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Historical Cairn Unveiled to Mark Site of Immigration Sheds

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Historical Cairn Crop
The historical cairn marking the site of the Shantz immigration sheds two miles south of Niverville. Sara Beth Dacombe

On Thursday, May 12, a crowd gathered two miles south of Niverville for the EastMenn Historical Committee’s unveiling of a new landmark commemorating Mennonite history.

A cairn now stands on the site of the Shantz immigration sheds, where the first Mennonite immigrants to Manitoba settled. The cairn is located at the intersection of Hespeler Road 39N and Shantz Road 19E two miles south of Highway 311.

The cairn commemorates the crudely built immigration sheds, long wooden buildings which were erected seven kilometers directly east of the historical Mennonite Memorial Landing Site where the Rat and Red Rivers converge.

Four of these sheds were erected in 1874 to serve as temporary housing while the new Mennonite immigrants began to create permanent settlements on the East Reserve, the land set aside for them by the government.

The construction of these sheds was contracted by Jacob Shantz who, after negotiating the location and obtaining the needed materials, had them constructed at a cost of $3,000.

Despite a dismal forecast for significant rainfall, the dedication and unveiling ceremony was attended by approximately 200 people, including representatives from the Town of Niverville, the RM of Hanover, Mennonite religious leaders and history enthusiasts, as well as and many who share Mennonite heritage.

The rain stayed away and the sun even came out.

“It brings me great pleasure to participate in this historical event to commemorate a very significant moment in time and location where our forefathers and families staged up here at this very location nearly 150 years ago before making their final trek eastward to lay down their roots in southeast Manitoba,” said Stan Toews, reeve of the RM of Hanover. “It almost seems unimaginable how our Mennonite ancestors immigrated here from eastern Europe, unaware of this region’s severe weather and soil conditions. It is a fact fully heroic.”

“Thank you to the historical society for making sure the history of which the foundations for where we are today was built,” said Niverville mayor Myron Dyck. “As mayor of Niverville, as we see immigration continue to come into our area, I am privileged to be with a group of people here today and other leaders that continue to welcome those to our areas. That is something we must continue to do.”

Armand and Kelly Jerome were on hand to represent the Metis people who helped the Mennonites when they arrived. Using the infamous Red River cart, the Metis people acted as guides, locating medicine and resources and transporting women and children to the immigration sheds.

“We feel honoured to be included in this most important ceremony honouring the beginnings of the Metis and Mennonite journey, a journey through life,” said Armand.

The Jeromes have built cart replicas for various historical re-enactments, cultural celebrations, and museums throughout Canada. For the cairn ceremony, they brought and displayed the original cart they built to celebrate the Metis and Mennonite landing 20 years ago.

“This cart journeyed through here and celebrated the re-enactment,” said Kelly. “This is the actual cart and we’ve always kept it. We thought it was appropriate to bring it today, but after today this is its last open appearance and it is going to a museum so it will be preserved for life.”

The Shantz immigration sheds cairn will be a feature along the new walking trail being created by the EastMenn Historical Committee. Called the Peace Trail, it will pass a number of other landmarks, including the Crow Wing Trail river lot plaques, Niverville’s Red River cart and history wall, the Tourond Creek Discovery Centre, the Gruenfeld cemetery cairn, Chortitz historical church and cemetery, and the Rosenthal Nature Park.

The committee estimates that the trail will officially open this summer with an official event entitled the Peace Trek.

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