I knew this place was somewhere around here, but I didn’t quite know where. Then in August of 2019, I found it on my own (and blogged about it): a cemetery south of Winkler where my uncle Irving is buried. He died as an infant in 1937, twelve years before my mother was born. But he’s still her brother; he’s still my uncle. And it was so important to grandpa that his living children would know where his non-living children lay. I feel that, too.
A year after finding the site of Irving’s grave that windy summer afternoon, I received an email from my aunt who lives in Winkler — she told me the cemetery was being restored!
I had mixed feelings.
I loved the wild plot of land in the midst of tamed fields. I wasn’t sure I wanted the unkempt graveyard to be subdued. And so, I had not returned… until this most recent Thanksgiving Day.
I’d driven my mom to Winkler to see her sisters, and while they caught up in person (thanks to vaccines!), my uncle and I went graveyard hunting. Our first stop was at Neureinland.
It was unrecognizable.
Gone was the forest of untamed hip-high grass. Gone were the giant badger caves. And fully in view, each stone and marker!
And the tree! The gnarled tree I’d assumed to be half-dead… is alive and much taller than I’d thought!
I was finally able to see Irving’s stone in person. When I’d been here before in 2019, the cemetery was so overgrown, I couldn’t locate Irving’s marker. And now, here it was.
I appreciate the detail on the back too. You can see that my grandpa used particleboard to form the grave marker of his eldest son.
The rows are remarkably straight, too. My uncle told me he felt the stones were placed at the proper locations because he remembered the time grandpa led them all out into this field. That day my uncle accidentally stepped in a badger hole, where he scraped his leg against something rough — and that’s how he found Irving’s grave marker. It injured him. Somehow this hits as poetic to me.
My uncle remembered the distance from the gravestone to the tree and said it remains the way he remembered.
I guess I do a lot of thinking about death and change. I like that it’s real and inevitable and maybe that doesn’t make it as scary or sad somehow since it is for everyone. It was good to be at this cemetery with someone who had been there when grandpa made them all make that impromptu march, decades ago. My dad had been there too (he passed away in 2006). Every year that passes, there are more people that we miss.
There is a way to drive to the cemetery now, but it was too muddy on Thanksgiving Day, so we walked. This gave us the chance to stop and look around and ponder where the Ens farm may have been, where my grandpa worked for his cousins, where he and grandma lived their newlywed life and buried their first child in the Ens garden. I guess the only remains of that garden, is that lone tree.
Interesting how gardens morph into cemeteries over the years.
I will conclude this post by including a few details from an email I received from Henry Wiebe last year. He and Ernie Doell are the ones responsible for restoring this site, and I’m impressed with their work and want to give them full credit and thanks.
“Surprised to hear from you and your interesting account re the Neu Reinland cemetery. I had heard about the cemetery a few years ago and went to visit it in August 2018. I am a descendant of Franz Enns through my mother’s side, and I had some difficulty believing the Ennses would allow the cemetery to reach this stage of neglect. I approached some relatives, Ernie being one of them, and he without hesitation said ‘let’s do it’. Ernie had the same feeling about the neglect as I had and we started to develop a plan of action.
We had planned to start in the fall of 2019, but the damp fall and lack of the farmer’s ability to get the crop off the field, made it impossible.
Mid-April 2020, some hope of trying to do something appeared a possibility. We contacted the tenant of the property, and to our most unexpected surprise, he appeared most cooperative to allow us to begin even if it would delay the seeding of the land a little. We started Sunday, April 26, and two weeks later we had accomplished our initial goal.
I have done considerable research through ancestry.ca and therefore found our findings through our cemetery restoration very interesting.
Franz Enns is my great grandfather and all the headstones we uncovered in the cemetery appeared to be descendants of Franz. However, one stone, that of I. E. Neufeld, put some question marks in my head. I was having difficulty coming to ‘why was he buried there’? Your article threw some light on the ‘why’.”
An Island of Wildness: Neureinland