Eigenhof and the Headstone

It’s Thanksgiving Day and I am indulging myself in a little bit of background reading about Eigenhof. In so doing, I’ve learned a few things about this place.

While today all that remains is a sole tree, this was once the site of a significant visit.

In 1877, Lord Dufferin, Canada’s Governor General, toured the East Reserve. At the time there were well over 40 villages settled by Mennonites, here in what is today the R.M. of Hanover. Lady and Lord Dufferin did not visit them all. Eigenhof was their sole destination.

Today, it doesn’t look like much.

I’ve seen this tree for my entire life. Every time we would drive from Kleefeld to Steinbach, I’d stare out the window at the landscape, willing it to become interesting.

As I learn more and more, I realize that it always was interesting.

This tree is very familiar to me. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was reading the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve and learned that this precise tree marks the location of what remains of the village of Eigenhof: a grave.

After reading this, I’d stare at the tree with greater intensity, every time Andrew and I zipped past.

Was that a tuft of white in the grass? Could it possibly be a stone marker?

“I see it!” I declared. “I’m so sure I can SEE the headstone!”

Thus the waiting began. All summer I waited and waited for harvest. Then, one day, there it was: gone. The canola had been harvested and access to Eigenhof seemed much more manageable and less disruptive.

This is what I found:

Here lies Helena Wieler, born July 1, 1844. Died April 8, 1908. 

When I encounter a full cemetery of headstones, I cannot achieve much focus on any individuals. However, because Helena’s stone is the only one I could find here, I became curious about her.

Her GRanDMA Online number is 185958, and her maiden name was Penner.

The Historic Atlas mentions a Heinrich J. Poetker who upon marrying Agatha Wieler (1910-1986) moved to Eigenhof. So to me, Eigenhof represents Wielers. And this is another example of something Royden Loewen mentioned the other day, about matrilocality: upon marriage, women decided where they would live. Generally, young men would move near their new wife’s family.

Agatha was Helena’s granddaughter.

In reading Jacob Doerksen’s entry on Eigenhof in the 1994 publication Historical Sketches of the East Reserve, I see a confident reference to a magnificent old timberframe house on this site. A little torturous to read about it now, as it has clearly been removed since.

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me think every tree in every field must be guarding a memory.