Wednesday September 17, 2014


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A Metis tradition passed on at Louis Riel/Family Day

Darren Graham/Neepawa Press

Claire Tomoniko was one of many youth and adults trying their skills at bannock-making with Magic Mountain Bannock's Ken McKay last Monday as part of Neepawa's Winter Wonderland Festival on Louis Riel/Family Day. Other events for the day included a skate with the Neepawa Tigers, human bowling, snowman obstacle course, ducky shuffle golf, horse sleigh rides, snow sculptures and the annual chili cook-off.

It's a day Neepawa's leisure services manager Amanda Novak uses to promote physical and family activity, but it's also become an opportunity to promote awareness about Metis traditions.

This year, that community's annual Winter Wonderland Family Day saw around 475 youth and adults make their way through the sleigh rides, obstacle course and other activities set up at The Flats for the afternoon.

Those in attendance also got a “taste” of Metis culture, in connection with Louis Riel Day, as Magic Mountain Bannock's Ken McKay offered samples of bannock, and gave quick tutorials on the history and ingredients of the cultural cuisine.

“It's really about getting people involved in cooking it and learning a bit more about bannock,” McKay said. “I love to teach people, and pass on the knowledge that I have. Older people showed me how to make bannock, so I love doing the same.”

In Neepawa, McKay taught a less traditional way of making bannock – through using sticks over a fire.

“That's kind of the touristy way to do it, but that way the kids can get involved,” McKay explained. “Traditionally, they would find a big, flat rock, fire it up, and then cook on it. Or, if they had one available, they would use a cast-iron frying pan.”

McKay, whose father is an American Indian and mother is caucasian, was first shown how to make bannock when he was about eight years old.

He started his Magic Mountain Bannock business, with a partner, about two years ago, after an unfortunate incident at a farmers' market where a lady selling bannock began using expletives and derogatory comments aimed at McKay, who was a customer at the market.

In response, McKay went home, brushed up on his bannock-making skills, and returned with a booth of his own at the market shortly after. His bannock sold out quickly, while the women who had choice words in their prior meeting was asked to not return.

Turning that negative experience into a positive challenge has proven to be a successful approach for McKay, whose side business now sells as many as 200-300 loafs of bannock in a week.

“It's become a rewarding hobby where I can feed people and make some money while doing it,” McKay explained. “I really do it to be kind to people, so they can enjoy bannock.”

The bannock-maker is also proud to note his product is a healthy alternative. A friend, Margaret Verhagen, helped him tweak the recipe to keep salt content low and unhealthy ingredients out of the mix. No yeast or lard is used, and the main ingredients are now baking powder, flour, shortening and water.

The business has also gone on to offer specialty bannock, including whole wheat, multi-grain, honey with cranberry, blueberry, and gluten-free.

“We've done it so that everyone can enjoy it,” McKay said.
He also pointed out Bannock is actually Scottish in its roots, “but Natives developed it more than everybody else, so it's associated with Natives”.

In fact, most cultures have their own bread loafs that are similar in style.

“In South Africa they make something like this but with spices...if you add a lot of olive oil than it's like Italian bread,” he explained. “The breads are a lot alike in that way.”

Anyone interested in trying the bannock can contact Ken at (204) 212-2545.


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