Manitoba

Manitoba Hutterite colony backs off from proposal to buy shrinking Manitoba town

A Manitoba Hutterite colony has backed down from a proposal to buy and move into a shrinking rural town after getting less support than anticipated at a meeting with property owners this week.

Colony cites lack of support for proposal after meeting with residents of Mather, Man.

A Hutterite colony in southwestern Manitoba had proposed buying up all of the property in Mather, Man., in order to accommodate its growing population. (Google Maps)

A Manitoba Hutterite colony has backed down from a proposal to buy all of the property in a shrinking rural town after getting less support than anticipated at a meeting with residents this week.

The Willow Creek Colony wanted to purchase the entire nearby community of Mather, Man. — 170 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg — including houses, yards, the arena and infrastructure, in an effort to split and expand the colony.

More than 40 people — the majority of the town's residents — turned out to a meeting on Monday night to hear more about the proposal.

"I think some of them were confused," said Bob Yake, who owns an auto shop in the community. "There [were] tons of rumours."

The response was that not very many people were interested in receiving such an offer.- John Stewart, lawyer for Willow Creek

John Stewart, a lawyer with Winnipeg's  D'Arcy & Deacon who was representing the Willow Creek colony, told CBC News that all property owners were offered 1.5 times the assessed value of their properties as a start, but that there was room for individual negotiations. 

"The response was that not very many people were interested in receiving such an offer," he said on Thursday. 

Stewart said the purpose of the presentation on Monday was to give Mather residents and property owners the same information all at once. 

However, there simply wasn't enough interest for the colony to move forward.

"It's absolutely understandable," said Stewart. "Not everybody, when they get an offer to purchase their home, is looking to accept it." 

Residents moving on

Yake, 69, said there were concerns about the costs of relocating and whether or not the money being offered to property owners was enough.

Some, however, were on board, he said.

"I fully understand why," he said. "At the same time I think most of them fully understand for seven or eight of us ... it couldn't work.

"To relocate would be so expensive."

Hutterites are anabaptists who live minimalistic, self-sufficient and communal lives. The Willow Creek colony has grown too large to support its population, their neighbours were told.

When that happens, Hutterite colonies split up — usually starting in a new location which is then built up. It's unusual for a colony to offer to buy property in an existing community, experts have told CBC News.

Stewart said the colony doesn't have a Plan B right now, but will instead look to develop in other ways.

Yake said it appears residents of tiny Mather are moving on.

"I think it's getting back to kind of normal," he said. "I try not to get too wrapped up in emotion with it." 

With files from Karen Pauls and Ian Froese

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