A Winnipeg author is giving new life to abandoned places all over Manitoba.
Gordon Goldsborough, Manitoba historian and aquatic ecologist at the University of Manitoba, recently launched the second in his popular Abandoned Manitoba book series.
Goldsborough had been travelling around the province mapping historic places for the Manitoba Historical Society when he was asked to come on CBC’s weekend morning show to discuss some of the things and places he had seen in his travels.
That conversation turned into a weekly series that Goldsborough has been doing for over three years now.
Out of the blue, he said a publisher called him asking if he wanted to do a book, and Abandoned Manitoba was born. Goldsborough said he wasn’t expecting much, but the book has already sold over 6,000 copies.
“It greatly exceeded my expectations,” he said. “Two years ago that book came out and two years later, a sequel.”
That sequel was what Goldsborough was in Morden promoting on Nov. 6. More Abandoned Manitoba: Rivers, Rails and Ruins continues his look into some of the forgotten locations around the province that have an interesting history.
“I barely scratched the surface,” Goldsborough said of his first book. “I thought I’d covered all the good stuff in the first book, but then I found out no, got lots more.”
Goldsborough had to cut eight chapters out simply because there wasn’t enough room for them, and said he probably has enough material to write at least one third of a new book if he ever gets around to it.
“So many people tell me that they never knew about a lot of these places,” he said. “A lot of people don’t travel a lot, they don’t see these places, but they also don’t look. They might have driven right by it without ever really noticing what it was or what was there before.”
“That’s where I’m interested,” he added. “I want to know what that old structure was, or what that building is, what that monument is for. So I dig into the story.”
To find the places featured in his books, Goldsborough primarily relies on word of mouth and through research he has done in old history books.
“Right now I’ve got about 250 places on my ‘to do’ list,” he said. “When I’m in a particular part of the province I make a note.”
Sometimes, though, he said it’s just dumb luck. “You’re out driving for something else entirely and suddenly you see something you never expected,” he said. “Serendipity.”
Goldsborough said the experience of finding old buildings and places that haven’t seen for a long time can be exciting, but also worrying.
“Sometimes it’s exciting, because you can see things that not everybody gets to see,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little bit apprehensive, because these buildings are often old and decrepit. My wife always tells me I have to carry my cellphone with me in case I fall through into the basement and break a leg so I can call her, but I said, ‘I’m in a lot of places where there’s no cellphone signal, so it’s not going to do me a whole lot of good.”
“I’ve encountered lots of people who once they get traveling themselves, they get hooked,” he added. “It’s really quite addictive to start exploring and finding these places and looking at them.”
For readers, Goldsborough said he hopes they gain a better appreciation for the province. “Especially how fortunate we are today, because a lot of the places that I talk about are places that are abandoned because things have changed,” he said. “One room school houses, for example, aren’t used to any degree anymore. We have much bigger schools that give students more options.”
“It’s worthwhile being reminded of that periodically, that we have a lot,” he added. “We’re very fortunate, and these places remind us of just how much better we are off today than our immediate ancestors. We’re very fortunate.”
Goldsborough said with the eight chapters he had to cut and with new stories and places always coming his way, it’s entirely conceivable that a new book could come around in the future.
“As long as there’s stories,” he said. “Bottom line for me is it has to be a good story. I’m not just going to do it because it’s a way of cashing in, because that to me is not the way I want to do it. I want to make sure it’s a book I can be proud of.”