On a Saturday in September, Andrew and I went on a hunt for extinct villages with the makers of the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve: Ernest Braun and Glen Klassen. We figured us three Steinbachers should travel together to go find Ernie near Niverville.
As we zipped along Highway 52, Glen indicated out the passenger window, saying, “This was Tannenau… there is an interesting story about a cow that was stuck sinking into one of those swampy bogs… have you read it? It’s in the Historical Sketches of the East Reserve.”
A-ha! I’d always thought there was something interesting about that piece of land!
Andrew says I’ve pretty near dog-eared our copy of the Historical Atlas… so how is it that I didn’t know where Tannenau was? Well, I haven’t yet managed to memorize (nor even read) everything in it just yet. Nor have we managed to go out and see what every village site looks like.
I’d simply never turned my attention to Tannenau before.
Nor had I ever read the stories about it in the Historical Sketches book. But… we have purchased this book. Again, I have not managed to read every book in my possession. Yet. But I will now read what this book has to say, and I will report back in very short order.
Just wait a second.
Okay, I’m back!
Apparently around 1876, there was more than one windmill in Tannenau. A general store in 1877. A school in 1878. The village seemed to have peaked early, as by 1882 the majority of homesteaders had moved to the West Reserve. By 1886, just four families remained.
These are the names of the families that had lived in Tannenau: Nickel, Wall, Friesen, DeFehr, Dueck, Janzen, Neufeld, Dyck, Loemky, Penner
Helen Penner Hiebert (married to Doctor Gerhard Hiebert) had written a memoir entitled Granny Stories, and it contains some stories from her childhood in Tannenau. Rhinehart Friesen wrote the Tannenau history in Historical Sketches, and he included a few choice nuggets from Granny Stories… including the story about the bog. She says there were two bogs surrounded by trees, and as children they always had wanted to play in one of the bogs, which was quite welcoming and bright. But the other bog was “sombre and forbidding and inhabited by gnomes and pixies and bad fairies”. They were not allowed to play in either bog… and one day they found out why: that was the day the cow got sucked into the bog. I can just picture the panic as all the adults dropped everything to attempt to wrest the cow from the mire, even going as far as to remove a door from its hinges, in order to float a platform for a man to stand on and tie a chain around the cow’s haunches. In the end, the cow was saved… but the children never went near the bog again.
For many years, I’ve stared out the car window as we drive by, looking at those clumps of trees and bush, which remain untouched even though the rest of the land has been long cultivated. Now I know why.
Please! Don’t just think all I ever do is look for graveyards. I don’t! It’s just that often that’s all that’s left. And in this case, it’s particularly true.
On our tour of village sites, Andrew and I were led down a gravel road, seemingly to the middle of nowhere… and this was where Ernie stopped the car that he and Glen were in. He walked out to the edge of a nearby field, and I was wondering what remaining vestiges of a village could there possibly be, right there? And then he bent down, and I realized that he was checking on a tombstone: Jacob Wall’s tombstone. He was an original settler of Tannenau, and he never left. Ever. And all that now remains… is this tombstone. And even that is not doing so well, in spite of Ernie’s best efforts.
“Sometimes the field equipment knocks it over. I come by, and stand it back up again,” he said, ensuring the grave marker was standing sturdily before we walked away.
That gave me pause. To note the care that goes into these sites. I didn’t ask, but I don’t think Ernie has a connection to Jacob Wall. At least, he didn’t mention any. He’s simply doing this out of a love for local history. And I find that quite moving.