Marjorie Anne Heinrichs | 1956-2010 -

Marjorie Anne Heinrichs | 1956-2010

After the death of her first-born, she found solace and healing with her native neighbours. She especially loved the sweat lodge.

Marjorie Anne Heinrichs | 1956-2010

Illustration by Jack Dylan

MARJORIE ANNE HEINRICHS was born in Morris, Man., on March 2, 1956, the second of six children born to Helen and Sydney Reimer, a financial adviser. Marj, a redhead with a fiery personality and a yen for storytelling, grew up in the prosperous, conservative Mennonite community of Rosenort. She was an opinionated and curious tomboy—not your average Mennonite girl. TV and radio, the church believed, were a sin. Hard work brought you closer to God.

At 14, she met Jim Heinrichs, “the cutest boy in school,” as she described him. Gentle Jim, shy and soft-spoken, was her polar opposite. They married in 1974, after graduating from Rosenort Collegiate, and moved onto a hog farm west of town. At 19, Marj gave birth to Tom. Jen, Katie, Sara and Billy soon followed. Life was merry, but not without bumps. No one worked harder than Jim, who also managed the local lumberyard, but in the ’80s hog prices hit rock-bottom. Interest rates and feed prices were sky-high. In 1986, they had to sell the farm and move into town, where Jim took over G.K. Braun Insurance from father-in-law Sydney. Marj was devastated—she loved that old farm.

Marj was a news junkie who never shut off her beloved CBC, and landed a job with a community paper, the Scratching River Post, to help with the bills. That caused quite the stir in Rosenort, where women still don’t work outside the home. Marj shrugged off the whispers, dragging Sara and Billy—then still in diapers—across southern Manitoba on assignment. Soon, she herself became a familiar radio voice on the CBC. Once, says Jen, she skydived live on the air, “hootin’ and hollerin’ all the way.”

In 1990, a story brought her to Roseau River First Nation, the neighbouring reserve. Reporters had drawn straws for the assignment. Marj got the short one. She’d begged to be reassigned, she later told then-chief Lawrence Henry. She was terrified, sure she’d never make it off the reserve in one piece. “Next thing you know,” says Lawrence with a chuckle, “we couldn’t get rid of her.” Marj never looked back. She reported from across northern Manitoba and Ontario, wrote histories of the Mishkeegogamang and Big Trout Lake First Nations, and launched a consultancy, Rosetta Projects, organizing community health assessments, fire and flood evacuations, and research projects for reserves. Jim made it possible by learning to cook, clean, and keep the home fires burning, no matter what anyone thought. Marj was happiest working up in Mish and Red Sucker Lake, Jim loved Marj, and that was that.

Tragedy struck in 1994. Tom, their music-loving 17-year-old, and his two young cousins were killed one night when their car collided with a combine. Marj grieved deeply; Jim turned inward. Those were dark days. Marge found comfort and acceptance at Roseau. She loved sweat lodges, especially: the hiss of water hitting scorching rocks, the darkness, drumming, and mournful songs. It was Tom’s time, the elders gently explained, nothing more. She went to Lawrence in tears. The prejudicial stories she’d heard about his people, she said, “were all lies. All I’ve ever got from you was compassion.” In her deep loneliness for her boy, she began fostering Aboriginal children: Cody, Martha, and a dozen more. Callie, whom Marj helped raise from infancy, still calls her “mom.”

After Tom’s death she left the church. She no longer saw the world as black and white. She’d come to understand the double stigma of being born both poor and Aboriginal. Hard work, sometimes, just isn’t enough.

With Marj, a bridge, finally, had gone up between the two communities. Physically, only the Red River separated them, but for 150 years they’d existed as parallel universes. “Never mind racism—Mennonites moved to North America to escape from society,” explains Marj’s brother, Peter. “We didn’t even talk to French people.” Marj, who had one foot planted in each side, pushed her community to understand what made their native neighbours tick—and vice-versa. “She tried so hard to clean up that negative stereotype of us,” says Roseau’s Lucy Ducharme, a close friend. As for Ducharme’s white neighbours? She has come to realize that, “They have problems too.”

