This is Where Our Ancestors Spent Their First Night in Manitoba

I mean, obviously they didn’t spend the night in a ditch like the one in the feature photo…

What I’m trying to say is, this is where the immigration sheds had been, that Schantz had set up. There had been four of them at this corner, one on each section.

Do you know about the immigration sheds?

I first heard those words maybe three years ago, when I attended my first local history lecture, and purchased the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve. At that time, all of this was completely new to me. At that time, I had never heard of the Mennonite Landing, nor had I known anything about what the Mennonites did right after they first “landed”. I never thought much about it. I mean, I asked sometimes, but answers were either quite vague and gave me the impression that this was fairly unknowable. OR perhaps I lost interest as soon as I asked and didn’t properly listen to the answer. It’s hard to say. At any rate, this was news to me!

So here’s the thing. When 65 Mennonite families arrived on July 31st, 1874, they disembarked from the riverboat International at the confluence of the Red and Rat Rivers near Ste. Agathe, and went to the immigration sheds that Jacob Shantz had set up about seven kilometres away.

Here within these crudely-constructed sheds, the newly-arrived Mennonites lived for several weeks while the men went about the East Reserve, figuring out who would live where, and where to set up their villages. For those left in limbo within those sheds, times were pretty rough. The sheds were crowded, food was running out, and fresh water was not easy to come by — there was no well, and the river was several miles away. Many children died. (Apparently there had been a cemetery near the sheds, but no one has been able to locate it yet.)

When I read Eleanor Chornoboy’s book Katarina: Mennonite Girl From Russia… THAT is when I realized what it would’ve been like. She spent many years researching this, and brought the experience to life. “Four long sheds that looked like poor substitutes for barns,” she writes. “No foundations, no floors, no shingles.” “Snores emanated from the thin-walled rooms” at night. “The cheesy smell of unwashed feet wafted into the atmosphere, joining with the other bodily odours that passed between the boards of the adjoining rooms.” The images of long lines of women and children waiting their turns at the outhouses. The relentless mosquitoes. They were disappointed, they were hungry, they were thirsty. “Through the makeshift walls, Katarina heard the children cry.”

This had been a significant site!

I’ve posted before about that one amazing day that Andrew and I toured around with Ernest Braun and Glen Klassen. Well, on that same day, they took us to the site of the immigration sheds!

When Andrew and I had first bought their Atlas, we tried to find this place on our own. And we did find it… but we couldn’t be sure. So it was a little surreal to have the authors themselves bring us to the exact precise spot!

Up until now, there’s been absolutely zero indication that this is where the immigration sheds had been… but that’s all about to change. Behold:

The EastMenn Historical Committee is in the process of erecting a cairn to commemorate this location. Thus far, a stone has been selected and transported and set up, which was no small feat. It has plenty of space for some insightful information. I’m pretty sure the plaque is going to be put on this stone sometime in the coming year, and I’m looking forward to that… and will of course post an update!