Village News

The Brandordnung Story

   In July 1941 my dad was milking a cow in his barn in the Neuanlage settlement during a thunderstorm. Lightning struck the barn and shot down the metal stanchions, killing the cow outright and stunning Dad. We don’t know how long he lay there, but eventually he regained consciousness and staggered to the house, white as a ghost.

   We had never known exactly when this happened, but I recently saw the early records of something called the Brandordnung. This was a fire-insurance scheme in effect from when the Mennonites first arrived to the middle of the 20th century. And there it was. A claim of $15 for the cow in 1941. Now we knew.

   The Brandordnung wasn’t really an insurance company in the modern sense, although it did evolve into one later. It was a clever scheme with no up-front premiums. Each participant would assess the value of his or her own buildings and register this with the local Brandshultz (village fire manager), who would forward this data to the Brandaeltester. This person had the data for virtually all Mennonite holdings in the province. Later the scheme was extended to Mennonite communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan.

   After a fire, the damage would be assessed, and to get the money for the claim, all of the Brandshultzes would have to go around the villages and collect levies proportional to each family’s self-assessment.

   The scheme was so clever because when making the self-assessment the farmer was caught between two constraints. If he assessed too high, he would be stuck with high levies after someone else’s fire. If he assessed too low and had a fire himself, he would have a low pay-out. So he would have to self-assess judiciously.

   Some of the Brandordnung records have survived to the present. These consist of eight ledgers with handwritten gothic-script entries. They will be deposited in the EMC Archives at the Mennonite Heritage Centre (MHC) in Winnipeg, but they have also now been digitized and are available electronically at the MHC (8.1 Gb).

   One benefit of these records is that we can trace the economic history of each village according to changing assessments. This approach is especially important for the 19th century, when participation in the Brandordnung was nearly universal among Manitoba Mennonites.

   Let’s have a look at how assessments changed in the East Reserve Kleine Gemeinde villages from 1875 to 1900. For the first six years or so, all the villages are roughly comparable. Then the smaller villages start to disappear from the records, and rising assessments occur mainly in the villages in the north-east township: Steinbach, Blumenort, Blumenhof, and Neuanlage.

   The most obvious observation is the meteoric rise of Steinbach’s assessment. It rises more than 10-fold in those 20 years, while the other successful villages barely make it to 2-fold. Why? The obvious answer is that commercial activity was consolidated there, at the expense of the other villages in the East Reserve. But why did this happen in Steinbach? One reason might be that some Mennonites collaborated with the Clear Springs people who lived in the outskirts of the village and were quite progressive.

   The preservation of old records such as these helps to remind us that cooperative behaviour within a trusting community is the norm for societies that care deeply for the unfortunates in their midst. My father had a large family, and I’m sure he felt supported by the community when the local Brandshultz delivered the $15 in cash for the loss of his cow.

Village News

MHSC Meets in Winnipeg

   “This feels just like our weather in southern Ontario,” stated one of the Executive Committee members of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada (MHSC). Winnipeg’s weather was mild and rainy, not what MHSC members have learned to expect when they come to Manitoba for their Annual General Meeting (AGM) in late January. Approximately 20 people representing organizations from British Columbia to Quebec gathered there from January 19–21, 2017, for various committee sessions, a board of directors meeting and the AGM.

   The MHSC is made up of member organizations including six provincial Mennonite historical societies, five Mennonite church conferences and their respective archival bodies, and various other Mennonite institutions, such as Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC), Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and others. This year the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford, BC, and the Humanitas Anabaptist Mennonite Centre at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, were formally accepted as members of the MHSC. Member organizations combine efforts to research, preserve and interpret Mennonite history in Canada, including the Dutch/Russian and the Swiss Mennonite experiences.

   One of the Society’s projects is the support of the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), a repository of Mennonite information from around the world. MHSC members are encouraged to submit articles to the site and also participate in an editorial role.

