The 49th Parallel

Sharing Our Stories
Along the 49th Parallel

Writers are beginning to emerge here, on the 49th parallel, approaching me as a Writer-in-Residence at the International Peace Garden situated between Boissevain, Manitoba and Dunseith, North Dakota, sharing their stories. I have begun reading their work and will provide the desired feedback over the next two weeks.

For others wanting to get in on this free service this summer I am available by appointment made by email at [email protected]. I am also usually found in the Peace Garden Interpretive Center on Friday afternoons. I  listen to stories that are told to me, and/or record those that wish to provide stories from along the 49th Parallel, for archival purposes.

I encourage all writers to make time for reading, and where possible books about the place they live. Dakota by Kathleen Norris is about right here, and a bit to the south, and The Perfection of Morning by Sharon Butala, heir to Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow, out west in Eastend Saskatchewan. Norris’s book is subtitled A Spiritual Geography, while Butala’s subtitle was A Woman’s Awakening in Nature.

Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Kathleen Norris Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr. CHA

Three things are so badly taught it’s a miracle that anyone survives: the Christian faith, poetry, and mathematics. Those three things are always taught so any natural aptitude you have is going to be squelched out of you by the time you’re in 8th grade.
Kathleen Norris, 2002 interviewed by Christianity Today.

The writers I’ve met here are much concerned about the matters of the spirit, while telling the stories of their families to pass on lessons to their grandchildren with a faint hope that writing might supplement meager farm incomes, or could aid their retirement plan. Garrison Keillor is this generation’s Lawrence Welk, (Confession: I thought Lawrence Welk and his band was awesome when I watched him on our b & w tv in my border town of Gretna, Manitoba in the 60s) local boy makes good, an inspiration, fueling a secret hope for striking the mother lode, allowing writers to set pitchforks aside.

I suspect Larry Woiwode remains nearly unknown. His first novel What I’m Going to Do, I Think was published in 1969. Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album, was nominated for a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976. It enjoyed both a critical and commercial success, telling tales of the Neumiller family. The New Yorker had been publishing stand-alone stories from this novel since the mid sixties. In Born Brothers (first published in 1988) he returns to this North Dakota family, focusing on the 30-year relationship between two Neumiller brothers, Charles and Jerome.
I will write about Louise Erdrich who, with her two sisters have hosted writers’ workshops on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota, in a separate post. A goodly proportion of her early work is set in North Dakota. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is a
significant Indigenous voice from this region.


Along the 49th Parallel

Hot, here in the Peace Garden. Tornado warnings given for neighboring towns on both sides of the 49th, even though we’re not in Kansas. The pattern for most of this summer month has run from overcast, in early morning, holding back on the much needed rain, but once, and then it came too fast. Wind, then cloudy, clearing skies and blazing sun from 3 to 9pm only losing its intensity in the last few minutes before disappearing behind the cottonwoods and then the horizon. Downright cool overnight. The boss bungalow faces due west with living room picture windows, dining room windows, and kitchen window getting the full brunt of solar energy! We are in farming country where the weather can make or break a year’s work. Slow rain, not hard rain, what is needed for the crops and for the Garden.

Majority of the evenings until tonight have cooled significantly, and it sometimes feels like there is a very small micro-climate here on Turtle Mountain. I actually slept with a quilt last night, yes the window was wide open and the fan was running, but with a quilt! Now I can hardly keep my clothes on. And so it goes weather or not, the sun rises over the Garden. Quick borrowed joke…Adam and Eve are sitting outside the gates of the other garden, the Garden of Eden, and so Adam turns to Eve and says “You know, I can’t help thinking there might be a book in this.” Maybe it’s just a joke for writers.

Reports from the 49th Parallel July 2

July 1st  was celebrated at the IPG Interpretative Centre with a visit by a burrowing owl, and an ongoing exhibit from the Human Rights Museum.

Burrowing Owls Recovery Program

DSC_0068Seven pairs of burrowing owls were transferred to three release sites in May in Turtle Mountain and West Souris River Conservation Districts. The Manitoba Burrowing Owl Recovery Program received a three-year grant through Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) to start work earlier this year and those that follow. Release pens are used until four eggs are laid and the owls are able to acclimate to their environment. Once the pens are removed the owls don’t go far from the nest with the male providing for the female on the nest. The program encourages landowners interested in improving their land for burrowing owls and other grassland birds to contact them by calling their HOOT line at 204-807-4668.

