Village News

Wind in our Sails

   Many communities in Manitoba have their own recognizable icon that provides identity and a conversation piece for community members and visiting tourists. These include replicas of animals, insects, plants and various other objects that in some way tell a story about the community.

   The windmill at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is such an icon for the city of Steinbach. The unique aspect of our icon is that it is a functioning machine that actually mills flour. While it is in fact a replica of the original windmill that was built in 1877, it is not an inert symbol.

   The 1877 windmill, built and operated by Abram Friesen, served the community for only two years. It was located in the area where Friesen Machine Works now operates. The arrival of the steam engine and the unpredictability of winds in this area left the windmill unsuitable for ongoing use, so it was sold and moved out of Steinbach.

   The first replica windmill was built at MHV in 1972. It was lost in a fire in 2000, but one year to the day after that fire, the current windmill was commissioned. This quick resolve to replace the former windmill speaks to the value our community places on the windmill.

   Today it is still a valuable icon to both MHV and the City of Steinbach. It attracts visitors from many countries to Southeastern Manitoba. Some of these visitors spend the night in local hotels or campgrounds, buy fuel at local stations, eat in local restaurants, and provide general economic activity here. The windmill “puts us on the map.”

   Because the windmill is a machine and not a building, and because it is made almost entirely of wood, it requires careful and ongoing maintenance. In a few weeks a millwright from Holland will spend nine days here, checking and fine-tuning its function and structure.

   Wood has a tendency to shrink and swell with variations in humidity levels. This may require periodic shimming of gears and shafts so that they will continue to run smoothly. Wood also deteriorates when exposed to the weather too long. The deck of our windmill has begun to decay and needs to be replaced. This is another project we hope to complete this fall, in addition to the professional fine-tuning. We expect the two projects combined could cost as much as $25,000.

   While the windmill is a replica of very old technology, we will now engage in some very contemporary fundraising to generate funds to cover these costs. With the help of Canada Post, we will mail-blitz over 9,000 homes in the Southeast to invite partnership in these projects. We will also make our first attempt at “crowd funding,” an internet-based method of engaging interested people in new projects. If you follow MHV on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Pinterest, you can expect to hear about our windmill project, which is literally “keeping the wind in our sails.”

   While the windmill historically had value as a piece of machinery to make feed and flour in 1877, today it has significant value as a “storyteller,” a tourist attraction, and a machine that still makes flour. If you’ve forgotten what our MHV windmill looks and smells like, come for a visit to get a nostalgic reminder.

Calendar of Events

September 28, 2017: 7:00 PM – Volunteer Appreciation

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

Stories: Tales told by idiots?

   In Shakespeare's famous play, when Macbeth hears that Lady Macbeth has just committed suicide, he cries out that his life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." He has concluded that the story of his life is just a string of events that has no meaning.

   Yes, our lives are just strings of events, one thing after another. But if that were all, there would be nothing to celebrate, nothing of lasting interest, no meaning.

   When I was at university in the 60s, it was fashionable to be an existentialist. Sartre and Camus were the heroes. Each person was totally responsible to create his or her own meaning - to create a story from scratch that brings into existence a unique individual, responsible only to self. Even though this extreme individualism now seems silly, it is still alive and well in the current trend toward political libertarianism.

   The truth is that our own personal story is just one small part of a thousand interlocking stories. If you saw me riding my bike down Abe's Hill at full speed with my arms in the air, you might think, "What is the meaning of this?" A full account of my foolhardy activity would involve the invention of the bicycle a hundred years ago, the creation of the hill by a famous former Steinbacher, the complex story of the "arms in the air" gesture, etc., etc. A tiny episode in my private life is entangled with innumerable episodes in the lives of innumerable other people in the very non-private life of my world.

   The stories of the pioneers in our area - Catholic Métis, Presbyterian Clearsprings settlers and Hanover Mennonites - are all parts of my personal story and give it meaning. They are stories of people bound together by their active embrace of their history. During the Great Depression these communities survived while "heroic" individualists abandoned their farms.

     We continue to celebrate these stories locally in our festivals, our street names, and most explicitly in our museum, Mennonite Heritage Village. And now we are also privileged to share in the experiences of the people who have come here after the pioneer era.

   Meaning comes out of stories. We tell them to convey what it's like to be alive. How did this come to be? Why is that there? How did you survive? Isn't it nice that the Pistons won? How sad about Aunt Mary! These are not tales told by an idiot; they have preludes, plots, climaxes, and denouements.