   Under the leadership of the Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, the MHSC supports the work of the Divergent Voices of Canadian Mennonites, a group that plans conferences on a variety of topics of interest to Mennonites. Conferences have addressed The History of Aboriginal-Mennonite Relations; The Return of the Kanadier Mennonites: A History of Accomplishments and Challenges; War and the Conscientious Objector; and most recently, Mennonites, Land and the Environment. The theme for the 2017 conference, taking place October 19-21, is Mennonite/s Writing VIII: Uprootings and Dislocations. This conference will feature papers addressing the Russlaender Migration in one way or another.

   Another project of the MHSC is the Mennonite Archival Image Database (MAID). This is an electronic collection of historical photos available for research and publication projects. The committee overseeing this project is contemplating expanding the database to include archival documents which are not necessarily photos and renaming it the Mennonite Archival Information Database (still MAID).

   This year’s MHSC Awards of Excellence were given to Dr. Lawrence Klippenstein and the late Dr. Helmut Huebert (1935-2016). Dr. Klippenstein is well known in Canadian Mennonite historical circles for his work with historical committees and societies, his work with the Mennonite Heritage Centre (1974-1997), his writings in various publications, and his other significant roles in the field. He is currently on the Board of Directors of MHV.

VN 2017 02 02 Dr L KlippensteinRoyden Loewen, Vice President of the MHSC presenting Dr. Lawrence Klippenstein with his award of Excellence. Also present Conrad Stoesz, Archivist at the Mennonite Heritage Centre.VN 2017 02 02 Dr L Klippenstein

   Dr. Helmut Huebert of Winnipeg was an orthopedic surgeon by profession and an avid Mennonite historian. He did extensive research and writing in the area of maps, working together at times with the late William Schroeder, also an avid Mennonite mapmaker and researcher. Ten books and atlases have been credited to Dr. Huebert, including Molotschna Historical Atlas (2003) and Mennonite Medicine in Russia: 1800-1930 (2012). It is a privilege to honour the work of these individuals with Awards of Excellence.

Dr H Huebert VN 2017 02 02Royden Loewen, Vice President of the MHSC presenting Dr. Helmut Huebert’s Award of Excellence to Dorothy Huebert. Also present Jon Isaak, Director of the Centre for MB Studies.

   Projected dates for next year’s MHSC meetings, to be held in Alberta, are January 19-20, 2018.

Calendar of Events:

February 5 – Vespers Service 7:00 PM

Village News

VN 2017 01 26 new map









   Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is pleased to announce that we are installing a new exhibit in our Permanent Gallery. At long last, we are updating our world Mennonite membership map! This has been several years in the making, and we are so pleased that it is nearing completion. Our new exhibit will be called Mennonites Around the Globe.

   Our current map was installed in 1990 and hasn't been updated since, so it's sadly out of date on a few levels. First of all, Mennonite World Conference membership numbers have changed drastically since 1990, and secondly, it still references the USSR and East/West Germany! It is more than time for a change.

   Mennonites Around the Globe is an interactive touchscreen exhibit showing up-to-date statistics on Mennonite membership around the world. MHV partnered with several organizations and individuals on this project. Mennonite World Conference shared their membership numbers. Designer Anikó Szabo made our exhibit look nice. PeaceWorks Technology Solutions designed the software. The Historic Resources Branch of the Government of Manitoba and the MHV Auxiliary provided funding. Because the map is now connected to MWC's database, the numbers will be updated automatically, so we won’t have the same issues we have had with our current map. The touchscreen has been installed and the software activated, so it is technically ready to use; we are just waiting for the interpretive panel to be printed and images chosen for the screensaver.

   Visitors will find our new map located near the end of our Permanent Gallery. Progressing through the gallery, we introduce broad concepts in Mennonite history and then focus on more specific themes. Placing our new exhibit near the end brings our visitors' focus back to the larger view. Even though MHV focuses on the specific story of Russian Mennonites, this is far from the whole Mennonite story.

