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Excerpts from:    Heinrichs of Halbstadt 

Even in these post truth times (of truth decay), every one owns the facts of their own life and heritage. Interpretations vary, but verifiable facts remain rooted in settled reality.  While the past needs to be re-examined and revisionist historians often shed new perspectives on events, we need to inform new assumptions on reliable sources and the stature of authority, remaining wary of motive, agenda and insidious intent.   Events should be discussed, debated, re-evaluated and re-assessed, but established facts should never be denied or ignored.  Respectable and responsible institutions base their conclusions on qualified, grounded evidence, do not "guess the facts" , rather forensically investigate all contested claims and assertions by testing conflicting assertions, arbitrating facts judiciously to validate and corroborate findings.

If courts wish to be taken seriously, conclusions must be based on substantive facts, not dodgy facts that are dreamt up, not facts that are misinterpreted, not fabricated claims that congeal as fact in the court’s narratives, not facts that have agendas sitting behind them.  We feel our stories have been being pushed around by courts too smug with power, or too frightened of losing it, to critically assess their own judicial overreach.

Judicial assessments must be realistic, reasonable and measure up to current community standards and values as represented and mandated by Statutory Acts of Parliament; not vestigial, arbitrary, privileged and out of step prerogatives of bygone social orders.  Judges, for all their care and insight, judicious acumen, or critical analysis, succeed or fail, to the degree they engage with the evidence.  They are not omniscient or omnipotent.  Even if they are theoretically learned but not ethically alert or figures of thoughtfulness and conscience, they fail society.

If other professions manage to keep up with the times and adapt to changing but realistic community expectations, why can't the courts?

The case in question relates to the contest of a Will that should never have gone to a full adversarial or rhetorical contest.  In my opinion the glut of facts were so axiomatic or self evident they did not require a full hearing.  It is my considered contention that a Will by a seriously Schizophrenic Aunt with seven caring siblings would not bestow her unknown considerable assets on someone she hardly knew.  Yet this is what a court and an Appeals Court blindly found.

The “perfectly normal” story told by the respondents is not only a bit of a porkie, designed to lay claim to a narrative and to serve its spin; it is just one of the biggest misrepresentations here.  Sure, selling a new identity of an Aunt, to acquire ill-gotten gains is rot, but not as rotten as many of the other make-believe fabrications.  The most outrageous assertion, that her siblings and their families had little to do with Aunt Anne, is not only untrue but tramples on their long standing enduring duty of care.  You would expect a court of law should be capable of distinguishing between grounded facts and airy claims.

In the face of sustained failures by our courts, our family feels an overwhelming sense of powerlessness over our own stories.  But we should not. If we choose to exercise our sovereign power we discover that we are not impotent.  During the 1970's, Viola Siemens and Katherine Martens decided that the stories of our ancestors were worth telling and recording.  Our well researched book, Heinrichs of Halbstadt  offers incontrovertible evidence contrary of the courts deliberately fudged findings.

Conversely, we can show that we know our stories, and that we care about our stories – and that when we dare to exercise it, that our people power, is a just cause.  Manitoba's Justice System is under sustained attack, from many quarters, for good reason.  Judges appear to have a congealed mindset that their privilege entitles them to make whatever decision comes to mind.  Judges need better training, schooling, mentoring and oversight to be on top of their game.  Appeals courts are there to correct bad decisions.  Abject failures diminish all of us.

As a family, we have found the need to reclaim and rescue our stories from seemingly inept investigations, where false claims were accepted and under cooked findings, super - imposed on our narratives, by authorities supporting ulterior agendas. It’s a phenomenon known as narrative reclamation; a means by which people wrest back power over the stories that define them and their ancestors.

Conor Cruise O'Brien writes, "our elders talked their memories into our memories until we have come to possess some continuity exceeding and traversing our own limited being". 

This is  my feeble attempt to explore and expose the extraordinary web of distorted facts, twisted logic and misinformation consciously promulgated by two courts in order to achieve a desired verdict.  It is my deliberated view that the Appeals court is the more culpable because it was on notice that contradictory claims and facts were in dispute and needed to be validated.  By not doing so, in my view, it fraudulently charged us a $60,000 fee for services it did not, in fact deliver. Further, the Canadian Judicial Council appears to have failed all Canadians in its continued abject defiance of a Statutory obligation to adequately investigate legitimate complaints to ensure the high regard of our courts. 

We all know that evidence, if tortured enough, will confess to anything.  Lack of context and perspective can reconstitute understanding of complex and fragile situations. Reality is easily shaped, sculpt and manipulated.  It was the Roman codger Juvenal who wrote of the people’s appetite for bread and circuses; we prefer the cheap nourishment of legal theatrics to real hard research for solid reliable evidence. The courts would be better to follow another Roman, Lucius Cassius, regarded as a very honest and wise judge, who was in the habit of asking, time and again, “Cui bono”,  'To whose benefit?'  It was that wag, Juvenal who also questioned:  "who will guard the guardians"?  Like Caesar's wife, our courts should be above reproach.

Even its most ardent critics wouldn’t claim the family law courts have an easy task. Settling internecine family disputes requires the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job and the understanding of Athene.  Their primary role is to avoid future strife; anything else diminishes our social capital.  

However, I almost despair at the way the courts feel they have every right to play fast and loose with facts, yet have the arrogated presumption to imply that their ill informed intuits are as good as the truth or better than tested reality.  Solon is considered the founder of our Justice System. The largest number of his laws concerned family law which he believed to be the foundation of Athenian society; the permanence of the family serves as the bedrock of social cohesion.  He preferred the middle way in resolving disputes to continue the existence of the family.  Preventing blood letting violence through families feuding and maintaining public order were stated purposes of law.  The court's paramount obligation is to prevent future family fracturing; make societies stronger through resolving family disputes fairly and equitably.

court case below, seems guilty of exactly the kind of filtering and denialism that birthers, flat earthers, anti-vaxxers, Trump supporters, and climate denialists engage in. Most of its conclusions are completely untested, untrue and hurtful beyond belief.  There remains a bizarre disconnect between its findings and the evidence before the courts.  Again the Appeals Court needs to be called out, because it failed to test known disputed facts that needed verification and validation.  "Elementary, my dear Watson."