   We are always acting out of frameworks of meaning that we have been given. For one, we inherit a fully functional language in which we create our own reality with words. Our lives are roles we are playing in institutions established long before we were born. We are sons and daughters, parents, teachers, officers, mentors, believers and bicycle-club members, long after these structures were initially set in place.

   It is important for us to keep all these connections alive and to participate in them mindfully. We must know our enveloping stories and pass them on to the next generations.

Calendar of events:

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 28, 2017: 7:00 PM – Volunteer Appreciation

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

Fall on the Farm

   Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) held this year’s Fall on the Farm festival on Monday, September 4. This annual Labour Day event concludes our series of summer festivals.

   Fall on the Farm always contains certain elements that are not part of any other festival, and this year’s event included those unique aspects. Perhaps the major and most popular Fall on the Farm activities are the butchering demonstrations. For the hog butchering, meat from an abattoir-slaughtered hog is cut up and processed. A couple of chickens from our own small flock are used in the chicken-butchering demonstration. Part of what makes these demonstrations special is the attention our volunteer butchers give to the guests. All questions are welcome and answered to the fullest extent possible.

   Another traditional element of this fall festival is a workshop on saving seeds from your garden and preparing the garden for winter. We are grateful for the expertise and participation of the members of the Steinbach and Area Garden Club who offer this workshop.

   The MHV Auxiliary fries Apple Fritters only at this festival. These are a great substitute for the Rollkuchen that are served on numerous other festival days. The fritters are also appropriate for the season, given that many of our apple trees are overloaded with apples at this time of year.

   One of our volunteers has repaired our stationary silage chopper and offered a demonstration of its use by cutting up our garden corn and mixing it with some alfalfa. We didn’t have a lot of corn, so it was a brief demonstration and yielded very little silage. But hopefully our livestock will enjoy it in the next few days.

   The most celebratory highlight of our 2017 Fall on the Farm was the ribbon-cutting which marked the official opening of our new events centre, the Summer Pavilion. A number of MHV’s board members, staff, volunteers and supporters gathered at the Pavilion at 11:00 to commemorate this event. Congratulatory comments and reflections of thankfulness were offered by Will Peters, MHV Board Chair; Michael Zwaagstra, City of Steinbach Counselor; Barry Dyck, MHV Executive Director; and Ted Falk, Member of Parliament for Provencher (who was unable to attend but had sent a note). After the cutting of the ribbon and a prayer of dedication, the guests socialized over coffee and cookies.

   The official commissioning of our Summer Pavilion is a momentous event for MHV. Conversations about replacing our events tent with a permanent events centre go back as far as 2005. The subject became a serious topic of conversation in 2011 when the board chose it as its highest-priority project. Planning the project and raising the money to move forward took the better part of six years. Erecting our new building took only seven months.

   The building has already served us in a multitude of ways. All of our festival entertainment for our 2017 season took place in the Summer Pavilion. It was particularly valuable to have it available at Fall on the Farm, because the weather turned quite miserable with wind and rain for part of the day. If our entertainment had been staged in the tent at that time, anxiety and discomfort would have ensued. As it was, our new building provided a calm and comfortable environment.

   The Pavilion has also been used for the summer sessions of our school program, as well as for weddings, staff picnics, and a class reunion. It is so much more versatile than the tent ever was.

   While the weather was somewhat disruptive to this year’s festival, we were pleased to have just under 1,300 guests attend, undaunted by the wind and occasional rain.

   At several points during the day, an announcement informed our guests that there will be a Volunteer Appreciation event at MHV on September 28 at 7:00 PM. All MHV volunteers are welcome to attend. We want to celebrate another good year and offer words of thanks for the volunteer work that makes our museum sustainable.

Calendar of events:

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

   Looking back on previous Village News columns, I see that the curatorial staff at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) write a lot about upcoming exhibits and new artifacts, but we don't often write about what else we do behind the scenes. Since I've been doing a lot of cataloging lately, I thought I would write about what happens after we accept an artifact for our collection. We already have over 16,000 artifacts at MHV, so ensuring that we record every single artifact - and making sure it can be found later - is an essential part of what we do here.

