Vestiges of Kronsthal’s Past

“I’m actually not from New Bothwell,” confessed Mr. John Hiebert.

Audrey looked at him in surprise. “Well then where are you from, dad?”

“Seaton! Four miles down the road.”

She nodded in solemn agreement. “I see. You’re right. You’re not from New Bothwell at all.”

I was sitting in New B’s Cafe with Audrey, Sasha, and Audrey’s dad, Mr. John Hiebert. Audrey had told me that he knew about the area. This turned out to be an understatement.

Turns out John Hiebert wrote the village history of Kronsthal in the book Historical Sketches of the East Reserve 1874-1910. I was embarrassed to admit to him that even though I own the book, I hadn’t actually read it. Yet.

But, there was no time to sit around feeling embarrassed about failing to do my homework. We were quickly losing daylight hours — time to go see the old Kronsthal Cemetery. AT LAST!!!!!!!

As Audrey put the car into gear, her father phoned the owner of the field adjacent to the cemetery, for permission to drive across the property.

Permission obtained, we burst onto the freshly harvested field, driving cross-country, an ocean of yellow erupting before us. It was loud, felt chaotic, and above the screech and clatter of the sharp stubble scraping at the undercarriage, Mr. Hiebert was instructing Audrey where to drive.

“Where am I going, dad?”
“See those trees? It’s going to be over there.”

I just love that pic of Audrey and her dad. Two adventurers.

Sasha and I were in the backseat, and I’m guessing my expression mirrored Sasha’s.

And then suddenly, we arrived at the cemetery.

Mr. Hiebert provided the below photo of this cemetery in his historical sketch about Kronsthal. It depicts former longtime postmistress Mrs. P. N. Hiebert and her offspring standing in the Kronsthal cemetery. He wrote that there are very large cottonwoods marking the cemetery in the middle of the section. And at the time of his writing, in 1994, it was true. You could see the huge trunk of the tree in the background of the photo:

But now, the large cottonwood is gone. Mr. Hiebert told us that the trees had been so large that two men together could not put their arms all the way around them.

Here’s what’s left:

The situation with the headstones is much changed from the 1994 picture as well. Unlike other cemeteries which simply become overgrown, this one has been rather devastated.

I’ve heard of people piling up gravestones in cemeteries that they figure no one visits anymore… but I’ve never seen evidence of it, until now. Mr. Hiebert says they’re trying to undo the damage. He told us that somebody (I forget who) is using a certain method to try to locate the buried people underground so to place the stones back in the right places. He mentioned that this person is using sticks to accomplish this.

“Wait,” I said. “Do you mean witching? Like, well-witching? Water-witching? It works on finding people in cemeteries too?! Finding graves?!”

(Has anyone else heard of this?)

Mr. Hiebert does not subscribe to the idea that witching actually works.

Here are the headstones that have been salvaged thus far.
Audrey and her dad, Mr. John Hiebert, contemplate Kronsthal.
Point out where the trail to Winnipeg had been, following the top of a ridge.
Graves, which are presently unmarked.
Standing at the edge of Kronsthal Cemetery, looking east toward the 216… and the sign that says “Kronsthal Hildebrand Cemetery”.

In Historical Sketches of the East Reserve, Mr. Hiebert wrote, “After 1938, with the post office being called New Bothwell, the name Kronsthal slowly disappeared and was used mainly when Low German was spoken. New Bothwell was used mainly when English was spoken. Needless to say, when Low German began to disappear so did the name Kronsthal.”

Mr. Hiebert goes on to muse: in a region where most of the Mennonite villages simply disappeared, how and why has Kronsthal/New Bothwell continued to exist, and even experience growth? His conclusion is that it must be the famous cheese factory, Bothwell Cheese.

That was my assumption too. Cheese is magic. Um, not the same kind of magic as water-witching, but still.

Standing at the edge of Kronsthal Cemetery, looking west, into the soon-to-be-setting sun.

For an entire list of people buried in the Kronsthal Cemetery, see this post:

100 Years of New Bothwell, 145 Years of Kronsthal