   In southern Manitoba, when we think of Mennonites, many of us tend to think about people with the last name of Reimer or Janzen or Ens who say "oba" and eat vereniki. If we're feeling generous, we might also acknowledge the existence of Swiss-German Mennonites with last names like Yoder, Schwartzentruber, or Bender and eat popcorn. Up to approximately a hundred years ago, these stereotypes would have been roughly accurate, as the Mennonite faith initially grew because Mennonites had large families, not because they converted other people. This is due to historical circumstances and the origins of Anabaptist groups. Mennonites were persecuted in the 16th century, and later on were only allowed to worship as they pleased as long as they worshiped unobtrusively. At that point, they could not share their faith with their neighbours without the threat of punishment. As there was safety in numbers, and as Mennonites believed strongly in the separation of church and state, they maintained a distance from the "world," living in their own communities. This meant that Mennonites primarily lived with and married other Mennonites, passing down family names and traditions that we think of as "Mennonite."

   By the late 19th century, they no longer feared punishment for sharing their faith and began to evangelize outside of their own communities. Since that time, Mennonites have primarily spread their faith through personal relationships and missions organizations, not by having lots of children. Currently most of the people who identify as Mennonite have no idea what vereniki are. According to Mennonite World Conference, about two-thirds of the baptized believers who belong to Mennonite or Anabaptist-influenced churches are African, Asian, or Latin American. North America only accounts for just under a third of Mennonites around the world.

   Would you like to see this for yourself? Come visit MHV any time during the week between 9 and 5 to try out our new Mennonites Around the Globe exhibit.

Calendar of Events:

-   February 5 – Vespers Service 7:00 PM

Village News

Strategic Priorities

   In many respects it’s rather quiet at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) at this time of year. Tourists are spending time in warmer locations. Schools are busy in classrooms and are waiting for warmer weather to plan their field trips. Other than our construction projects and the need to clear snow after storms, activities on the yard are sparse. So winter is the time of year we focus on strategic planning for our upcoming season.

   MHV has established three strategic priorities for our institution. Each one is supported by a number of specific initiatives and action plans.

1. Cultural Stewardship – “Our mission as a museum is to collect and preserve artifacts and stories and to use these to teach our guests the significance of the Russian Mennonite history.” In doing this we also create tourist traffic and provide community festivals and a gathering place for people to meet. Together these contribute to community health.

   Under this priority we have education and collections-management initiatives. Our action items for 2017 will include development of a French-language education program, realignment of our education program with provincial curriculum, development of collaborative initiatives with local schools to create new learning opportunities for local students, updating collections procedures, evaluation of our collections database software, and auditing and reconciling our collection of artifacts with the electronic database and our paper files. All are intended to enhance the effectiveness and the efficiency of our work.

2. Organizational Sustainability – “In order for the organization to flourish today and in the future we need to be intentional in anticipating the challenges to growth and addressing them proactively.” We will undertake actions that will engage future generations, emphasize public relations, and support environmental sustainability. These actions will include reviewing our value proposition for members, donors and volunteers; celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary; further developing our recycling and composting strategies; and reducing consumption of energy, paper and plastics.

3. Financial Health – “Financial health is critical to the organization remaining functional.” Tourism, our business units and fundraising are the initiatives we will employ in our quest for improved financial health. We will develop new programs to engage community members and tourists in hands-on programs, write and initiate a marketing plan for the new Summer Pavilion, create a new exhibit for wedding shows, tweak our sponsorship program with a goal of 20% growth in sponsorship funds, develop a new fundraising event, and launch Year Two of our Foundations for a Strong Future development initiative.

   In addition to these focused action items, we will continue to collect artifacts and develop exhibits; plan and deliver summer festivals and fundraising events; operate the Livery Barn Restaurant, Village Books and Gifts, the General Store and our facility rentals program.

   Our facility rentals initiative will be featured in our exhibit at The Wonderful Wedding Show at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg on January 21 and 22. Couples interested in information about MHV wedding rentals but unable to attend the show should feel free to email Roger at

Calendar of Events:

-   January 21-22 – Exhibit at the Wonderful Wedding Show at the RBC Convention Centre, Winnipeg. 11:00 am - 6:00 pm.

-   February 5 – Vespers Service 7:00 PM

Village News

Five Hundred Years

   Last Sunday the Steinbach Mennonite Brethren Church, my home congregation, celebrated its ninetieth anniversary. In providing the audience with a brief historical background of the church, Walter Fast referred back to the beginning of the protestant reformation 500 years ago.