   In this article, I'll be tracking a donation we received last year: two suits and other items that belonged to the Honourable Jake Epp, former Member of Parliament for the riding of Provencher. It all began when a volunteer at the Steinbach MCC Thrift Shop found these items in the donations pile and asked us if we wanted them. Before we could say yes, however, we needed to ask ourselves the standard questions that help us determine how a particular item would fit in our existing collection. For example, do we know who owned it? In this case, there was a note inside the garment bag saying that these items had belonged to Jake Epp, and a quick phone call to the Epps confirmed it. Next, do we already have lots of the same thing in our collection? We do have many suits but have only one other artifact that belonged to Jake Epp - his chair from the House of Commons. Lastly, and most importantly, we ask ourselves how the item will help us tell the history of Russian-descendant Mennonites. In this particular case, it is significant that Jake Epp was the first Mennonite to represent the former Mennonite East Reserve in federal politics. With all the boxes ticked, so to speak, regarding this donation, we were able to tell the Thrift Shop volunteer yes, we would like to have the suits.

   Once we had decided to accept this donation, we had to fill out a detailed donation form. This form transfers legal ownership of the items to MHV and helps us track and take care of our collection according to museum standards. Then we recorded the donation into our accession register (a list of every single item in our collection) and assigned a number to it. This donation's number is 2016.11, which means that it's the eleventh donation we received in 2016. Each separate item in the donation is assigned a third number; this means that 2016.11.1 is the first item in the eleventh accession of 2016, and is the only item in our collection that has this number.

   To make sure that we know which item has been given which number, we attach each item’s number directly to the item itself. Most of this particular donation consisted of formal wear, so we used an archival-quality permanent pen to write each number on a separate piece of archival-quality twill tape and then sewed each tape onto the designated item of clothing.

   My next step was to catalog the donation. This means entering as much as we know about the artifact into our database. We observe and describe the item down to the smallest detail, what its dimensions are, where it was made, where it comes from, where it was used, what condition it’s in, and so on. This is also where we record the item's history and significance.

   You have to get very up-close and personal to artifacts to catalog them properly. On occasion you find the things that stayed behind in the pockets, the tiny rips in the lining, and the food and sweat stains that didn't come out during dry cleaning. Handling the clothing of someone who, in this case, is still alive and whom I've never met, is a little strange, but it's still just another part of my job.

   Once everything you know or can observe about the artifact is in the database, it's time to put everything away. I put Jake Epp's tuxedo on a mannequin, brought his chair out of storage, and made a small display about Mennonites and politics in our Permanent Gallery. But that still left several items that need to be put into storage at this point.

   We can't just put artifacts wherever they fit in our storage space. We position them according to function - all shoes in one place, all kitchen utensils in another - in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room. Every shelving unit is assigned a unit number, and each shelf is also numbered, so every artifact can be assigned an identifiable permanent location. Every time we move an artifact, we update its location in the database so we will know where it is at all times.

   This whole process is not a very visible part of a curator's job, but cataloging and storing artifacts properly are some of the most important things that happen at a museum. This helps us to track the artifacts that have been given to us in trust, to preserve them, and to record their histories for future generations.

Calendar of Events

September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

storied places

Storied Places from Other Perspectives

   Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada through our theme for 2017, “Storied Places,” which explores the connection people have with their “place.” What is the meaning we give to place, and what is the meaning that our place gives to our lives?

   This theme, and our exhibit on display now in the Gerhard Ens Gallery, explores the dynamics of the historical relationship Mennonites created with their local place in Manitoba. That exploration, however, is only a small part of the inspiration and the intent behind “Storied Places.” As Curator, part of my role on the MHV team is to think strategically about the museum’s role in the community and about how the Curatorial Department can move this work forward through our exhibits and research. A large part of my strategy behind “Storied Places” was to leverage our own exhibit and use it as an opportunity to reach out to the community in new ways. By initiating a conversation about why “place” is so meaningful in our lives as individuals and drawing as many different perspectives as possible into this discussion, we have been able to enter into the life of our community in a greater way.

   Some of the key connections we have been able to foster through “Storied Places” this year are with schools in Steinbach and the surrounding areas. Some of these partnerships were continuations of connections already begun. We have enjoyed working with Paul Reimer’s Advanced Photography class at Steinbach Regional Secondary School for about five years, and that relationship continued this year with their exhibit now on display in our Art Hall. We also embarked on new partnerships with Todd Peters’ Advanced Photography class at Landmark Collegiate and Jennifer Armstrong’s grade five and six class at Landmark Elementary, whose exhibits are on display in our Auditorium.

