Please scroll down to hear the audio recording with local historian David Neufeld.

Welcome to Vantage Points Flashback. We highlight stories that shape us as a region. Thank-you municipal councils for your support. 

Homemade Blocks 

It wasn't even all that deep, but for us kids, it was thrilling. Like a skateboard park today. It was a depression, like a crater, on top of the hill behind one of our granaries. 

Down the hill a ways was our farm house. It was massive; basement, main floor, full upstairs and a very creepy attic – with its own stairway. What distinguished it from other large, early-settler homes around here was the outside face of it. Imagine concrete blocks, but so large it took two men to lift one. The dimensions? About 60 cm long, 30 wide and 15 high. They were made in forms, with hollow centres,c alled ‘palmer blocks’, after an inventor in the states. The corner blocks had fancy swirls, made with the fancy block form! 

Ours was the fourth family in this impressive house. The couple who built it, back in 1904 (with the help of professional builders and strong neighbours no doubt) was William and Mary Anne McKinney. They had a family large enough to make use of the six bedrooms. Large families, though, slipped out of fashion when reliable health care and labour saving farm machinery arrived. So, by the time we took over in 1954, the upstairs and attic hardly ever heard an intimate human voice. 

Remember. In 1904, homes had no insulation, no electricity and no plumbing. More like a medieval castle. So, no flush toilet! Most farmhouses had a well outside for water and a rainwater cistern in the basement, to keep water through winter. The floors were finely finished hard wood. Doors and windows were trimmed with sculpted wood. 

Electricity came on the scene in the early 50s. This changed everything. Before electricity, folks used a hand pump in the kitchen to pull water up from the cistern. On Saturday nights, we'd pump up enough water for a bath in a metal tub set in the middle of the kitchen. We'd heat up water in a big kettle on the stove to make the water warmish, and then bathe the smallest kid first, then the older ones and finally Mom. Dad, of course, was the dirtiest and so had to go last. All with the same water – with maybe a top up of hot water between baths. We did what we could with what we had. 

What made this grand home affordable back in 1904, was that the palmer block maker allowed the owner-builder to make blocks on-site with local gravel! Guess where the gravel came from to build the McKinney house. Yep, our playground, the crater on top of the hill. They carted it down to make the bulk of the house. Little did they know that 60 plus years later children would beg to come over to peddle bikes down one thrilling side and up the other. Literally, home-made fun! 

Home Blocks is based on a story in Vantage Points 5 and my own childhood. Vantage Points is a 5-book series about the layers of history in South West Manitoba. All the stories in this radio series can be found at or click HERE

Please learn about Turtle Mountain – Souris Plains Heritage Association, and talk with us. Our website is 

See you later! 

David Neufeld