Blumenfeld Rising

In our travels this past summer, Andrew and I took a little detour through Blumenfeld. I saw it on the map and figured we weren’t too far away, so we made a stop. The cemetery was so easy to find! We were excited to take a look.

The first thing that caught my eye was the “We Shall Rise” cairn under the old shady trees.

The story of this cemetery, and this community, is beautifully recorded on the white marker with a little roof that you see in the picture.

I wish all cemeteries would have this. I found it so fascinating and informative.

The marker details exactly what it was like for this small community during the Spanish Flu epidemic, and also the Measles Epidemic which followed immediately after.

I think it’s important that the words on this marker live on, online.

So, I’ll let you read them for yourself.

Right here:

Probably difficult to read. Here, I’ve typed it out for you. This is what the marker says:

“The people of Blumenfeld have had the experience over many years of losing loved ones. Ever since Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him, has the world lived in tears and sorrow as loved ones are laid to rest. 

“We can go as far back as the 1880’s when people died in Blumenfeld; there was no hospital or under-taker to take care of the deceased body. When a person died in the village, it was custom for two volunteer women to attend the home of the deceased and wash the body. The body was placed on a board until a shirt style gown was sewn to dress the body and the casket was made. The deceased was laid into the casket. The body was covered up to the chest with a white sheet. The sheet and a black ribbon were tacked to the casket to hold it in place. One of the women who prepared the bodies was Mrs. George F. Klassen. Another is believed to be Mrs. Henry Martens. Later in the 1930’s Mrs. Jacob Klassen and Mrs. John W. Dyck attended to this task. 

“The caskets were home made with an average price of $1.25-$1.75, if better quality wood was used. The caskets were painted black. The carpenters who made the caskets were Mr. Henry Martens and Mr. Jacob N. Neufeld. Later on Mr. Cornie P. Reimer and Mr. Jacob V. Neufeld built the caskets. 

“Whenever a person died, the village people helped. For example, some people would bring lard, butter or milk for the purpose of baking buns for the funeral. The dough would be prepared and then it was brought into various homes to be baked. By the end of the day, the buns would be taken back to the home of the deceased. The buns were baked the day before the funeral. 

“In the summer a few families would have the funeral at their home in a tree shaded place. The rest of the funerals took place in the village school. On the day of the funeral someone with a horse and wagon would drive along the street to pick up chairs, benches, and tables set outside by people to be picked up and taken to the school. All the school desks were carried outside, and the gathered chairs and benches were arranged for the funeral. The body was brought to the school and to the cemetery by horse drawn wagon. After burial, the people would come back to the school for ‘Faspa’. Faspa consisted of coffee, homemade buns, and sugar cubes. Cups and saucers were brought from various homes. It was custom for friends and relatives to go to the home of the bereaved family for breakfast the day of the funeral. The people would sing a few songs, sometimes had a short message and would return home after some visiting. 

“As there were no under-takers in those days, it was at times cumbersome to keep the bodies in good condition until the day of the funeral. There was no problem in winter as the body was laid in a place where it would freeze. The problem was evident in summer when it was hot and especially if there were thunderstorms. A few bodies after they were prepared were laid in shallow graves at the deceased’s yard to try and prevent an ill odour. Even this was sometimes in vain. At one funeral, the body was left outside the church. After the funeral service, the body was taken to the cemetery and buried. In August of 1938, a boy 18 years old was working as a hired man for a farmer at Rosenfeld. The farmer asked the boy to shoot his dog. The boy fried to please his boss but luck turned against him and the boy got hurt. He was rushed to the Altona hospital where he died the next day. His body was brought to his parents’ house in Blumenfeld. His family worked desperately to preserve the body for the day of the funeral. The family poured cold well water onto the roof and walls of the lean-to where the body was kept. But to no avail. The body had to be taken to the cemetery and buried before the day of the funeral on account of the ill odour. The funeral was held at his parents’ place in a nice tree shaded area in the front yard. 

“The year 1918 brought the Spanish Influenza virus to Manitoba. The epidemic raged all winter throughout Canada and the United States, infecting one of every six Canadians. Three of the four doctors in Carman, Manitoba were stricken, leaving Dr. A.E. McGavin as the only medical man able to help the many flu patients within forty miles of Carman. The residents of Blumenfeld had to cope with this awful disease. Neighbour helped neighbour — those who were well went to the homes of the sick to do chores. Twenty-one people from Blumenfeld died from the flu. There were hardly enough able-bodied men to keep up with digging the numerous graves. The flu lasted through the winter of 1918-1919. 

“In 1922, Blumenfeld was hit by the measles epidemic. A 16 year old girl and two small children died within a few days. When the 16 year old girl’s grave was dug, room was made in the grave on each side for the two small coffins so three people were laid to rest in this grave. Fifteen children died of the measles from spring to fall. 

“1978 was the year of the Blumenfeld centennial. This was when the south end cemetery got a face lift. Dead trees were removed, the ground was levelled, and grass was sown. A new chain fence was put up, some new trees were planted at the south end of the cemetery for days to come. 

“In the summer of 1996, a cemetery marker was erected on the border between the old and existing cemetery. South of this marker is the old cemetery. The existing cemetery to the north of this marker was opened up in the spring of 1937.”

Written by J.D. Klassen (1997)

On the other side of the marker, you can see the names of all who are buried here. Very thoughtful.

This might be the oldest stone in the cemetery, belonging to Helena Harder Dueck, 1886-1945. I’d imagine the earlier markers were lost or eroded, as is the case with other Mennonite cemeteries throughout the region.

Bernie Loeppky sent me a message about Blumenfeld, alongside some more recent pictures (as you can see from the snow):

In his message, Bernie reflects upon the fact that the effects of both the Spanish Flu epidemic and the Measles epidemics no longer exist in living memory.

This may impact the level of complacency seen in our region, in the midst of the current pandemic. With each day that passes, we are all making new pandemic memories.

As we say in zoom church, “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.”

Back to my summertime memories of our short stop in Blumenfeld; Andrew and I also glimpsed the local Old Colony Mennonite Church:

I also spied the location of the Blumenfeld Creamery, but we were too shy to visit, or even take a picture. I’m all about fine specialty grocery items AND old-school Mennonite village names, so the Blumenfeld Creamery caught my eye a long time ago. Perhaps next summer we will plan a visit!

As for the “We Shall Rise” cairn… I don’t know the story behind it, but I felt it was an encouraging message for all of us right now.

Related post:

Local History and Coronavirus: 5 Questions with Glen Klassen