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Formation of Agricultural Villages
Soon after the arrival of the Russian Mennonites small agricultural villages sprang up on the prairies. This pattern of settlement departed radically from the sectional survey and was made possible, despite the fact that it had no legal basis, because the Mennonites had settled on isolated reserves and because the people organizing the villages were willing to accept this type of division. Unlike most prairie settlers, the Mennonites did not settle on their quarter sections, but lived in line villages and divided their quarter sections, held in common among the villagers, according to cultivation suitability.
To fulfill homestead residing requirements and gain title to their land, an amendment was made to the Dominion Lands Act in 1876. This amendment provided for the fulfillment of the residency requirement while living in villages. This came to be known as the "Hamlet Privilege" and was designed to accommodate both Mennonite and Icelandic settlement patterns. 7
The Mennonite settlement pattern was that of the northeast Ger man colonial Gewanndorf, characterized by a combination of line village with an open field economy. Villages were formed when a group of farmers, usually friends or relatives from the same congregation, got together and agreed to settle together. Many West Reserve villages had already been planned en route to or at Fort Dufferin.
In the case of Reinland 12 farmers, many of them relatives, banded together in 1875 to form a village. These farmers made an agreement that they would continue the village organization they had practiced in Russia utilizing the individually deeded land for the common good, that they would share responsibilities as to taxes for roads and schools and agreed not to sell their land to anyone of whom the village did not approve. This last stipulation was important since in Manitoba, unlike Russia, the village or church did not own the land outright, rather it was owned by individual farmers and if one member decided to withdraw from the village plan it would disrupt the entire system.
In some cases this agreement was unwritten, while in other cases a legal document was drawn up and filed with the Land Titles office. It is interesting to note that only Bergthal villages filed legal village agree ments with the Land Titles offices." This is a predictable finding since the Reinlaender Mennonite Church avoided the use of secular laws as much as possible, relying instead on Church discipline. This is not to say that Reinlaender Church villages did not have written agreements, but they were not legally filed with the Land Titles office. See agree ment of Neuenburg in appendix.