It has become my perception that this is not an isolated case in Canada.  The courts appear to have adopted a superior attitude of arbitrary and capricious decision making, seriously undermining public expectations and eroding our faith, confidence and trust in what should be our most prestigious institution.  Vital to any vibrant democracy is trust;  faith in the "fairness and how our legislative and judicial branch can continue to be respected,”  Ms. Murkowski, the lone Republican to break with her party in voting to block Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Deliberately bad decision making, demonstrably flawed failures of determining facts, and a profound, persistent lack of insights into real family dynamics, scandalizes the court, eroding its authority and placing the entire Justice System into disrepute. Perhaps our lack of confidence is due to a perceived paucity of investigative integrity and judicial fairness in arbitrating conflicting evidence.  We expected higher standards of discrimination between fact and fiction.  We expected conflicting assertions to be tested.  If, as Humpty Dumpty posited and  Nietzsche confirmed, "interpretation prevails as a function of power and not truth'  then are we entitled to ask the hard question, how was that power used or abused?   Having asked the question, are we not entitled to a meaningful answer?  The courts purport to be based on truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; yet appear to disavow these principles by displaying no interest or appetite in determining or establishing the truth.

This raises the question of the linguistic provenance of Humpty Dumpty’s explanation put in plain language by Nietzsche’s observation.  200 years earlier Dr Samuel Johnson had cautioned that "power is insufficient evidence of truth".  Courts that deny the provenance of commonly accepted meanings of words endanger their own credibility and authority.  In recent cases Judges have ruled that “absolutely” does not always mean that. Correspondence between the Queen of England and her Australian representative was "deemed"  "personal", and here a Canadian Judge benignly ameliorated a woman's psychiatrically diagnosed Schizophrenia as mere "eccentricity".  All could be seen as examples of Orwellian warping of reality.

An entire judgement in a disputed Will within the Heinrichs family, appears based on a fundamental but determined misunderstanding of our real family narrative, and also purposefully re-creates its own error-ridden depiction of a vulnerable and highly visible Schizophrenic Aunt. Who knows what ulterior motives led the court to reject, out of hand, all probative evidence, sound inferences, logical arguments to reach unfounded conclusions?

But then ephemeral power gets to hijack factual reality and write its own story and define its own words.

The court reveals its understanding of our complex, extended family narrative is about on par with its shallow understanding of Schizophrenia.  Its specious premises appear based on sweeping generalizations,  simplistic stereotypes of nuclear families, crude logic and blinkered perceptions of facts.  This case illustrates the need for all Judges to be schooled more thoroughly in areas in which they have the final say, so that their decisions are convincing, credible, legitimate and authoritative.  Otherwise we have every right to feel aggrieved; we have been taken for a ride.  We need to implacably challenge such abuse of privilege.

Fortunately our extended family has the copyright on the real stories of our ancestors, published in a hard copy book entitled, The Heinrichs of Halbstadt (1993).  It becomes a matter of historical record and became a major exhibit in contesting a will by our Schizophrenic Aunt in 2012.  What is surprising is that though each witness was questioned about their knowledge about the book, yet none of its documented information played any part in the court's deliberations or findings.  Most of the court's conclusions are at odds with significant, grounded and ineluctable evidence, recorded in the book. The book paints a polar opposite picture than the court's fabricated version.

The book contains some 4000 words from or about our Aunt Anne Ogilvie and her twin brother, Uncle Jake Heinrichs.  Both, at nineteen years, suffered severe deep trauma with life long consequences, seated beside their father when he was killed in a tragic car accident in 1938. Both carried self-inflicted, chronic debilitating guilt about the accident and its life shattering aftermath.  Because the court neglected to discovery or establish the horrifying facts of the situation and their complex family dynamic relationships, it appears oblivious of reality and remiss in its obligations of verifying premises as being accurate or reflecting reality.

The Heinrichs of Halbstadt  portrays an honest, reliable, accurate and well rounded depiction of them and their dynamic relationships within a close extended family.  The bulk of information comes from intimate and affectionate reminiscences from two families;  their eldest sisters Susan and Marie. The courts mystically presupposes that the two sisters "probably" had nothing to do with our Aunt Anne. If you follow the evidence, a totally contrary picture emerges.

It is a family history book written for a niche audience and so will never become a best seller, however it records a number of invaluable primary and secondary source documents of material evidence that conflict with glib assumptions, airy claims, groundless premises and uncanny conclusions posited by a Family Court and stolidly supported by an Appeals Court.  

At the end of this article, you will be given the court's absolute findings and can judge for yourself whether they got it right.  

According to Eugene Ewaschuk, in 1978, the Canadian Judicial System transitioned from an oral tradition of "Who do you believe?" to one of "real evidence".  Christie Blatchford.  Most disciplines pride themselves in using proper scientific interpretive tools.

Perhaps Manitoba's Court of Queens Bench, hasn't begun its transitioning yet, and so is blissfully unaware of this procedural and methodical advance or even a sense of a new scientific outlook, influenced by the empiricism of the English philosopher John Locke and by the inductive method and mechanics of Isaac Newton, offering the prospect of new enlightened conceptual models of investigative techniques.

A notable Chief Justice of an Australian court, maintains that contesting Wills should never go to full trial.  A preliminary hearing where broad parameters are set out, main issues canvassed, followed by say 3 months to gather hard evidence, followed by a half day hearing and a final verdict.  

Instead the Legal System (Industry?) finds it more profitable to conduct full adversarial trials over six days in a star chamber atmosphere.  No wonder the Court registers are clogged, costs soar and judgments skewed.

There are two kinds of facts; those you look up and those you make up.

It is widely recognized that material, documented records are a more honest, trusted and reliable source of substantial evidence to gain a grounded and realistic backdrop to understand a family narrative than oral unfounded assertions, in a court, by parties who have an interest in the outcome. Family records have no other motive than to chronicle our family narrative – except of course to help us understand who we are and where we inherited our deficiencies, short comings and our aspirations and values.  Especially, the actual words of Aunt Anne and Uncle Jake are primary sources and should take precedence over all opinion.