   From my perspective, these student exhibits have been one of the most exciting developments in working with “Storied Places” thus far in 2017. The exhibit process we went through with each class started with visiting the students in their classrooms to discuss the theme and our intended approach to it in our own exhibit at the museum. Then came the exciting part, where we opened the discussion to the students and got to hear their perspectives on what makes their community unique. What were the stories they had to tell us?

   The typical stereotype of younger people is that they are not engaged with or very much interested in history or museums, in discussing the merits of their community, or in exploring and giving voice to the emotional connections they feel to “home.”  What we see in this year’s sixty-five photo essays in the student exhibits, however, is exactly the opposite.

   The students explore the historical life of their communities through buildings, like the family home or the corner store that no longer exist because they have been torn down, or the beauty inherent in dilapidated buildings and farm equipment, leftovers from the past that most people overlook. They discuss the role of sports - on the volleyball court, the hockey rink, or pick-up basketball on the tarmac - in building and forming their sense of self and community. They focus on the ways that cherished places on family farmsteads, visited over the course of their childhoods, have shaped who they are as individuals. Some of these significant places are the backyards and parks where they forged relationships with siblings and friends; others are the everyday places like tree houses and garage workshops that taught them what the concepts “home” and “family” mean. Not only have the students engaged in these very personal topics, but they have allowed us into their unique perspectives in a very public way. Their exhibits allow us to share in their experiences and insights into the places, people, and histories that continue to shape who they are as people.

   Our experience of working with the students in Steinbach and Landmark on our “Storied Places” theme this year has strengthened my conviction that MHV’s role in the community is much more than the work we do on our physical campus. Our outdoor village and the exhibits we produce are essential to who we are as a museum; however, that is not where our work ends. We can be a venue for discussion and exploration, using history as a vehicle to cultivate community and to engage people – of all ages and all backgrounds – in new perspectives and understandings of our world and the people around us.

Calendar of Events

September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

Chicken Feathers

   When I was a young girl, our family would travel bi-yearly to my mother’s homestead, located south of a small sleepy town in southern Saskatchewan. My grandparents had emigrated from the Ukraine when they were first married in 1905. They purchased land and built their homestead. Life was not easy on the prairies but they persevered, and seed sprouted where once there were rocks. I admired their work ethic, “intestinal fortitude” and deep faith.

   My parents would pack up our station wagon with all kinds of goodies as we prepared for our mid-summer road trip. My four siblings and I would heartily barter for a window seat and then settle in for the nine-hour trip. As we traveled, we would talk endlessly about all the things that we were going to do when we got to the farm - we had all kinds of plans. The journey to the farm seemed to take forever, but Baba always welcomed us with a huge hug, a warm cup of fresh farm milk and homemade cookies. We always looked forward to sleeping in her feather bed. That was an enormous treat. Gido, a man of few words, gave us a big smile and a hearty handshake. In the morning we often woke up before the roosters’ crow. Baba usually made a big breakfast, including eggs, ham and the best homemade bread and jam. Good times.

   On one particular visit, we awoke early in the morning to find Baba’s tiny kitchen full of aunts, uncles and cousins. We wondered what was going on. Aunt Mary said, “It is chicken butchering day on the farm. So you city kids are in for a treat.” I gasped, “I can’t do that.” This was a new experience for us. We had no idea what to expect, but we soon found out. We all gathered by the barn to receive our chore duty for the day. I was assigned plucking feathers off the processed chicken. After I calmed down, Aunt Lucy kindly guided me through the feather-plucking process, and eventually we got the job done. I also had many opportunities to milk the cows, feed the pigs, learn how to make butter and operate the cream separator. I was crowned an official farm girl by the end of our visit. 

   The Outdoor Village at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) not only reminds me of my grandparents’ farm but also retells the incredible story of the perseverance and “intestinal fortitude” of the Russian Mennonites who immigrated to Canada. They made their way through difficult circumstances, and they used their ingenuity to create beauty out of ashes. They were very innovative and excelled to become top producers in their “fields of expertise.” 

   I find it very hard to choose just one building on the museum grounds as my favourite. Each building has its own rich history and is a vital part of the whole story. Each building communicates that “it takes a village to raise a child.” The MHV staff and volunteers work tirelessly to provide visitors with their best “pioneer” experience.

