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Settlements of Mennonite pioneers endure

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Mennonites began immigrating to Manitoba in 1874, settling east of the Red River in the present-day Niverville area, while a small group settled at Scratching River northeast of Morris.

In the following year, 1875, Mennonites began to settle west of the Red River in the present-day Altona-Winkler area, where they checked for preferred land and began to farm.

On both sides of the Red, Mennonites settled in villages as they were accustomed to in their Russian homeland. Over the next 125 years, much has changed, but many of these original villages endure as small residential centres, others as towns serving the rural farm community.

There is still a strong sense of community pride in most of these villages, towns and cities, and it's often supported by surrounding rural municipalities with grants for maintenance of community centres, skating rinks and other amenities that add so much to their quality of life.

Here is a snapshot of many of these communities on the former East and West Reserves and at Scratching River (now Rosenort) northwest of Morris. But Mennonites have dispersed and are now also to be found in a number of other communities in western Manitoba and to the north beyond the Lakes to the Arborg-Riverton area.


Blumenort is one of three larger urban centres in the RM of Hanover. It is home to several agri-businesses, principally Granny's Poultry Co-operative and Country Meat & Sausage.

This growing community has its own school for Grades K-12, a community centre and park, seniors housing and church.

The community was established in 1874 by members of the smallest, and most conservative, of three Mennonite sects that focussed strictly on agriculture and the church, with little or no contact with the "worldly" society around them.


Greenland, with a population of about 100, is a hamlet with several new homes near Ste. Anne. It originated in the 1880s, and the entire area was under lush grass and hence it was named Greenland.

Business in the area revolves around agriculture, principally raising layer hens, broilers and pigs. The community, with a church and a school, was founded in 1892. Today, the Holdeman church, school and tract house are the focal points of the community.


Kleefeld, originally Gruenfeld, with a population of 450, is located within a 50-minute drive of downtown Winnipeg. It is home to several agricultural and service businesses.

The community is serviced by the Kleefeld K-12 School, a community centre and park, seniors housing and four churches.


Landmark, with a population of about 1,200, has been an important agricultural service centre for a long time, but in the past two decades has also become a bedroom community for residents commuting to jobs in nearby Winnipeg, Steinbach and other centres.

The community derives its name from the fact it is close to the geographical longitudinal centre of Canada. The major local businesses include Landmark Motors, Landmark Feeds Inc. and Elite Swine Inc., an offshoot of Landmark Feeds. The latter was started as a small grind and mix feedmill in 1954.

The first Landmark settlers arrived on a large wagon loaded high with household goods in 1907. Soon, Mennonite families from other parts of Manitoba and some from Europe began settling in the community and, after this influx, a store and post office were built.


Mitchell, originally Vollwerk, is a growing community of over 800 just west of Steinbach. Many residents are employed in the city, but it has its own array of businesses and services.

The community has two schools, an elementary K-4 school and the Mitchell 5-9 Middle School. Mitchell also has an arena, a community centre with seniors' recreation, park and the Mitchell CMC Church.


New Bothwell, originally Kronsthal, is a small community of just over 300 with one major employer, Bothwell Cheese Inc., and several service businesses.

Bothwell Cheese makes over 10,000 pounds of cheese daily and currently produces over 1.5 million kilograms of cheese annually in more than 25 varieties and flavours.

The village is served by the Bothwell K-9 School, a community centre, park and the Silberfeld CMC Church.


Randolph, originally Chortitz, has a population of 71. The hamlet was named by the province when it established a district school there, replacing the Chortitz school which was closed.

A tourist attraction is the Chortitz church building, built in 1897. It is the oldest church structure in the area and probably one of the oldest places of worship still in active use in Western Canada.


Riverside* (Rosenhof) is a small hamlet with a few businesses and an estimated population of 50 people. Its history shows that it was settled in 1874 by the first Mennonite pioneers to Manitoba from Russia.


Rosenort* is a thriving agri-business and commercial centre northwest of Morris with a population of about 600.

The community has a large variety of service and agri-businesses, as well as two churches, a school, an assisted living facility and arena.

Rosenort was settled in 1874 by Mennonite pioneers from Russia. The settlers were predominantly farmers, who chose the location because of the prime farmland near the Scratching (now Morris) River. The strong religious beliefs of the early settlers and the collective cohesiveness of the succeeding generations has created a stable community in which creativity and ingenuity have thrived.

(* Rosenort and Riverside (formerly Rosenhof) are Mennonite communities comprised of residents who settled on the Scratching (now Morris) River, northeast of Morris. They arrived with East Reserve settlers in1874, but saw better opportunities here.)