Heinrichs of Halbstadt  gains its credibility because it is collegial; but not collaborative - numerous writers wrote independently; in isolation.  It is the composite intersection or coinciding individual reminisces that reinforce, corroborate and reflect gritty reality  providing more objective, factual and probative evidence.  We get a well rounded or multi-faceted picture of our forbears.

A harmonious collective and comprehensive effort by six Heinrichs’ families, Lorraine Plett (Publisher), Myrtle Butts, Tina Braun, Viola Siemens, Irwin Hoffman and Katherine Martens came up with a widely representative and well-presented book called Heinrichs of Halbstadt (1993) only after countless interviews and many years of exhaustive, obsessive and rigorous research.  Viola Siemens, living in Kansas, was the prime instigator of the collected memories.  It is worthy of note that the ones who moved away from Manitoba, even briefly, acquired a detachment, yet, developing the most enthusiasm for discovering, recording and preserving our heritage.  Our childhoods last a life time, but are inextricably tied to family and place.

In order to gain some grounded perspective and gather primary material, a justifiably distinguished researcher and highly regarded authority, Katherine (Klassen) Martens painstakingly conducted oral recorded interviews with the older members of the Heinrichs family to glean valuable primary information in danger of being lost. She had them professionally transcribed.  Martens, a prolific author, moved back to Winnipeg  in 1966, after ten years in Toronto and Urbana Illinois, and began accompanying her Mother, Susan, Aunt Anne's older sister, in many visits to Aunt Anne in Winnipeg until 1978.  After that she visited Aunt Anne many times in Southern Manitoba researching our family history and collecting stories for her many books including, All in a Row, the Klassens of Homewood and In Her Own Voice.  Marten's claims she always stopped to visit Aunt Anne.  Most of the time Aunt Anne was mute and withdrawn. 

However, whenever she visited in the company of her older sisters, Marie Dyck or Henrietta Dreidger,  Aunt Anne would be livelier and more responsive, due to the fact she remembered them from her childhood.  Gloria Heinrichs retired from the home in 2007.  She claims that the main visitors to Aunt Anne were three (out of six) Klassen sisters - not always the same ones. 

Strangely, both courts blindly but boldly and baldly assert that the Siemens and Klassen families had nothing to do with their Aunt Anne.   Also strange that a conscientious court could have such a want of curiosity and have so little interest.  It appears to have no appetite for hard facts.  It is the contextual imputations arising from lazy assumptions and simplistic inferences that cause the most grievous concerns.

It is noteworthy that Martens had no intention of interviewing Uncle Jake since he was more contemporary. His request to be interviewed shed further substantive illuminations of his relationship to his siblings and especially his twin sister.  When the court was offered  access to the interview, it showed no interest.  Hard concreted evidence should not unduly influence findings.  We much prefer the cheap nourishment of entertaining but ill-informed impressions of a contemporary parade of witless witnesses - many who had never met our Aunt Anne.

Not only does Uncle Jake's confessional interview not support the court's findings; it blows them out of the water.

It is surprising how forthright, candid and upfront he was. It contains many revealing admissions that refute the court’s fanciful assumptions of a “close bond”  with his twin sister but displays enduring affectionate relationships of both twins with their older siblings. He reveals his close bond with his two oldest sisters and their spouses, due to their parenting roles.  He breaks down in openly acknowledging his long time estrangement from his twin sister, feeling guilt; his physical disciplining of her may have been the direct cause of her Schizophrenia.  It is difficult to escape the impression that the interview is another attempt for him to expiate the demons and cauterize the pain that has plagued him since a critical accident that killed his father with him and his twin sister in the car.  He readily admits his inability to bridge the acrimonious chasm between him and his twin sister, our Aunt Anne; they have never been close.  Yet the court thrice asserts without evidence, a mantra like chant, the empty slogan - their "close bond".

Excruciating trauma, involving horrific loss, can destroy you in an instant. The nature of trauma varies; what it does to us and how, or whether, we overcome it also varies.  Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne reacted differently, but who knows which one suffered the most?  Uncle Jake dies of a heart attack aged just 73, while Aunt Anne from the early 1970's, lives in a blissful, near catatonic state until just short of her ninetieth birthday.

As well, private letters and other material, substantive sources form an archival mother lode of primary, secondary and tertiary, documentary hard evidence, unmotivated by ulterior agendas, except to crystallize our experiences by recording and chronicling our family heritage.  These form a rock sold foundation of incontrovertible evidence. 

All evidence points to the fact that Aunt Anne had long standing and enduring affectionate relationships with her older brother Ben and especially her three older sisters, Helen, Susan and Marie.  The court capriciously assumes they likely didn't even know each other. 

The most stunning disregard was for an explicit, unambiguous and clinical 1979 Psychiatric report that with striking clarity, expressly and expertly diagnoses long standing anergic Schizophrenia with an unpromising prognosis.  

Astonishingly, the court found our Aunt merely "eccentric", with a miraculous recovery on October 20th 1980, 11 months later, when of her own volition she drafted her own Will.  The fact that she spent 45 minutes with two lawyers, who failed to detect any signs of cognitive impairment, fails to impress.  The fact that the beneficiary, born in 1957, gormlessly described her as "normal", and is believed, casts serious doubt on the ingenuity of the court.

This euphemistic wording cloaks the truth. The very phrase drips with the contempt of the courts towards well informed family members, intimately knowledgeable, who are taken for passive fools, easily hoodwinked and dominated by the court's awesome mighty unaccountable POWER.

Another miracle is how the court can make hard evidence simply disappear - vapourise into thin air, and simultaneously pluck and conjure its lame distilled premises out of the same ethereal hyper thin air.

A third miracle performed by the court was its ability to finally unite our contrary family.  At one family gathering a member complained that the Klassens could never agree on anything.  Our oldest brother, Aaron interjected with, "I would like to disagree with that".  Yet now the surviving eleven Klassens are unanimously united; in full agreement that the court case went beyond the farcical. 