   Martin Luther (1483-1546) was born in Eisleben, Germany and developed an early interest in personal piety and a monastic lifestyle. He began his university education in 1501 achieving a Master’s degree in 1505. Later that year a dramatic incident in his life, which he perceived as a sign from God, caused him to terminate his study of law and enter an Augustinian monastery. In the ensuing years Luther continued his studies, received his doctorate, and became a professor of biblical studies.

   In 1517 Martin Luther published documents which refuted some of the teachings and practices of the church of that day. He had two major emphases: The Bible, not church officials, provided ultimate authority in matters relating to Christian faith; and salvation and the forgiveness of sins could only be received from God and not through “good works” or the purchase of “indulgences”.

   At that time the church and the state were virtually one and the same. This put Luther at odds with both, and in 1521 he was excommunicated from the church.

   Luther’s teachings had by this time initiated a broader reform movement, part of which included the Anabaptist movement. Anabaptists were those who set aside the practice of infant baptism, a fundamental practice of the day, in favour of adult baptism where adults made a choice to receive baptism. Felix Mantz, Conrad Grebel, and Ulrich Zwingli were some of the more prominent leaders of this movement.

   Menno Simons, the one whose name the Mennonites adopted, provided significant leadership to an element of the Anabaptist movement some years later. Our gallery describes the work of Simons as follows: “Menno Simons left the Catholic priesthood in 1536 to give new direction to a demoralized and violent Anabaptist movement in the Netherlands. He emphasized peace, the separation of church and state and a Bible-based faith and life. His motto: ‘For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 3:11”

   Since then this group of Mennonites has migrated from The Netherlands to Prussia (Poland) to Russia to Canada, and to Paraguay, Mexico, and other Latin American countries, in search of farmland and freedoms to live out their beliefs relating to religious practices, education and exemption from military involvement. Migrations have typically been precipitated by severe persecution or a loss of these freedoms.

   While Mennonite Heritage Village remembers the culture that this people group developed during their migrations over almost 500 years, it is important that we also remember the faith movement that gave rise to these migrations and this culture.

Village News

2016 in Review

   As is usually the case at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), 2016 was a good year in some respects and a difficult year in others.


   The Gerhard Ens gallery exhibits were highlights for us. Our curatorial staff created a wonderful exhibit in recognition of the 100th anniversary of women being given the right to vote in Manitoba. Beyond Tradition: The Lives of Mennonite Women discussed and illustrated four areas in which Mennonite women have sometimes stepped into less-traditional roles and excelled in them: Uprooted – Women bringing their families out of the former Soviet Union, particularly during the Great Trek; Working 9 to 5 – Women working in professions such as midwifery and nursing; Church Work – Women serving as missionaries, Sunday School teachers, etc.; Unhitched – Single women taking on roles uniquely suited to them because they didn’t have traditional familial responsibilities.

   For part of the summer season we replaced this exhibit with Ray Dirks’s Along the Road to Freedom, 26 paintings and stories of women who had to take on heroic roles to get their families out of the Soviet Union under dire conditions.


   Our collection of Mennonite artifacts, now well over 16,000, continues to grow. We received and accessioned items that tell an important Mennonite story, that we don’t already have, and that we have room to store properly. This year we refreshed our Collections Policy, our Collections Conservation Policy, and our Collections Disaster Management Procedure. We have also installed new climate control equipment in the galleries, lab and artifact storage room.


   Due to weather and a few other situations beyond our control, MHV’s festival attendance was considerably lower than it’s been in the last few years. This has had a significant impact on our general revenues. However, participation in our Education Program was similar to last year. We are very grateful for all the volunteers who supported us during our various events and programs despite an unusual number of alternate volunteer opportunities in our community around the same time.

   Our daily attendance, rental revenues, and gift-shop sales have all increased somewhat over last year’s levels. Restaurant meal sales were down from last year, due largely to the lower attendance at our festival days. Support for our sponsorship program and for our Foundations for a Strong Future campaign has also been very good. We are deeply grateful for the financial support we receive from our constituency.