   This is my second season as manager of MHV’s Gift Shop, Reception, and General Store. I have had opportunities to chat with visitors from all over the world. Guests have stated time and again that the Mennonite Heritage Village museum is one of the best they have visited this year. It is clean, informative and family friendly. Our Reception staff are knowledgeable and friendly and endeavour to introduce our guests to a top-quality museum experience.

   It is an honour and privilege for me to serve alongside a talented group of staff and volunteers at MHV.

Calendar of Events

September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

Village News

Pioneer Days Reflections

   It goes without saying that Pioneer Days is a signature festival for both Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and the surrounding community. We enjoy serving guests from here in the Southeast and beyond. Our volunteers often tell us interesting stories of their conversations with guests from other provinces and other countries.

   The successes of this year’s festival can be attributed to the near-perfect weather, the support of our sponsors, the involvement of many community members as volunteers, and the hard work of our staff. While we achieved many of our goals, we do well to also consider the less-than-successful aspects of last weekend’s festival.

   Total attendance at the four-day event was 5822. While we always wish for more, this is a reasonable attendance. However, last month on Canada Day we served approximately 5,000 guests in just one day, despite the fact that our offering of things to see was less robust. A significant difference between the two events was that on Canada Day we were able to offer free admission, thanks to our partnership with the City of Steinbach and a federal government grant. So clearly the price of admission can be a deciding factor for some people, either by choice or necessity.

   One of our guests lamented the “cost of attending” Pioneer Days, presumably meaning the combined cost of admission and food. Occasionally we have observed guests bringing in their own food and enjoying their meal at our picnic tables. We assume they have felt the cost of purchasing food from the Livery Barn Restaurant or the Short-Order Booth was more than they could manage.

   This is an ongoing dilemma for MHV. We would like our museum and our services to be available to all, and at the same time we need to ensure that the general operations of MHV are sustainable in the long term. In other words, we need a dependable income stream to pay for all the work that we do here. Our energy bill alone is $5,000 a month. We have 17 heritage structures, most of which need paint, shingles and various other repairs regularly.

   We are confident that this museum provides great value for the price of admission. We are also satisfied that our food prices align well with other local restaurants. And still, we seem to be unaffordable to some.

   MHV is blessed to have a large number of willing volunteers. During the four days of Pioneer Days, 303 people contributed at least one volunteer shift, and many contributed more. Clearly we couldn’t function without those volunteers.

   At the same time, it is concerning that several of our pioneer demonstrations were not able to function last weekend because of a lack of volunteers with the required skills to operate certain equipment and carry out those demonstrations. Steam-powered sawing and threshing, printing, manure brick-making, and other demonstrations are currently in jeopardy due to a lack of skilled volunteers.

   And we’re not alone. The CBC in Edmonton recently reported, “A lack of volunteers has led organizers of the Heritage Day event in Rochfort Bridge to call off the celebration, which was scheduled to take place Aug. 7.” From time to time we hear of small museums needing to close due to a lack of volunteers. These are sobering reports.

   Here at MHV, we are very thankful to have the willing volunteers and general community support that we currently enjoy. At the same time, we need to keep asking ourselves and others how we can remain relevant in our constituency. What aspect of MHV will people value so much that they will remain, or become, engaged in the work of MHV as volunteers, donors or members?

   We extend a big thank you to all who attended, volunteered at, or supported MHV’s Pioneer Days in one way or another.

Calendar of Events

August 14-18: Pioneer Day Camps for children ages 8-10

August 16: Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks

September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

Village News

Memories of C.U. (“Telephone”) Klassen

   After my Dad retired from being a lineman at MTS, he became a Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) volunteer. His “schtick” was to make rope at the festival events. Being a life-long inventor of gadgets, he designed and built his own “geschneez” (contraption) for twisting the strands into a rope. I'm sure he didn't Google for instructions. He had already invented Steinbach's first drive-in telephone (on a stump in front of the telephone office), a telephone switchboard, and a flat-tire indicator. But no, we were never rich, except in kids (13).

   Back in the 50's Dad was the manager of Steinbach's home-grown telephone system. He drove his 1950 Fargo all over the southeast, from St. Labre to Niverville, stringing miles of "army wire," often just laying it on the ground. It wasn't pretty but the farmers got what they wanted: a cheap and effective phone connection. We still have his pole-climbing harness with the spurs, which brother Ron (Cornie) puts on at every family gathering. C.U. usually got up and down the pole without incident, but on at least two occasions going down went a little faster than he planned. Anyway by the time he was near retirement his knees were shot, and he had to take early retirement. (Which ended up being good for MHV.)

