Cooks Creek Heritage Museum: Manitoba Slavic Pioneer History

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Cooks Creek Heritage Museum main building - one and a half story 1930s era former rectory with white stucco finish and brown trim around windows
A Canadian prairie museum dedicated to Manitoba pioneers from Eastern European Slavic countries

Cooks Creek is an unincorporated community in the Rural Municipality of Springfield, Manitoba, Canada, located about 37 kilometres (23 miles) northeast of Winnipeg. The Cooks Creek Heritage Museum is dedicated to the pioneers from Eastern Poland, Western Ukraine and other Eastern European Slavic countries who settled in the area starting in the late 1800s. It contains costumes, folk art, religious artifacts, furniture, and tools used in everyday life.

I’ll admit to being surprised by how much was on display at the museum. You’ll find many beautiful artifacts reflecting Slavic culture and interesting details about pioneer life. It reminded me that small town museums can be delightful and full of treasures.

The main museum building was once the rectory for the neighbouring St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church. The current church replaced the original church, which held its first mass in 1899, after fire destroyed it in 1922. The rectory was built around 1937 as a show home by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Collection of newspaper articles about the museum and its priest founder on display at Cooks Creek Heritage Museum
Articles about the museum and its “junk priest”

The museum opened in 1968 as Cooks Creek Galician Museum under the direction of Alois Krivanek, the priest of St. Michael’s at that time. The Czechoslovakian-born priest came to Cooks Creek in 1964. He became known as the “junk priest” as he spent decades scouring the countryside to collect artifacts to preserve the heritage of the area. He moved out of the spacious rectory so it could be used for the museum and into a smaller space. Today, that spacious rectory is jam-packed with artifacts, photographs, and articles.

Display of Canada land grants advertisement from the land 1800s
Dominion Land Grants Advertisement – land grants brought many of the early settlers to the area
Miniature representation of a Krakow cathedral in a museum

The making of Szopkas is a Polish Christmas tradition dating back to the nineteenth century. They are usually models of cathedrals made as a background to the Nativity scene. The one in the above photo is a representation of a Krakow cathedral made by Mary Malik in Krakow between 1968 and 1978.

A collection of priest robes on display
Religious items on display

One room contains a collection of religious artifacts. Another is dedicated to fabrics and contains costumes, linens, and various embroidered items.

Dolls from Europe wearing traditional Eastern European costumes
Dolls from Europe wearing traditional Eastern European costumes
Wood food preparation and storage cabinets and old stove from an old kitchen
Part of the recreated pioneer kitchen
Old schoolroom display with wooden desks
Old schoolroom
A collection of Polish currency and stamps in a glass-topped display cabinet in a museum
A collection of Polish currency and stamps

On the grounds, you will find a number of other buildings, machinery, and the remnants of St. Michael’s original cemetery.

Outdoor clay oven at a heritage museum
Clay oven

Wayside Chapel, which holds no more than six people, was originally situated along Henderson Highway as a place of rest for weary travellers.

Museum pioneer home with handmade tools hanging on outside wall
Handmade tools hanging on the side of a pioneer home circa 1910
small rustic pioneer home mow in a museum

Built in 1915 by Blazej Sadowy, the Candle House represents the size of a home for a pioneer family that wasn’t wealthy. It now contains candles, candle holders, and candle making equipment.

There is also a blacksmith and woodworking shop I didn’t get a photo of. The blacksmith shop, circa 1909, was originally located in Birds Hill and contains farrier equipment, shoemakers tools, and other tools.

Onion domed southern Manitoba Ukrainian Catholic church in yellow and blue colours of Ukraine flag

When you visit, you may want to also stop at Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church and Grotto just down the road. The onion-domed church bearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag is a nationally and provincially designated historic site. The neighbouring Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes is modelled after the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Lourdes, France. Tours are available weekends from the May long weekend through to the end of October.

(Note: The Grotto is one of the places featured in my book 111 Places in Winnipeg That You Must Not Miss.)

View of Grotto side fake-rock wall, Ukrainian church, and village at Cooks Creek, Manitoba
View from top of Grotto

Cooks Creek Heritage Museum is open mid-May through August. Check the website for hours. The sign at the museum’s entrance contains the following words: “Without the memories of the past there can be no dreams of greatness for the future”

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  1. I’m a little puzzled by the Manitoba poster that says “nearest British colony.” Nearest to what? Suspect some Polish people might have been a bit surprised at how much of a trek it was.

    1. Ken, that is interesting marketing. It was closer than places like Australia, New Zealand, India, and parts of Africa, although I don’t know if that is what was meant or not. It was still a trek for people from eastern Europe, although I think many might have known what they were in for. Many followed others from their communities or families who’d gone ahead.