Foundations for a Strong Future Campaign

   The encouraging progress of our Foundations campaign has allowed us to move forward with our facility restorations and new construction. Early in the year we installed new furnaces and air-conditioning units in the Village Centre. During the summer we repaired and painted the exterior of the Old Colony Church. The Windmill received fresh paint on all the white surfaces, as well as new louvres in the sails. The Waldheim House is currently having its log structure refurbished, and the construction of the new Summer Pavilion is well underway, with a planned completion date of mid-April.

   We celebrate all the successes of 2016 and remind ourselves where they have come from, and as we consider the things that didn’t go quite according to plan, we look for ways to make improvements for next year at MHV.

Village News

VN 2016 12 29 photo shoot

The Curatorial Department at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) recently participated in a photo shoot. No, we didn't get glamour shots of ourselves taken among the collection. A professional photographer came in and took photographs of our sixteen Mennonite-made clocks; i.e., our Kroeger, Hildebrandt, Lepp, and Mandtler clocks. This was in conjunction with A Virtual Collection of Mennonite Clocks, a project led by the estate of Arthur Kroeger, late Mennonite clock expert. This project is a continuation of the work that began with Arthur’s book Kroeger Clocks, published in 2012 (and available in MHV's gift shop). A Virtual Collection aims to collect and compile as much information as possible about individual Mennonite clocks, starting with ones in southern Manitoba, with the goal of publishing this information online to make it "accessible to all who are interested in these iconic touchstones of Mennonite heritage." The estate of Arthur Kroeger plans to launch this website in the fall of 2017.

   Mennonite clock-making tradition goes back to 18th century Prussia. The Kroeger family in Rosenthal, in what is now Ukraine, made most of the clocks that survive today. But Peter Lepp, Gerhard Hamm, and Kornelius Hildebrand (in the Chortitza colony) and the Mandtler family (in the Molotschna Colony) made distinctive wall clocks as well.

   These clocks are an important part of Mennonite material culture. Parents often commissioned clocks as wedding gifts for their children. With regular maintenance and repair, they lasted a very long time, becoming heirlooms passed down through the generations. Despite being heavy and unwieldy, families still brought them along whenever and wherever they immigrated. There are Mennonite clocks now in Ukraine, Canada, the United States, Mexico, and South America. Even in a new country, these clocks helped make new houses feel like "home." Many people recall their loud ticking and the bell that could be heard all through the house.

   Taking part in A Virtual Collection has given MHV the opportunity to learn more about our collection of clocks, the way they work, and their individual histories. We took photographs of the clocks both with and without their faces, making visible the serial numbers and maker's marks we did not previously know about. This information will go into our database for future reference. Before this photo shoot I had no idea how to set up a Kroeger clock. Now I'm not only able to install the pendulum and weights but can also take off the hands and face, adjust chains, and recognize different functions according to weights. For example, an alarm function requires extra weights, but a calendar function does not. Opportunities like this photo shoot give us the chance to engage in detail-oriented work related to artefacts in our collection and provide important professional development for us in the Curatorial Department.

   Last, but certainly not least, our participation in A Virtual Collection will help make our clocks more accessible. Unless we have researchers using our collection for a project, public access to our collection is usually limited to exhibits. Since we do not have enough space to display all of our artefacts at one time, and constant switching of exhibits is expensive and time-consuming, we do not have the opportunity to showcase all the items in our collection. But once this website goes live, anyone with an internet connection and an interest will be able to learn everything we know about our clocks, helping us to fulfill MHV’s mission to "preserve and exhibit, for present and future generations, the experience and story of the Russian Mennonites and their contributions to Manitoba."

(Note: MHV is closed till January 9, 2017)

Village News

The Clear Springs Settlers

   *When Dominion surveyor Thomas Cheesman was laying out Township 7-6E in 1872, he found three cabins already there on uncharted bushland. One of them, perched on the bank of a small creek, belonged to Thomas and Clementina Rankin, a young Scottish couple from Ontario. Thomas had been there for three years but Clementina had just arrived as his new bride.

   Their simple cabin sat on the present-day grounds of the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, just beyond the ornamental bridge in the south-west corner of the property.

