By MARTIN ZEILIG For human rights lawyer and environmentalist Yude Henteleff, the official opening and dedication of the Henteleff Park Interpretive Centre on August 27, 2016 exceeded, as he said to me, “our greatest expectations.”
He was speaking of the hard work involved by members of the board of the Henteleff Park Foundation and all the volunteers who had helped make the day such a success.
Over 150 people, including official representatives from the three levels of government, First Nations and Metis People, and others, attended the event on a pleasant, breezy afternoon.
Located along the banks of the Red River and Normand Creek in south St. Vital at 1964 St. Mary’s Road, the 40 acre park– near the original homestead of the Henteleff family – is, as a media handout stated, the place where natural splendour and “rich historical traditions thrive in perfect harmony.”
The Interpretive Centre features a curved stained wood Shelter Building with display panels leading to a gravel circular pathway with additional information panels, all-weather notebooks, bench seating and landscaping. It took several months to build the structure, with funding coming from the Province of Manitoba, City of Winnipeg, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Foundation and personal donations from across the country.
Display panels honour the major role played by First Nations and Metis families in the area, as well as the history of market gardening in South St. Vital, the Henteleff family story, and the contributions made by other Jewish farm families in Manitoba in the progress of the community. There is also a description of the natural landscape, including the plant and bird species that dwell in the park.
“I admire Yude for creating this legacy for his family and the community at large– and for persevering (to get it done),” attendee Chana Thau commented after the official ceremony as people were milling about to have a closer look at the Interpretive Centre.
City Councillor/Acting Deputy Mayor Janice Lukes, who represents South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Ward, said the city embraces groups like the Henteleff Foundation because they make it better for everyone.
“It’s one thing to be a volunteer,” she added. “But, Yude has been a visionary. He’s inspired me and hundreds of volunteers. He’s been a leader.”
In order to get the Interpretive Centre built, they had to deal with “an unbelievable amount” of bureaucracy and red tape, Lukes said.
“We worked together to get this done,” she emphasized during an interview following her speech at the opening ceremony. “I had tears in my eyes when I walked in here. I know how hard it is to work with the city. But, Yude doesn’t give up. It’s difficult being an agent of change. He’s transformed this place. It connects through to a bigger trail network.”
She called the entire Henteleff Park “a gem” in the city’s trail system.
Likewise, Terry Duguid, M.P. for Winnipeg South, said the Interpretive Centre and park is a wonderful tribute to the history of the area.
“The story of Manitoba is written here – the rich indigenous history, particularly the Metis Nation, and the immigrants who came to our shores,” he elaborated. “They all came here to see a better life for themselves and their families. That history is seen in the street signs of this area (Metis, Dutch families and other ethnic groups), and, of course, this Henteleff Park.”
In her brief speech at the opening ceremony, Abby Morris, a board member of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, called the park a tribute to a family that has played a significant role in the development of the Jewish community of Winnipeg.
“The Henteleff family emigrated from Northern Ukraine to escape anti-Semitism,” she said. “The family was among the first Jewish market gardeners in Western Canada. However, theirs is the unusual story of a Jewish family that homesteaded here, on the banks of the river, on this very land until 1967. “Few Jews had been allowed to own land in Eastern Europe. Of those who emigrated here, only a tiny fraction turned to homesteading. To homestead was fraught with obstacles. Without agricultural experience and with precious little capital, many settlers last only a short time before moving on. But, others, like the Henteleffs, persevered and withstood the privations, the weather and hard work, and managed to build a successful life. I applaud this legacy of the Henteleff Family and congratulate you on this exceptional enterprise. Mazel Tov!”
While seated at a shaded picnic bench later, the 89-year-old Henteleff said the park has two fundamental purposes: Firstly, to preserve and enhance the natural state of the site.
“We’ve done that by an intensive program of reforestation,” he explained, adding that, over the past 10-15 years, volunteers have planted well over 5000 trees and shrubs of a great variety. “Ecosystems flourish with diversity, and so that’s what we’ve done and will continue to do. In order for people to enjoy it, we’ve established over three kilometres of trails which circle all 40 acres of the park.”
Funds have also been raised to rehabilitate Normand Creek so that it can, again, become a productive spawning creek for different types of fish, Henteleff continued.
Completion of the Interpretive Centre has now helped preserve the social history of the park and entire area for generations to come, he said.
“Whoever has been associated with this place, whether it’s the First Nations, Metis people or the Henteleff family, and (other) Jewish farmers (and other pioneering ethnic groups) in Manitoba, there’s always memories,” reflected Henteleff, who praised the many volunteers who have helped make his dream a reality. “They came from every part of the world to make this land all along the river a vegetable basket for Winnipeg. So, it’s an important place for personal memories and for its history.”
The park, though, is still evolving.
“It will always be, as it should be, a work in progress,” Henteleff said. “We have another project in mind, to develop a market garden demonstration project. Its purpose would be to inform those interested how best to grow vegetables in their own backyard.”
He’s always looking ahead.