Reports from the 49th Parallel May 13

2017 – How my mother got her name, and how she changed it.

Susann cycles to the MCII am working with three or more overlapping story lines. I am at the International Peace Gardens on the 49th Parallel between Dunseith North Dakota and Boissevain Manitoba. I was raised in Gretna, Manitoba with a border crossing to Neche, North Dakota. My mother, Susann with two ns, was raised four miles north of Gretna, a distance she walked or bicycled to go to the Mennonite Collegiate Institute. She crossed several boundaries, which had little to do with geography. I’ll name the other story lines as I post them. Mother’s Day is tomorrow so this is the story of how my mother claimed her name.

Susann – with two ns

 “I was born on February 3, 1921 on a very blustery day about four miles southwest of Altona in a village that used to be called Blumenhof, which does not exist any more, only the cemetery is tSusann on the mainline, Horndean 1941here.

In those days doctors had to be called in by horse and sleigh and registration of names did not take place soon after a child was born. By the time my name was registered it was already the following December. How that happened – well, you didn’t just go to town any old time. It was in December that father gave a paper, just an ordinary piece of paper, a letter, to register my birth, to someone – no-one seems to remember who it was, to take into the municipal office to register my name. Father had written down Susannah. I was supposed to be registered as Susannah, with the “ah” at the end. Well, whoever went and took the letter in decided to change my name and call me “Susie”on the municipal registration, which, of course, I never was. I was always called Susan.

To prove that, I have report cards from my elementary school that shows my name in the Register as “Susan”. I never liked just the single “n”, and so to change that I went to the Norquay Building in 1986 when I planned to go to Australia. I had to have an ID Card for a new passport. I wanted that information to be as I had registered in university. As Susann with two ns. I’ve checked our 1941 marriage certificate and there I am still Susan with one “n”, but by the time I finished my degrees in the 1960’s I was using the two n’s.

I had no trouble getting my Social Insurance or Canadian Pension or Old Age Pension under the name Susann. But I was having trouble getting it that way on my passport so I had to go get it changed. The people in the passport office or Vital Statistics told me to bring in some official document, a school register, for example, before I had turned 15. So I dug up an old school register from the time I was in grade six or seven, Kate Klassen would have been my teacher; and there, sure enough, I was registered as Susan. Not “Susie”, which I never was, or even as “Susannah” as father had wanted to name me. But as Susan.

So I brought a copy of this record in to them, to prove my name had been Susan, and that my name had been wrongly registered. This they accepted but I did have to pay $25 to add the second n, to make my name Susann, the way I had been writing it for a long time already. I liked it better that way, and it seemed to me I was just shortening my name, dropping the “ah” from Susannah as Dad had wanted to name me, and writing my name as Susann.

I was never Susie. They never even called me Susie at home. Sometimes they called me “Sue”- “Suess” in low German. But I objected to ever being called “Sahn”, that’s low German, an ÄltColonische Wort, for Susan. In Russia it would have been Sonja, and I would even have preferred that.”

Reports from the 49th Parallel May 8, 2017

I am here. The International Peace Gardens straddle the 49th parallel. They host a large annual summer music camp that I attended two summers, most memorable to me as the first time I danced with a girl in my arms, than for trumpet and band practice. The Music, Arts and Sports Camps only operate for a few months, while the Gardens are open year round, though for camping from May to October (reserve now). The Manitoba Cross Country Ski Championships were held here last February. The interpretative centre hosts a conservatory with one of the largest collections of cactus in North America.

Gardens BungalowThis is my second summer staying with my brother Garry who is the CEO, and has a ranch-style bungalow with enough bedrooms that I can occupy one for writing, keeping my clothes and books, and one with a great queen mattress for sleeping. I’ve taken to calling this “my summer residence” as if I was the Prince of Peace, rather than  the Grand Master of Delusions. Family, friends and writers are welcome to visit.


My parents sold me the 1965 green Studebaker. It was fun to drive and park. That’s me, when I was 18 years old.

FURTHER ON UP THE ROAD (Hagios, Regina, 2005)



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