Exploring Yantzied: Herold Mennonite Church Cemetery


(I’ve retooled my naming convention YET AGAIN because I’ve realized I did not only stick to Winkler after all. Now of course “Exploring Yantzied” reveals the fact that I hail from ditzied, but what are ya gonna do, right?)

After my whirlwind cemetery tour with Joe, I headed back to Winkler for faspa with many of my aunts and uncles. But when I arrived, my uncles were not there.

It seems that while I was off adventuring with Joe, the uncles got to talking about what I had been up to… which included checking on the Neureinland cemetery… and then suddenly they were off on an adventure of their own!

That blew me away, because I had once attempted to discuss family history with my city uncle, and that had been a bit of a nonstarter. Perhaps it was the inherent boringness of family history research (or, in my case, I should say “research”, because obviously I am not an actual researcher). Or maybe it was just a reflex borne of habit formed over a lifetime of distancing from our unglamourous rural Mennonite/Low German background. (And I say that without judgement because this is my own story too.)

But somehow, suddenly, he ventured out to visit his brother’s grave in the midst of a hard-to-reach cemetery in the centre of a full-grown field.

When my uncles returned, they seemed almost invigorated. They had encountered much the same situation as I had the night before, including that same sense of discovery, care… and mystery. A revisitation for one, and a first time visit for the other.

After a very delicious faspa, my Winnipeg-based aunts and uncle left for home before sunset. I relaxed contentedly in the sunroom with my mom, my aunt and uncle, the TV was on quietly, each of us holding a book or scrolling on our devices, awaiting heavy eyelids.

And then my uncle asked if I knew anything about the Herold Mennonite Church cemetery. Not much, I replied, other than the fact that I knew it existed somewhere near Morden (because a Mennotoba reader once asked me about it!).

Perhaps we should… go see it?

Even though it was well after 8:30pm, the four of us impulsively piled into my aunt and uncle’s SUV, and were soon heading toward the site north of Morden.

Large trees on one side, fields on the other… and then, a trimmed lawn, and a historical plaque! I was so excited to finally see this site!

So. This is very cool: my uncle’s great-grandfather had started the Herold Mennonite Church and is buried in this cemetery.

The plaque above reads: “In memory of the Herold Mennonite Church. Founded in 1919 under the leadership of Elder Michael Klaassen and charter members who immigrated to Morden area from the Herold Mennonite Church, Cordell Okla. U.S.A., and made up the core of the church. This church was dedicated in 1920. Elder Klaassen served as minister from 1919 until his death in 1934. Families of other church affiliation were active participants in the life of this congregation. A.H. Voth served as choir conductor and youth program. By the grace of God the worship service and active Sunday school served the people of this community. In absence of leadership the church dissolved in 1945. – by voluntary contributors this monument was erected July 1984”

It’s a very well-kept space considering this congregation dissolved 79 years ago. It’s very rural and the site is large, but someone faithfully tends this place.

Most of the cemetery is located under the only trees on the site, its trees are planted in neat orderly rows… probably 100 years ago.

But if you walk right to the very edge of the site, where there is a space of wildness, more burial sites emerge.

I wish I had looked this place up on GAMEO when we visited. The post isn’t long, but it does mention that the reason the church dissolved was because their leader, Micheal Klaassen, passed away. It also states that the reason this church was established in the first place was because these Americans were opposed to compulsory military service during World War I — that’s why they came to Canada in 1918. It’s an interesting history, and a unique one. At least, I haven’t encountered any other sites in Southern Manitoba that have a story quite like it.

Standing on the site where we think the church building had been. The cemetery is in the distance, beneath the spruce trees.
Spruce cemetery in the distance on the left, wildness on the right.

After a contemplative twilight wander, we climbed back into the vehicle, and agreed that ice cream at George’s in Morden would be a lovely way to end our little adventure. (It was so good!)

We then returned to their house where I slipped into a contented sleep. (Ice cream and cemeteries makes for a very good evening in my opinion.)

The next day, I was going to venture alone.