   Part of his role as Steinbach’s telephone manager was to preside over a bunch of young telephone operators. They had the job of plugging into your incoming call and demanding: "N'er please?". You would say “line 34-2-2,” and then you could hear them ringing "drrrrt,drrrrt, drt,drt.” The operator would stay on the line long enough to know that your friend had "picked up," or longer if the information was interesting. Others on your line would tune in. Sort of a conference call, really.

   Once a year Mom would invite all the operators (except those who were working that night) to the house for a major feast. Most of the girls would hardly get through the first course, having taken three refills of chicken-noodle soup. As a boy in my early teens, I just mostly admired the girls.

   My oldest sister, Leona, was one of the operators. She drew a one-woman night shift one time and asked sister Alfrieda (Fritz) to stay with her. At about midnight, Fritz headed for the bathroom and flicked a light switch next to the door. Okay, I should tell you that in those days Steinbach had a town siren which was supposed to go off at curfew time, when all the kids were to be off the street. Anyway, when Fritz innocently flicked what she assumed to be the bathroom light switch, it turned out to be the town siren. Oops. Dad was sometimes a little “racht too” (taking short cuts) in solving electrical problems.

   That siren woke the whole town, and Constable Ben Sobering jumped out of bed and roared around town trying to find the emergency. The C.U. Klassen family on Mill Street was a little red-faced that night. But not for long. We were proud of our dad (and mom), and two years ago we installed a pocket park on Brandt Street, at the foot of Ellis Avenue, in their honour. Take a rest on the bench on your next walk. C.U. there.

Calendar of Events

August 4-7: Pioneer Days - 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily

August 14-18: Pioneer Day Camps for children ages 8-10

August 16: Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks

Village News

VN 2017 07 27 Bible

At Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), we collect and exhibit objects that help us tell the story of Russian-descendant Mennonites. I am very used to accepting family heirlooms into our collection, but I never imagined that MHV would accept a piece of my own family's history during my tenure here.

   For years I had been hearing about the Wieler Family Bible, which was in my grandparents' possession, but somehow I always managed to forget about it when I was at my grandparents' home (no doubt distracted by family and food). Finally, at the Easter gathering before last, my Grandpa Wieler decided it was time to bring out that bible. I thought it would be the size of a modern bible, maybe a hundred years old, so imagine my surprise when my grandfather walked into the kitchen carrying a book that was almost 18" tall, 10" wide, 4" thick, and printed in 1716. He said that he and his surviving siblings were concerned about its future and asked me if a museum would want it.

   The Wieler Family Bible was printed by Johann Detleffsen in Prussia (now Poland). The scriptures are Martin Luther's German translation, with commentary by 17th century German theologian Paul Tossanus. Its black leather cover, embossed with the initials "F.A.W." and the year 1734, is in remarkably good condition. Although stained in some spots with age and use, the rag paper the bible was printed on has ensured that the type and woodcuts are as crisp as the day they were printed.

   The Wieler genealogy has been traced back to Peter Wieler (ca. 1737-1786), but he was born a generation after the bible was printed. Could "F.A.W." be the initials of his father or grandfather? Could this really have been in the family for three hundred years? There are several inscriptions that may, when translated, shed some light on the matter. But they also complicate things, as one of the inscriptions on the title page seems to have been written by Peter Hildebrand (1754-1849), who wrote the first history of the Mennonite immigration to Russia. How did he get a hold of this bible?

   The trail of ownership only picks up when the bible was already old. As far as I can tell, it came to Canada with my great-great-grandparents, Cornelius (1850-1924) and Margaretha (Klassen) Wieler (1846-1942), in 1875. They settled on the West Reserve, around what is now Winkler, in either Gnadenthal or Ebenfeld. They were excommunicated from their Old Colony congregation when they moved on to their own homestead shortly thereafter. They moved back and forth between North Dakota and Haskett, Manitoba, before settling in Walhalla, North Dakota. My great-grandparents, Jacob C. (1885-1967) and Katherina (Suderman) Wieler (1896-1973) moved back to Haskett for good in the mid-1920s.

   The bible stayed in Walhalla until Cornelius, son of Cornelius and Margaretha, passed away in 1961. A friend of his gave the bible to my great-grandfather, Jacob C. Wieler. After his and Katherina's deaths, the bible passed to their son, also Cornelius. After his death, it passed to his brother, my grandfather, Henry.

