A Hutterite colony south of Brandon is hoping to buy a tiny community nearby in an effort to open a new colony.
"Our population’s just getting too big," said colony manager Tim Hofer.
Located about 130 kilometres southeast of Brandon, Willow Creek Colony has more than 160 members, Hofer said, and once a colony reaches those kinds of numbers, they usually try to branch out.
The nearby local urban district (LUD) of Mather has fewer than 30 residents and is close to the current colony’s hog barn, Hofer said.
The colony has been negotiating with individual property owners for about two months, he said, adding that about 90 per cent have said they are willing to sell and move. They’ve held a few community meetings already, he said.
"Some of them are elderly. They’re going to go into a lodge anyway," he said, "and some of them are looking to retire and move toward their grandchildren. For some of them, it’s just an excellent exit."
Others say they aren’t yet ready to move, Hofer said, and that’s causing a delay in their plans, which requires 100 per cent co-operation before the colony can approach the Rural Municipality of Cartwright-Roblin.
Hofer said Mather is a perfect location for a new colony.
The infrastructure is already there and the village has a community hall and two churches, one of which was converted into a tea house. Hofer said one of the churches could be used as a school.
Hofer expects the colony will have to spend several million dollars to buy up Mather, if it gets that far.
If and when the colony is able to take over Mather, members would then decide who would relocate.
"That village is sitting there and slowly losing population and deteriorating," Hofer said, adding that in a few years there will be nothing left of it.
"If we move in there, we’ll keep it alive," he said. "It’s kind of an exciting venture, so far."
Curtis Lees, a member of the LUD and a Mathers resident for about 20 years, has heard those arguments from the colony.
And while that may be true, he said, "This is home. It doesn’t make a decision any easier."
At the same time, his house is getting old and won’t last forever, said Lees, who hasn’t discarded the idea of selling to the colony.
"It still isn’t an easy decision. Everybody’s still struggling with coming to terms with it," said Lees, who farms with his brother north of the community.
"I’d never have guessed in a million years that we’d have to consider something like this."
For now, the RM of Cartwright-Roblin is just waiting to see what happens with the negotiations.
"It’s a big learning curve for us," said chief administrative officer Colleen Mullin, adding once they are approached by the colony, they will have to seek guidance on how to proceed.
The LUD falls under the umbrella of the municipality.
Sod was first turned on the village of Mather in 1897, according to a history page on the Mather website.
It boasted 19 businesses between 1909 and 1912, from a drug store, laundry and bank to butcher, barber, liveries and three ‘store and stock’ businesses.
Lees said the community’s last store shut down two or three years ago.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 30, 2019
Updated on Saturday, April 6, 2019 at 10:30 AM CDT: Updates map