The phone call came one late Friday afternoon. The Director of Travel and Publicity for the Province of Manitoba answered, listened for a few moments and then turned to me – “Ray. Please handle this”. I was the junior among a cadre of writers and clerks charged with the task of answering all requests for info about Manitoba to prospective visitors. As it was late on a Friday, and I was the junior clerk, I sensed that it involved weekend duties. Our caller was a representative of Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, an advertising firm out of New York City, a firm that had gained prominence for their treatment of the Volkswagen Beetle commercials in the late 60’s. His dilemma was one that he thought we might be able to help with. His firm had contracted to do a soft sell commercial for a client – I believe it was General Mills – for the Christmas season. The theme of the ad was to be built around a country scene of a field of wheat with a farmhouse and farm wife in the background. Because it was late September, fields of wheat in the U.S.A. had all been harvested, and our caller surmised that Canada would have a later harvest and might afford the desired country scene.
I thought for a minute and then advised him that I thought we could find such a scene. Most of the crops around Winnipeg, in the southern part of the province, had been harvested, however, several months earlier I had taken a fishing trip to northern Manitoba and, on my return trip, ran through a fairly healthy thunderstorm complete with hail that had pounded down many of the crops in the Neepawa/Minnedosa area. One of my rural friends had advised me that, in some cases, the crops could return to normal after drying out in the sun.
The quest was on! I was to meet them Saturday and we would set out to find their “Field of Dreams”. I was certainly impressed with their team. There was an acct. exec, an art director, cameraman, camera technician, and an administrator (gopher) who took care of the logistics. The cameraman, I learned later, was no ordinary shutterbug – he was Ernie Capporellis who had earlier won an Oscar for his work on “The Miracle Worker” a movie about the teaching of a blind person that also received an Oscar. I was travelling in fast company indeed. I was to drive the rented Buick with the acct. exec, art director and Ernie while the gopher and the tech would follow in the rented Pontiac wagon with a host of moviemaking gear.
We headed west along the No. 1 Hwy and turned north at No. 5 Hwy. As we neared Neepawa, I heard some gasps from the rear of the Buick. The art director and Ernie were salivating over their “Field of Dreams” that we were currently passing. I swung the Buick into the farmer’s yard and left the group in the car while I obtained permission from the farmer to use his field. My knock was answered by a giant of a man in coveralls. He seemed to fill the entire doorway with his large frame. I explained our mission and the use of wheat field only to detect a twinkle in his eye which was followed by a laugh so hearty it shook the porch we were standing on. I could feel the redness creeping into my face as I made my way back to the car. The art director and Ernie were still excited and planning their first setups. Imagine their chagrin when I explained that their “Field of Dreams” was simply a field of wild oats. None of us city folk knew the difference!
We did eventually get the desired field at a farm near Minnedosa which had, indeed, been hit by hail only to rise again for what was, I suppose, a higher purpose. I don’t think any of us would forget that day and the difference between wheat and wild oats.