About Grunthal History

First SettlementEducationMedical History
Dairy FarmingIce SkatingFirst Restaurants

1. First Settlement

Grunthal was first settled in 1876 by Russian Mennonites who had come to Canada in what is referred to as the first major wave of Russian immigration. James Urry, in his book None But Saints, defines the three big immigration movements of Mennonites from Russia to America. The first was in the 1870's when Alexander II (then Czar) voided the charters that provided Russian Mennonites from Religious Freedoms and self-determination of their communities. From 1873 to 1884 about 8,000 Mennonites migrated to Manitoba, with another 13,000 settling in the mid-western United States. The second major wave of Russian Mennonites migrated to Canada soon after the Russian Revolution in 1919. A third wave of Mennonite immigrants came to Canada immediately after World War II. In all three waves of immigration, the Mennonites were seeking reprieve from the persecution and fight for religious freedoms.

The village of Gruenthal (just west of the present site of Grunthal) was first established by six families: Johann Klassen, Peter Sawatzky, Jakob Hiebert, Klaas Peters and two brothers, Abraham and Johann Kauenhowen, as part of the first wave of Mennonite immigration. This formed the base of the community, with more immigrants moving into the area from subsequent waves of immigration. The Russian Mennonites had a reputation for being both excellent farmers and prosperous. This trend continues today as we look around our community prospering from its agricultural roots.

2. Education in Grunthal

In the early days (pre 1888) there was no official school house, classes were held in private homes with the father of the household being the tutor. Typically boys attended from ages six to fourteen while girls attended from six to twelve. The school term ran from November 1 until April 1 with the classes being conducted for three hours the morning and three in the afternoon. The day's program began at 8:45 am with a hymn the Lord's Prayer and another hymn. Reading, writing and spelling were taught in the morning, while arithmetic was taken in the afternoon. The classes were mostly taught in German and did not include history or geography. The first person to officially hold the position of teacher was Klass Peters in 1884.

One of the first schools in the area was built in 1888 was part of a machine shed on the Kauenhowen yard, with the first teacher hired was Jacob Wiebe. This building was destroyed by fire years ago. The second school was built ten years later (1898) just south of the Woelke house. This building was later moved to Main Street and renovated as a single family dwelling. These initial schools were all private schools, with the education controlled by the parents of the students.

The third school building was the old Grunthal Milling Company store, which was purchased in 1927 by the Government of Manitoba, and called the "Goodwill School". It was located north-east of the cheese factory. This was the first of the government influenced schools, a point of controversy already at that time, which would cause strife again decades later. Despite some resistance in the community, enrollment grew steadily and the small school was soon over-crowded. A make-shift classroom was made upstairs and although it did increase the capacity it was remembered by students for its stifling heat, especially in the winter when the heat would rise to the top floor leaving the main floor several degrees below room temperature.

In 1936 this school was completely destroyed by fire. A temporary school was set up in Elim Church. Plagued again with heating and space issues another location was sought. This time the school moved to the old Gerstein Store. A new building comprised of two classrooms was erected on Main Street in 1936, what is now the New Horizons building. A one room building was added on next to it in 1939, in the structure that is now "Nettie's Next to New" store.

The combination of climbing enrollment and extending the school ages to include grades ten and eleven (previously students of that age had to go to Steinbach or elsewhere to continue their education), soon there again was not enough room. Construction began for another new building on Park Street in 1949. This served as the high-school for several years, including the first grade 12 class in Grunthal history in 1953 following the hiring of Mr. Unruh. This building, which is now the apartment building across from the "Drop Zone", continued to be used as the high-school until 1961.

Throughout this time period, there were also numerous one-room country schools in the area surrounding Grunthal. Places such as Gravelridge, Lister West, Spencer, etc., served as the educational facility for many children in the area. These institutions had a great impact in shaping the community.

When these numerous small school districts were supposed to be amalgamated into a new "unitary" Hanover School Division there was initially great resistance. As with the implementation of government involvement in the schools in the 1920's there was a fear that a centralized school system controlled by outside authority might compromise the values and independence which had been so precious to the early settlers of the area. The new division assumed responsibility of all schools in the area as of January 1, 1968.

