Today It’s Randolph, But Back Then It Was Chortitz.

I think Randolph was the first Mennonite village that I ever heard about. When I was little, a friend from school lived there. The first time that I was invited to her house, I asked her where she lived. She matter-of-factly told me she lived “in Randolph”. Well…when I visited her house I realized she lived on a farm, in the country, like I did. Except…the place she lived had an actual name: Randolph. It was a little confusing because sometimes people called it Chortitz.

I turned 17 in 1995, and finally attained my driver’s license (I failed twice so it took me awhile…) so I bought a crappy ’83 Ford Escort that needed a lot of TLC, and my dad instructed me to always take my car to Neufeld Garage in Randolph for maintenance, because they were good people. And so, for a few years in the mid-to-late 90’s, me and my ’83 Escort often made the trek out to Randolph.

Neufeld Garage was the sole business in Randolph, it was very retro. Not designed that way…it just was built in 1948 and kinda never changed. It was very comforting, and yet also fascinating. Like a museum, but still functioning. They closed up shop in 2008 — but in 2014 it was re-opened as a community centre. Events such as Christmas markets and fundraisers are often held there, and I’d say that attending any event at Neufeld Garage/Randolph Community Centre is well worth the effort it takes to show up.

Randolph also had a skating rink that was built in the 1960’s…and torn down in 2009.

And then there was the church, and the matter of the name Chortitz. This was the first village on the East Reserve, it’s where the Altester lived, and where the Chortitzer Mennonite Church was established in 1874. The church you see there today was built in 1896. The congregation continued to meet in that little wooden church until 2010, when their numbers had reduced so significantly that they just had to call it a day. At that time it became a historic site, because of the historical significance and the remarkable condition of the structure. Every once in a while an event will be held in the Randolph Chortitzer Church, and it will be PACKED. (At least, so I’ve heard.)

The cemetery across the road from the church.
This half of the cemetery appears to have just a few headstones…but likely there are many graves here. I believe the list of “residents” is on that headstone.

But why the Randolph name situation? Like other communities such as Mitchell (Vollwerk) and New Bothwell (Kronsthal), the Canadian government assigned the community a new anglicized name when the post office was established. I wonder why some communities such as Steinbach and Grunthal got keep the original village name.

Okay now here’s an interesting note! Speaking of where place-names come from…did you know that the name Chortitz has its origins in the name of a pagan sun god named Khors? I learned this from reading the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve! I keep extoling the virtues of this book and here I go again: this is fascinating to me! I mean, around here, the name “Chortitzer” brings to mind images of a traditional Mennonite congregation. Sacrifices were made to the pagan sun god Khors on the island of Khortitza (Ukraine) until about the year 988 A.D. Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII put a stop to that in the 10th century. And then Mennonites arrived on that very island about 800 years later. They loved it and named a lot of things after it. Like Chortitz here in the East Reserve.

(Feature photo: Chortitz Church in Randolph, with cemetery in the distance.)