Small town gathers history for future generations

Waldheim’s first railway station, circa 1908.
|  Photo courtesy of Waldheim Museum

WALDHEIM, Sask. — Waldheim celebrated Canada’s 150th year June 24 with a car show, music, film, fireworks and its version of the popular TV show, Amazing Race.

Canada and the Saskatchewan town’s histories were also marked in a Canada 150 book, compiled by volunteers Iona Greene, Anna Penz, Vicki Gossen and Diane Richard.

Penz said the entire country is celebrating its history this year.

“We wanted to be part of that and not be left out.”

Penz said the book documents local and national events, including the creation of the Mennonite Trust in 1917 and the phasing out of the $2 bill and launch of the toonie in 1996.

“The book starts lots of conversations,” said Penz.

Waldheim’s Menno Home, which has provided employment, recreation and housing for developmentally challenged adults since 1963, continues to be a major employer for the town of 1,000.

Greene said the biggest impact for the town came from the Homestead Act, which helped create towns such as Waldheim and settlements across the Prairies.

The few settlers pitched in to provide services during those early years.

“If you were a person who could do something, you would probably end up being a postmaster, running a store and working at the (train) station,” said Greene.

She and Penz maintain a host of period artifacts in the town’s museum, which is housed in an old railway station that sits on its original foundation.

They launched the book project to raise money for the museum. A second printing is now planned for the book, which sells for $22.

Research, in-person interviews and writing began in January and was completed in June.

Greene’s daughter, Christine Serhienko, creating the layout and Greene bound together the finished pages.

Leafing through its pages, Greene noted the town once had five churches. Today, only three remain in the predominantly Mennonite community.

Like other towns, Waldheim saw the demise of its four elevators and deaths from the 1918 Spanish flu and world wars.

A fire ravaged its downtown in 1919 and a tornado tore a strip off a grocery store in 1947.

Greene said the nearby Petrofka Bridge replaced the ferry and ice roads in 1962 as a more convenient way to travel.

The town had a hospital created from old army barracks that operated from 1949-59 and was home to a highly praised cheese factory from 1948-54. Its school grew when rural schools closed and students were bussed to Waldheim.

Most notable was Waldheim’s snowmobile races, which attracted people and races from well beyond Saskatchewan and offered a purse of $33,000 in 1980.

“On race day, every breathing living soul in town and around were there,” said Penz.

Today, Greene and Penz say Waldheim is a safe, quiet town where many live and commute to city jobs.

“At night, I can go into the back alley and not think about it,” said Greene.

Notable events for Waldheim

  • 1893: Dietrich and Maria (Nickel) Neufeld Sr. and their six children arrive at a wooded site, which he later named Waldheim, meaning forest home in German. They were the first settlers to the Waldheim area.
  • 1897: Carmen School, the original Waldheim School, opened.
  • 1900: Waldheim becomes a hamlet.
  • Dietrich Neufeld Jr., the first postmaster, also operated a blacksmith shop and store.
  • Springfield School opened.
  • 1905: Alberta and Saskatchewan joined Confederation.
  • 1908: The Canadian Northern Railways line is established to Waldheim from Dalmeny.
  • 1912: Waldheim is incorporated as a village.
  • 1913: Adolph and Martha Wendland come to Canada, acquiring their first quarter of land in 1917.
  • Mennonite Trust opens.
  • A Wendland son, Ed, was the overseer of Waldheim in 1956. Another son, Sam, was overseer from 1962 until 1967 when he became mayor.
  • Author Margaret Epp, the daughter of Heinrich and Agnetha Epp, was born near Waldheim. She produced a large volume of Christian literature.
  • 1919: Fire destroys most of Waldheim’s downtown business area, including the village office and its records.
  • 1930: The homestead program ended. Newcomers had to pay for land from that time on.
  • 1942: Jake Rempel earns $12 for trenching 61 metres with a spade to install the first indoor toilet in Waldheim.
  • 1972: The Waldheim Snow Jammers Club is formed. The first snowmobile race was held on an oval racetrack built on Harold Penz’s field.
  • 1976: The first Snow Pro race is held and rated as one of the best on the circuit that year.
  • 1990: The last scheduled train goes through town.

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