Seeing Kansas portrayed in Manitoba is making us homesick

Authors Ken Reddig (left) and Wally Kroeker show off some of their favorite reading material. Behind them is the Red River, which flows through Winni?peg, their current place of residence.
This is a fond greeting from two former Hillsboro-ites who have a Kansas-shaped void in their hearts.

One of us (Ken) is a true native of Marion County?bred, born and raised?whose studies took him away in the late 1960s.

The other (Wally) is an import who spent seven years (1975-82) at the ?pub house? (Mennonite Brethren Publishing House) on North Main and fondly remembers not locking his door on East Grand.

We are now aging expatriates, thrust together in Winnipeg, a city of 700,000 straight north on U.S. Highway 81. Strangely, our Kansas yearnings now gain definition at, of all places, the movies.

Yes, you read right. In one of those quirks of Hollywood, central Manitoba is pretending to be Kansas in more and more films?partly because our downtown has a lot of period buildings that look like the American midwest. (We also doubled as Chicago in ?Shall We Dance.?)

Moreover, the Canadian exchange rate and burgeoning Manitoba movie scene gives producers good bang for their buck.

Anyone who saw ?Capote,? the Oscar winner of 2005, saw parts of Winnipeg passing themselves off as Garden City, Kan. The opening shots of the Clutter home, scene of the horrific slayings around which the story revolves, are actually the homestead of Nickolas Wall, a Menno?nite Brethren who immigrated to central Manitoba from Russia in 1925.

Other scenes were shot in a local cafe and an auditorium. The gallows scene was staged in an old factory in Winnipeg?s west end and the prison is Stony Mountain Federal Penitentiary just outside of Winnipeg.

There?s also a Mennonite link in an upcoming film, ?The Assassination of Jesse James? by the Coward Robert Ford (in which screen heartthrob Brad Pitt plays Jesse James).

Both of us, as we head for work each morning, drive down Princess Street which figures prominently in this movie.

To mimic the Old West truckloads of dirt were hauled in to cover several blocks of Princess and many buildings got new (well, old actually) storefronts to look like Kansas City of a century ago.

If you look hard you may see (but won?t recognize) the longtime home of C.A. DeFehr?s furniture and appliance store. This was where Mennonite Central Committee had its first Canad?ian office in 1964.

DeFehr was a prominent Mennonite Brethren leader and one-time MCC worker in Para?guay. It?s doubtful he would have approved of movies in general or this one in particular.

The latest let?s-pretend-we?re-in-Kansas movie is called ?The Lookout,? in which a brain-damaged young man is enlisted to help a career criminal rob a rural bank.

So when you go to the movies, think of Winnipeg and Manitoba pretending to be parts of Kansas. Lovely, isn?t it?

Meanwhile, we transplanted Kansans find many chances to tip our hats to our former home, even without going to the movies. In summertime (yes, we do have summer here, but it?s really short) we sit in Ken?s backyard by the Red River, compare the size of catfish (Ken insists the catfish available in his backyard are three times bigger than any in all of Marion County) and meditate on all we left behind in Kansas.

We both agree that none of Canada?s great doughnut chains even come close to the apple fritters from Daylite Donuts on West Grand. And nowhere here can we find chili-without-beans to match what Leonard Johnson dished out at the Iron Kettle, nor apple pies as scrumptious as those by Loretta Reiswig.

Neither of us can remember the last time we visited together without a reverent mention of the Flint Hills, which we think God created to show off, as if to say, ?See what I can do on a really good day!?

Thanks to the movies we now have even more reason to think of Kansas. We?ve seen ?Capote? but have not yet seen the Jesse James film or ?The Lookout.? But we will be there, for sure, watching Manitoba double as Kansas.

Or thinking, as our local newspaper recently reminded us, ?We?re not in Kansas… again.?


Ken Reddig is director of the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg, and Wally Kroeker is director of publications for Mennonite Economic Development Associates.

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