What’s a Mennonite Reserve?

I once stumbled across someone on Facebook who had shared a Mennotoba post which mentioned Hanover had once been called “East Reserve”. This person shared the post alongside a comment that they had always thought they might have some Indigenous background.


This person took the Mennotoba post to mean that Hanover had once been a First Nations reserve?!?


Please do not hear “Mennonite reserve” and think that makes you Indigenous.

Wow does it ever not.

I feel like I always make it pretty clear that this was at one time a Mennonite reserve. But I suppose humans bring our own assumptions into every interaction, don’t we? This person definitely did. It’s like they read part of the article (just the word “reserve”) and little else.

It’s bothered me ever since.

And so, apologies in advance. This is going to be a frustrating read for all the folks who have taken Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg (of whom I am sadly not one). And for all those who have actually read the precise kind of books I collect (and intend to read).

After Gloria’s trending interview, there may be a few new readers still kicking around Mennotoba, so I figured this might be a good time to address this whole “what is a Mennonite reserve” thing.

The short answer: it is NOT a First Nations reserve.

The longer answer: is the rest of this article.

To those who have never heard of Mennonite reserves, please allow me, an uneducated fake-historian, to explain the story of my own understanding (which is still under construction).

The first time I heard the words “Mennonite reserve”, I pictured a bunch of Plautdietsch-speaking folks, dour, in frumpy dresses and farm-gear, with a penchant for gossip and shunning, all fenced into one specific area of land. I burst out laughing.

Then I learned that this Mennonite reserve had actually been what is now the R.M. of Hanover. The East Mennonite Reserve was established in 1874 for Mennonites from South Russia (today Ukraine).

I learned there had been another Mennonite reserve in Manitoba, the West Mennonite reserve established in 1875, which is today the Rural Municipalities of Rhineland and Stanley. (That same year, 1875, an Icelandic reserve had been established around Gimli, Manitoba.)

Sometime before the turn of the century in the 1800s (1881?) the East Reserve was opened up to non-Mennonites and I think that’s when it became the R.M. of Hanover.

The bottom line is this: if you hear “reserve” please know that a reserve can potentially be for any kind of people group.

And I know you already know this but it bears repeating: the blatant link between the Mennonite Reserves and First Nations people? In order to declare it a Mennonite reserve, the government used Treaty One to oust First Nations from this land, so Mennonites were able to show up and cozily benefit. Just facts.

To learn more, please read this article by Jenna Klassen, Mennonites, Metis and First Nations People.