Community impact and connection in Canada’s Prairies

Tina Barton joins the Board of Selkirk & District Community Foundation for an eye-opening few days of community spirit and connections in the Prairies – seeing the good that comes from the ground up.

Located 30 km outside of Winnipeg, the community of Selkirk, Manitoba (population approximately 10,000) feels a world away from city hustle. Bordering the Red River, with country lanes and grand prairie fields all around, Selkirk has both the tranquility you’d expect of a rural community and the feel of a ‘big small town’ that’s larger than its immediate neighbours.

I was in Selkirk to experience the day-to-day activity of a community foundation. The Selkirk & District Community Foundation is led by Bev Clegg, a warm and dynamic powerhouse who has spearheaded the organization’s growth and engagement for the past 11 years. The community foundation is one of 53 throughout Manitoba, making up more than 25% of our national network of 191 community foundations. These figures are a good indication of just how strong community life is across the province.

Bev Clegg at Grand Marais Community Central

Bev Clegg (right) with community volunteers at Grand Marais Community Central.

My first day on the ground was a whistle-stop tour from Winnipeg through Selkirk and out to the Grand Marais beach, which was indeed very grand and once the centre of community life with a three-story hotel, large dance hall, and Canadian Pacific (CP) trains bringing people together on the shores of the mighty Winnipeg Lake. Several devastating fires and the sale of the beachfront property and assets from CP Rail to the provincial government in the 1960s changed the thriving community, which for about four decades was the place to holiday and kick up your heels.

Fortunately, all history is not lost thanks to a new community project funded in part by Selkirk & District Community Foundation to establish the Grand Marais Community Central. The inviting community centre features a museum which showcases the social and economic history of the area – from First Nations and Métis culture, to the prominent commercial fishing and trapping industries, to the heart of community life at Grand Marais.


A model of Grand Marais in its heyday.

The next day I joined community foundation Board members on a full-day tour of community curling and skating rinks, halls, schools, and nurseries in the area. Every year, the Selkirk & District Community Foundation combines its annual strategic planning day with site visits as a valuable opportunity to connect with the community, celebrate the impact of previously funded projects, and discuss future possibilities together. I spoke with many local leaders who were proud to share how contributions from the foundation had helped to refurbish and revitalize community buildings.

I saw time and again how simple infrastructure investments can have a big community impact – providing attractive spaces for community life to thrive, and creating places where people feel welcome and proud to belong. By visiting these various sites and meeting people face-to-face, I experienced a closer connection to the community and a better understanding of the priorities, challenges and opportunities facing Selkirk for the future.

Spending time with Bev, Board members and Board Chair Kelly Lewis, as well as my wonderful hosts Fraser and Bev Stewart who run a heritage bed & breakfast on the banks of the Red River, highlighted the charm and warmth of community life in Manitoba. I was welcomed often and made to feel very at home in the community – including being invited for several dinners in people’s homes. I left impressed with the warmth and commitment of community leaders in Selkirk and the surrounding area, and even a little homesick for my own hometown far away in New Zealand.

I wish my new friends in Selkirk all the best, and look forward to the next time we meet again!

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