On Nov.9, Marj was heading home from the reserve to change for an evening sweat with Lawrence. As she crossed Highway 23, the halfway point between Roseau and Rosenort, her Chevy Impala was broadsided, instantly killing Marj. She was 54.

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Marjorie Anne Heinrichs | 1956-2010

  1. Just to clarify, as I am from Rosenort and have lived here for 29 years – we do have TV, radio, and women most definately work outside the home! :) We have come quite a long way since 1956! We sure miss Marj, and her infectious laughter and zest for life.

  2. Mennonites should not all be labelled racist – as I certainly wasn't raised to be one. We absolutely associate with all people of all nationalities, religions, etc. My hope is that this article doesn't cause undo stereotypes now against Mennonites!

  3. I have no idea who the writer of this article is, but I think she did a great job of describing Marj's personality, her joys and her struggles. However, whoever provided the information about Rosenort and the people that live here obviously had opinions that don't agree with the majority of people living here. I can recall my own mother inviting native people into our house for meals and sending them away with boxes full of clothing and other items. That was in the early 60's. As well, we have had people of French descent working in various businesses in town for many years and I'm quite sure they feel well accepted. And yes, regretfully, my own wife worked outside the home to help ends meet, back in the 1980's. We both would have preferred that she be at home with the children. If you choose to look for the negative aspects in any community, you will certainly find them. I think most of us living here realize that we don't live perfect lives, by any means, however, we are very blessed by the legacy left us by our parents and forefathers in the past.

  4. This is a fantastic article, makes me proud to say this was my Auntie Marj.

  5. I never quite know what to make of the "The End"portion of your magazine.I can't tell if it's a positive or negative thing at times.On this article about Mrs Heinrichs I can see it is very positive.I responded to this accident as a volunteer firefighter,so to read this about her means a lot to me.I feel for the family and the people she touched.I'm sure she will be missed very much.Thank You,Réal

  6. I have to say that the writer did a wonderful job of describing Marj. Her infectious laugh and acceptance of everyone around her made her one in a million. The article did a good job of describing the community. I used to live in the community and well there are some wonderful people who accept you for who you are and what you are, the majority of the community judges you on what kind of house you live in, how much money you have and which church you go to. Never mind if you are of a different race! In that case you just don't exsist in their eyes! All you have to do is look around how many different races do you see living in Rosenort? Its amazing when you leave the community how you realize that there is life out there, life where people dont care what your last name is, where you came from or if you go to church!

    • Someone sounds bitter. Your spirit is not very free.

    • Not to much free spirit here I must say. Sorry to hear your bitterness. We have moved into Rosenort as outsiders & I must say we have felt nothing but love & acceptance. It is one of the most welcoming communities we have ever lived in. Yes we knew Marj & she was a wonderful person but how old was she??? If she was one of the first women to work outside the home she should have been VERY old, Women here have worked outside the home LONG before Marj started working.

      • That is great, my first question would be which church do you attend? Where do you work? That would explain why you are accepted. Also, are you conservative and don't enjoy a beer or wine once and awhile? Or do you drink behind the barn? Probably never danced or thought about it, since dancing might lead to sex. Oh my did I say sex? I am going straight to hell. Of course they'll love you, you're just like all of them.

        • This response doesn't deserve a response.

    • Thank you Free Spirit. I too grew up in the community of Rosenort. I left after graduation and have never looked back. I know that there are some people who think that I am bitter – and that is fine. I've just realized that there is more to life than that little town had to offer. I loved Marj for who she was and that she was willing to leave the church because she needed to.

      I have seen and felt the criticism of those who felt that I didn't measure up and I have also felt the compassion of people like Marj. I no longer resent those who have hurt my feelings because of what they have said or done. I now have more compassion for others because of it!

      Since leaving Rosenort – I have a new appreciation for the little town that I grew up in. No, I don't want to move back. I love where I am now and wouldn't change it for the world. Yet, as an "outsider" I see what those who didn't grow up there see! I still have lots of family and friends that live there and visit as often as I can.

