The village of Plum Coulee, Manitoba, is being transformed: five projects aim to revitalize the village and bring energy back into the community. Projects include walking trails through the village, swimming and fishing ponds, a heritage square, Main Avenue renewal and a multipurpose facility in the old grain elevator.
Plum Coulee Foundation
Visit Plum Coulee for yourself: www.plumcoulee.com/development.html
A Tired Town
Plum Coulee had become a bedroom community to the nearby city of Winkler. With fewer and fewer familiar faces on the streets of Plum Coulee, community spirit was suffering. Buildings on Main Avenue were beginning to look very tired and the two old grain elevators were closed and scheduled for demolition.
In 2001, with the help of a grant from the Saydie and Sam Bronfman Foundation, the community began to turn things around. The plan was to revive the village through community-led projects over a 10 year period.
Five projects were planned for the community, including Heritage Square, Swimming Hole Beach, Main Avenue Streetscape, Prairie View Elevator and Heritage Walk. Today, the town is five years into the project, and changes are already apparent.
“We are only half-way through our ten year plan and our school population is growing, we can see it already, there is an excitement here in the community”
—Heather Unger, co-chair of the Plum Coulee Foundation
Saydie Rosner grew up in the community of Plum Coulee, where her father owned the original Rosner-Brownstone general store. Saydie went to school in Winnipeg, and when she married the wealthy industrialist Samuel Bronfman and moved to Montréal, most people figured she’d forgotten about the tiny village. But Saydie always maintained a great love for her hometown. In 2001, when Saydie’s daughter Phyllis Lambert attended Plum Coulee’s centennial celebration, she also fell in love with the town and the elevators on the prairie skyline.
On behalf of the Saydie and Samuel Bronfman Family Foundation, Phyllis approached the community with the desire to contribute something to the town. The community gathered to discuss ideas, and together they developed a ten year plan.
The Saydie and Sam Bronfman foundation has contributed funding each year to the community, which must be matched through fundraising and volunteer time.
Plum Coulee Foundation
The first step was to create the Plum Coulee Foundation (PCF). The Foundation oversees all projects and also works to channel community donations. There are 16 members of the Foundation. Five members lead one of the five PCF projects, each with a secondary committee of five to ten people. The committees plan the projects and do the physical work of developing and maintaining the projects.
When the Foundation began their work, they realized that different community groups were competing for the same government funding and community donations. Now PCF strives to provide a uniform approach to all community projects and organizations, ensuring funds are distributed evenly. Heather Unger, co-chair of the Foundation, strongly recommends that other communities develop similar foundations, as they serve to brings organization to community efforts.
THE FIVE PROJECTS
The railway has played an important role in the history of Plum Coulee, as the steam engines once stopped at the coulee to fill with water. The story goes that the wild plums were so thick that it was difficult to walk, leading to the naming of the town. At the center of Heritage Square, a fountain will commemorate the role water has played in the history of the town.
The Canadian Pacific Rail has donated 11 train cars, and a steam engine was donated from a Pine Falls paper company. The train will be a backdrop for Heritage Square and will possibly be developed into a hostel. A picnic shelter fit with an old train station roof houses interpretive plaques about the early years of the rail.
The site also has a multi-purpose asphalt surface and fire pit, which will serve as an outdoor winter skating rink, site for roller blading, parking, and house the tents for the annual Plum Fest.
Plum Fest is an initiative aimed at building community spirit and increasing the arts in the community. The festival has outdoor street dances, and live music day and night all weekend.
Swimming Hole Beach
Over the years the two forgotten reservoirs that once supplied the community with water had become badly polluted. But the Foundation began to see a new potential in the ponds: with a little work the lakes could be an attractive recreation spot. The lakes were completely drained and garbage cleaned out. One pond has become a swimming hole with new sand, with wild plum trees planted along the shores. In 2001 Plum trees no longer grew in the village, so trees were generously donated from nearby farms.
The second pond will be left as a natural wetland and stocked with fish for catch and release.
Every summer, community members sign up for a ten day volunteer maintenance period at the beach. Individuals are responsible for watering and weeding the $700 worth of plum-coloured petunias and the other plants.
Main Avenue Streetscape
The revitalization of rundown Main Avenue became an important initiative for Plum Coulee. Main Avenue now has cobblestone sidewalks lined with lamp posts and trees. Local manufactures were contracted to build the lamps.
Businesses on Main Avenue were encouraged to improve the exterior of their buildings. Although there was no funding specifically for the businesses, most have worked to improve the appearance for their buildings. Local youth groups have also pitched in.
“It’s amazing how investing just a little bit of money gives people confidence to spend a little bit more and just fix up their old buildings.”
From Grain Elevator to Community Space
The grain elevator constructed in Plum Coulee in the 1970s was the last wooden elevator to be built in Manitoba. In 2001 the two grain elevators of Plum Coulee were scheduled to be torn down, but the community wasn’t ready to see them go. Aided by the Bronfman Foundation, Plum Coulee convinced Argicore United to donate one of the elevators to the Plum Coulee Foundation. The donation included the building and property around it, as well as the rail spur near the elevator. The second elevator is rented to a local farmer for his grain cleaning business.
As an elevator, the building was never intended for people, but the community plans on having people all the way to the top of their elevator. A lot of time has been spent with engineers and architects to establish a design that would pass building regulations.
The elevator will be a multi-purpose building. The first floor will include office space, and an interpretive center depicting how grain is handled and how elevators work. A film of the renovation process will be part of the building’s interpretation.
A replica of the town’s first Rosner-Brownstone general store will be built in the annex; here visitors can purchase local crafts. The raw wood in the annex has been pounded with grain for years, making it extremely smooth. The building will be insulated from the outside in order to preserve this wood.
A glass elevator will take visitors to the top of the grain elevator. On the way up, people will be able to see the core of the elevator, and the operating equipment. Visitors will also be able to climb to the top of the grain bins on a climbing wall.
At the top of the elevator, visitors can sit in a lounge or the small restaurant and look out across the prairies. A 22 foot ceiling in the restaurant will allow for the preservation of the equipment once used to distributed grain to the elevator’s bins. The restaurant will likely have a dozen employees as well as community volunteers working on a daily basis.
The head of the grain elevator committee once worked in the elevator when it was still operational, and has a great knowledge of the building; he often offers tours of the elevator on special occasions.
A network of paved walking trails weaves its way through town, connecting the five community projects. Along the trails interpretive signs tell the history of Plum Coulee. The village keeps the trails clear of snow all winter.
A Community Effort
Almost all of the work thus far has been done by volunteers, using local equipment. During the first two years, one member of the Plum Coulee Foundation worked as part-time staff for the Foundation to help get the project rolling. He was hired through the town as an Economic Officer.
The Foundation has contracted some of the carpentry work to individuals who once worked for Manitoba Pool in a nearby town.
Fundraising is a huge part of the Foundation’s work. One important fundraising project is the annual bulk mailing of information and donation forms. Forms are also available year round at local businesses. The Foundation has found that fundraising is most successful when people are able to purchase a tangible object instead of simply giving a sum of money to the Foundation. As such, community members are able to purchase the street lamps, trees and interpretive plaques along Main Avenue, as well as the boards on the walkway connecting Heritage Square and the elevator. Small plaques with the names of community members commemorate these donations.
Chair of Plum Coulee Community Foundation