the above options is the Canadian Mental Health Association recently stated approximately 20 % of the payroll of a typical company is taken up by absenteeism, employee turnover, disability leaves, counselling, medicine and accidents.

We are living in an amazing new age but all the computers, cell phones, MP3 players, iPods and wide-screen TVs are not making us happier. Statistics bear that out. One columnist recently wrote in a daily paper: “Materialism …has many of us on the treadmill to hell.”

            So, given that, I would have thought more people would be attracted to a simpler lifestyle as presented in the above three options. There is cheap land to be had for people willing to pioneer in northern Canada, for example but the only person I ever saw heading that way was a young German tourist who passed through here four years ago and spent a few nights in our home. (My wife made his bed one morning and found a 15 inch knife under his pillow. He was probably fighting grizzlys in his sleep.) His head was full of dreams and I’m sure he’s back in Germany by now, working nine to five.

            The Northern Sun Farm Co-op gives a person lots of room for an individual lifestyle and makes very few demands. They are looking for new members but there is no stream of people from the suburbs of Winnipeg or Steinbach heading there.

 And the Hutterites, who offer community and great security, rarely gain new converts except by birth.

            So, it appears nothing much is about to change. Possibly, the pace of modern life will even quicken. People will work two jobs, sacrifice their children, suffer disease, anxiety and stress rather than give up any of the creature comforts and modern technology, no matter how little value modern life gives them.