   After the survey was completed, the Rankins promptly filed for a homestead on the quarter section now known as SW11-7-6E. Technically they should not have been allowed to homestead on section 11 because it was designated as "School Lands", but they got the title in due course and lived out their lives in that spot, developing it into a prosperous farm. Within 20 years a handsome two-story house with a pillared veranda and ornamental window lintels stood next to the creek and Clydesdale horses were proudly trotted out front.

   The Rankins were not alone. About a mile north, John Jamieson, another young Scot, had also put up a cabin, and a mile and a half northeast were John and Bertha Mack with their bachelor friend Thomas Slater. The three cabins were the only buildings marked on the surveyors' maps for all eight townships in Hanover, so we can assume that they were the only permanent residents with existing buildings in that vast area at that time.

   Jamieson was a former Hudson's Bay man who came to the wilds of Assiniboia by way of the Hudson's Bay route. The Macks and Slater had come from Ontario by the American route, trekking from Moorhead by wagon. They were the first settlers to arrive in the Hanover area, a good five years before the Mennonites came.

   The three families were soon joined by dozens of other Ontario emigrants to form the vibrant Clear Springs Settlement, mostly confined to the south-east corner of township 7-6E, but spreading east and north into township 7-7E in the RM of Ste. Anne. At its height the settlement comprised about 50 families, most of them Scottish Presbyterians, with a few English Anglicans, and at least one Swedish Lutheran. Quite a few of the settlers were demobilized soldiers from Colonel Wolseley's expedition, who got their homesteads as Military Bounty Grants. 

   The Rankins had ten children but unfortunately lost their youngest son John just before his second birthday, and their youngest daughter Nellie tragically at the age of 7, during the great Hanover diphtheria epidemic of 1900.

   The unnamed creek flowing past the Rankin farm was a ready source of water and the deep loamy soil promised great crops after the hard work of clearing the poplars. In the clearings grew the tall prairie grasses, and just a few miles to the east were great stands of tamarack, pine, and spruce, ideal for construction and fencing. Water, soil, wood, and hay -- almost everything needed for the good life of a hard-working pioneer family.  Wild saskatoons, cranberries, and hazel nuts were there for the picking, and game animals were abundant. All you needed from the store was yeast, flour, salt, thread, and the occasional bolt of cloth.

   In the early years such things could be gotten at the Hudson's Bay store in Pointe des Chenes, just eight or nine miles to the north, in the Metis parish of Ste Anne. This rough village was on the famous Dawson trail, the main Canadian route from East to West, a thoroughfare for adventurers, soldiers, settlers and Metis freighters. The Pointe was one or two days of muddy travel from the big city of Winnipeg.

   With the coming of the Mennonites in 1874, the Rankins could soon do their shopping in Steinbach, where Klaas R. Reimer set up a store in 1877. This is the little white building at the Mennonite Heritage Village, now sitting within calling distance of the Rankin's place. Rankin soon realized that his farming and entrepreneurial talents matched those of the most progressive of the Mennonites and within a few years he was in the lumber and shingle-making business with Reimer himself. He also partnered with super-entrepreneur A. S. Friesen to introduce a reaping machine, which served the entire community. Other Clear Springs farmers introduced the Mennonites to threshing machines and steam engines.

   Although the original Selkirk settlers of the early 1800s had occupied the banks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, the Clear Springs settlers were the first Europeans in Manitoba to farm the unbroken land between the major rivers. Theirs was a rich land of springs and creeks, hayfields, and woodlands. The Rankins, Jamiesons, Macks and their neighbors deserve to be called pioneers extraordinaire.

*We are grateful to Alice and Ed Laing for providing much of this information.

Village News

Snow slide


Winter in Burwalde

   Regular readers of this column will recall that I spent the first 20 years of my life in the Burwalde School District between Winkler and Morden. The Dead Horse Creek runs through that area and was a source of great entertainment for me during those years.

   I learned interesting things about beavers as I observed them building their dams and “houses” in the creek. Whenever we needed to open their dam to allow water into our farm’s irrigation reservoir downstream, the beavers would quickly patch the dam in an effort to keep the water level above the entrance to their “house”. I also enjoyed watching families of ducks swimming in the creek on quiet spring evenings.