The beginning of the school structures currently in use starts in 1961, when the new collegiate was completed. This a "fully modern structure" with six classrooms, complete laboratory and gym facilities was known as Green Valley Collegiate. A major expansion in 1971 allowed for the accommodation of all students from kindergarten to Grade 12, and the school then became known as Green Valley School, as it is today. The old school properties were sold to various area residents and converted to different uses.

Since then, Green Valley School has had further additions, including the one finished earlier this month. It now serves more than 500 students from Grades 5 - 12.

Today, of course, there are two schools in Grunthal. South Oaks School was constructed in the early 1980's, and now houses approximately 400 students from kindergarten to Grade Four. It has continued to grow. A new wing with six classrooms and a high school-sized gym was completed 2002. When approved, that expansion was supposed to allow for the removal of four "temporary" huts at the east end of the school. However, with the school's burgeoning enrollment, by the time addition was completed the four "temporary" classrooms were needed to deal with the increased number of students.

Given the trend in population growth in our community, there can be no doubt that this most recent school construction is but a stop-gap until the next phase of expansion continues.

3. Medical History

A look at the history of medical care in the town of Grunthal has to begin with a very interesting local character. Dr. and Mrs. Johann Peters were among the earliest settlers to the area. The Peters moved from Rosengard to Grunthal in 1877 and settled just south of the Jacob Woelke property. When Dr. Peters moved to Grunthal besides carrying on his medicine practice for which he was quite renowned he also started a small store on the corner of his house (which was the only store in town until 1892 when Johann Braun and John Krahn together built a store).

Dr. Peters was known as the wizard of Grunthal setting hundreds of broken or misplaced bones in his more than 30 years, as a self appointed chiropractor and "bone setter". He was noted for being one of the most interesting and colourful characters who ever appeared in southeastern Manitoba. The Grunthal history book depicts a character who was somewhat rude and uncouth, yet exceedingly capable. He was ridiculed as a fake by regular practitioners, yet those in the area would travel great distances to receive treatment. One of the stories of the unconventional methods Dr. Peters practiced was that of a young man who came to seek treatment for a persistent case of hiccoughing. When the young man arrived at Dr. Peters, the doctor tied him to a chair and went to his tool shed returning with a rifle. The young man who at this point was quite terrified began to sweat and begged to be released. However, this man's terrible state of fear had cured his hiccoughs. Dr. Peters charged the man his usual fee and the man went on his way.

People traveled from Winnipeg to see the "wizard" whose unconventional methods and bedside manner were the basis for many good stories. Some were skeptical of his talents. On one occasion, legend has it, there were a couple of young Winnipeg doctors that traveled to Grunthal to prove that Dr. Peters was a fake. The two men arrived at the doctors house claiming injuries. The doctor proceeded to "cure them both" and sent them on their way. Around 4 am the two young doctors reappeared at the doctors house in extreme pain, with the exact injuries they had claimed to the doctor earlier that day. Dr. Peters went to work and quickly cured the two young men. When he had finished he said "don't ever try playing a trick like that on me again"

Dr. Peters left Grunthal in January of 1927 with the large scale Mennonite migration to Paraguay. It is rumoured that shortly after his arrival in Paraguay, a sever cold snap hit. Dr. Peters took out his old parka and exclaimed "If I had known I was going to freeze to death I might just as well have stayed in Manitoba". Eccentric thought he unquestionably was, even by the standards of 40 years ago, Dr. Peters established a place in the folklore of southeastern Manitoba.

4. Dairy Farming History in Grunthal

Dairy farming around Grunthal dates back to the early years. Naturally, it was only on a small scale at first but as years went by it grew larger, to the present more modern farms that we're seeing today. It has always been and still is an important industry in the area. As early as 1920 Grunthal had a creamery serving the district with butter production which produced an outlet to ship cream to.

While overall the number of dairy farmers in the area has decreased, the cattle sizes for those still in production has grown. The average herd used to be between 12 and 20 cows, in the 70's the average size had increased to 30-70 head. Now the average dairy farm is between 80-100 head.

As with everything else involved in dairy farming milking has changed drastically, from milking by hand, to pipeline milkers to robotic milking systems. Feeding too has changed from loose hay and pitchfork to baled feed to silage feeding. Waste used to be taken away by horse and sled… and as well all know that is definitely not happening any more. Now farmers are required to submit a Manure Management Plan which explicitly lays out where and how much manure will be applied to which lands. These plans are submitted on a yearly basis. Even the types of manure and the method of storage have changed dramatically.

Overall, Manitoba has Canada's fifth largest dairy cow herd with four percent of the nation's dairy cows and 0.5 percent of total North American dairy cows in 2002. According to Statistics Canada, total dairy cow numbers in Manitoba have declined fairly steadily over the past twenty-five years from 92,000 head on December 31, 1976 to 40,500 head on December 31, 2002, a decrease of three percent a year, on average. The actual number of dairy cows producing milk within the supply management system declined slightly to 34,500 head on December 31, 2002. Barn types include:

  • 58 per cent tie stall
  • 39 per cent free stall
  • 3 per cent loose-house straw

A majority of dairy cows in Manitoba are on the Dairy Herd Improvement (DHIA) National Milk Production Monitoring program. Producers' daily average production is 30.1 litres at 3.55 per cent butterfat and 3.2 per cent protein. The average 305-day yields are 9,230 litres. Manitoba produces and exports high quality dairy genetics in the form of live animals, embryos and semen to numerous countries worldwide.

5. Grunthal Ice Skating

With an acknowledgment to the Grunthal History book as a source, the history of an ice rink in Grunthal is an interesting one.

Grunthal being the sports-minded community that it is has always loved hockey. From the stories we hear about the early days of our settlement it seems that when boys were invented so were skates and these two just automatically go together. Pictures of the early 1930's already show a hockey game in process. True, there weren't the fancy uniforms of today, and they didn't have any high priced officials around either to keep the players in check. Of course there were the occasional temper flare-ups but what the players couldn't handle themselves the fans on the other side of the fence were more than willing to step in and help clear up the situation.

In the 1930's the first skating rink was constructed north of the present day Medo Land Dairies site, beside the old elementary school.. The rink briefly went to a second location, before spending a longer period of time at the third location beside the Guenther's store (now the Big Way). Here, Mr. Frank Guenther was kind enough to hook up electricity from the store for the rink, perhaps in no small part because five of his sons were active in the hockey program. He was indispensable to the early development of hockey in Grunthal.

From beside the store, the rink moved to its fourth location, which was on the present high school grounds. Next, the arena moved to a fifth location, across the street from Medo Land Dairies, which at the time was Kraft Foods. Many stories have emerged from this time talking about how the plant would open up on cold days for players and fans to warm up inside.

The sixth and final location is where the rink is currently located. The official opening of the current rink took place on March 9, 1968 after the ratepayers of the area approved funding for the facility in a plebiscite. The rink has undergone a variety of evolutions since then, with expansions including new dressing rooms, artificial ice, and other renovations to make it more modern. The Grunthal Arena has expanded its programming and now offers a variety of sporting opportunities for local residents from hockey, to figure skating, to skating lessons, to ringette.

In the words of five year old Abby, it is the place where people go to do "beautiful skating".

We hope that a new chapter will unfold in the near future, with a seventh location within Grunthal.

6. First Restaurants in Grunthal

Looking at our town today, with three thriving restaurants and a tea house, one would scarcely believe the rocky start this line of business had in its early days.

The food service industry in Grunthal is believed to have first started very modestly, when Peter Siemens opened a small lunch counter with one table in 1937. That continued when Mr. Siemens was bought out by D. F. Hiebert, until the Hieberts converted the space to a general store in 1942.

From there, it appears that the town went without any restaurant until 1945, at which time Mr. J. Funk started a café out of the old post office quarters. This effort too, did not last long, as the business was lost to fire in the spring of 1946.

The next restaurant business started almost accidentally. During the construction of the Kraft Foods plant in 1946 the construction foreman asked the manager, Abe Driedger, if his wife Helen would serve meals to the building crew in a 10' x 13' addition on the family residence. The crew was fed in this addition, which contained one table and a wood stove. Following that, the Hydro gangs in the area also fed at this kitchen through that year and up until 1948.

This led to the first long-term restaurant when, in September of 1949, the Driedgers renovated the old transfer office and school building into a restaurant and pool hall, which operated for 12 years. Subsequent to that, in 1964, they opened a restaurant and service station on the site of what is now called the Red Wing Diner.

In the years following these events this industry gradually expanded, until it has formed a thriving part of everyday life in our community.