Altbergthal is a village district with about 10 homes and a population estimated at 40. Now marking its 125th anniversary, it was founded in 1879 when 10 Mennonite families relocated from the East Reserve. The origin of its name, translated from German, means "old mountain vale."


Blumenfeld is a growing village with 44 homes and a population of 190. While the major occupation of residents is in agriculture, Global Hydronics, a manufacturer of yard furnaces, and Bill Klassen Auction Services, known province-wide, also call it home.

The village was established in 1875, the first year of West Reserve settlement. Its name, translated from German, means "flower field."


Blumenort is a Mennonite village west of Gretna with 27 homes and an estimated population of 105.

Blumenort was one of the first villages in the West Reserve when Mennonites began to settle here in 1875. The origin of the community's name, translated from German, means "place of flowers" or flower nook.


Chortitz is a Mennonite village with about 50 homes and a population of about 160. Its history dates back to 1875 when it was one of the first villages established on the West Reserve.

It was named for the Chortitz Peninsula in Russia where, almost 200 years before, the first Mennonite village and settlement in Russia was founded. The Peninsula became the headquarters of the Mennonites of that period, and thus the name holds a prominent place in the history of these people.


Friedensfeld is a small Mennonite village with 11 homes and an estimated population of 30. Some Mennonite immigrants settled here in the 1890s, but it remained a small village.

The name Friedensfeld means "peaceful land" and originates in the old country of Russia where Mennonites lived before immigrating here.


Friesensruh is a Mennonite village southeast of Winkler with about 20 homes and a population of about 90.

While Friedensruh is not one of the original Mennonite villages, its history dates to before the 1900s. Its name means "place of rest" and was a familiar name residents had used in Russia and transferred to their new homeland.


Gnadenfeld is a village a few miles southeast of Altona with about 20 homes and an estimated 75 residents. Its name means "place of grace."

Recent immigrants from the East Reserve settled the village around 1879-80. A private school operated for the first 40 years, then a public school operated from 1911 to 1967.


Gnadenthal is a Mennonite village with about 36 homes and an estimated population of 135. Public institutions include the Friedensfeld Mennonite Church and a church-school, Grace Valley Academy.

Gnadenthal was established in 1880 as a daughter colony, so to speak, of the village of Schoenwiese settled five years earlier. The origin of Gnadenthal's name in a direct translation from German, means "grace valley."


The border town of Gretna, 20 kilometres west of Emerson, was founded in the early 1880s and was once the commercial, cultural and educational centre of southern Manitoba.

Originally known as Smuggler's Point, Gretna today is a major customs point of entry. But it is also the home of the Mennonite Collegiate Institute, the oldest Mennonite secondary school in Canada. Established in 1889 to educate teachers for southern Manitoba schools, MCI continues to provide Christian education for Grades 9-12 in a residential setting.

A credit union, church, public school, post office and a number of businesses serve the more than 500 residents. Amenities include Centennial Park, the Gretna Arena and a golf course.


Halbstadt is an area that is comprised of the former school districts of Halbstadt, Houston and Strassberg. It began as a village near the U.S. border, but now there's only a small hamlet, with a population estimated at about 225.

Community services include a community centre with a curling and skating rink and ball diamonds. There is also the Halbstadt Mennonite Church.

The village was established about 1879 by new immigrants and Mennonites from the East Reserve. The origin of its name, translated from German, means "half-town," implying that it's very small.


Haskett, southeast of Winkler and just north of the U.S. border, has about 10 homes and about 30 residents. The major business of residents is agriculture and includes Haskett Growers. There's also a Canada Customs port.

Haskett was established in the late 1800s and was once a thriving community. It was earlier called Kronsfeld, a German name meaning "crown field."


Hochfeld today has some 66 homes and a population estimated at 230. Public institutions there are the elementary school and the Bethel Mennonite Church.

Mennonites first settled there on the western part of the Mennonite reserve in 1875. The origin of the name, translated from German, means "high field."


Horndean has about 30 homes and about 110 residents. Public institutions are the Horndean Mennonite Church and a private school it operates.

The history of Horndean, along with that of the Mennonite Brethren Church can be traced to the late 1890s.


Kleinstadt, formerly Hochstadt, has about 15 homes and about 60 residents. By 1880, families moved there to establish Hochstadt. When they sought to establish a school district in 1892, and there already was a district by the same name, they registered it as Kleinstadt.

The origin of both names, Hochstadt and Kleinstadt, literally translated as "high town" and "small town," were familiar names to the Mennonites from their past Russian homeland.