Another of Aaron's favorite sayings was "You can always tell a Heinrichs ; you just can't tell them much".   (or a Klassen)

Instead of relying on miracles, the court would be well advised to engage in scientific, forensic and empirical evidence.

(Our) mother, Susan Heinrichs, was at first reluctant to cooperate with the recording of the family narrative because it might reveal aspects of the family better not disclosed – “why should be air our dirty linen in public”. 

Eventually she was persuaded to participate.  Others too warned against telling all and attempted to have the book redacted, censured or sanitised. Thankfully this was rejected.  One reviewer described the exercise as a “warts and all” candid exposure of our family’s history.

Some general impressions from the book:

The book provides a stark contrast on how children were raised then and now, portraying generational shifts and lasting legacies.

The Heinrichs clan arrived in Canada in the second wave of migrations from Russia in the mid 1870's.  The first wave, our paternal side, consisted of landless farm workers, while the second ones, after hearing about promising conditions, consisted of wealthier landowners.  Desperate to inhabit the Western plains of Canada before the Americans did, the Canadian authorities lured emigres, with generous inducements, from Europe and Asia.   As Bismarck opined; "The sewers of Europe were drained to fill the plains of North America".

Mennonites are generally misunderstood.  Context is important. As part of the protest movement against the barbaric violence of Medieval militaristic Christianity,  Mennonites embraced pacifism, non - violence and separation of Church and State, leaving them easy prey for militaristic Christians.  We were raised with books on Mennonite Martyrs and suspicious of Medieval courts condemning our forebears to grisly deaths.

Due to the persecution of the inquisition, Mennonites simply withdrew from society and became passive as well as damn good farmers, lured first to Prussia, then Russia and then the New World, North and South America to displace indigenous peoples, and became "silent" beneficiaries. 

They lost the early zeal of redoubtable courage in the face of the brutal Inquisitions by rejecting the inbuilt violence of Christianity, being some 400 years ahead of other reforms in egalitarian social groupings  and the separation of Church and State.  Pacifism degenerated into passivity.

This gradual apostasy means we have become a mere ethnic curiosity, a cultural oddity and target of quaint humour, instead of being credited with profound prescience of the necessity of separation of Church and State, widely accepted today.   Today we are just another assimilated patch on the matrix of western civilisation.

Grandfather Wilhelm Heinrichs arrived in 1874, as a 3 year old.  He became a larger than life figure in the community, extremely well off and progressive (one of the first to own a car by 1908, a phonograph and radio), a bit worldly (played the stock market), openly brewed and drank beer, lived on the edge of the church, an outlier, yet also acutely and protectively conscious of what people thought about his family.  He was an extremely generous host; there are many pictures that illustrate his devotion to a large extended family.  He seems to be all inclusive; enjoying having them all around him. “Alla tope” is a low German expression familiar to all of us - - it translates into “all together” – an inclusiveness that permeates next generational family relationships.  A common thread through the book is how generous, supportive and dutiful most family members are to each other.

We know so little about the personalities of the first generation to arrive in 1874, because few personal records are extant.

Mrs Bennet of Jane Austen fame was no match for Maria Heinrichs when it came to dressing her three eldest daughters to make them attractive to eligible suitors. Curling their hair was considered worldliness, yet practised.  A seamstress came in for a week, twice a year to make sure they were elegantly and stylishly dressed – a taboo in conservative Mennonite circles.  By the time the youngest, Aunt Anne, needed fashionable clothes, Eaton’s Mail-order catalogue had to make do. 

Unfortunately, there are more complicated influences.   Ambiguously, other recurring references indicate a hard-headed unforgiving and uncompromising disposition, especially when it attracted the wrong suitor. Fiercely protective of and selective for all her children, our grandparents considered it their right to reject unwanted suitors.  When her oldest daughter, Maria began a relationship with one of the Russian hired men, Grandmother and Grandfather ruthlessly ensured that he was sent away to B.C leaving her with life long distress.   When Helen married a Lutheran in 1928, Grandma and Grandpa demonstrated their displeasure by not attending the wedding in Emerson and shunning any social contact with the young couple. 

Our grandparents third son David was born in 1900, and produced 11 children. His son, Walter Heinrichs, recounts some ugly disputes between his father and our Grandmother, where she “started to give him a tongue lashing like you wouldn’t believe…. all my father could say was uh huh.  She told him to stay out off her yard and to keep his damn kids out also.  Needless to say, I was devastated and never again set foot in her house. Pg. 102. 

My mother, Susan commented on an indirect negativity and her strict expectations: “if your Dad sends you to that field you obey, that is all there is to it”

Obviously, Bob Dylan’s Your children are beyond your command, did not come into effect until  the next generation, introduced it in the 1920’s.

At fifteen (1917) our mother was out ploughing the field when her father came to see her and boxed her ears without explanation.  Several months later her mother told (our) mother why she had been punished.  A group of Summerfelder men, including the elder, had visited Mother’s school.  When Mother passed them, she had smiled at them in a friendly fashion.  They interpreted the smile of a young girl as a sign of disrespect, for young girls were expected to be modest and demure.  Submitted by Katherine (Klassen) Martens

Our Grandmother made no secret of her reluctance to have children, blaming the lack of contraception. She deplored large families.  Katherine Martens Pg. 22. 

As a result the younger ones are usually cared for by their older siblings.  Aunt Anne and Uncle Jake were raised by all their oldest sisters, Susan Klassen and Marie Siemens and later Helen Hoffman.  The court elliptically presumes, they "probably" never knew each other.

"Our mother (Susan Klassen) sensed some of her siblings grew up feeling unwanted and so when she produced 15 children, she made sure each of us felt loved and valued". 

Our memories may be extremely fallible, however those related to our formative years are rooted deeply in reality, thus reliable.

