Southwestern Manitoba blogger unearths 'endless' stories of small town's history, quirks
'I could go for another year,' says retired teacher Sharon Simms, who spent 2020 uncovering Reston's history
It started out as her own project to commemorate Manitoba's 150th birthday, but a retired teacher from Reston, Man., hopes to use a history blog she started to inspire others to dig into their own communities.
Sharon Simms has lived in the small Manitoba town, about 90 kilometres southwest of Brandon, for more than three decades. She first started a family history blog back in 2014.
But in 2020, she decided to shift her efforts slightly.
"I thought for Manitoba's 150 I would do something different," Simms told CBC News. "Reston has so many neat old buildings and I'd love learn more about them, so that was my project for 2020."
Simms wrote nearly 40 entries throughout the year — some documented old buildings, while others focused on schools and other aspects of life in decades past, and local connections to both the First and Second world wars.
She said while much of the information was already available in local history books and in old editions of the Reston Recorder newspaper, which closed in March after falling victim to the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting the stories in a different format gives them new life.
Blogs offer a 'short chapter' of history
"I think you bring them out again.… You bring them out of the history books and there's pictures, and a blog is just a little short chapter that you can digest in one night," said Simms.
"And people will say, 'I remember … back in the '40s, when that was the coffee shop to go to,' and it's neat to hear their stories too."
WATCH | Sharon Simms digs into the history of Reston:
Simms said while she hasn't discovered any big surprises or town secrets, she's amazed by how the town of around 600 people (as of the 2016 census) has managed to keep so many old, historic buildings on its main drag — something she said not every town is able to do.
"The old stone store is something that really amazes me — that they had, in 1902, the technology to chip stones apart and make them flat and put them together," said Simms.
The store — now called Reston Fine Foods — is still in operation.
"Some of the same places are there. Some of the old buildings have been replaced … time moves on and they are not going to last forever."
Simms has also rediscovered some of the town's quirks — like when detectives from the famed Pinkerton agency came to town in 1916 after the local bank burned down. That fire was quickly followed by one at the post office, where the bank's money was temporarily being stored.
The money was thought to have burned with the post office, but the detectives discovered that was not the case.
"The post office guy buried it at his farm and it was found.… He no longer had his job," said Simms.
Historical interpretive trail
Officials with the Rural Municipality of Pipestone, which encompasses Reston, also hope to use some of the area's rich history to drive tourism.
Tanis Chalmers, the RM's manger of economic development, said plans are in the works to further develop a newly designed 2.7-kilometre walking path known locally as the Peanut Line Trail.
"There has been a general excitement about it," said Chalmers, adding the path — which follows the route the Canadian Pacific railway took into town before the tracks were removed — is already roughed in.
Chalmers said the plans include interpretive and wayfinding signage, along with making the trail more accessible. The hope is to give locals and visitors alike more to do in the community, she said.
"It's important for us to be preserving the history," said Chalmers. "It gives communities the opportunity to showcase the unique elements of the community and the people.
"Preserving the history also creates a link to the roots of the community, and people that lived here and currently live here."
Simms hopes to continue her blog through 2021 — this year, she plans to focus on some of Reston's old houses, and share the stories of those who built and lived in them.
"I especially hope that people who grew up here and lived here will connect with it," she said. "But I also hope that people … think, 'I can do that about my town.'"
She hopes to dive into more of Reston's stories when Manitoba's red-level pandemic restrictions are lifted and she can once again dig into old newspapers and other materials.
"It's endless," she said. "I could go for another year."