Tag Archives: mennonites

A Visit from Makhno

On a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach, this display depicting a raid by bandits on a Mennonite home in Ukraine in the 1920s reminded me of some stories in a family history compiled by my husband’s cousin John Braun. He talks about two times when a bandit named Makhno and his men visited the home of my husband’s grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger in Schoenfeld.

This is the blended Driedger/Cornies family. Abram is third from the left in the back row and his stepfather Johann is in the middle with Abram’s mother Katherina Warkentin Driedger Cornies. 

On one occasion Abram was about to be executed by Makhno’s men but one of them had worked as a farm laborer for Abram’s stepfather Johann Cornies and told the others not to shoot Abram because Johann had treated him fairly and kindly.

Abram to the right and his brother in Moscow during World War I where they served as medics a few years before the bandit raids took place

Another time the bandits came into the house and one of them demanded that Abram take off his shoes and give them to him. Abram was angry about giving up his good shoes but since he was at gunpoint he took them off and threw them on the ground in front of the man. Margaretha, my husband’s grandmother could see the bandit’s temper rising so she quickly hurried over, picked up the shoes and handed them contritely to him. After that, the bandits left.

Margaretha and Abram and their children Agatha and Cornelius just before leaving Ukraine for Canada. 

It wouldn’t be long before the constant threat of bandit raids would force Abram and Margaretha to flee Schoenfeld for a safer home in Tiege, then to take refuge with Margaretha’s parents in Petershagen and eventually to emigrate to Canada. 

Other posts……….

Family Picture

My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace

Sand and Salvation

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Family Picture

I am working on a history book about Dave’s parents for an upcoming family reunion. Dave’s cousin John who is the true Driedger family historian has been helping me by providing some wonderful photographs. My very favorite is this one of Dave’s Oma Margaretha Friesen, posing with her siblings and cousins in the village of Schoenfeld where they all lived.
Dave’s Oma is standing against the tree with a balalaika in her hand. One cousin with a very fashionable hat is riding bike and Margaretha’s brother Cornelius and another man are up in the tree. I think the photo reflects what I heard so often from my own grandparents about how almost idyllic and prosperous a life the Mennonites had in Ukraine before the revolution. There was time for leisure pursuits, farming was financially rewarding, Mennonites ran profitable businesses and established good schools and enjoyed music and other cultural endeavors. And then within a decade everything had changed and this whole way of life was gone.
I think this photo was probably taken around 1913. It is a reminder that a seemingly stable and good way of life can disappear dramatically.

Other posts……..

Dave’s Christmas Present

Thoughts on Refugees

Portraits in Hope



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The T-4’s Go Mennonite in Neubergthal

mennonite dress upOn Friday my three friends and I who call ourselves the T-4s, set off on another one of our adventures. This time we headed for the tiny Mennonite village of Neubergthal, Manitoba which was named a National Historic Site in 1989. neubergthal streetWe started with a drive down the streets of the village lined with cottonwood trees planted by the original Mennonite settlers  in 1876. They brought the seeds with them from Ukraine when they emigrated.

friesen house barn neubergthalFirst we toured the Friesen Houselooking at the brick oven with our very knowledgeable guide Paige. floor tiles friesen house neubergthalShe showed us the beautiful way Mennonite women used to handpaint the floors in their homespie shelfIn the pantry we saw the pie shelf, a handy way for the Mennonite housewife to cool a whole oven full of fruit pies at one time. honeymoon suite neubergthalWe looked at the honeymoon suite. It got its name because at one point two of the children in the family that owned the house got married in the same year and couldn’t afford farms of their own yet. So both couples stayed in this room together for a year before they set up their own farms.  The sides of the narrow wooden beds did pull out to make them a little wider. dressed as MennonitesAfter trying on some traditional Mennonite garb we headed to the barn which is attached to the house. This meant farmers didn’t have to go outside in cold or blizzardy weather to tend to cattle. washing machineThe barn also offered a sheltered place for doing laundry and……….