   My grandfather passed away before he could sort out the bible's future with his surviving siblings. But just last week my great-uncles Frank, Peter, and John Wieler and my great-aunt Jane (Wieler) Braun completed the donation paperwork. The Wieler Family Bible will now make its home at MHV, where its history will be documented and kept for future generations.

Calendar of Events

August 4-7: Pioneer Days - 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily

August 14-18: Pioneer Day Camps for children ages 8-10

August 16: Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks

PHOTO: VN 2017-07-27 Bible.jpg

CAPTION: The Wieler Family Bible title page, with an inscription by Peter Hildebrand (1754-1789).

Village News

Volunteerism

   When I started my job at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in 2009 I was introduced to five women who volunteered as our receptionists, each taking on that role one day a week. They would answer the phone, greet guests who came to visit the museum, and help anyone who wanted to make a purchase in the gift shop. This was a valuable and essential service to MHV, and still is today.

   Over time, these five women have chosen to gradually reduce their involvement in this role for a variety of reasons, none of which involves less love for MHV. We are grateful that several new volunteers have stepped up to serve MHV and our community in this capacity. However, we currently do not have enough volunteers to keep the reception desk staffed during all open hours. To fill this need we’ve turned some of the reception work over to paid staff. Our paid staff are talented people and good to have on our team. At the same time, having to replace volunteers with paid staff places a financial burden on our organization.

   As the overall workload at MHV continues to grow and some of our long-serving volunteers in many areas are moving into well-deserved retirement, we wonder why we’re not finding enough new volunteers to fill their roles. Maybe it’s been caused by gradual changes in our western society. During the time that I lived in my parent’s home in my childhood and youth, my mother was a full-time “employee” of our farm, and her job was to manage the home. Apart from two weeks of substitute teaching in our one-room country school when the regular teacher was ill, she never had a job outside of our home after she became a mother. And that’s how it was in many homes at that time.

   The picture can look quite different in today’s households. My wife and I have two adult married offspring. They and their partners all have careers. In many such households, parents are working all week, spending their evenings feeding the children, putting them to bed, and getting lunches ready for the next morning. That leaves laundry, yard work, taking the kids to lessons, cleaning the house and shopping for the weekend. Finding time for community volunteering as well is just not easy in that scenario.

   It seems today’s society also places higher value on leisure activities than in earlier times, and no doubt this is important, given the busy schedule of many families. Once an investment has been made in a cottage, a boat, a pair of skis, or a full set of hockey equipment, it’s important to utilize that investment for the purpose for which it’s intended. If there is any remaining time for volunteering, that time is limited.

   We in Steinbach are blessed to live in a community that has so many good volunteer opportunities. From churches to recreational sports to arts and cultural activities, there is no end of opportunities. In fact, it feels at times that the demand for volunteers is increasing while the supply is dwindling.

   My intent is certainly not to make anyone feel guilty for not volunteering or for not spending more time volunteering, or for leaving a long-held volunteer post. There are still large numbers of active volunteers in this community, and we appreciate each one. My purpose is simply to raise this subject for thought and consideration, and maybe to suggest an alternate solution.

   When I was a child, my parents often used the phrase “We have more time than money,” usually to punctuate the need for hard work. Considering our lifestyles today, many of us would be more likely to say that we have more money than time. How many of us hire someone to clean our house or paint our house or complete a landscaping project on our yard? How many of us spend $10 on the way to work to wash our vehicle because we didn’t have time to do it ourselves on the driveway the night before?

   So here is my suggestion:  For those of us who have more money than time and who don’t have time to volunteer, how about paying for a volunteer? A volunteer who puts in one day per week will work about 400 hours per year. Place whatever value you feel is appropriate on the work of that volunteer and make donations in that amount to the charity of your choice. This will not create more volunteers but will help to pay for some of the staff who must be hired to replace departing volunteers.

   Right now MHV is recruiting volunteers for various responsibilities at Pioneer Days on the August long-weekend. We look forward to finding people who will take one or more shifts during this weekend, when many people will be coming to enjoy our museum and our community. If we miss calling to invite your participation, please call us at 204-326-9661.

Calendar of Events

August 4-7: Pioneer Days - 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily

August 14-18: Pioneer Day Camps for children ages 8-10

August 16: Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks

The views expressed in Community Blogs are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by SteinbachOnline.com

Steinbachonline.com 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.

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