West Reserve (Manitoba, Canada)

Jump to navigation Jump to search

West Reserve, Manitoba, located west of the Red River and north of the United States border, was set aside like the East Reserve for a Mennonite settlement. When Mennonite delegates inspected the land of Manitoba, the Bergthal and the Kleine Gemeinde delegates, Jacob Peters, Heinrich Wiebe, David Classen, and Cornelius Toews, who had chosen Manitoba for their constituency, investigated this land with the other Mennonite delegates in 1873. All twelve delegates went first to the East Reserve; in 1874 the four delegates of the Bergthal and the Kleine Gemeinde immigrants came to Winnipeg and chose the East Reserve for settlement. Thus the East Reserve became the settlement of the Bergthal Mennonites. Bergthal in Russia was a daughter colony of the Chortitza or Old Colony Mennonite settlement.

In 1875, when the first Mennonites of the Chortitza settlement and its daughter settlement Fürstenland under the leadership of Bishop Johann Wiebe arrived in Manitoba, they settled on the West Reserve. A total of 580 families or 3,240 persons left the Chortitza and Fürstenland settlements. With few exceptions, all of them settled on the West Reserve. Of this total, about two thirds came from Chortitza and one third from Fürstenland (Epp, Chortitzer Mennoniten). By 1877 they had established the following villages: Hoffnungsfeld, Eichenfeld, Schantzenfeld, Grünfeld, Ebenfeld, Reinland, Hochfeld, Rosengart, Waldheim, Neuendorf, Neuenburg, Blumengart, Blumenstein, Kronsthal, Chortitza, Osterwick, Schönfeld, Schönwiese, Rosenort, Rosenhof, Schöndorf, Rosenfeld, Neuhorst, Blumenhorst, and Blumenfeld.

The West Reserve, located between Emerson and Mountain City, and eighteen miles north of the United States boundary, was (according to E. K. Francis) the first permanent agricultural settlement in the open prairies of Western Canada without direct access to a major body of water. This turned out to be some of the best farmland in Manitoba. It was set aside for the "exclusive use of the Mennonites from Russia" by Order-in-Council of 25 April 1876. At that time the East and West Reserves included 25 townships consisting of over half a million acres. The West Reserve consisted of 17 townships. The land was extremely level and trees for fuel and lumber had to be hauled from the Pembina Mountains. During the summer and fall of 1875, while the settlers were living in immigration houses, they staked out their villages and homesteads and began to construct their primitive, tentative shelters. In the spring of the following year they planted 1,475 acres of wheat and potatoes. In 1876 over 800 persons joined the settlers of the West Reserve. In the next four years the number of families coming directly from Russia gradually decreased.

Barely had the Chortitza-Fürstenland Mennonites established themselves when a movement of the Bergthal Mennonites from the East Reserve to the West Reserve set in. Around 1880 William Hespeler reported that some 300 families had moved to the West Reserve, leaving some 400 on the East Reserve. The reason given was primarily that the East Reserve suffered more during the wet years. In addition to this, it was discovered that the land of the West Reserve was better. Some of the villages established by the Bergthal people on the West Reserve were Gnadenfeld, Schönhorst, Sommerfeld, Halbstadt, Altona, Bergfeld, and Schönthal. The Dominion Land's Act made it possible for those from the East Reserve to acquire a second homestead in the West Reserve. They settled mostly on the fringes of the area occupied by those who had come directly from Russia to the West Reserve.

The Bergthal Mennonites moving in and establishing homes for the second time in Manitoba were inclined to give up some old practices brought along from Russia and to adjust themselves more fully to the Canadian environment. Thus they introduced a disrupting element into the fixed pattern and way of life of the Old Colony Mennonites of the West Reserve. Some of them discarded the practice of living in closed villages from which each farmer would work his narrow strip of land adjacent to the village and by which they would share the community pasture. This village plan constituted a closely knit civic entity which was the nucleus and foundation for the self-government, parochial schools and the traditional, total way of life. Many felt that deviation from this pattern would introduce a breakdown of the cultural and religious life cherished for generations.

