Visiting a Cemetery of Thistles at Hochstadt #1

“We are perishing for want of wonder, not want of wonders.” -G.K. Chesterton

I came across that quote today, and it made me think of last night’s adventure with Andrew. We were out traveling the back roads of Southeastern Manitoba, Historical Atlas of the East Reserve in hand. We were attempting to locate cemeteries noted in the book. We’re trying to start hyper-local. We’ve learned time and again that neither of us is very good at navigation, and even though the authors of the Atlas were pretty clear about what you could find where, we’ve still had some difficulty. Also, the Manitoba Back Roads map (from is sometimes wrong about stuff.

Also, things are often not what you expect.

On this occasion, we decided to investigate Hochstadt.

I’ve always been familiar with the name of Hochstadt — it was referenced and bandied about the household in which I grew up. And, for all of the ten years that I attended Kleefeld School, my bus route circled around what I thought was the one and only Hochstadt — the road was named as such. And yet, I somehow didn’t really know what or where Hochstadt was. I mean, I didn’t think about it. To my young mind, it was just some old, funny-sounding Mennonite place.

Only recently, when I’ve begun paying attention and asking questions, have I realized two things:

First, my grandpa grew up there. On the most picturesque farm by the creek that I was always longing to explore. If only I’d known he’d spent his boyhood there, I would’ve asked him a lot of questions. (Namely, did you build rafts to float in the water? Did you build clubhouses in the bush along the creek’s banks? Did you explore a little further out? There’s a lot I wish I’d asked my grandpa. He was very handsome and very quiet. He was creative and built furniture. He liked music and he liked to read. I liked to borrow his books, actually.)

And, second: There’s more than one Hochstadt. There are THREE. The one where my grandpa had lived, where my bus passed through every day, was Hochstadt #3. But where were the two earlier incarnations of the settlement?

Eventually, our incompetent navigating did lead to results — look!

Another mystery: Why does it say Grienfeld? Makes me think of Gruenfeld, which was Kleefeld’s earlier incarnation.

Many thistles. And, harvest is underway in the background.

Okay, we should talk about the location of this cemetery. Is there really a cemetery from the 1870’s, located along a road that was built in…well, I’m not sure when Manitoba put in its grid road system, but I’m pretty sure there weren’t roads here yet in the 1870’s. I mean, there were trails from one Mennonite village to the other. Not provincial roads.

As we stood there, we were kinda thinking that well, I guess this might be an actual cemetery…but more likely is that the real cemetery (and remains???) were somewhere in the middle of the section. I think what happens sometimes is that when a farmer wants to develop the land where a cemetery is, he or she will sometimes move the headstones to the roadside. Here a stone has the names recorded on it, and even a little roof to protect it from the elements. I appreciate the effort that has gone into setting this up. I appreciate the care. I mean, I’d appreciate it more if the graves could’ve been left where they were…but then I’d have to find the owner of the land and gain permission to visit.

Which is something I’m realizing I’ll have to start doing anyway, if I hope to actually visit the sites of these ghost villages.

Nerdy me, happy as a clam, clinging to the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve. Like a little kid with a favourite teddy bear, I bring it with me everywhere.

Anyway. This is Hochstadt #1. In 1875, the Doerksens and Loewens settled here (though it’s mostly Reghrs listed on the stone). By 1876, they’d registered a school. In 1884, a post office named Hochstadt was established at a nearby village (seriously, it’d be like a 1-minute walk from Hochstadt #1), which had been previously been Gnadenort, and so the entire village of Hochstadt #1 moved to Hochstadt #2, leaving this small cemetery behind. In 1917, a new school was built, this time in the location of Hochstadt #3. (Info taken from the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve. Obviously.)

Having seen all we could see on this occasion, we got back in the car and began driving. Andrew told me he had no idea where we were, and initially I didn’t either — I’d gotten so turned around in all the excitement of finding Hochstadt #1.

Suddenly everything shifted, tilted, and I realized it was all so very familiar.

“I know exactly where we are!” I declared.

We were within two miles of the farm on which I grew up. So close! The wonders of the Mennonite ghost villages had been under my nose all along.