The longer we live, the more our parents stature grows. My oldest surviving sister, Marie Dyck, at 92,  has a sharp memory. She once told me it was because as she wasn’t educated, it’s never been used.  I wasn’t taken in.  She has been a fount of information of our forbears, especially our parents.  She has a high regard for our father and mother, maintaining that despite the fact that our mother gave birth to 15 children, she never heard her complain about anyone of them,

How they managed to clothe and feed all of us truly amazes me. When I look at early family photos - we are all well dressed - I don't remember how.  We also ate well and educated at great expense.  Whenever father went to town, he sold eggs, butter and milk and only bought flour and sugar in bulk. His aim was to come home with more money than before he went. We also sold pigs and calves to the abattoirs in St Boniface.

When one erred, as we all did, if there was talk of disowning, shunning or ostracism, Mother sharply rebuked us by saying: "that's not how we do things in our family".   There was never any doubt that all of her family were the front and center of her life.  Her inexhaustible pleasure in mothering us was evident in the long days she spent seeding, collecting and preserving food during the summer to provide for the long winter months spent making clothing and mending socks.   The simple logistics of feeding and clothing such a large family was accomplished by delegating it to the older ones but demanding everyone carried their weight.  As boys we played with our stone people and cast off toys behind one of the granaries.  When Mother called out to us to help in the garden, we couldn't hear her.  When we were sprung, her refrain was "if you don't work, you don't eat".   This explains our guilt complexes and protestant work ethic.

Both parents went out of their way to mould a large sprawling family that cared for each other.  As in most virtual cross generational families the older siblings developed their parenting skills by practising on their younger ones. To avoid any future strife or ill will, instead of passing on the family farm to one member, it was sold at auction and all common property dispensed equitably by Will.  None of us can forget the fairness and equity of all that left over bric-a-brac gathered in Marie Dyck's garage at the 1990 family gathering where we drew lots, and were allowed to freely pick, choose and swap family keepsakes.  

Raymond Siemens' tribute to his mother also demonstrates an enduring caring, dutiful mother, utterly devoted to all her children, all her siblings and especially the twins, Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne.  All families record similar tributes to their parents of unconditional love and enduring care.   

The evidence clearly indicates that Maria Siemens was the most enduring care giver to her youngest sister, our Aunt Anne.  In 1951, she and her husband, J.J. Siemens, an eminent leader of the Coop movement, moved to Winnipeg.  Marie Siemens continued her strong support to her troubled young sister.  She was on hand in 1957, when a disturbed Aunt Anne was arrested by the police for wandering the streets in the nude.  Aunt Marie arranged a stay in Selkirk Mental Hospital for an assessment.  When Marie Siemens dies early from cancer in 1969, Aunt Anne goes into a deep depressive state and goes back into institutional Psychiatric care. From then on she is in a near comatose state.  She is again admitted in 1980 for attempting to smother a fellow inmate of a nursing home and again in 1990 after the death of her second eldest sister, Susan Klassen.  Glaringly clear evidence indicates that from the early 1970's she was incapable of taking care of herself.  When her husband dies without a Will, she requests that his brother Bill and sister Mary take care of her estate, however, Uncle Jake negotiated with them to have the entire estate go to his sister as she will need institutional care for the rest of her life.

The Heinrichs are all sometimes depicted as arrogant.  This has some basis, however we were merely extremely confident imbued by supportive parenting - we were all encouraged to believe in ourselves, think for ourselves and to speak out against abuse of power and injustices. Our father encouraged divergent views, but we all became painfully aware of our limitations.

Both grandparents had many positive attributes and did the best they could to raise good, upright, enterprising and contributing citizens.  On a more positive note Maria Heinrichs collected a library of more than 2000 books, encouraged education and advised all to get out of our closed communities and into the world.  The book reveals a quirky but expressive and articulate family.

Aunt Anne Ogilvie features in many of the family contributions, all contributed by offspring of her two oldest sisters - their virtual parents - Marie Siemens and Susan Klassen; compelling evidence of life-long enduring affection by them and their children.

The picture depicted by Irene (Siemens) Stobbe on a youthful Aunt Anne is especially revealing:

She was an extremely generous person. If you admired her teapot she would want to give it to you, so I had to be careful what I said. I found her to be very fond of children and took a great interest in all her nieces and nephews. When we moved to Calgary, Anne and Fred and I took the chairlift to the top of Mount Norquay. She enjoyed our three toddlers very much.  Page 182. (Top right column)

Our grandfather’s sons, especially Uncle Ben and Uncle Jake were anti-establishment iconoclasts - skeptics; given to withering cynicism with a healthy disrespect for vaunted authority.  As such they had a profound contrary influence on all of us.  Passed down were pertinent bon mots such as:   "If you go to court you should know the law; but it is even more important to know the Judge".  or: "Truth should not be heard in court; it might unduly influence the verdict".  I was impressed by their originality - until I came across the sayings of Mark Twain.

Our cynicism never evolved into nihilism, unlike some officials today.

Relevant observations about our ancestors:

Uncle Ben Heinrichs (page 28)

(My father) …had taught me how to drive the car.  He boxed my ears if I didn’t know how to drive it when I was seven or nine years old, I forget, that was nothing to him.


Submitted by Irene (Siemens) Stobbe

Anne was born 06 February 1919 at home in Halbstadt, Manitoba. She was born a twin to Jacob. She grew up on the Heinrichs family farm and attended the Halbstadt grade school; then attended the Mennonite Collegiate Institute (MCI) from approximately 1935-1938. She was living with her parents and was on a car trip destined for Ontario when the car accident killed her father. She went to work in the city of Winnipeg as a nurse’s aide. There she met Fred Ogilvie in Winnipeg and was married to him in July 1945. Anne and Fred bought a little house in East Kildonan where they lived until Fred’s death in December 1978. Anne developed a mental illness diagnosed as schizophrenia, “a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with environment and by disintegration of personality,” in the early 50’s for which she was periodically hospitalized. When her husband died she spent a very short time with her twin brother’s family and since then has been in various institutions.

Anne had an interest in film and theatre, especially musical theatre. In the late 40’s when I was at the university she would frequently invite me to see a movie or go to an operetta with her. She would also invite me for Sunday dinner and she cooked a lovely meal. She was an extremely generous person. If you admired her teapot she would want to give it to you, so I had to be careful what I said. I found her to be very fond of children and took a great interest in all her nieces and nephews. When we moved to Calgary, Anne and Fred and I took the chairlift to the top of Mount Norquay. She enjoyed our three toddlers very much.

