This post is for Andrew, because he wasn’t with me, and I want him to know what he missed!
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a cairn unveiling before. I’ve often read about them in past issues of Preservings, when those of the community who were interested in local history would gather for the unveiling of various cairns in our vicinity. This kind of makes me even see the gathering for an event such as this, in kind of a golden, nostalgic kind of light. don’t think I’ve ever been to a cairn unveiling before. I’ve often read about them in past issues of Preservings, when those of the community who were interested in local history would gather for the unveiling of various cairns in our vicinity. This kind of makes me even see the gathering for an event such as this, in kind of a golden, nostalgic kind of light.
Back in the day when cairns were unveiled and folks would gather for the occasion.
As if it simply could not happen anymore. Except then it did.
And I was late.
My objective was to get to the unveiling of the Shantz Immigration Sheds cairn on Manitoba Day at 4:00pm.
I missed the land acknowledgement, Manitoba Day remarks, and invocation.
There was a van perched on the bridge, its lone occupant not stepping out of the vehicle. As I walked past, the gentleman rolled down his window and asked me what was going on here. I told him it was a cairn unveiling and that he should get out of his van and participate. I think he might’ve thought we were all in some kind of cult.
The good thing about being a tad late was that I had the experience of seeing the group fully assembled and collectively listening attentively. It was exciting to approach them!
This event happened on Thursday, May 12th, because it was Manitoba Day — the anniversary of the day Manitoba became a Canadian province, whereupon the next steps were to survey the land and place European farmers onto it, so that Americans would not encroach. Treaty 1.
They chose to unveil the cairn on Manitoba Day to acknowledge what this meant for those already belonging to this land: displacement.
On this day the experience of the Métis was addressed specifically, both in being displaced and also in that they had helped the early settlers, first in being commissioned by Jacob Shantz to build the immigration sheds in 1874, and then also to help transport the Mennonites from the junction of the Red and Rat Rivers to sheds, which were located here.
I realize I hadn’t yet mentioned what this cairn is marking, or remembering. It is the sheds, specifically. Although there is a cemetery somewhere nearby as well, because though the stay in the sheds was only temporary, about 30 children died. So the cairn marks the sheds, but means so much more than a quartet of sheds.
There are no pictures of the sheds, so there are two artist’s renderings on the cairn — one of the exterior by Don Hoeppner, and one of the interior by Neil Klassen. Both are excellent.
It’s always a treat to hear Ernie Braun speak about the history he has uncovered, and Thursday was no exception. Ernie introduced us to his friend Armand Jerome who agreed to join come share about what it meant to be Métis here both then and now. Armand is the craftsman who had built that Red River cart you see in the pictures. It was fascinating to have the cart there as we heard about how these Métis carts transported Mennonite belongings five miles from the river to the sheds — a process which took several days for each boatload of Mennonites that arrived from 1874-1876. I am descended from many of those Mennonites, and to be in this place, looking at that cart, and at the shed site, helped me begin to somehow get at least an idea of what it was maybe like, to at least imagine.
Together Amand and Ernie unveiled the cairn as the gathered group sang Now Thank We All Our God in English and German.
I took a picture of everyone looking at their programs and singing:
As soon as the cairn was unveiled, the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the cairn. It was just really cool timing. All day we had been warned of rain (which southern Manitoba has been getting a LOT of lately) but instead of rain, we had sun and a truly gorgeous late afternoon/early evening.
I was impressed that a great-great-great-great(?)-nephew of Shantz was even there to bring greetings:
After it was all said and done, I got to pose with the cairn myself. Yay!
And then I turned around and took a picture of the cairn’s view, and of the folks mingling and meandering. I cannot describe how lovely it was to be with people at an event talking about history, outdoors, on a lovely afternoon. You should’ve been there.
You should go see the cairn! It’s at the corner of Road 39N and 19E, two miles south of Niverville on 6th Avenue.
This is probably going to be the most haphazard assessment of the day that you will encounter. Both The Carillon and Steinbach Online were there, and I’ve already seen terrific posts from the Mennonite Heritage Archives regarding the events of this past Thursday. But, like I said before — this post was for Andrew.