Discovering Manitoba

The Babushka Trail

Ukrainian buddas near Olha (Photos: Kathy Swann)

Ever gone seeking the perfect perogi? How about exquisite Ukrainian folk art and crafts? Thanks to the Babushka Trail, the newest driving tour developed in the Parkland region, your search just got easier.

Ukrainians began arriving in Manitoba in 1892, many settling around Rossburn, Sandy Lake and Dauphin. After researching and combining the available Ukrainian heritage resources in those areas, Parkland Tourism developed The Babushka Trail, a 365 km driving tour that focuses principally on the Ukrainian cultural influence in the area. Spanning Rossburn to Sandy Lake along Highway #45, the trail turns north through Riding Mountain National Park into Dauphin and area. The tour includes 16 Ukrainian churches representing a range of Byzantine architecture from modest to grand. Many churches feature distinctive onion domes or banyas. The diversity of church designs along the trail demonstrates the vibrancy of Ukrainian pioneer culture. Eleven of the churches are designated as municipal, provincial or national heritage sites.

The trail also stops at four museums, pioneer dwellings or buddas, a school, two cemeteries and two monuments. Restaurants serving traditional Ukrainian food and shops selling Ukrainian items on the trail are also noted. The Negrych Pioneer Homestead, the most complete and best-preserved Ukrainian farmstead in Canada, is a national and provincial heritage site and a worthwhile side trip to the Babushka Trail.

2008 was the first year the trail was promoted to tourists. Kathy Swann, executive director of Parkland Tourism, says, “The response was very positive. People were pleasantly surprised at the number and variety of Ukrainian Catholic churches we have in the region.

Developing the trail was a fascinating experience, says Kathy. “As we talked to people who live along the trail, several Ukrainians said it was helping to restore their sense of identity about their culture.

“The trail is great for any history buff. It has a concentration of ethnic history that you don’t normally find in tourism material – maybe in church materials – but for tourists, I can’t think of anything else available that takes you through a specific Ukrainian history in a geographic area as large as the Babushka Trail.”

To satisfy the growing craving for authentic heritage experiences, tourism promoters like Kathy Swann are developing town walking tours, self-guided driving tours and heritage packages on a variety of themes. Manitoba’s rich diversity presents opportunities for ethnic, religious, architectural, agricultural and nature tourism development. Add in people interested in family roots, cemeteries, railways, museums, hiking, geocaching and the Internet and the potential becomes vast.

“Shrinking populations and external changes are forcing people to work together. Towns need to realize that they shouldn’t be competing with each other, but rather working together in clusters or regions,” says Kathy. Using the Babushka Trail as an example, Kathy says it is now necessary to form regional heritage partnerships to compete with other provincial and national places and the entire world, thanks to the Internet.

“The percentage of travelers using the Internet to plan their vacations is very high,” she says. “Tourists are looking for varied, authentic heritage experiences with some kind of packaging or theme.” Researchers have found that heritage tourists tend to be more affluent, educated, family-oriented and stay longer than other travelers.

Parkland Tourism will market the Babushka Trail using old and new tools. The website has a printable trail guide. Signage at and to sites is in the works as is attracting geocachers to visit trail stops. For details about the Babushka Trail and all tourist activities in the Parkland, visit www.parklandtourism.com

- by Reid Dickie

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