Of her earlier life I remember her visits to our farm on a Sunday afternoon. She would be dressed very smartly, dark suit, white blouse, dress shoes and well-cut, simple hair style. She was always very quiet and did not enter conversations easily. In recent years I have visited Anne in the Altona Personal Care Home. She always has a smile, but conversation is limited.

Submitted by Elsa (Klassen) Neufeld

Elsa evocatively and poignantly captures the origins of Aunt Anne's withdrawal from reality as early as the summer of 1938, shortly after the shock of the traumatizing accident that killed her father, seated next to her. 

Soon after my sixth birthday our family moved from Halbstadt, where we were surrounded by relatives, to Homewood where during my school years I keenly felt the lack of cousins….

In August of that summer my parents drove to Halbstadt for a visit. I was to stay over for a two week holiday….

I spent most of the day with Aunt Anne, a beautiful brown-eyed young woman. As we shelled peas or cleaned fruit she grew weary of my incessant chatter. She invented various schemes to achieve quietness. She said, “Let’s see if we can be quiet for a few minutes” or “Let’s see who can be quiet the longest.” I know I tried but I never succeeded.

As I began writing down these memories I was able to place the events of 1938 in perspective. We moved to Homewood in early spring. Within months Grandfather Heinrichs had died accidentally. July 23 my sister Edith was born and in mid August I was left at Grandmother’s house. Was my visit to be a distraction for Grandmother, Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne in their sorrow? 

In 1979, briefly living in California, Elsa writes to Aunt Anne’s Psychiatrist and receives a comprehensive diagnosis and pessimistic prognosis.  This is strong evidence of enduring, affectionate involvement.  

By the 1970's Aunt Anne, like Saul Indian Horse's mother "had turned so far inward, she sometimes ceased to exist in the outside world".

Submitted by Professor William Klassen

In retrospect, who can say what we owe to whom? What indeed is our heritage? Mother’s care for her brothers and sisters was always very deep. She welcomed them as visitors and always spoke highly of them.

I especially remember Uncle Fred Ogilvie and how much Mother and Father spoke in appreciation of him even though we all knew he was not a Mennonite. I recall his visit to the University of Manitoba when I was teaching there and his encouragement he gave me then of the work I was doing. He appreciated the value of teaching religion outside of a church setting. 

I would like to ask Aunt Anna many questions. She carries many secrets.

We all live with a heritage far richer and perhaps far more ambiguous than we realize….MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD (Page 37)

Letters Anne (Heinrichs) Ogilvie wrote between 1935 and 1951.

Dear Ben,

Please will you look in my clothes closet on the top board for my sewing note books. There are quite a few. Send me the one with the white cover and with samples in it. And there are a few more books one is the first year book arid second. They are all notes in there and also patches show. I think I put it all in one pile. Send me everything that you find there about sewing.

Yours affectionately,


There is other solid evidence that her closest male sibling bond was with her brother, Ben, six years older.  She asks him to farm her 80 acres of land for her which he does for 12 years until he moves away in 1951.  He eventually moves to Winnipeg and is on hand to take her in and support her when her husband has a heart attack.  The reason she returns to Southern Manitoba is because Uncle Ben and Aunt Tien plan to retire there.

Hello Viola,

It seems a long time ago when we got your letter. We have been very busy so I didn’t get around to answering your letter. But now it seems to (be) slacking down and I am really glad. Maybe I will get time to do some sewing and finish some things up I started.

Well your folks were in last week. I didn’t see them. Bill Heinrichs was here, so was Jake, Mr. and Mrs. David Heinrichs and Mrs. Hoffman. Mrs. Hoffman is going to have an operation next month.

So, you are very busy studying. I certainly wish you all the luck. I was going to go and listen to Dyson Carter today but it took so long until I got everything done. I didn’t get away. Fred is on nites so [ to catch up to a lot of work when he isn’t around. When he is around it is impossible but I don’t have to complain.  I really like married life a lot better than I expected.

Fred’s sister Mary is through with her course, she has been home for two weeks and was supposed to be in for her exam. She sure is a funny kid.

I got a new coat a few weeks ago. It looks alright; I hope it will wear alright.

Do you expect to come back next spring or do you intend to stay until you are through? Well be sure it (to) absurd (absorb) all you can. I certainly am sorry I haven’t good (got) my full Grade XII.....

Hoping to hearing from you sometime.  So long,

Anne Ogilvie    Page:183 (a)

November 04, 1951

Dear Viola,

How are you Viola. It seems a long time since we saw you last. You were not able to farm very long when you got sent back to school. How do you find school out there? Did Paul get top marks at school?

Don’t see Irene or Edith very often. They are very busy at school. I was expecting Irene to call today. Have some snaps we took of the house that turned out fairly well. I was suggesting that we have some made and send you some.

Hear you are kept very busy out there. I could never think of any other way than busy.  I keep busy most of the time. Nobody to chase me around so I do housework and have some knitting or hand work around the place. Did very little this year or summer. The days and weeks slip by and I didn’t get some of my handwork out of the road. Have some remodelling to do before Christmas. Hope I’ll get it out of the road long before Christmas.

I read part of your letter the last time I was up at your mother and dad’s place. It certainly is a very nice place that (you) got out there. Very neat, and cosy and lots of room.

 How long are you staying out there? Will Paul be able to complete his course out there?

Do you intend to come back to Canada or should I say Manitoba?  page183

That is were (where) we spend most of our time. During the week at work and on Sundays we spent a lot of time at his dad’s at Oakland or we got out home to Jake and Mary’s and Hoffman’s. Mrs. Hoffman and family had a lot of crab apples in the garden. I have never seen anything like it. They have about two dozen trees and they are loaded. Mrs. Hoffman gave us some crabs and I made apple sauce. It turned out very good.