    • "How many different races do you see living in Rosenort?" We have fantastic folks from Paraguay, Phillipines, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mexico & more. Many residents not from Dutch via Russia (Mennonite faith) extraction originate from countries such as Germany, Ukraine, Belize, and England. We have Metis & First Nations & French families who are a wonderful contributing part of the community. Rosenort doubles in size daily as workers from all over the world contribute with their equally committed work ethic. With humour I'll add that I've heard several Dutch Mennonites families have pride in saying they have gypsy blood in their veins from marriages in the Old Country – truthful or not. Many if not most small rural communities in Manitoba lag behind the city cultural mosaic. That is an immigrants choice. At a recent graduation, the valedictorian proudly announced their class had 7 different first languages. Rurally that is amazing. For years men & women from this community have travelled & worked internationally loving other nations, returning home once again.

      • There may be racism, as there is in most communities, but there are also many who eagerly anticipate the multi-culturism that will be reflected in Heaven. "After these things I saw, and, look! a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of ALL nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes.
        Making a statement that you are pleased that people don't care about you in other places is interesting. I've lived elsewhere and enjoyed discussing my background with others who are Irish, Ukranian, Swedish, Sudanese, Metis etc. I find all cultures & faith backgrounds fascinating. I would not have realized my curiousity was an offense. I'd urge you to be cautious using words like majority which might mean you took a vote of some kind. Sometimes a minority is loud & a majority is quiet & reserved. I spent part of my childhood in the neighbourhood, left, & returned. Many wonderful people have passed away & moved on which changes the community dynamic. Personally I'll keep trying to love others and teach my children to do the same.

    • well said free spirit. while there are and have been some families from this area, as well as other mennonite communities, being of an accepting nature….there are also many many ppl that are not. i grew up in this community and also in another neighboring community. i know full well how the mennonite ppl can be and for all of the ones crying about how wrong this article is….well i'll tell you one thing if you would open your eyes you would see how backwards and racist your community is. not only to the natives….to anyone that doesnt "fit" in your community is condemned. any person who has left your community has had their eyes opened and in a good way. there is an entire other world out there. marj did you best to try and bridge that gap and i for one am very happy that she was on this earth.

  7. As someone who has grown up in Rosenort (along with my parents and grandparents) I find this article to be offensive. I'm glad the author did not show Marj in a negative light as she was a wonderful person however the rest of the article included very little, if any, facts at all. My mother has been a working woman for as long as I can remember (I'm in my 20's so that's quite a few years). I'm also positive that women older than my mother worked outside the home as well as that was and is a way of life for many people who live in Rosenort. It is the year 2010 after all, not 1810. As well, the idea that Rosenort does not accept people from other cultures/races is completely false. Personally, I was raised to accept all people, no matter what colour or background. Going through school in Rosenort we often had transfer students from other schools who were aboriginal, french etc. I currently work for a very multi-cultural company and I find working with people from different cultures to be a rewarding and enriching experience as a result of growing up in a community that I did….

  8. Thanks for writing such a great story about Marj. She was larger than life in so many ways and you have done some justice to who she was. She was a very generous person and has left us with a lot to ponder as we grieve. Seize the day. Be generous. Love. Forgive. Experience life. No regrets. Open your hearts to everyone. Laugh hysterically and grieve profoundly. Thank you Marj for those lessons.

  9. Nancy Macdonald – really?? thats what you got out of Rosenort? Really?? I'm guessing – way to many old movies and cheap T.V. programs in your past. I would challenge to come and visit and objectively – see for yourself, I'm guess you would be treated like a rock star!

    • Please use spell check before you post things publicly. Perhaps a course in grammar would be applicable as well.

    • dear REALLY:

      open your eyes. your community has changes yes but still has a long way to go. i still see the non acceptance of "other" who do not believe or act the way some ppl think they should. you i think are one of them. rosenort has a reputation of being one of the snobbist communities out there and if you are not one of them you are never fully accepted. EVER!!!!