outhouse neubergthalthere was a traditional outhouse in the barn, also handy for winter use. The heat of the animals’ bodies in the barn kept you warm and there was no need to go outdoors to the bathroom. Newspaper was supplied for toilet paper and there was a toilet for children too. ray and marilyn hammThen we were off to the Hamm house across the street. Marilyn and Ray Hamm still make their home in the traditional Neubergthal house barn Ray’s grandparents once lived in. The Hamms were excited to meet my friend Esther who used to work at MCC with Ray many years ago and was a frequent guest in the Hamm home. 

playing the pump organRay and Marilyn told us about the history of their house and Marilyn even showed us how the old pump organ in the livingroom worked. 

jasmine tea roomLater we had lunch at the Jasmine Tea Room in Altonaat the jasmine tea room a perfect place to talk about our adventure soup and salad jasmine tea roomover homemade soups, fresh salads and warm biscuits with jam. 

Paige will still be giving tours in Neubergthal for the next couple weeks so check out their website if you are interested in learning more about Mennonite history in a ‘hands on’ interesting way. 

Other  Posts…….

Introducing Friends from India to Mennonites

Should the T-4s Get Tattoos

Mennonites in Gone Girl



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Take Time to Listen

I  admire their patience and tolerance. Their stories make me feel sad, angry, guilty and humble.

I belong to a church that is part of a national group of 225 congregations called Mennonite Church Canada.  Recently a video was released that shares the experiences of LGBTQ people who are open and honest about their sexual identities and have continued to remain involved in their Mennonite Church Canada congregations. The national body does not officially sanction their lifestyle choices but some of the congregations in which they are active have become welcoming churches that accept LGBTQ people as members. 

These interviews were filmed in the pews of the Mennonite church buildings across Canada where the interviewees attend church. 

I invite you to take time to listen to them.  Just click on the words  Listening Church below. 


Other posts……

Can Spirituality and Sexuality Dance Together?

Some Mennonite Not All of Them

Letter From the Mother of a Gay Son



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Thoughts on Refugees

My husband Dave's grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger with their two children arrived in Canada in

My husband Dave’s grandparents Abram and Margaretha Driedger were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1924

I am from a refugee family. My grandparents and my husband’s grandparents were refugees who came to Canada from Ukraine. Having just lived through the violence of a World War, a civil war and raids by ruthless bandits on their homes and communities many were traumatized. They came to Canada without money and only a few belongings. The Canadian Pacific Railway had to finance their trip. They had survived a recent famine in Ukraine so their state of health was less than ideal.

My husband's mother's family just before leaving from Lichtenau. His mother Anne is the little girl on her mother's lap.

My husband Dave’s grandparents Heinrich and Gertrude Enns were refugees who arrived in Canada in 1925

They were Mennonites, a religious sect often misunderstood by their new Canadian neighbours. Here was a group of people who insisted on speaking German, wanted their own private schools and refused to serve in the military. 

My grandparents Diedrich and Margareta Peters on their wedding day shortly after arriving as refugees to Canada in 1923

Yet they were accepted into Canada and their descendants have served and enriched this country by making outstanding contributions in almost every area of Canadian life and culture. 

My grandparents Diedrich and Margaretha Peters who were born in Ukraine and whose lives were forever changed by the Break Event

My grandparents became prosperous Canadian farmers whose fifty-four descendants serve their country as school administrators, speech therapists,  nurses, media personalities, pharmacists, professors, physicians, professional musicians, agriculturalists, journalists, service managers, postal workers and teachers.

I’m so glad the government of Canada accepted my family when they were refugees. What if they hadn’t?

Other posts…….

