On a short day trip we visited several Manitoba communities, all within an hour of Brandon. The neighbourhood has much to offer. We hiked a trail, paddled and swam at a beach, stopped at a few historic sites, and had a great lunch.
Two places we visited stood out in stark contrast. Both were very small communities. One of them was Polonia, a place with a rather unique history. The surrounding area was initially settled by people from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, who named the area Huns Valley. Eventually, settlers of Polish ancestry outnumbered them and, in 1921, the name was changed to Polonia.
Today there are no commercial services and very few residents in the village. But someone there cares. The historic St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church is in good repair and sits on beautifully tended grounds.
Likewise for the nearby community hall. Several commemorative monuments highlighting the history of the church and the community are well cared for.
Even the abandoned building that once was likely a store is painted and maintained.
The nearby cemetery, on a beautiful site overlooking a valley is also the object of much care and attention.
Polonia could his easily have become another forgotten village. There is no commercial reason for its existence. It’s not even on a paved road.
I’m going to contrast it with another village, which I will not name. A village where several abandoned buildings are rotting away. Where derelict vehicles seem to be the most prominent landmarks. This village may never have been as picturesque as Polonia, and may not have had the strong sense of cultural identity, but it too was once and attractive prairie town.
Why are they so different now?
Yes, as the above photo shows, part of it may be that Polonia has some historical and natural advantages, even its location on and out-of-the way gravel road, is likely an advantage.
In fact the village that I'm contrasting with Polonia, being less isolated, has followed a pattern I've seen elsewhere. Rural vilages can become places where cheap housing has drawn people who want a lifestyle unencumbered by regulation and community standards. Also, people who have no roots in a commuity often have a different set of values.
But I still think it comes down to people and leadership. In earlier posts I have described places where the Municipality has made a conscious effort at keeping villages tidy and cared for. And I wonder about the forces that are prevent that in this case. Either way, choices have been made, and in the case of Polonia, someone cares.