Photography by Jeannette Greaves
PHOTOS: JEANNETTE GREAVES
Jeannette Greaves says it’s difficult to “put down in writing” a full description of the beauty that surrounds her and her family, especially this time of year in rural Manitoba. “It’s just so much of a feeling,” says the photographer, who farms with her family at a tiny little place called Deerwood, 80 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg in the Pembina Valley. “Deerwood was once a town, but we are the only remaining house here now,” she says. “But this is not to say there’s no community spirit. There are people living nearby, and like us they are proud to be called ‘Deerwood folk.’ The neighbours really do care about one another. We are here for each other–always ready to help out with no hesitation or the need to keep track of favours. It’s a kindness that’s always returned–one way or another.” Greaves has shot hundreds of photos in an effort to capture the spirit and beauty that defines rural Manitoba–everything from red and purple sunsets over the wide open grasslands to young calves romping across a muddy pasture to towering wind turbines above golden fields dotted with bales of fresh straw. Add to this the images of cattlemen, grain elevators, railway lines and the omnipresent combine.
In this Celebrating Canada feature, we’re pleased to present a photo essay that we trust shows a little bit about what it’s like to be on the Prairie–either in Deerwood or some other place in rural Manitoba–during the fall. But as Greaves is quick to point out, “you can try to capture it with film, but you’ll never get that crispness that comes with the cool fall breezes. The colour–so sharp this time of year–is defined by umpteen shades of gold, reds and crimsons. Indeed, the splendour of colour is constantly entertaining you, and there’s also the wildlife–the deer, muskrat, beaver and occasionally a moose. The sight and sound of geese in flight, and coyotes who may sound lonely and threatening at first, but after careful listening you know they are just communicating in their own way.”
And while life on the farm is filled with long, tough days and countless responsibilities, there is a great sense of accomplishment especially at harvest time. “That’s when the grain is stored in the bins and the pantry shelves are filled with the garden’s gifts–foodstuffs that adorn our table during the winter months.
“Frosty mornings turn into warm and glorious afternoons on the farm,” she adds. “Fall calving gives the calves a good start before the winter’s cold sets in. It is also the time when people witness the migration of the geese, feeding and feasting in the fields before they begin their southern journey.”
Greaves says Manitobans are also blessed by the vastness of the prairie sky–the stars overhead, the dancing Northern Lights and the seemingly never-ending grasslands. Indeed, there is a feeling of smallness living on the Prairies. “It’s a good thing. One should feel tiny–like a mere speck under the grand endless sky. There is also a feeling of wonder when we experience the darkness of an overcast night.”
While Greaves is mostly interested in looking at her province through a camera lens, her daughter managed to capture a small slice of rural life in something she wrote while in Grade 9. Part of it reads: “The sun’s bright rays of light always reflected against my father’s wheat field. It made the heads appear an even more golden yellow. The sky was usually filled with bright hues of pink and purple intertwined with the long, white slender clouds. As the sun sank lower, small animals crept out of their hiding spots and ventured out into the open. Everything always looked extremely peaceful.”
In much more general terms, farms such as the one in Deerwood are what help drive the provincial economy. We can’t list all the benefits in this short feature, but suffice to say that the direct spinoffs from primary agriculture are huge.
According to the provincial government, between 1994 and 1998, agriculture and related industries contributed an average of 10 per cent to the provincial gross domestic product.
In 1999, more than 37,000 people were directly employed in Manitoba’s agricultural industry. Furthermore, approximately 20,400 people were employed in other areas of the provincial economy as a direct result of the agricultural industry. And in addition to creating employment in the province, agriculture in Manitoba is directly responsible for thousands of jobs in other parts of Canada.
Indeed, for every dollar of gross farm income produced in the province, almost two dollars are generated in the overall provincial economy. In fact, about one job in 10 depends on agricultural production.
These are interesting stats for a province that has approximately 1.1 million people, but clearly they are not the main reasons why Greaves and so many others remain committed to the land and what it brings to their lives.