On My Grandparents’ Farm

School for the Deaf- My Father-in-Law’s Birthplace



Filed under Family, History, Politics


Today I am remembering……….

grandpa peters in army uniform

My grandfather Diedrich Peters who was forced to join the 167th regiment of the communist army in Russia when he was 21.  His one brother was forced into service with the Germans and another with the Czarist army. Grandpa went through boot camp but when it came time to train with rifles he went to his commanding officer and said as a Mennonite with pacifist beliefs he refused to do the training. He was arrested and imprisoned, an experience he said was so terrible he could not talk about it. Eventually an army general, who knew and respected my grandfather, managed to arrange his release and sent him to work in the bakery. Grandpa eventually became the bakery foreman and with the help of two assistants baked bread for more than 60,000 soldiers. 

abe dick, gertrude unrua enns, heinrich enns, peter ennsMy husband Dave’ grandfather Heinrich Enns (second from right) who was stationed in Moscow as a medic on hospital train #183 during World War I. He cared for the wounded as they were brought from the first aid hospitals on the fighting front to Moscow. In this photo Dave’s grandmother has come to Moscow to consult with her husband and her brothers-in-law about what to do about their family farm which Dave’s grandmother was trying to run herself while the men in the family served on the medical trains. By 1917 Heinrich and the other Mennonite medics were working day and night. They cleaned the trains to ready them for the next batch of wounded as they sped back to the front. opa driedger white armyMy husband Dave’s grandfather Abram Driedger who nearly died of typhoid fever while serving with the Red Cross on the Caucasus front during World War I. He was assigned to pick up wounded soldiers on active battlefields and transport them to hospitals or first aid stations. He served from 1914-1917. 

Other posts…….

Heinrich and Gertrude Enns

Autographs From a Conscientious Objector Camp

A Statue to Women Soldiers

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Norman Rockwell- The Mennonite Connection

Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell

Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell’s painting Saying Grace sold at auction in 2013 for $46 million.  It shows a grandmother and her grandson saying grace in a crowded diner. Rockwell painted the scene for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post-Thanksgiving issue in 1951.  In a contest held by the Saturday Evening Post, it was voted the most popular of the over 300 covers Rockwell did for them. Rockwell got the idea from a Saturday Evening Post reader who told him about a Mennonite family they had seen praying in a restaurant. 

Other posts…..

Norman Rockwell at the WInnipeg Art Gallery

Gossips-  If You Can’t Say Something Nice

Mennonites in Gone Girl

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Winnipeg and Mennonites in Gone Girl Movie

Gone-Girl-2014-film-posterThere weren’t too many surprises for me in the movie Gone Girl which we saw on Friday night.   I had read the book so I knew what was coming plot wise.  There were however two surprising lines of dialogue that caught my attention.  

The first was the mention of Winnipeg.  The movie’s heroine Amy played by Rosamund Pike gets in trouble and calls a former boyfriend Desi played by Neil Patrick Harris to come and rescue her.  They rendezvous at a casino.  A man bumps into Desi and Amy at the casino bar and says he is sure he recognizes Amy.

 It is important that Amy remain incognito so Desi tries to throw the man off by lying and assuring the fellow there is no way he can know Amy because Amy comes from…………..( Desi quickly thinks of the most obscure place he can)…….. Winnipeg. 

Amy’s college writing instructor husband Nick played by Ben Affleck has been having an affair with a beautiful student of his named Andie who is dressed very provocatively when Amy catches them kissing one night . While Amy is leaving the casino her eye is drawn to a television screen where she sees Andie her husband’s girlfriend holding a press conference. For her press conference Andie wants to play the role of innocent young school girl seduced by an older man so her conservative hairstyle, modest clothing and lack of make up are in stark contrast to her former seductive appearance.  Seeing her Amy says ………. “She looks like a ### Mennonite.” 

As a Mennonite and a Winnipegger I object to the way both Mennonites and Winnipeggers are portrayed in Gone Girl. The movie implies Winnipeg is some insignificant out-of-the-way place no one has heard of and that all Mennonites are conservative, straight-laced and plain.   Nothing could be further from the truth in both cases. 

Other posts about Mennonites, Winnipeg and movies……..

Mennonite Names At the Movies

Letter From the Mother of a Gay Son

I Went to Jail

Noah – A Violent Movie About A Violent Story


Filed under Movies, Religion, Winnipeg

Playing The Mennonite Game

I think you went to college with my son.  Aren’t you the girl that just got married to my good friend’s nephew? If I’m not mistaken you played volleyball with my cousin’s daughter. Isn’t your aunt the principal at the high school where my son is a teacher?