How do you like it out there, are the people very sociable or don’t they bother much with one another. That’s the case around here. I am kind of glad because we just got together as a family at home occasionally and didn’t get a training in being sociable to strangers. Running out of paper.. .Stop.    So long,  Anne

There is further evidence that Aunt Anne had a close relationship with her sister Helen, 14 years older.  When Uncle Ben can no longer rent her land, she asks Aunt Helen’s Hoffman family to do so. They do so for nine years until they too move away and it is finally left to her twin brother to take it over.

After 1951, there is no further cogent communication from our Aunt.  Irene Siemens puts this down to the fact that after the death of her mother (who openly blamed Anne for contributing to the cause of her father's accidental death) Aunt Anne began to display the classic symptoms of Schizophrenia; hearing voices with bouts of surface anger, screaming at an imaginary person.  Our mother, Susan Heinrichs, maintained she was arguing with their deceased mother.  Aunt Anne teetered on the brink, fell over the edge to lower levels several times until the 1970's when she retreated into her shell and never really ever re-emerged.


Submitted by Susanna Klassen

The 1992 Heinrichs family gathering prompted many reminiscences about the car accident that caused my grandfather, William Heinrichs’ death. The version of the story I have heard the most often is that Aunt Anne had tried to turn the steering wheel to prevent the car from veering off the bridge.

This summer my daughter Pamela and I had an opportunity to visit Aunt Anne at the Salem Home in Winkler. My interest in how Aunt Anne has experienced her life has increased as I grow older and have more time and interest to reflect on my heritage. Aunt Anne told me she didn’t want to tell her life story. She said, “I remember it and I don’t want to talk about it.”

My childhood memory of Aunt Anne is that she was one of the many aunts that I admired and looked up to as a role model. I wanted to dress nicely as she did and have a house in the city. I remember a china cabinet in her home that had beautiful dishes in it. I have often wondered what caused her to retreat from life and live in institutions.

After my visit with Aunt Anne my sister Kathy and I had an impromptu visit with Sara Heinrichs, mother’s cousin. She told us that she had been a good friend of Aunt Anne and described her as a lively, vivacious, intelligent young woman with a strong trust in God. She said she would never forget how Aunt Anne had told her the story about the car accident. This is her story, written in my words.

When the car that Grandpa was driving had a tire blowout it veered onto the edge of the bridge and perched precipitously at the edge. Anne, who was the only person able to respond, climbed over her brother Jake to get out of the car. She remembered that there was a rope in the car trunk and took it out. She then tied it to the car and began to pull it across the road away from the edge of the bridge. This also stopped the traffic and a passerby called for the ambulance. Had Anne not had her wits about her at that time every one in the car could have died.

After hearing this story, I felt inspired by the courage and quick thinking that Aunt Anne showed on that day. I wished that I could hear the story from Aunt Anne and I realized that she is indeed an unsung hero in the Heinrichs family.

Aunt Anne, I would still like to hear about your life from your lips and your voice. I am sure you have much to tell us, the next generation.

Edith Siemen’s recollections:

Katherine Marten's record gleaned from Edith Siemens in a telephone call.

 Ann married Fred Ogilvie in 1945, the first non-Mennonite in our family, yet he appears to have been universally accepted.

Shortly after Anne and Fred Ogilvie were married Anne's oldest sister Maria, (Siemens) sensed that things were not going well there and she decided to have her 11 year old daughter Edith spend a week or so with Ann and Fred.  Edith was charged specifically with telling her mother what was going on

At the Ogilvie house. Edith was about 11 or 12 so this was in 1946 - 47 or thereabouts.

Edith described the week she spent there as very scary. Anne had decided that all the doors should be taken off their hinges, and asked Fred to do so. Apparently, he had done so as doors were leaning against the wall and during the day Anne busied herself with trying to remove all the doors off kitchen cabinets.

Fred worked shifts sometimes day, sometimes nights, and Edith remembers being awakened by their loud voices when he came off the night shift. She says she was afraid of both of them, and often thought of ways she could return to Altona and home, but as she did not know her way around Winnipeg the possibility of getting on a bus back to Altona was not an option.

When her parents finally came for her about a week later she was exhausted and slept all the way home in the car.

Later her mother, Maria, was often heard to say, "I'd go crazy too if I had to live with Fred!"

In 1957, Aunt Anne was committed to the Selkirk Mental Institute because the neighbors called the police because she was walking the streets stark naked. Her oldest sister, Maria Siemens, was consulted and agreed to an assessment.

Taking the doors off all cupboards and often going naked could be seen as signs that Aunt Anne was declaring her innocence by telling the world "I have nothing to hide".

When the Will was signed in October 1980, Aunt Anne had five surviving siblings and 56 nieces and nephews.  There is overwhelming evidence that Aunt Marie Siemens moved to Winnipeg and was on call for her throughout the fifties and the sixties.

Susan Klassen attended her needs throughout the seventies and early eighties.

A letter to Katherine Martens on sabbatical in Germany, written on 11 December 1974 corroborates this fact.

she writes:
"I feel we will have a bar (maybe meaning "bare") Christmas. It feels 
empty to go to Winnipeg.. Bill is very busy. My sister Anne has been 
sick so we went them sever(al) times." (Or seven?)

My mother's first language was German.

When Fred went into hospital and died, Aunt Anne was taken care of by her brother Ben, living in Winnipeg, and after the funeral she stayed with her sister Susan in Carman and then back to her brother Ben in Winnipeg for a week then finally her brother, Jake in Halbstadt before admission to Eden Mental Health and entering a nursing home. This counters the claim that Uncle Jake was the sole or even principal care giver before the mid eighties.  Yet he fails to consult or even inform them of the Will until five years later.

 Here is a letter sent by our Mother, Susan Heinrichs Klassen to Viola Siemens Andreas on December 22. 1978  (shortly after Fred Ogilvie’s funeral.

 Dear Viola,

 Thank you for your letters of July 5. I had a rauf (rough) summer. I did not have any interest in going anywhere. And Ana, my sister, problems got worse, maybe it depressed me tow (too).

 I thought I let you know that Anna's husband passed on the 16 Dec. at half past 3 in the afternoon. He had a severe heart attack he was in the hospital for about 10 days. His funeral was on the 19th. It was very snows, the storm wasn't so bad. But you never know how it will turn out. 