  10. Marj was a professional researcher,a talented writer, and a fairly unbiased reporter. This is not reflected in this article by this author. She was witty, sarcastic and hilarious. Tongue in cheek, some of these remarks may have been made by her at one time or another. In black and white print one cannot hear the wit, humour and laughter…It just sounds intolerant and unfactual.

    The same church community that has been (un)intentionally maligned is grieving deeply and worked quietly and efficiently before, during, and after the massive funeral for Marj that took place. Many women (and men) gave up time at work (which they apparently don't do outside the home) to provide organization, food, encouragement, cleaning etc. Most will turn the other cheek to this author, not because they are unopinionated, average, media illiterate, Mennonite women, but because they are kind and compassionate. Which I think is a typical Mennonite woman. I believe that Marj inherited much of her kindness and compassion from her mother's heritage. She is and will continue to be missed as a friend.

  11. Fortunately, I was only subjected to Rosenort for approximately 3 years of my life. My mother was ostracized for having pierced ears and my family was considered heathen because we did not attend the 'mennonite' church. Marj was a wonderful friend and will always be the only 'good' thing I ever found in that community. I applaud the author of this article.

    • to anonymous…. i lived in rosenort from the time i was 0 to the time i was 13. unfortunately, we moved away in 1990. me, my sisters and my mom oddly enough all had our ears pierced and fely very excepted in the community. marj was a wonderful lady and "auntie" to us. we will miss her.

  12. lol wow disappointed you should step back and open your eyes. rosenort has had a reputation of being extremely close minded. if you do not go to church you are simply shunned. now if you think i'm kinding…..i'm not. i dont live there anymore simply because majority of the ppl have small, closed minds. i do like what i am seeing now and that alot of the younger generation is trying to change that….but i still see that generation "hiding" their new ways still from the older generation. i hope this changes and they remain open.

  13. I wonder why I am commenting on this article as the divide in the community will not be helped by much that is said here. Macleans you did not serve Marj well because there is so much more good to be said about her. She simply wore her heart on her sleeve and would give anything to anyone who was in need. She did not pretend. She was understanding and would listen, but she did have her bitterness in regards to the past. Macleans this was just a stereotypical anti Christian point of view from some archaic writer get out and do your work before writing, Marj would have.

  14. We live in a world where we are all supposed to love each other unconditionally, no matter what our race, religion, or sexual orientation. And yet, reading these comments, it seems those human rights of wanting to be loved and accepted is not extended to Christians. As a Christian, I am not surprised by this. Why would the devil spend any time or energy on having the world turn upon and hate any faith or religion that wasn't based on Jesus as Saviour? Reading these comments I can almost hear the devil whispering, "hate all Christians, hate all the people living in this community that has a majority of those who believe in Christ". How sad. Wasn't the intention of this article to be about the life of Marj, and how even despite the way SOME of the people in this community treated her, she still loved all the rest of us, and lived here by choice for her entire life?

  15. This article depicts Marj very accurately, but Rosenort VERY INACCURATELY! I am very disappointed in the author and will strongly question her credibility from now on. I hope in the future that the author will do more research on a topic and seek information from reliable sources before writing about it.

    FYI I know several non-church goers in Rosenort who have been VERY WELL ACCEPTED by the community. That's actually one of Rosenort's strong points.

  16. im sure she was a wonderful person the story leaves out a critical say she was broadsided is not a complete descri[ption of the accident. she in fact ran a stop sign.the accident was not an accident it was a glaring example of how not to operate a motor vehicle.texting.tragic.tragic for the four innocent survivers of the other vehicle whos lives will never be the same.physically as well as many other ways . one couple was not even able to have a christmas tree in thier house ,there was simply no room left for one after mobility aids were installed.very close to 3 months in the hospital and unkown months or years of recovery are in call this an accident is a glaring ommision of fact.

    • I don't think this article was written to point fingers at who was in the wrong for this horrific accident. Yes I said accident, it was not intentional. And no she was not texting at the time of the accident, this was confirmed. She may or may not have ran the stop sign but nothing changes the situation, A. Marj is gone. I hope the other individuals recover and wish them all the best. We all wish this never would have happened, but that's why we call it an accident. Unfortunately someone lost their life.