That’s a quick excerpt from a conversation I had last week when I went to a Winnipeg school to meet the university education students I am supervising there. As I chatted on the front steps with one of my students a female staff member came out the door. We introduced ourselves and within a minute found we had four or five connections with each other. My student teacher stood there with this quizzical look on her face. You could tell she was thinking, “You two women have never met each other before and in sixty seconds you’ve found all these connections?” 

 I tried to explain.  “As soon as we introduced ourselves we knew from one another’s last names we were both Mennonite and so we started trying to find people we might both know. It’s called playing The Mennonite Game

      The Mennonite Game must seem strange to those who aren’t part of the Mennonite milieu. It is much like the popular six degrees of separation theory. This is the idea that everyone is on average six personal connections away from any other person on earth either by acquaintance or kinship or some common experience.  In the past Mennonites have tended to live in fairly isolated communities and have often married within their own cultural circle. Many have studied at Mennonite private institutions of higher learning, gone to a Mennonite summer camp or done service with a Mennonite charitable organization. These commonalities mean people with Mennonite names usually have plenty of easy to find connections with one another.

 Traveling and living abroad for six years my husband Dave and I discovered even when we met Mennonites in places as far flung as Australia and Hong Kong we were still able to play The Mennonite Game and make connections.

Bruno Dyck in his paper Exploring Congregational Clans: Playing the Mennonite Game in Winnipeg explains it well.

The goal of this game is to see how quickly two Mennonites, meeting each other for the first time can get to know each other’s family ancestry and establish how many of each other’s relatives they know. While some participants may play this game reluctantly due to peer pressure, others seem to play for the sheer fun and challenge of it. In any case participants likely believe that knowing something of another person’s familial ancestry helps to understand that person better.

A You Tube singer named BLT has made a recording of a song called The Mennonite GameThe chorus goes like this……..

Isn’t your brother Cornie related to my brother-in-law Abe

And doesn’t your sister Stella have a nephew by the name of Toews

Come on everybody play the Mennonite Game, you’ll like it you will see

Just open up your mind and if you try real hard, you’ll discover you’re related to me.

The Mennonite Game is becoming harder to play since the majority of North American Mennonites now live in a variety of neighborhoods in urban multi-cultural settings. Most Mennonites are attending public high schools and universities, and many Mennonite young adults are marrying non-Mennonites and gaining last names that aren’t instantly recognizable as Mennonite.  The Mennonite church is expanding at the greatest rate in African countries so there are thousands of new Mennonites who don’t have traditional Mennonite names. It may be that in a generation or two it will be almost impossible to play The Mennonite Game.  Depending on your point of view that might not be such a bad thing. 

This post has been updated here. 


Filed under Culture, Introductions, Religion

Mennonite Maids

“One couple I worked for often fought at supper time. They would actually be hurling knives and forks across the table at each other!”

“On Mondays, I got up at five a.m. to do the laundry. I had to be finished by seven, so I could begin preparing and serving a hot breakfast to a family of eight.”

“The young men who lived in River Heights knew that Thursday was ‘maids night off.” They used to stand at the streetcar stop and wait for us. They never got anywhere with the Mennonite girls.”

“We didn’t need aerobics classes to get in shape. We were well-muscled from scrubbing hardwood floors, lifting children, dusting and sweeping. We were on our feet from 7 a.m. till 11 p.m.”

“I barely knew any English, so I had to keep my eyes and ears open and learn as quickly as I could. I remember once my employer laughed at me because I said, ‘I’ll ‘broom’ the floor. I didn’t know the word ‘sweep.’”

“The lady of the house always had a crystal vase of cut flowers on her piano. It kept getting knocked over and she’d blame me when all along it was the family cat who was tipping it.”

