Every Step Covers Sacred Ground

If you’ve visited enough cemeteries, you’ll be able to see it.

Shortly after visiting the Rosengard village cemetery, I took a stroll through the Pioneer Cemetery here in Steinbach.

The snow had disappeared and the grass had not yet begun to grow.

The sun was bright and setting sharply. Its rays illuminated the cemetery grounds as I had never seen before.

The same dips and hollows I’d experienced at the unmarked cemetery of Rosengard were also right here in Steinbach’s oldest cemetery.

In the Pioneer Cemetery, the headstones are all along the perimeter. At the back, there are several rows of stones, and then near the front are stones that were probably belonging to those who were wealthier, and along the south side you’ll find mostly graves of children.

In the centre, among old oak trees, is a large patch of lawn, void of any markings. At least, to the untrained eye.

Facebook comments are notorious for breeding falsehoods. One day I noticed a super-strange lie emerge. Someone suggested the reason for the large unmarked space in the Pioneer Cemetery was because there had been a huge pit dug there, a mass grave whereupon bodies were thrown in at random, during the pandemic of 1918.

What an intriguing thought! But it somehow hit wrong. It made no sense. However, it’s fascinating to think there are folks in this community who are telling each other this odd baseless tale.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

All you need to do is visit the site yourself, preferably immediately after the cemetery has been freshly mowed. Be there when the sun is about to set on a cloudless day, shooting rays straight out at an angle, and take your time to keenly observe.

I’ve visited this cemetery countless times before and have always been frustrated by this large patch of unmarked lawn. What lies beneath?

Suddenly, on this recent visit, my eyes were opened.

There before me were rows upon rows of graves, neatly arranged. The depressions in the lawn were unmistakable. I could see where each grave had been made, well over 100 years ago.

The evidence had been there all along, but I’d never noticed until now. When the conditions were right and my perception was heightened, I could finally see what historians had known for decades.

This is no mass grave at all. But rather, an organized tidy series of graves which had at one point in time been lovingly marked with wooden headstones… which disintegrated over time.

This is the reason each of the oldest Mennonite cemeteries feature unmarked spaces. The markers did exist, once upon a time, but faded away.

Now a new kind of fading away is taking place, as we see existing concrete markers actively crumbling. Important names and dates are falling off and turning to dust.

I feel that it’s impossible to keep up this important information. Each family is kind of on their own. And, if there are no descendants who are interested or care to repair or replace these stones, then nature takes its course.

On one hand, this is inevitable. We are all fading from this earth, and from memory. Countless millions have gone before us in this way.

And yet, on the other hand, there are some who do put in the time, attention, and financial effort to ensure the graves of their ancestors are cared for… waiting there to be discovered by curious generations yet to come.

These will be the ones remembered.

I suppose this is how historical record becomes lopsided.

All this make me think twice about all those other dips and hollows we may inadvertently step in.

Many others have gone before.

“… planted into the aching earth …”

Every step covers sacred ground.

Related post:

My Favourite Steinbach Destination: The Pioneer Cemetery