Arts & Life, Travel

Prairies, unmistakably: A pioneer-era brick factory, sand dunes, and Trappist cheese

The monks near Holland, Manitoba don’t take plastic, and you’re going to want to buy some of their cheese and honey. Bring cash and a physical map. On this Prairies, unmistakably, cell service will be intermittent and some gravel roads may not appear on your phone’s GPS.

[related_content slugs=”prairies-unmistakably-good-coffee-a-greasy-drive-in-and-more-manitoba-gems” description=”More Prairies unmistakably” position=”right”]

This journey begins where you are, waking up in a lakeshore yurt at Stephenfield Provincial Park, a pleasant, diamond in the rough campground hugging a generous portion of the nearby lake. The park is located 23 kilometres west of Carman. Stay for the weekend, and tackle the following after check-out on Sunday or Monday.


Sparks is the obvious first stop. The drive-inn has coffee, but little else any relatively healthy eater would want to start their day with; a place that lists “Roast beef sandwich” under “On the lighter side.”



Treat the Prairies – the Manitoba Prairies, anyway – with deserved respect and historic appreciation, please. There will be signs at various points of this trip with nothing but a single bible verse. Religion in rural Manitoba, especially southern, is a rich history worth writing about, but not here and perhaps not by someone who grew up in its throes. Such a verse is visible at the corner of Hwy 245 and the park road. Exit the park, and turn right on Hwy 245, Sparks coffee in hand. Adventure is afoot.



The Leary Brick Company was built in 1900 a few miles west of Roseisle. It closed in 1953 and is heralded by historians as an important chapter of the pioneer era. The plant’s brick chimney, beehive kiln, and drying shed still stand, nested in the Pembina Valley where the necessary clay, sand, and wood were in ample supply.  The orange-hued bricks were distributed via train, and evidence of that remains. The rail bridge, now a narrow road, to the east of the site is worth the short walk.

Roseisle is a small town, easily missed. It is quaint and fun to saunter through. Turn left into the town from Hwy 245. The road winds over a bridge and through a thick, gorgeous stand of trees. Follow the road right into town and keep driving. Three and a half miles west of the town, along a gravel road that starts as one most Manitobans have seen countless times but soon becomes something very different and possibly unfamiliar, winding and rising into the hills. The brick chimney will be on the left, about 300 metres from the road and about 100 metres west of a yard located on right side.

20130728_141407 IMG_3504

Finding the highway again is the trick. Continue west, and turn right at the next major gravel intersection. This ride is beautiful. The hills are steep and the views amazing.

Turn left, west, on Hwy 245. A food stop is next. Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes is next, but not before passing a gigabyte or so of gorgeous, rolling, canola-filled landscapes.

People park diagonally along Main Street in Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, but the only vehicles modelling this belonged to the few people grabbing a bite at Andy & Wendy’s Drive inn.  The gazebo was the popular choice this day, full of Franco-Manitobans chatting to passersby through the mosquito mesh. The patio was too hot. The street was full of people smiling, chatting, laughing. A warm, inviting experience. The food was delicious.

A short, pudgy man wearing a Cabela’s shirt and day-off smile walked by, said “Hi,” then stopped, backed up (didn’t turn around): “I thought you were someone else. Sorry.” He was still smiling. Charming.

IMG_3515 20130728_144826 20130728_145334

Continue west on Hwy 245. Turn right on Hwy 34, then left on #2, then right at the Monastery sign.

The Trappist monks of the Our Lady of the Prairies monastery make excellent cheese and honey, and sell both on site. The order was established in 1892 and called St. Norbert home. The ooze of urban sprawl in the ‘60s and ‘70s began threatening their ascetic, contemplative existence and, in 1978, they transplanted the monastery to a site near Holland, Manitoba.

The store is closed on Sundays, so if purchasing cheese (recommended) is part of the trip, perhaps pick a weekday to make the trip.


20130728_155030 20130728_155437

Holland itself, a few kilometres west of the Trappist site, is a beautiful town. A big, brick building with ARTS written along its side can be seen from the highway.

“From humble beginnings growing up in a farming community in southwestern Manitoba, Ray McFeetors has achieved international recognition as head of the largest insurance company in Canada,” said a University of Winnipeg press release.

Holland is the home of Ray McFeetors’s “humble beginnings.” His name is loud on the University of Winnipeg’s McFeetors Hall, and it is similarly so on the arts building in Holland. The building is beautiful, and appears to be well used and well cared for. The arts must be thriving in Holland.

20130728_162537 20130728_162753

Continue west, presumably edging farther and farther away from home. The sand dunes in Spruce Woods Provincial Park are the final destination. Turn right on Hwy 5, drive south past the campground, then turn left at the Spirit Sands sign.


Spirit Sands is the largest area of open sand in Manitoba, and one of only a few remaining sites in Canada.  The walk from vehicle to sand is about two kilometres, and is worth it, if only for passing the surprisingly arty military sign.



Canadian Forces base Shilo is located on the western edge of the park, and training exercises can still be heard from the park. The original military lease from the provincial government was for a larger area than what Shilo occupies now. In 1975 the portion now called Spirit Sands was returned to the province. The warning sign remains.

No military explosives or hazardous debris were found on this Prairies, unmistakably.

If Winnipeg is home, jump on the #1 and head east.


All photos taken by Toban Dyck