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inspected the land and were convinced that it was impossible to find another suitable tract of land for block settlement. When they were assured that some timber areas along the Pembina Hills would also be reserved for them, these Mennonites finally accepted the proposed reserve."

The reluctance in farming this tract of land was not due to soil quality. Almost 90 per cent of the land in the West Reserve was classified as Class I, or soil with very good productivity." Lake Agassiz, the glacial lake which had covered most of southern Manitoba from the Pembina escarpment to the Canadian Shield and north to Churchill, had deposited a thick layer of silt and clay when it receded. It was on this base that the Red River Valley's rich black soil developed as centuries of prairie grass decayed. This dark loam was rich in organic matter and could produce tremendous yields when put to the plow. 11

A more immediate concern for settlers was wood and water. The absence of wood has been touched upon before, but the low rainfall in the area along with the absence of a permanent source of water also hindered settlement. Paradoxically, flooding also presented problems in the area. The drop in elevation from the Pembina escarpment to the Red River is approximately 210 feet, however, 100 feet of this drop occurs within the first seven miles of the escarpment. The remaining 110 feet are spread over the next 29 miles, with the last 12 miles before the Red River dropping only 25 feet. This extremely low gradient would for many years cause drainage problems.

During spring run off and after heavy rains streams issuing from the escarpment maintain a well defined course for about 20 miles and then spread over the land in a shallow lake. This problem is especially serious in the northeast part of Rhineland north of Rosenfeld where the waters from the west tend to meet before continuing to the Red River. 12

Despite their initial reluctance, a number of factors in the Men­ nonite's Russian experience helped them adapt to farming on the open prairie. Their experience on the open steppes of Russia had taught them how to strike water from level ground, how to build comfortable huts and heat them without wood, and how to plant shelter belts for protec­ tion from wind. Moreover, their open-field system of agriculture did not require wood for fences at a time when barbed wire was not available to provide enclosures for scattered farmsteads. 13 Settling in village com­ munities also did much to ease the psychological barrier of settling the open plains.

To understand these and other aspects of the settlement of this area some reference must be made to Mennonite beliefs and the Mennonite experience in Russia. The Russian Mennonites who came to southern

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