The shadows of the corn plants spread ominously across the hard-packed prairie soil as the sun slumped below the clear slash of Manitoba’s horizon line. Dry corn leaves, stalks and cob tassels rustled noisily in light breezes, concealing telltale sounds that could have revealed the location of my stalker. Then . . .
"Tag! Yerrit!" crowed a cousin’s voice. Sneaker-clad feet raced away through the corn. A gloating giggle trailed behind the invisibly-fleeing farm cousin. Once again, I was a frustrated eleven-year-old "It".
A city kid, poorly-versed in rural life, I was never very good at corn tag in the fields on my Uncle Harry’s farm. Now, in more mature years, I have discovered I am also not very good at solving corn mazes.
Manitoba farmers grew a little grain corn—3,500 acres—as far back as 1960 (acreage peaked at 225,000 in 1981) and began growing sweet corn—usually 600 to 700 acres—in the early '70s. But while corn has never been a big crop in this province, two Manitoba farm families continue to harvest a few extra dollars with mazes.
The biggest, 20 acres on Murray Boonstra’s farm near Stonewall, Manitoba, has sprung up every year for the past nine in a field beside the highway. It’s sure to be a thriller with the maze theme for 2009—a tribute to Michael Jackson, sponsored by local radio stations.
Each year, a friend of Boonstra’s designs the maze on a computer, transfers the information to a satellite-guided Global Positioning System (GPS), and walks in front of a riding mower through the seeded corn field full of baby plants, following the GPS’s directional signals like a dowser seeking water. Murray Boonstra, perched on his mower, trails obediently behind his buddy, cutting down little plants to make the paths of the maze, as the surrounding corn continue to grow. Boonstra stopped using regular corn to grow his maze and now plants a cobless variety. "People were throwing that corn everywhere," he explains. "And too many people were getting hurt."
An old, if not practiced, hand at cornfields, I figured I could ace Boonstra’s maze a couple of seasons ago. I entered. I got lost. I doubled back repeatedly, trying to recall wrong turns and dead ends I had encountered. After half an hour or so, I realized I was likely treading the same ground although it was hard to tell, since one high, green leafy plant looks pretty much the same as the other tens of thousands. I scuffed a sneaker-sole mark on the dirt beside a wan clump of weeds and continued. Ten more minutes worth of twists and turns later, the marked weed clump re-appeared. I had been walking in torturous corn-fringed circles.
I bailed out, resorting to the emergency exit trail I had encountered half a dozen times over. Boonstra’s maze gets a little extra kick on the two weekends before Hallowe’en, when he puts in haunting music, fog and eerie lights, a couple of coffins with very scary tenants, and sets up the Black Hole and Tower of Terror with hired actors portraying sinister monsters. He reserves the really scary stuff for adults doing the maze after dark, but even so, he throws a solid scare into a few daytime adult visitors. One woman lost her dentures and didn’t know it until her daughter pointed it out after they’d exited the Tower, says Boonstra. "We found them lying there, right where she’d screamed."
At A Maze-in' Corn, just south of Winnipeg, Hallowe’en is a kid-friendly affair, with apple bobbing and kids games. Comfortingly small at 10 acres, this maze was the first in Manitoba. I once managed to defeat A Maze-in' Corn only by finally making my way (with the help of the Beloved Spouse, who’d already found it and loudly coached me through the paths) to the lookout tower in one corner of the maze. We both then watched a maze employee walk the paths, tidying up errant greenery and occasional soft drink cans. The employee left through the maze entrance. We took the same route out. Okay, it was cheating. It was a hot day, I was thirsty, and there was a concession stand outside the maze.
When first starting-out, maze operators Angie and Clint Masse plotted out their maze on paper but now use a computer and GPS to design their yearly creations. In this season’s maze, pack your bags and travel Manitoba. Wind and meander through the labyrinthine paths identifying eight Manitoba town icons hidden along the way—like Sara the Camel from Glenboro, the Rolls Royce from Steinbach, and the giant pumpkin from Roland.
How to get to Manitoba's Mazes:
- Boonstra Farms: Located east of Stonewall, Manitoba on Highway 67, about one-half hour drive from Winnipeg. The farm also features a smaller 1-acre kid’s maze, petting zoo/playground, hayrides, bale maze & bale pyramid, and concession stand. The maze opens Friday, September 4 and Hallowe’en fun starts on October 10 and runs Fridays from 6 to 10 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m, and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. Price is $8.00 for adults, $6.00 for 12 years of age and under, children 3 and under are free. Phone (204) 467-8480 or visit www.boonstrafarms.com.
- A Maze-in' Corn: Located on the east side of St Mary’s Road, 10 minutes south of Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway. Other activities include a petting zoo, hayrides, pony rides, bale pyramid, the Pumpkin Barn (October), and a snack shack. Open 7 days a week through August, September and October from 11 a.m. to dusk, weather permitting. Price is $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for 12 years of age and under, children 3 and under are free. The Haunted Forest is open from Thursday to Sunday starting October 2 to 31, and is a separate event and from the Corn Maze. Take a guided walk down the trails with one of the resident creatures of the Haunted Forest and come prepared to be scared! Price includes maze admission and is $15.00 for 13 and over, $12.00 for ages 4 through 12, children 3 and under are free. Phone (204) 883-2048 or visit www.cornmaze.ca.
- Deer Meadow Farms is Manitoba's newest Corn Maze and Hobby Farm. Located 7 minutes NE of Winnipeg near Bird's Hill Park, they have a 7 acre Corn Maze, Straw Stack, Pallet Palisade, Mini-Mazes & Puzzles, Petting Zoo, Mini-Golf, Wild-Game Preserve, Sweet Corn and Market Garden Vegetables, Pumpkin Patch, Hayrides, Play Area, Fire Pit areas and more. Opening as a U-Pick in 2011-12, the Cherry-Berry Orchard will provide a special variety of fresh Cherries and Saskatoons. Group Bookings and rates are available. Opens July 1st. Corn Maze opens in August. Call (204) 222-1824 or visit www.deermeadowfarms.com for rates, bookings, maps, and more info.