Lowe Farm is a farm service centre with about 200 residents 20 kilometres west of the town of Morris.

This community became Lowe Farm in 1900 when its post office was named after John Lowe, deputy minister of agriculture 1888-95. He had bought 19 sections (12,160 acres) in the area, and sold the land in 1894.

Public institutions are the Lowe Farm elementary school, a community centre, rink, post office and two churches.


Neubergthal, a village established in the 1880s, has been declared a National Historical Site. Southeast of Altona, it's an excellent surviving example of a Mennonite street village, a distinctive form of prairie settlement in western Canada.

Typically houses line both sides of a single, treed street with attached barns on narrow yards, and its farming fields surround the village.

Today Neubergthal has about 34 homes and 130 residents. There's a community centre and a private school, Sun Valley Mennonite Christian School.


Neuenberg is a small village with about 25 homes and at least 75 residents. The former Neuenburg school now serves residents as a community centre.

Mennonites settled the village in 1875 as part of the West Reserve. The origin of its name, translated from German, means "new mount" or "hilly area".


Neuhorst is a village which today has some 17 homes and about 65 residents. Historically, it was one of the original villages established in 1875 in the West Reserve.

Its layout is somewhat unique in that the village streets run north and south through the middle of a section, which gave the original 20 farmyards a full half-mile on both sides of the street.

Origin of the village name, translated from German, means "new tree clump" or "new grove."


New Hope is a rural district which began as the Neuhoffnung school district and later became the consolidated New Hope school district, including Rudnerweide and Altbergthal.

New Hope district today consists of 18 farms and rural homes and an estimated population of 70. The Sommerfeld Mennonite Church and an elementary school, the New Hope School, are situated there.


Old Altona, originally Aultnau or Aultneiv, is a mixed residential and business village with about 24 homes and 90 residents adjoining the Town of Altona.

The village of Old Altona has an interesting but checkered history. Fifteen years older than the Town of Altona, it was established in a tradition brought from Russia. After choosing a good location, the rest of the land was divided into strips, which enabled residents to obtain land of more or less equal quality. Within a few years, in 1882, the CPR, which just passed the village, was built.

The origin of the name is not clear, but some original residents had lived in an Altona, which existed on the East Reserve for a short time. There had also been an Altenau in Prussia and Russia.


Osterwick is a village with 34 homes and about 100 residents. Historically, it was one of the first Mennonite communities on the West Reserve, described as new in 1875.

Osterwick has a place name with a religious origin. Osterwick is German for Easter vetch. The church was decorated at Easter with the purple vetch, as it was the only flower to be found. The traditional lily does not bloom on the prairies until summer.


Reinfeld was a well-developed village by the 1890s and, with its proximity to Winkler, it has grown rapidly as building lots are available. It is preferred by new Russian-German immigrants and now has a population approaching 700.

With its proximity to Winkler, Reinfeld is a bedroom community for a number of residents.

The village has its own community centre and the Old Colony Church. Its name, translated from German, means "clean field."


Reinland, one of the older Mennonite villages on the West Reserve, straddles two rural municipalities with about 50 homes on the main street in the RM of Stanley and another 17 on the adjoining street running north-south in the RM of Rhineland. The village has a population of about 240 with about half a dozen new Russian-German immigrant families.

Established in 1875, Reinland was the centre of both the civil administration of the Mennonite West Reserve and ecclesiastical administration of Reinlaender Mennonite Church. Most of the pioneers came from the Chortitza Colony (the Old Colony) in Russia.

A definite tourist attraction is the first Mennonite church built in Western Canada, which is now a community centre. Another must-stop for historians and tourists is the Gerhard Ens heritage homestead, a house-barn combination, started by Isaak Dueck in 1877 and bought by Gerhard and Margaretha Ens when they arrived from Russia in 1923.


Rosenfeld, with about 95 homes and a population of about 360, is the only local urban district in the RM of Rhineland.

It was one of the villages formed by Mennonite people when they began settling west of the Red River in 1875. Some years later due to persistent flooding Rosenfeld was relocated a mile or two to higher ground.

A tourist attraction is the cemetery where many of the original Mennonite and Lutheran settlers are buried. A bronzed plaque is placed there in memory of early Mennonite settlers.

The village got its name from the wild flowers growing there. Its English translation, "rose field," is descriptive.


Rosengart is an agricultural village with about 20 homes and an estimated 76 residents.

It was one of the original villages on the West Reserve, established in 1875. A steam-operated flour mill operated there for many years. Its most eminent resident was Elder Johann Wiebe, leader of the Reinlaender Mennonite Church at the time of settlement.

