Ross and Brenda Bond live on a small farm they bought in 1975 about an hour’s drive west of Winnipeg near the hamlet of Poplar Point.
It’s an idyllic piece of tree-lined property located about a kilometre south of the highway. With all the green cover, passersby would never even know it was there.
The old woodframe farmhouse, which has grown through several additions, is tucked up against the berm that used to protect their house from the once-raging Assiniboine River. Although it breached its banks just 10 years ago, these days, the oxbow — a former channel of the river — has dried up in the drought that is plaguing much of western Canada.
Even the beavers have had to take refuge in a pond on the property. Their new home, however, is a source of ongoing consternation to Ross because they’re chewing though the trees and burrowing into the berm.
Of the many shady trees that keep the property cool, one in particular stands out. It’s a mature elm that has managed to avoid the Dutch elm disease that has virtually rendered the species extinct in eastern Canada. Last year, Ross ponied up $800 to have the tree treated in the hopes of keeping it healthy.
Not far from the house is an old frame one-storey building that was once a church and, Ross has been told, served as a barracks for Japanese Canadians detained during the Second World War.
He bought it decades ago for $500, and today, it is filled with saws, planes, drills and a cornucopia of woodworking tools that Ross uses to ply his craft as a carpenter, making beautiful cabinets and furniture. He is soft-spoken and modest, but does let slip that he once did work for a member of Winnipeg’s Richardson family, whose juggernaut company built its wealth over a century-and-a-half in the grain, agri-food, energy, real estate, finance and transportation industries.
Right now, however, Ross is working on an old wood-frame church just up the road.
Brenda, though past retirement age, still works part-time in Winnipeg hospitals, providing spiritual counselling to patients.
The ConnecTour team met the Bonds through an organization called Warmshowers.org. Members offer their homes as a place for touring cyclists to pitch their tents and grab a shower at the end of the day. The Bonds joined Warmshowers last year after their daughter Muriel rode her bicycle from Montreal to Manitoba, and relied on these hosts whenever she could. Mom and dad thought they should return the favour, and started to offer their place last year.
Warmshowers hosts are like that: People like Jan and Zack Zacharias, who hosted us on their beautiful property in Creston, B.C. Or Angela Hurd and her partner Doug, who own a stunning out-of-the-way piece of ranchland in Wycliffe, down a winding country road about an hour’s drive north of Cranbrook.
Although cyclists are self-sufficient, hosts often share meals, tools and beers. In exchange, all these hosts are looking for is an evening of entertaining conversation. Ross and Brenda will admit that it sometimes gets pretty quiet on the farm.
We ask about wildlife in the area, and Ross tells us there are feral pigs. Years ago, some of the animals escaped from a neighbour’s farm, and they’re not only survived the frigid winters but also multiplied. Ross says one person claimed to have killed a 400-pound pig; himself, he felled a 100-pound animal. Many more are still on the loose.
The couple have one daughter, Meriel, who lives in Montreal. She would like to move back to Manitoba but fears she couldn’t make a good living making and selling pottery. If she has her father’s artistic bent, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Our night at the Bonds ended with a trip to the Ross’s hand-built sauna, heated to a searing temperature by a wood-fired stove. He uses it all winter long, and is happy to share it with his guests. It’s a perfect end to a visit with the sort of fascinating, engaging and generous Canadians we have encountered across the country.
After a short layover in Winnipeg, the ConnecTour crew will head to northern Ontario in the coming days. Watch for more adventures from the road.