“One man I worked for had the habit of sleeping in till noon, yet his wife insisted all the upstairs bedrooms had to be cleaned by twelve. I just couldn’t go into a bedroom with a man sleeping in it! So when I started my upstairs cleaning chores I would sing as loudly as I could, “Can’t go to heaven in a rocking chair, God won’t take any lazy folks there.” That always got him out of bed and gave me just enough time to clean his room before I had to start preparing lunch. anniversary0011Five former Mennonite maids from left- Betty Krahn, Anna Rosenfeld, Helen Warkentin, Barbara Banman and Katie Rempel

Those are excerpts from interviews I did with five Mennonite women who worked as maids for wealthy people when they were teenagers, in order to help pay back the travel debts their families had incurred by immigrating to Canada. I wrote an article about the five women pictured above which was published in the Mennonite Mirror in May of 1989. I believe all the women I interviewed have since passed away. I’m posting the article I wrote below because I think their story is an important one of family loyalty, female independence and faith. 

I am spending an unforgettable evening with five interesting and intelligent Steinbach grandmothers. Gathered around a dining room table they talk and reminisce, while I write furiously to capture all the details of the interesting anecdotes, humorous stories and memorable experiences coming at me from two or three directions. All the women I am chatting with have several things in common.  They were all born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to Canada as youngsters. When they turned fifteen they all left their family’s farms in rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan and went to live in the city to work as maids.

Their reasons for seeking employment and wages in Winnipeg and Saskatoon and Swift Current were much like those of hundreds of other Mennonite girls their age who made the same decision. Their families were poor and owed a large transportation debt (Reiseschuld) to the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Of the five, only Mrs. Anna Rosenfeld made the move from Herbert, Saskatchewan, to a housekeeping position in Swift Current for a different reason – her mother needed surgery and she took the job at $10 a month to help her father pay for their $100 medical bill.

Another thing the women all have in common is that they still remember the fear they felt at leaving the warmth and security of their homes and moving far away from their parents. “Now that I have raised a teenager of my own, I can just imagine how my mother must have felt sending me to Saskatoon,” says Betty Krahn.  Barbara Banman agrees. “I knew Mom was crying at home in Grunthal when I left. I was crying too. But I had to go. There was no choice.”

“I will never forget how scared I was,” says Helen Warkentin. “My mother and father sent me from Gretna to Winnipeg on the train with a Mr, Bueckert. He never spoke to me on the long trip. I was literally shaking when we arrived at the train station in Winnipeg.” Anna Rosenfeld recalls that the horse and buggy ride from her parents’ home in Herbert, to Swift Current took almost an entire day.  Her Dad was pretty quiet the whole time but at one point he offered her this bit of advice, “Don’t do anything you would be ashamed of and don’t do anything your mother and I would be ashamed of.”

Arriving in the big city which they had always been taught was a place of immorality and a haven for every kind of sinful behaviour the girls entered a whole new world. For some, like Helen Warkentin, it was first to the Maedchenheim or girls home.  Established in the mid-1920s by the General Conference Mennonite Church in Saskatoon and Winnipeg, these homes were a refuge, a place of socialization and worship, and an employment agency for young Mennonite women. While Helen Warkentin waited at the Ebenezer Girls Home in Winnipeg, prospective employers phoned Helen Epp, its headmistress. She carefully questioned the callers and if she approved of them she would send Helen Warkentin or one of the other young women who had just arrived in the city, to take the job. Some girls found their employment in different ways.  Barbara Banman’s older sister Katie had been working in Winnipeg for several years before Barbara turned fifteen. When Katie was offered a better paying position she told her former employers about her sister and they gladly hired her.

The homes these young women entered as servants were very different from the ones they had left behind in Grunthal and Gretna and Tugaskee and Herbert.  “We’d never seen running water, electric lights, an electric iron or a washing machine,” remembers Anna Rosenfeld. Barbara Banman recalls the culture shock she experienced, “Suddenly I was wearing a black and white uniform and emptying ashtrays and serving cocktails at a dinner party. I’d never even heard of hors de ‘oeuvres let alone made them- and a cucumber sandwich?  What kind of thing was that to eat? At home we had always spoken German and now I had to answer the phone, place orders at the butcher shop, and deal with the milkman, the baker and the Eaton’s delivery boy.  I learned English pretty quickly.”