Anna didn't make a big fuss, she just said its too bad he died when Fred's brother Bill told her she left the house and said she didn't want to come back there. Fred's brother he should sell the house with everything in it. She is staying with Ben and Tina until after Christmas.

 We are having our Christmas gathering on Sunday.

 So with best wishes and I hope you can read this letter.

 Mr. and Mrs David Klassen

William Klassen’s contribution ( ll. 80 – 90) indicates what we all suspected,  she had become a recluse and been incapable of coherent cogent discussion from about the late sixties.  When I saw her in 1962, Aunt Anne took a great interest in my pending career in teaching, but immediately expressed regrets about her own underachievement - a failure to complete High School and a professional career, wanted to take further education but kept insisting she “had no money”.  Later, my mother claimed they were very well off, but Aunt Anne would "will all her money to her cats".

When I next saw her after the death of our Aunt Marie in 1969, you could tell Aunt Ann was retreating into her shell as she took little interest in us or in life.

In 1979 Ernst Klassen was working up in Telegraph Creek and came home for Christmas at Carman. He writes:

Shortly after Christmas I accompanied mom and dad to Halbstadt for a family gathering at Uncle Jake's house. Aunt Ann was there. During the three to four hours we were there she said not a word other than a yes or no. She acknowledged none of her siblings except she had this empty smile on her face. (not the "Mona Lisa Smile") Ten months later a window of clarity opened and she went to Winnipeg to write her will without any assistance from her brother, he was not even in the room. What an amazing event!

When the writer, Charles Klassen, visiting from Australia, with my family, in January 1981, four months after putatively making her Will, she appeared to be totally out of it, withdrawn, utterly disconnected from reality – virtually comatose. There was not even a flicker of interest in me, my wife or my three children.  She mutely acknowledged my mother’s presence with a smile - that is all.  It stretches my imagination beyond its breaking point, to accept that she could walk into a law office without alarm bells going off – paramedics and ambulances called. Yet the court assumes “testamentary capacity”. 

Erdman Klassen writes: Whether or not Aunt Anne was considered capable of making decisions is based on the fact that she was "talkative" and "smiling". These behaviors are not considered definitive evidence of capacity. Yes, she made her own decisions but they were generally not made in her own best interest. To refuse to look after her teeth, to refuse to buy clothes for herself and to refuse to talk about her own life experience were not decisions that were in her own best interest. (Susanna)

A point raised Ray Siemens at our last meeting was not entered into the official record. At one point uncle Jake  asked, "What do we do about Anne’s Will?   Ray's answer was ," Give it to charity, then no one will fight over it"

The fact that Jake asked, has numerous implications, 1. He felt uneasy about it. 2. That he saw himself as controlling the process. If it was all at Aunt Anne's initiative there would have been no need to ask the question.  The fact that both Ann and Jake had unresolved issues about this event raises all kinds of possible influences that will always be a mystery.

John Klassen, PHD, Emeritus professor of History, provides expert analysis in a number of areas, especially methodology.  He found at least ten inconsistencies in the arguments of the Reasons for the Decision,  major flaws in the court's concept of Schizophrenia, and provided a scholarly appraisal of the interview of Katherine Martens with our Uncle Jake that refutes most of the lazy underlying assumptions of the court.

Marie Dyck claims there was a guest book in Aunt Anne's room  put there by Kathy I think and our names were in there quite regularly.  This book has very conveniently disappeared. Marie, at 92 years of age, still has a sharpness about her.  She remains in a state of shock following the trial, claiming she had "never heard so many lies told in one place".    She has also categorised the six day court case as a "kangaroo court".

Victor Klassen, the youngest of the family  made perhaps the most apt assessment.  In the real world, if you pay for shoddy, fraudulent and extortionist services, they feel obliged to refund your money.  Financial, medical and legal industries have managed to immunise their professions from such tedious necessities. 

Of the 56 nephews and nieces. At least 11 had passed away since the action was launched, most are in the mid eighties and do not have the energy or resources to pursue this matter any further.

Summerfelder vs. Bergthaler

The origins of the divisions stem from the Villages in Russia transported to Canada involving mainly an attitudinal one regarding education.  The Summerfelder were conservative, pious and traditional, while the Bergthaler became more worldly and progressive. While not as violent as the splits between the Catholics and the Anglicans or the Sunnis and Shia, the tensions and hostility were open.  When our father, a Summerfelder, married my mother, a Bergthaler, some of his closest relatives refused to attend the service.

A fascinating account of melancholic singing and the conflict over singing in unison or four part harmony is found on page 20 of Katherine Martens’ book, All in a Row.

At the funeral of Peter Nickel’s mother, a Summerfelder, in Halbstadt, mourners from both churches were in attendance. When the Bergthalers automatically began to sing together, Elder Peter Wiebe stood up and said,  (translated from German)  I don’t think you want to offend, but maybe you don’t know our rules.  We do not sing in harmony.

It is good to know that some people have strong dogmatic convictions or priorities on things that really matter.  

As the people of Egypt in rising against despots demonstrated: The voices of people raised in unison will shake the ancient bastions of privilege and power and crumble them to death.  Share International

In this court case the Heinrich respondents sang in unison from the same scripted page while the challengers sang in harmony with both sides striking some false notes.

Here are the surprising findings of the courts:  

1) Anne and her twin brother had a "close bond" throughout their lives;  

2) Anne did not have a close relationship with her other siblings.  "The older probably didn't know the youngest".

3) Anne's land had been farmed by Jake until 1982.  

4) When her husband died, Anne went immediately to live with Jake and his family. 

5) That Anne's Schizophrenia had no impact on her testamentary capacity as it was treated by medication.  

With apologies to Oscar Wilde,  to get one wrong might be regarded unfortunate, two appears careless, three considered inept, four, professionally negligent but all five seems purposefully perverse.  

The courts clearly had another agenda that required them to reach such contrived, but desired conclusions.

Opposing conclusions are so obvious, they require little evidence.


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