By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
NEEPAWA, Man. — This year should be a good one if you’re interested in local history. While 2017 may have been full of national historical celebrations, something special is coming to Neepawa this summer. The History of Neepawa Businesses is expected to hit bookshelves this June and for it, three local historians have combined forces to put together the most comprehensive chronicle of Neepawa’s business history.
The book isn’t just a really neat look at Neepawa’s past and present, but it also represents everything that’s great about rural Manitobans. The three authors, Rick Sparling, Norma Forsman and Cecil Pittman, are all familiar names when it comes to Neepawa’s history. Sparling grew up in Neepawa and even though he moved away, the town still holds a special place in his heart. He’s spent his retirement chronicling the town’s history — first, with two books about local hockey. At the suggestion of friends, he decided to make his third book about Neepawa businesses.
While Sparling drew on the three existing local history books, published at the Town’s 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries, and the Beautiful Plains Archives, he was also able to draw upon private archival collections. This is where Forsman and Pittman come in.
Forsman in the archivist at the Beautiful Plains Archives, but she and her husband Ron also have an extensive collection of newspaper clippings about local businesses. Norma, whose interest initially lay in family history, explained that when she and Ron met, he was already collecting business histories. When they married, they continued to build the collection together and Norma said that turning that collection into a book was something on her bucket list. Pittman not only has an extensive photographic archive of the community, but from 1989 until 2018, he went into the Neepawa Press archives to produce the weekly “Looking Back” column. On top of those sources, Sparling has sought out current and former business owners, and their families, to help fill in the gaps. It’s been a labour of love, for the past 13 months, Sparling has worked on the book every day.
Sparling said that the work done by Pittman and the Forsmans made his job considerably easier and allowed him to complete the book in about a year and a half — a huge undertaking when you consider that the finished product will be 575 pages of text and photos that all had to be gathered from somewhere. In recognition of their extensive contribution, Sparling said he wanted to recognize them as co-authors.
I realize that while I can’t wait to see the finished book, it doesn’t have a wide appeal beyond those with a strong interest in Neepawa. But it’s important as a symbol of something present in almost all rural communities. Beyond telling the story of Neepawa, the material that fills the pages represents the passion that many people have for their home, even after they leave. It comes from the love of community people have had over the years, not just this book’s authors, but the painstaking hours that went into all of the sources the book brings together. It celebrates the businesses so crucial to any town’s continued existence. The authors have volunteered their time to make this book a reality and the proceeds from the sale of the books will benefit the Beautiful Plains Archives and ensure that the region’s history continues to be preserved for future generations.
It’s this love of community that is so prevalent in small towns and can make or break them. Projects like this one elicit community pride and whether it’s a book, a building, a park or any other kind of project, I hope that this year, other Manitobans step up with pride to show what their home has to offer.