In 1880, when the Canadian provincial government replaced the Mennonite self-government of the Schulze and Oberschulze by the regular civic government, the Bergthal Mennonites of the West Reserve were ready to accept this, while the Old Colony-Fürstenland Mennonites were determined to retain their system of self-government. The Bergthal Mennonites were mostly located in the Douglas municipality (now Rhineland) and the Old Colony Mennonites in the Rhineland municipality (now Stanley). From now on among the Old Colony Mennonites the unofficial Oberschulze functioned beside the official reeve of the municipality. The Old Colony Mennonites also became guardians of the old school system that they wanted to keep in their own hands when some Mennonites started to campaign for improvement of educational facilities and standards and were willing to accept aid from the government and thereby exchange their parochial schools for public schools. The school question became one of the chief reasons why the Old Colony Mennonites of the West Reserve later moved to Mexico.

These differences were some of the factors that made it impossible for the original Mennonite settlers of the West Reserve who had come from Chortitza and Fürstenland under the leadership of Bishop Johann Wiebe to have full fellowship with the Bergthal Mennonites who moved in later. The former had organized as the Reinland Mennonite Church, which later became known as the Old Colony Mennonite Church, while the settlers under the leadership of Bishop Gerhard Wiebe of the Bergthal Mennonite Church of the East Reserve, founded the Bergthal Mennonite Church of the West Reserve, with Johann Funk as elder. The latter group retained the name Bergthal Mennonite Church, while the one on the East Reserve became known as the Chortitza Mennonite Church, since its elder resided in the village of Chortitz. In 1890 the larger part of the Bergthal Mennonites started a new church, which became known as the Sommerfeld Mennonite Church, since its elder Abraham Dorksen lived in the village of Sommerfeld. The progressive minority, under the leadership of Bishop Johann Funk, retained the name Bergthal Mennonite Church.

In the beginning the Mennonite villages covered only part of the West Reserve, gradually expanding within the limits of the reserve actually set aside. In the course of time they yielded portions of reserved land to non-Mennonites and acquired other parcels outside their boundaries. The word "Reserve" eventually became attached to land actually occupied by the Mennonites, particularly after the original grants had expired. At the time when the municipalities of Rhineland and Douglas were incorporated only a few non-Mennonites lived within the Reserve. As time went on more and more of the villages were abandoned. In some instances today only a grove of trees indicates the site of a former village. Some of the villages have become significant communities and business centers. Other places originally established by non-Mennonites have grown into towns primarily occupied by Mennonites today. Among the Mennonite villages that have become trade centers are Reinland, Sommerfeld, Neubergthal, Kronsgart, and Rosenfeld. Among those started by non-Mennonites after 1890 the following have become railroad and trade centers: Altona, Winkler, Gretna, Plum Coulee, Horndean, and Lowe Farm. Of particular significance as industrial centers are Altona, Winkler, and Gretna. (For a complete history of the West Reserve see articles Manitoba, Old Colony Mennonites, and the towns mentioned.)


Dawson, C. A. Group Settlement; Ethnic Communities in Western Canada. Toronto: 1936.

Epp, D. H. Die Chortitzer Mennoniten. Odessa, 1889.

Francis, E. K. In Search of Utopia. Altona, 1955.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. IV.

Krahn, Cornelius. "Adventure in Conviction. Russia, Canada, and Mexico." Unpublished manuscript.

Smith, C. Henry. The Coming of the Russian Mennonites. Berne, 1927.

See also:

Friesen, John J. Building Communities: The Changing Face of Manitoba Mennonites. Winnipeg: CMU Press, 2007.

1880 Village Census of the Mennonite West Reserve: Manitoba, Canada. John Dyck and William Harms, eds. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 1998.

Church, Family and Village. Adolf Ens, Jacob E. Peters, and Otto Hamm, eds. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 2001.

Reinländer (Old Colony) Gemeinde Buch. 2nd ed. rev. Martha Martens, John Penner, and Mavis Dyck, eds. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 2006.

Rempel, Peter. Mennonite Migration to Russia, 1788-1828. Alf Redekopp and Richard Thiessen, eds. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 2000.

Sommerfeld Gemeinde Buch: Registers of the Church at West Lynne, 1881-1935. Henry Unger, Martha Martens, and Adolf Ens, eds. Winnipeg: Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, 2004.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Krahn, Cornelius. "West Reserve (Manitoba, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 25 Jul 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=West_Reserve_(Manitoba,_Canada)&oldid=163369.

APA style

Krahn, Cornelius. (1959). West Reserve (Manitoba, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 25 July 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=West_Reserve_(Manitoba,_Canada)&oldid=163369.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 926-929. All rights reserved.

©1996-2024 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.