A Virtual Tour of Chortitz, SK (Wymark) With Tracey Neustaeter

Up until embarrassingly recently, I didn’t really know about the Mennonite villages of the Canadian prairies. I grew up here on the East Reserve, where most of the villages were abandoned nearly as quickly as they were established. My eyes were opened when I first visited the village of Neubergthal in the West Reserve, which has been preserved so well that it’s been designated a National Historic Site. I then began to realize there were hints of villages long since past even here in the ER…anomalies, ghost villages as I like to think of them.

But what about the villages further afield?

On Friday, I’d talked about Chortitz/Randolph here in Southeastern Manitoba. There’s another Chortitz in the West Reserve too…AND there are two more in Saskatchewan!

As I’ve been periodically reading and learning about Mennonite movement on the Canadian Prairies, I’ve learned that I have great-great-grandparents buried in Herbert, SK, and a great-grandfather buried in Lost River, SK. So, those are places that I’d like to visit sometime.

This past winter, I spent a very scant bit of time in the Swift Current area, which as it turns out is also a real hotbed of Mennonites. I briefly glimpsed the Mennonite Heritage Village in Swift Current, which is nifty, but to be honest I’d expected something bigger (like the MHV in Steinbach). But I will say that I did not give it the time it deserves (I was on a work trip, you see), and so I intend to return someday. Anyway, I learned from Tracey Neustaeter that one of the barns at the Swift Current MHV had been rescued from her village, Chortitz, just south of the city, near Wymark.

If you drive to Chortitz (four miles from Wymark) today, you’ll see a very grand barn right along the highway. Tracey’s great-grandfather built this barn…

In its glory days.

And here it is today…

This particular Chortitz village was established in 1905, and according to Google Maps, features a Menno Avenue…although when I mentioned this to Tracey, she was surprised; she’d never heard this before. I wonder how Google Maps knows there’s a Menno Ave in Chortitz.

I feel wistful that I didn’t see it in person, when I was oh, so close! But, thanks to the internet, Tracey was kind enough to send me some photos, and answer some of my questions, so that this is a little like a virtual tour.

Wymark Mennonite Church. The grassy patch to the right is the EMC cemetery.
Sommerfeld cemetery.
EMC cemetery.

Here’s what Tracey (our virtual tour guide) has to say:

So. About our farm. It was homesteaded by a Janzen family. Mr. Janzen passed away and shortly thereafter Mrs. Janzen remarried and moved with her new husband and family to Mexico. My great-grandfather purchased the farm from Mrs. Janzen in 1925.

I’ve heard that the Janzen family built the house, and my great-grandfather built the barn.

Three Neustaeter generations have lived in our house/barn, including some of my aunts and uncles as they were growing up…and including step-children from my great-grandpa’s 4 marriages (our “right grandma” died after a bull gored her while doing chores…wife #4 finally outlived him). Five generations have called our farm home.

Typically, people stop in and ask about the barn randomly. I think it’s fairly safe to say that we do at least one tour per year. Just folks driving by, usually. The most memorable tour happened a couple years ago, when 3 Janzen grandsons and their wives set out to find their grandpa’s homestead. That one was very special.

We have two cemeteries. One right next to/affiliated with the EMC, and one on the east side of Chortitz that is affiliated with the Sommerfeld church. Both are right along the highway.

The Chortitz EMC just celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Revival.

History about the village…? I don’t know. My Grandpa on my Mom’s side used to own a store in the village. One barn at the south end of the village was separated from its house and relocated to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Swift Current. There’s a commemorative sign on another house/barn, and I can remember my Uncle Bill and Auntie Betty (no actual relation) living in their house/barn when I was little. Again, we’ve got multiple generations living here. Currently there’s just one “English” couple; the rest are all second and third generation Olferts and Ginters. Total population of the village is 12. My family is considered as living in the “suburbs” as we’re located across the highway.

Dad and I were cleaning out the Old House, today. It’s been an ongoing summer project to salvage what we can from that old barn. It’s sad. I was thinking about how it used to be a shiny, new house; now it’s a leaky shell of what it once was.

My Facebook “On This Day” reminded me of my daughter saying that our barn makes the sunrises look prettier. That’s about all it’s really good for these days, but I still love it.

Tracey Neustaeter –Photo Credit: Marlene Funk

Thank-you, Tracey, for taking the time to show me around your village!