Another adjustment for the girls who all came from exclusively Mennonite communities was an exposure to the varying religious faiths of their employers. They worked for United Church members, Jewish people, Christian Scientists, and families that had no church affiliation whatsoever.

For the most part the young women were treated well by their employers, but each can recall incidents that weren’t very pleasant. Katie Rempel was working for a wealthy family prominent in the newspaper business. She recalls that “once, after a party an expensive silver tray was missing. The children’s nanny told me our employers suspected I had taken it. When I came home from Bible study at the Maedchenheim on Thursday night I could tell they had been through my room looking for it. Later I found the tray on a high shelf in the basement.  My boss remembered then that the night of the party he had put it up there so it would be out of the way when he played pool with his friends,” No one ever apologized to Katie for falsely accusing her.

That is a story most of the women can reiterate.  One of Barbara Banman’s employers routinely lost his gold cuff links and would roar at her,” Barbara things are starting to disappear in this house!” He’d always find his cuff links but never told Barbara he was sorry for having suspected her.

Helen Warkentin can remember when the police were called in to investigate because she was under suspicion for stealing about $20 in quarters from her employer’s oldest son. As it turned out the boy’s father, in need of some ready cash had taken the coins. 

There were other hardships for the girls.  Young, innocent and attractive, they often received unwanted attention from the River Heights boys on the streetcar. They also tell me about “the milkman who put a hand on my leg,” and their employer’s male friends who got drunk at cocktail parties and made unwanted advances. Barbara Banman recalls how at one such party she was working in the kitchen when her boss came up behind her and started rubbing her neck.  “I whirled around so fast”, she remembers, “And I said, ‘Don’t you ever do that again!’ And he never did. “

Mostly the young women felt alone and scared. “I would always lock the door of my room at night,” says Helen Warkentin. “One woman I worked for insisted I come in the back door,” remembers Barbara Banman.  “She would get very angry if I used the main entrance. When I came home after my Thursday evening off it would be pitch black in that alleyway behind the house. My mistress refused to leave a light on for me. My heart would just be pounding as I tried to fit my key into the lock in the dark. To this day I have nightmares that I am in that back lane and something jumps out at me.”

It wasn’t always easy for the girls to make the transition from beloved daughter in a large and happy family to a “servant” who had to eat alone in the kitchen and “keep her place.” Mrs. Katie Rempel had one mistress who was fond of reminding her that she had been to finishing school. They had taught her how to “handle” maids there. Mrs Anna Rosenfeld had one employer who was always critical. “She told me I never did anything right.  She had this sour look on her face whenever she spoke to me. Finally, I said to her, “If you can’t even smile at me, I’m leaving.  And I did.”

All five women have some fond memories too of good times and kind employers. Barbara Banman remembers a gift of perfume she was given by a man she worked for. “He had to go away on a business trip and asked me to give up my day off to stay with his wife who had just had a miscarriage. The perfume was his way of expressing his gratitude for my kindness to his family.” Anna Rosenfeld has a special place in her heart for a young boy she looked after who had hydrocephalus, an accumulation of fluid on his head. “Nowadays they can correct that sort of thing with surgery, but at the time he was bedridden. He was so sad he couldn’t do the things the other boys did.” Mrs Bettv Krahn recalls a judge and his wife who employed her. “They treated me more like a daughter than a maid.” Katie Rempel tells of her unique relationship with a deaf woman she cared for. ” I learned to interpret when her friends called on the phone. We had our own kind of sign language and I mouthed the words very carefully.” Mrs Helen Warkentin enjoyed the children in the homes where she worked. “I loved to sing to them and tell them stories. They were very sad when I left.”