The origin of the name Rosengart is that it was named after the wild roses which settlers found growing in the area.


Rosetown, originally Rosenort and Kronsthal, is an agricultural district with 26 homes and about 100 residents. Farms in the village and nearby area are in crop production, specializing in potatoes.

Kronsthal was one of several villages established in 1876 and 1877, and Rosenort, now Rosetown, was one of the original villages on the West Reserve. Off the main road, Rosenort's main street allowed for farmyards on both sides of the street.

Historically, Rosetown changed from Rosenort to differentiate from the other Rosenort, northeast of Morris. Rosenort and adjoining Kronsthal were named after villages in Russia.


Schanzenfeld is a growing village with about 100 homes and a population now exceeding 300 in the RM of Stanley south of Winkler.

Students attend the multi-grade Southwood School, and worship services are conducted in the Zion Mennonite Church. A new church serving the large number of Russian-German immigrants is under construction. There is also a new residential subdivision of 34 lots.

Schanzenfeld, one of the first Mennonite settlements was described as new in 1876. The origin of its name is German, which translates as "bulwark field." Mennonite settlers had in mind a row of trees in a Russian valley (called Schanzenfeld) which prevented the sandy soil from drifting.

But a different version in E. K. Francis' book on Mennonite settlement in Manitoba, In Search of Utopia (1955), says the name commemorates Jacob Y. Schantz, who helped put the colony on a strong financial basis.


Schoenwiese is an agricultural and residential village, southeast of Winkler, which has grown to about 24 homes and an estimated population of 120 as a dozen or more Russian-German immigrant families have moved into the village and surrounding area.

The community operates its own community centre and a new church has also begun here.

Historically, Schoenwiese is another of the original villages, settled by Mennonites on the West Reserve in 1876.

Schoenwiese is German for "fair field."


Sommerfeld is an agricultural village with grain and special crops, hog operations and a dairy. It consists of some 22 homes and an estimated 85 residents.

The village is a tourist attraction with its wide street settled on both sides, with a mixture of original house-barn combination structures and bungalow style homes. Historically, all of the original families of Sommerfeld came from the Bergthal Colony in Russia by way of the Manitoba East Reserve. The village was settled in 1880. It has the distinction of being the only village on the West Reserve patterned after Steinbach.

Cassel's New German dictionary defined Sommerfeld as a field of spring wheat. An English translation is summer field. The name could also have been chosen with reference to climactic conditions, since the word Sommerfeld has also been defined as spring wheat.

According to one version of folklore from the book Sommerfeld Village, however, the village was named after a man named Sommerfeld who sold or donated a herd to the settlers of the new community.


Cheaper land attracted Mennonites from the West Reserve to this area in the 1940s. Primary occupation of residents is farming, but a number are also in primary agri-business and in service businesses.

At Austin, residents worship in the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church or at the United Church.

If you live in nearby MacGregor, you have a choice of worshipping at either the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, Evangelical Mennonite Church, Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church or at the United Church.


Mennonites from Russia began a church in the southwestern Manitoba town of Boissevain in 1927. Today, worship services are conducted in the Mennonite Brethren Church, at the Family Worship Centre and in the United Church.

Both Boissevain and nearby Killarney, also influenced by Mennonite settlement, are located in the Turtle Mountains.

Several camps are situated on nearby lakes. A prairie pioneer day threshing demonstration was held at Killarney in July.


These Interlake communities near Riverton were begun around 1950 when farmers from Blumenort and Morris-Rosenort, members of the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonite fellowship, moved there seeking land more land to farm.

Residents worship at the Mennville Evangelical Mennonite Church, which sponsors both the Mennville Christian School for children (K-10) and the five-unit Appledale senior's home.

Morweena, in the Arborg area, is a former Icelandic community. It became a Mennonite settlement in the 1960s when Evangelical Mennonite Church people settled there in a Mennville church-planting effort.

Residents attend the Morweena Evangelical Mennonite Church and children go to the Morweena Christian School, operated by the church.

A tourist attraction there is Integrity Foods, run by Cornelius and Dora Friesen. They bake up to 80 loaves of bread at one firing in an outdoor brick oven.

Our thanks to the following who helped in gathering the information for this brief summary of Mennonite settlements -- Jake Bergen, CAO, Rural Municipality of Rhineland; Rick Klippenstein, CAO, RM of Stanley, and Cassandra Dyck, R.M. of Hanover, as well as many individuals with historical interest.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2004 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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