   In the wintertime the creek was a source of water for our cattle. Many days either my father or I would chop a hole in the ice and let the cows out of the barn to have an ice-cold drink. If the creek froze before there was a lot of snow, it became a scenic skating trail.

   The Burwalde School was also located beside the Dead Horse Creek. During the summer months, when there was running water in the creek and the Peters’ cattle were grazing in the pasture around it, we were not allowed to play in that area. But in winter when the creek was either dry or frozen and the cattle were in the barn, it became a wonderful playground. We had the most fun immediately following a storm when there was a lot of fresh snow with new drifts to capitalize on. Tunnels and snow forts were great entertainment. We also learned that snow is a very effective sound barrier. It was very unlikely that we could hear the bell signaling the end of recess if we were inside a tunnel. On occasion we would build a snow slide into the creek.

   I was reminded of those slides when I viewed the model slide gifted to Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) recently. It was built by Harold Fast and illustrates a slide that was constructed annually in the 1930s and 1940s by Mr. Gus Reimer and his students at the Gruenfeld (now Kleefeld) School. Mr. Reimer’s slide was much more elaborate than ours in Burwalde. While his slide included a complete 180-degree turn in the track, which returned the slider to the starting point, ours at best had only a 90-degree turn.

   We experimented with various sliding devices and learned that the best sled was a round metal one then referred to as a flying saucer. Our six-foot-long wooden toboggan just couldn’t negotiate that 90-degree turn very well.

   Mr. Fast’s model slide is a great artifact for MHV’s collection. It may not tell a profound story of migration, suffering or settlement as many artifacts do, but it does tell a story of community and of the culture in that community during the ‘30s and ‘40s. And for those of us old enough to remember, it brings back some wonderful memories and may on occasion inspire us to tell these stories to those around us. And that’s at least in part what museums should be doing.

Village News

Museum Challenges

   Every morning I receive an email from a clipping service at the Canadian Museums Association providing me with museum-related articles from various media sources. One of this week’s articles was about the Philip J. Curry Dinosaur Museum in Northern Alberta.

   The Edmonton Journal reports that this $34 million museum, which opened to rather spectacular fanfare in September of 2015, is experiencing serious financial challenges and is looking for bailouts to allow it to continue to function. In its first year of operation, the museum earned nine museum and design awards and many press mentions. It attracted approximately 120,000 guests in that first year.

   The museum is located five hours northwest of Edmonton near Pipestone Creek, an area rich in dinosaur bones but far from major metropolitan areas. The admission fees together with a municipal government grant of $300,000 will not fund the $1.8 million annual operating budget. This is a sad story.

   A couple of years ago the Dalnavert Museum in Winnipeg had to close its doors for a period of time. We were given to understand that funding from a major source had been withdrawn, leaving the museum without the resources to operate. Happily a group of interested people stepped forward to reorganize the operation, and today Dalnavert is again functioning.

   More recently we learned that the St. Malo Museum had to close its doors this summer, due in part to a diminishing volunteer base. Most volunteer-based organizations seem to be struggling to find enough volunteers to maintain operations.

   Museums face a multitude of such challenges. Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is not immune to any of them, but we are grateful for the stability that we have experienced over the years.

   One of our advantages is that we are located near a major metropolitan area, placing our museum within a comfortable driving distance for Winnipeg’s residents and visitors. During the recent FIFA World Cup tournament held in Winnipeg, we met guests from various countries at our museum. We have purchased advertising for the 2017 Canada Summer Games to be held in Winnipeg, targeting athletes as well as guests. Again, our location will serve us well.

   MHV has also diversified its operations over a period of years so that admission revenues are supplemented by food services, facility rentals and gift shop revenues. Our fundraising activities, donations and grants round out the revenue pool. So our “eggs” are in multiple “baskets.”

   We are fortunate to have a board of directors and a finance committee who carefully look at the long-term costs and benefits of capital expenditures, ensuring that the incremental impact on our future operating budget will continue to be manageable.

   Another significant benefit for MHV is our location in a community that values the presence of a world-class museum. This translates into funding and volunteer support, which are key lifelines for a museum.

The views expressed in Community Blogs are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by is Steinbach's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.

About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.