Mennonite Travel Guide

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Mennonites in Manitoba, here are a few places you could start.

Altona area: In the town Altona itself, visit the monument to Mennonite settlers before checking out the lovely Gallery in the Park in the historic Schwartz Heritage Home and the outdoor sculpture garden. When in Altona, you’ll also want to see the world’s largest Van Gogh. There is a cairn to remember Conscientious Objectors nearby. One of the more interesting historic buildings in Altona is the former Bergthaler Waisenamt building on Main Street. South of Altona are the darpa (traditional Mennonite villages). It is worth your time to tour through them all. The best preserved of the darpa is Neubergthal, which is the only Mennonite village in Canada to be listed as a National Historic Site. Although some buildings are accessible to the public, Neubergthal is not a museum. It’s a real town with real people, so be polite. You’ll find beautiful Mennonite housebarns and other historic buildings. Also worth visiting are nearby villages of Blumenort South and Sommerfeld, which still contains the historic Sommerfeld church. Gretna, just south of Altona, is home to the Mennonite Collegiate Institute as well as a “Cairn Corner” on the corner of Highway 30 (Pieper Avenue) and Highyway 243. Here you can see the headstone of delegate Heinrich Wiebe. You can also follow the Post Road tour of these Mennonite villages.

Emerson area: Emerson is right on the US/Canada border at the largest border crossing into Manitoba. The town itself has no Mennonite connection, but does have a number of historic buildings worth seeing. Near Emerson is the remnants of Fort Dufferin, the original headquarters of the North West Mounted Police, and the location where, starting in 1875, Mennonite settlers lived before settling the West Reserve. Mennonites are frequently mentioned on the displays at Fort Dufferin. Fort Dufferin is also the starting point (or ending point, I suppose) for the self-guided Mennonite West Reserve Post Road Memorial Trail tour, which takes you west through many historic Mennonite villages and sites.

Kleefeld area: Kleefeld is the oldest Mennonite village in Manitoba. Unfortunately, it has not retained much of its historic character. (To visit an authentic traditional Mennonite village you should go to the darpa south of Winkler and Altona). Kleefeld’s original name was Gruenfeld and if you look closely you can still find the original Gruenfeld cemetery in a farmer’s field near the corner of the 216 and 52. Drive slow down the 216 through town and you’ll see the original Gruenfeld school (now an apartment) and the Gruenfeld cheese factory. A sign acknowledging Kleefeld’s historic importance was located in the Kleefeld Park but has since been removed due to vandalism. Hopefully it will be returned. If you keep driving south down the 216 to Grunthal, the most interesting location, from a historic point-of-view would be the Grunthal Cemetery. There are many cairns and historic cemeteries in the land nearby. You will need the Historic Atlas of the East Reserve to find them.

Mitchell area: Just west of Steinbach is the town of Mitchell, where you will find a small historic cemetery on the site of the former Mennonite settlement of Vollwerk. Here you will find a cairn and gravesite of Jacob Peters, one of the original Russian Mennonite delegates to Canada. Near Mitchell, you should also seek out the Randolph Chortitzer Church and historic gravesite. The hamlet of Randolph (formerly Chortitz) also is home to the Neufeld Garage, a well-preserved auto garage from the 1940s that has been used on various film shoots, and is now a community centre (with a selection of historic artifacts and photos from the area).

Niverville area: Just outside of Niverville on the Rat River, you will find the Mennonite Memorial Landing Site. It’s a beautiful spot to fish and also contemplate the journey of the Russian Mennonites to Manitoba. In the countryside nearby, you will also find a cairn marking the location of the Schantz Immigration sheds. In the town of Niverville, make sure to stop at the Niverville Historical Space, a small but worthwhile museum in the Niverville Community Resource and Recreation Centre. The cemetery in Niverville and Hespeler Park both contain historic markers about William Hespeler and his role in settlement of the area.

Steinbach area: Perhaps the most significant Mennonite tourist attraction in Canada is the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. The indoor galleries document the story of the Russian Mennonites, while the outdoor village (open seasonly) preserves many historic Mennonite buildings. You could spend an entire day here. If you want to learn more about the history of Steinbach, in particular, you could do the Heritage Walking Tour, a self-guided tour of historic locations in Steinbach, including a stop at the Russlander statue beneath the clocktower on Main Street. Miriam Toews fans will want to stop at the Jake Epp Library to see the plaque (inside the library) and reading garden that honours her father Melvin Toews (the subject of Swing Low), or you can even do the entire self-guided Miriam Toews walking tour that I created. Many other historic sites in the Steinbach area, including gravesites and cairns, can be found in the excellent Historical Atlas of the East Reserve. (Most of these sites would be difficult to find without this atlas).

Winkler area: Visitors to Winkler should seek out the beautiful Bethel Heritage Park, which honours Winkler’s Jewish and Mennonite heritage. Included in the park is the Wall of Remembrance, which honours Mennonite Conscientious Objectors. A visit to the Pembina Threshermens Museum allows visitors to learn about the agricultural traditions of the Pembina Valley. The museum contains a few buildings related to the area’s Mennonite heritage including the Reimer House and the Braun log house. The small Winkler Heritage Museum in the Southland Mall is also worth a visit. A historic marker on the spot of the first Mennonite Brethren church in Canada is just outside the city of Winkler. Like Altona, Winkler has many darpa to the south of the city. There are dozens of villages, many of which contain at least one historic housebarn, and it is worth your time to tour through them all. Perhaps the best perserved darpa in the Winkler area is Reinland, which includes the Ens Heritage Homestead and the historic Reinland Mennonite Church, the oldest in Western Canada. While the attractions in nearby Morden may not be Mennonite-specific, the quaint town, with it’s beautiful stone buildings, is definitely worth a visit when you’re in the area.

Winnipeg: Winnipeg is the largest city in Manitoba, with many non-Mennonite-related attractions. However, if you want to explore Menno Winnipeg, a stop at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery is worth your time. The Heritage Centre, on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University, features a small gallery with rotating exhibits and extensive Mennonite archives. The Mennonite Mecca of North Kildonan has a small monument to Mennonite settlers and you’ll see familiar Russian Mennonite surnames on many of the businesses in the area (especially on Henderson Highway). Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first national museum outside Ottawa, also features the Mennonites along side many other groups who have been victims of human rights violations over the years. You will also find a few mentions of Mennonites at the excellent Manitoba Museum.

Horse and Buggy? Most Mennonites in Manitoba assimilated into mainstream culture decades ago. Although you will find some Mennonites with distinctive clothing in almost any of the communities mentioned above, until recently the province was not home to many horse and buggy Mennonites. However, there is a community of horse and buggy Mennonites living near Gladstone, which is northwest of Portage la Prairie. It’s probably not very convenient to visitors of the above-mentioned locations, but would be an interesting stop if you are heading to Riding Mountain National Park in the western part of the province. More accessible are the Amish. A small but growing community of Amish reside near the Ukrainian village of Vita, about 50 kilometres south of Steinbach. Take Arbakka Road, just east of town to see their farms and homes. During the summer months, you can purchase baked goods from the Amish at the tiny Vita farmer’s market. There are even two or three hitching posts in town. Please be respectful and remember that the Amish do not like to have their photographs taken!

The quick tour: If time is limited, I would say a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach and the villages of Neubergthal (south of Altona) and Reinland (south of Winkler) should be at the top of your list.

This list is a work in progress: Our goal is to list every Mennonite-related attraction in Manitoba. If you have any additions for us, let us know: