Saturday, February 25, 2017

Buried on the Saskatchewan Prairie

I blogged earlier about marking the grave of my great-great-grandfather Johann Sudermann.  Here's the story of another grave that I helped to mark.

My great-grandfather Gerhard T. Siemens #6463 (1834-1908) died near Main Centre, Sask.; but I didn't know where he was buried.  I was researching about his life in general, and I ran across a reference to a history of the Exelsior rural municipality where he had lived called Excelsior Echoes.  I couldn't find a copy of the book, so I wrote an e-mail to the RM office and asked if I could buy a copy of the book.  It was out of print, but they kindly sent me a copy of the pages with the Gerhard Siemens story.  Below is a snippet from that story:

Source:  Excelsior Echoes (Rush Lake History Book Committee, 1982) p. 1094.
Although the death year was inaccurate, the information about his burial place looked interesting.  However, I couldn't understand why he would have been buried in a Mennonite Brethren cemetery - as best I can tell, he was a Kleine Gemeinde member all his life.  Next, I wrote to the Main Centre MB church, and they confirmed that he had been buried there, but they didn't know why either.

A year later, I was in Manitoba for a family reunion, so I decided to take a few extra days to go to Saskatchewan to see where he had lived and was buried.  I found the quarter-section of land that he had homesteaded in 1903, pictured below.

And I found his burial plot in the Main Centre, Sask., MB cemetery with a simple marker.
Gerhard T. Siemens old tombstone - now replaced, Main Centre Mennonite Brethren cemetery, Main Centre, Saskatchewan, plot #13, numbered from NW corner, photo by author, July 2014.

The church's cemetery committee had done a fantastic job researching the burials and putting up metal markers on all the plots that had no marker, which included Gerhard's.  But these metal markers are only intended for temporary use, and some of the numbers were already falling out.  I didn't want his grave to be forgotten because he had done so much to bring the Siemens family to North America and to pass on his faith in God to his descendants.  I know that I benefit from his life today.

So I found a monument company in the nearby town of Morse, got prices, and organized an effort by my cousins and even a few second cousins to put up a granite marker. I put an anchor on the tombstone because for centuries that was the Mennonite symbol instead of the cross - it refers to our hope in Jesus that is an anchor for the soul from Hebrews 6.   I had the verse I Thessalonions 4.13, that we should not grieve as those who have no hope, put on the stone because that was the one that his son Abraham used in his father's obituary, so I felt it was appropriate.
Gerhard T. Siemens tombstone, Main Centre Mennonite Brethren cemetery, Main Centre, Saskatchewan, plot #13, numbered from NW corner, photo by Rick of Grassland Memorials, Morse, Saskatchewan.

So how did Gerhard's earthly body wind up in the Mennonite Brethren cemetery of a church that he had never attended?  The cemetery coordinator for the church had been very active in compiling the RM history book, so she had interviewed many elderly people for their stories.  Amazingly, one of those was Gerhard's step-grandson, Gerhard Rempel, who was a small child at the time.  He told how the family had decided that Gerhard's body should be moved from the garden to an actual church cemetery - his parents had joined the Main Centre MB church after Gerhard Siemens's death.  They dug up the coffin from the garden, put it on chairs in the yard, and decided to open it.  Little Gerhard still remembered 80 years later how the wind came up as they opened the lid and blew dust out of the coffin.  And then they re-buried the coffin in the Mennonite Brethren church cemetery where they then attended, even though Gerhard Siemens had never gone there.

I've never seen the new gravestone, but I believe it is a fitting monument for the man who brought the Siemens to North America in 1874.

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