Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Think Winnipeg's bad? This Winnipeg's Mo. bad

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IF you're searching for a summer vacation destination with a difference, you might consider this.

A road trip to Winnipeg.

No, no, no. I mean the other Winnipeg.

Travel editor Paul Pihichyn stumbled on it one day.

He was checking a travel Web site, looking for the distance between Winnipeg and somewhere else, when the words "Please clarify" popped up.

Followed by: "Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada" or Winnipeg, Missouri, U.S.A.?"

Turns out that if you do a search on the same Web site you'll find eight other places named Toronto in the United States.

But there's only one other Winnipeg.

According to the Web site, to get to Winnipeg from Winnipeg, you drive straight south 1,945 kilometres.

Seventeen hours and 37 minutes later, you should reach Winnipeg Drive, a back road buried deep in the Ozarks, halfway between Kansas City to the west and St. Louis to the east.

Drive another 800 metres and there it is.

The other Winnipeg.

Of course, before you leave, you'll want to know more about Winnipeg, Mo.

So Your Humble Travel Agent phoned the Laclede County office, in Lebanon, Mo.

Lebanon is a town of about 12,000 folks in a county with a population of 32,000.

A woman who answered the phone in the county office referred me to a newspaper reporter at the Lebanon Daily Record, who referred me to a woman who wrote the history of Winnipeg, Mo.

Her name is Wanda Weaver.

Wanda Weaver is a widow who lives in Lebanon, now.

But that's not where her heart is.

"I'm 77," she said in her delightful "Masura" drawl. "I was born at Winnipeg. So were all my brothers and sisters. There were six of us."

Five of the six survive, four in Missouri and one in Georgia.

According to Wanda, the place was started in 1906 by a man named William C. Gibson who arrived from Canada. From Winnipeg, apparently, although there's some dispute about when and who built the store and post office.

Another source says the postmaster was M.J. Dugan, and it was he who opened the post office in 1910. And since the post office needed a name, he called the place Winnipeg in honour of his old home town.

Why a man -- either man -- would move from the middle of nowhere Canada to build a store in the middle of nowhere U.S.A. remains a mystery.

Especially since Winnipeg, Canada, was in the midst of a population boom, growing from 50,000 in 1900 to about 270,000 by 1913.

By contrast, when the Americans entered the First World War in 1917, 21 men, age 21 and older, listed Winnipeg, Mo., as their postal address.

By 1927, two years after Wanda was born in a nearby house, Gibson sold his business to Arthur E. Lampkins, Wanda's father.

Soon after, according to the county history, Gibson moved back to Canada.

And Lampkins moved the store and post office -- and hence Winnipeg -- about one and a half miles southwest, where he and Wanda's grandfather and uncle operated a flour, feed and saw mill.

By the sounds of it, back then, Winnipeg was a one-family town that serviced the surrounding area.

"It was just a wide spot in the road," recalled Wanda.

There was the store and post office, a church and a cemetery.

"And then our house," Wanda said.

She had an aunt who had a house nearby, too, and Wanda's grandparents lived in "greater Winnipeg" with the rest of her aunts and uncles.

Apparently the store and post office was a busy place, while the business lasted.

But by 1954, the post office closed.

And so, effectively, did Winnipeg, Mo.

"There's really nothing left there now, hardly," Wanda said. "Just an old store building that's about to fall down. And a house they built over a spring that came out over a hill."

The church is still there, too, but it's not used. And, of course, there's the cemetery where Wanda's folks and grand folks are buried.

Wanda also said some newer people have built a couple of newer houses around there.

But Winnipeg is basically a tumbleweed waitin' for a good gust of wind.

Now you might be thinking that our one-and-only namesake sounds eerily like a ghost town. So what's the point of driving for 17 hours and 37 minutes?

Well, it's the only other Winnipeg in the world, for one.

This spring, the Lebanon Daily Record reported that a man who was born in Winnipeg, Mo., was buried in Winnipeg, Mo.

These days that's about the only time Winnipeg, Mo., gets a mention in the local paper.

In the obituaries.

Which reminds me of something a colleague said when he heard the story of the other Winnipeg.

"So you thought we had it bad in Winnipeg," he said. "Try going to Winnipeg."

Happy motoring, y'all.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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