Nerding it Up with the ‘Historical Atlas of the East Reserve’

I used to have a travel blog. Near the end, my posts were undeniably angsty. I kept thinking about how I know next to nothing about the place I’m actually from… so how could I visit elsewhere and then pretend to know what to say about it on the internet? I felt ridiculous, dishonest.

Then the Fall 2017 issue of Geez Magazine arrived. It was about decolonizing travel, articulating the very questions that had been floating around in my head. James Wilt’s interview with Bani Amor struck a particular chord with me. On page 47, Amor asks some exquisite questions: “Why do certain people want to travel far, so much, to see a certain people or certain places but don’t really have a relationship to their own home or land, or don’t know much about what happened there or who was originally there, or what it means for them to be where they are now?”

Yes! That!

I grew up here… surrounded by the ghosts of the East Reserve villages… and knew nothing of them.

Occasionally I’d hear my dad or grandparents reference¬†Hochstadt, Barkfield, or Gnadenfeld, and I’d laugh at the funny names, like it was a joke. My bus passed through Rosengard every day, and I constantly wondered what was with that place. Why was it like a town, but in the country? How did it come to have a name? Just this random road through the middle of a section, along a ridge, and the people who lived there had such close neighbours. I wished we had close neighbours. My dad mentioned he went to school as a boy in Hochstadt. “What’s Hochstadt?” I asked. The reply, “Well, it’s nothing now. But you can see where the school used to be.” You can still see the bootscraper, sticking up out of a wreck of concrete in a sea of prairie grass.

It wasn’t until I visited Neubergthal for the first time, that I realized it was just one of many Mennonite street villages in the West Reserve. And there used to be just as many here in the East Reserve… though they became extinct nearly as soon as they were established due to the stony, swampy land.

The Historical Atlas of the East Reserve helps to locate those ghost villages, and learn how the land was transformed over time. It is my intention to attempt to locate all these villages! I don’t think I could do that without this atlas. No way.

There are all kinds of interesting tidbits in this book. Maps from well over a hundred years ago. You can use these maps to trace the footsteps of the original Mennonite Delegates from South Russia. You can read stories and accounts, such as what the American settlers had to say about the Canadian government’s plan to get pacifist Mennonites to settle along the border. (They figured it’d be an easy takeover if they decided to go for it and expand the border northward.) There are also hints at stories about delegates getting into some kind of “tangle” with locals. I feel like there’s so much that’s missing from the story.

Like, the more you know… the more you see you don’t know anything.