Many of the women’s good times during their years of maid service revolved around the Maedchenheim or girls home.  Every Thursday night hundreds of Mennonite girls from all over the city flocked to the Maedchenheim for Bible study and socializing. In Winnipeg Rev. Benjamin Ewert gave the devotional sessions at the Ebenezer Girls’ Home. In Saskatoon Rev. J. J. Thiessen was in charge. After the meeting the women ate a lunch they had brought along. On both Thursdays and Sundays truckloads of young men from the girls’ home communities would arrive at the Maedchenheim to take the young women for rides, to go to the park to have picnics or even step out to a movie. The girls in Winnipeg recall how Pastor Ewert would deliberately lengthen his prayers and devotions if he knew the boys were waiting outside.

The girls’ homes hosted Christmas parties and bridal showers. They were a place to go if you were sick, or in between jobs or just needed someone to talk to. All the women agreed it was good to know that someone cared about you and was concerned about your welfare. Mrs. Betty Krahn remembers how Rev. J. J. Thiessen, who was the pastor for the home in Saskatoon, kept careful track of all the Mennonite girls in the city. “If you missed a Thursday night Bible study for any reason you could be sure Rev. Thiessen would phone you the very next morning to find out why you had been absent and if you were okay.  Helen Epp, who was in charge of the Winnipeg home, was no different. If Miss Epp didn’t see a girl or hear from her for two weeks she would get on the phone or the streetcar to track the girl down and find out what was going on. Barbara Banman and Katie Rempel are sure their parents felt a little more secure in sending them to Winnipeg knowing the personnel at the Maedchenheim would keep an eye on them.

Besides the socialization provided by events at the girls’ home, the women had little other leisure time or activities. Two of them recall, however, that books were an important source of solace and enjoyment for them. Since all of the women had left school to work in the city they missed out on a high school education.  Barbara Banman worked for several people who had extensive libraries. She read voraciously.  Anna Rosenfeld worked right across the street from the public library in Swift Current. A Mrs Rice who was the librarian there helped her to select books and she read late at night after all her work was done. “That’s how I got my education,” she says.

The wages the five women worked for varied from $5 to $20 a month. “I made $10 a month at my first job,” recalls Anna Rosenfeld. “But my employer only started paying me after a four-week trial period during which I received no wages whatsoever.” Helen Warkentin earned $5 a month. “I sent $4.50 home to help pay for the Reiseschuld.  I gave 35 cents to the Maedchenheim and saved two cents for the stamp for a letter to my family. That left me with 13 cents of my own.”

Mrs. Betty Krahn also earned $ 5 a month. She reminds me though “that you have to remember a new dress at Eaton’s was $4.95. We worked a long time to earn enough money for luxuries like that.”

All five women eventually quit their jobs in the city. Katie Rempel returned home after her family’s Reiseschuld was all paid. Anna Rosenfeld went back to her parents’ farm because her mother was expecting another baby and needed her help. Betty Krahn decided to attend Bible school in Rosthern for a year and Barbara Banman and Helen Warkentin both left their employment to get married.

Although at the time they were often scared and lonely all five women feel the years spent working in the city were important in shaping their characters and setting a direction for their lives. Barbara Banman sums it up for all of them.  “It was a very hard experience but it taught us to cope with things. I know what I learned living in the city and working as a maid, has helped me to cope with other difficulties in my life. What saw us through was our security in our family and in our church. A man once came to our home to do a survey about the members of our household.  One of the questions he asked me was if I had any sort of educational degree.  I said, “Yes, I did. I had earned a degree in home economics. I didn’t lie. Those years I spent working for the wealthy of Winnipeg gave me an education that has served me well throughout my life. Unlike many other young women of my time I was forced to learn to be responsible for myself and make my own decisions.”

Mrs Katie Rempel chuckles and adds, “When my husband married me some people who knew how many years I had worked in Winnipeg asked him, “And what do you want with a city girl?”

After spending an evening with these five special women I know their husbands were fortunate to find wives with such strong determination and lively spirit. They made the best of a situation they could not change and learned and grew because of it. The men they married were lucky indeed to have wed a “city girl!” 


Filed under History, Religion, Winnipeg