DELORAINE — The former Nygard Park in Deloraine, named after disgraced fashion mogul Peter Nygard, has a fresh new moniker.
The community’s central park now goes by the name Prairie Sentinels Park, which references the many grain elevators that used to grace the area — "The sentinels of the Prairies," Janice McClelland said.
A member of the Deloraine-Winchester Historical Society and project manager for this effort, McClelland brimmed with enthusiasm while discussing the community’s grain elevator history recently.
It’s a passion shared by other members of the historical society, who have memorized various milestone dates for the historic structures in the region.
"You think about a grain elevator and nobody really gives a lot of thought to it, but I’ve spent probably upward of 1,800 hours in research and writing for the park, and it was a fascinating early history," McClelland said.
"It’s been a real education for me, so I hope to share what I’ve learned."
From 1886 to 1892, for example, Deloraine was the end of the CP Rail line, prompting the construction of five elevators in short order.
The sixth elevator — the most the community has had at any one given time — was erected in 1903.
In 1901, an elevator in town went up in flames, and "by the grace of God the whole town didn’t go up with it," McClelland said, adding the fire department at the time was basically a bucket brigade.
Only one elevator of the 23 constructed in the Municipality of Deloraine-Winchester still stands. The structure was built just west of Deloraine in 1974 and is still used today.
This rich history was a chief topic of discussion during the historical society’s earliest days, upon its formation in January 2020.
The municipality allowed them space at the tourism building in Deloraine, next door to what was then Nygard Park, when the topic of changing the park’s name came up.
The man behind the park’s name, they joined the world in learning, was facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly luring women and girls under the age of 18 to his estate in the Bahamas so he could sexually assault them.
Decades earlier, Nygard had relocated alongside his parents to Deloraine from Finland in 1952. They later shifted to Winnipeg, where Nygard founded Nygard International in 1967.
His ascent to the status of fashion mogul was a rags-to-riches story the community saw fit to celebrate, but the allegations against him in recent months darkened that legacy.
In search of a new name for the park, the historical society’s discussion quickly narrowed in on grain elevators.
It was a natural progression, McClelland said, as the setting for their discussions — the tourism building — was the location of the community’s first grain elevator, constructed in 1886-87.
The conversation from that point forward "just flowed," McClelland said, and they ended up agreeing this was a community origin story well worth celebrating at a themed park.
Their first order of businesses was changing the park name, which they did last spring. A new sign featuring "Prairie Sentinels Park" has since been installed.
Now, they’re in the thick of the real work — updating the park’s theme.
There are currently 68 flagpoles spread throughout the park as part of its "Fly the Flags of the World" project the community launched to celebrate the millennium, with various other flagpoles set up throughout the community.
When the flags are reinstalled this season, only those representing countries Canada exports wheat to will fly at the park, to keep up with the park’s new grain elevator theme.
The park will also feature 19 story boards scattered throughout, from which people can learn about the region’s grain elevator history.
Within two months of issuing a letter requesting sponsorships for the story boards late last year, McClelland said they were all spoken for.
"It’s amazing the support we’ve had," she said, adding the story boards are currently being drafted.
A cleaning bee saw various volunteers clean up the park last year, repairs to a few flag poles are ongoing, and there’s talk about growing variants of wheat in the park’s gardens this season. Models of grain elevators built for parades and centennial celebrations will also grace the park.
The society had planned on hosting a grand opening celebration on June 19, but they've since decided to reschedule it to Sept. 11.
Whenever they make a decision, it’ll be posted on the society’s Facebook page, "Deloraine-Winchester Historical Society group."
It’s a project well worth the effort, and one McClelland said she hopes to see carry forward long into the future, thereby preserving a history of grain elevators — a sight once commonplace but now increasingly rare on the Prairies.
"It’s a living project. We’re not going to consider it finished the instant the story boards go up."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB