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These houses were constructed by digging basements up to three feet in depth and lining them with boulders. The foundation of fieldstones was then laid, with the sills laid on top of it. Solid uprights "6 inches by 6 inches" were placed three feet apart and seven feet high. Plates were attached to these uprights and the joints were made perma nent by driving wooden pegs, six to ten inches long, through holes bored in the joints. Corners were then carefully braced and logs jammed between the uprights to block up the wall.
Barns were constructed in a similar manner except for the fact that they were not as carefully built and both the rafters and the uprights were smaller since only hay was stored in the lofts. Roofs were usually thatched up until 1900 when shingles began to replace this method. Interiors were lined with a mixture of clay and chaff and whitewashed with lime prepared in local kilns. 32 Besides the construction of homes, barns and furniture, other early tasks included the planting of trees along the village streets and in the individual orchards.
The first years in Manitoba were not easy ones. Hardship was the norm and little social life existed outside of visiting, church and the arrival of mail. News from relatives and friends in Russia and the United States was eagerly awaited and newspapers such as: Nebraska An siedler, Mennonitische Rundschau, and Herald der Wahrheit were welcome additions in most homes.
Deaths were frequent leaving few pioneer families untouched during the first years. In 1879 a typhoid outbreak caused one family in Blumenort to lose four members," while diphtheria killed many chil dren in the mid 1880's. In 1883 fifteen children died in Reinland alone, while 12 died in Blumenfeld." In 1884 there was little letup as 10 children died in Hochstadt and 6 in Gnadenfeld. Among the Bergthal villages in 1884 there were 8 more deaths than births."
To survive in those first years many families relied on loans from the Government of Canada and Ontario Mennonites. In all, Mennonites on the West Reserve received $26,000 from Ontario Mennonites and $54,670 from the Canadian Government. 36 Much of this was used for provisions, travel expenses, and the purchase of cattle, equipment and seed grain. 37 Some measure of the economic growth of the Mennonite settlements, is illustrated by the fact that by 1888 the government loan had been totally repaid.
This debt, known as the Brotschuld, and its repayment has as sumed mythic proportions over the years representing the Mennonite spirit of mutual aid, thrift and honesty. Th Brotschuld also strengthened the sense of gratitude towards the government and helped engender an appreciation of the wider Mennonite community.