Village News

New Museum Hours

   If we had a dollar for every time someone has asked a Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) staff person, “So what are you doing now that the museum is closed?” we would have accumulated a significant donation by now. It’s true that we close our outdoor village and Livery Barn Restaurant (LBR) from October 1 through April 30. But our indoor museum actually continues to be open five days a week from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM during those months. Despite our efforts to publicize this fact each fall, we still regularly encounter this erroneous assumption that our museum is now closed for the winter.

   As evidence to the contrary, MHV will again be hosting various events during the upcoming winter months. Our Christmas Market will be held on November 10 this year. Several additional events are being planned for early 2019 as well. Stay tuned to this column or our website at

   However, our readers should take note of a major CHANGE coming to MHV this fall. In previous years during the aforementioned off-season, our museum has been open to the public Monday through Friday, 9-5. However, by operating only during those specific weekday hours, we have been making ourselves somewhat unavailable to students and to people with regular weekday jobs. This is about to change!

   Effective October of this year, we will be open to the public TUESDAY through SATURDAY during our off-season. (Closed Sunday and Monday.) With this change, students will now be able to come to the museum on Saturdays to do research on school projects. Shoppers who have weekday jobs will be able to visit Village Books and Gifts on Saturdays to shop (for Christmas or otherwise). Local individuals will have the opportunity to bring weekend guests to MHV on Saturdays to view our galleries, shop in our gift shop, and even walk the outdoor village streets if they care to (although buildings will not be open).

   One of our ongoing objectives at MHV is to be relevant to life in this community. These new off-season hours of operation will make us more accessible to the public and hence increase our community engagement. With our specifically planned public events and increasing numbers of Christmas parties in our facilities, we will continue our quest to contribute positively to the quality of life in Southeastern Manitoba throughout every season.

Calendar of Events

September 13, Fermentation Workshop – 7:00-9:00PM

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 20, Sourdough Workshop – 7:00-9:00PM

September 27, Volunteer Appreciation – 7:00–8:30PM (all volunteers are welcome)

Village News

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Jenna Klassen image

Mennonites, Metis and First Nations People

   On January 18, 1884, Jakob Wall was granted 160 acres of farm land by the Canadian government. Ten years earlier the first Mennonites in Manitoba had begun to establish homes and farms on land given to them by the Canadian government. Although the location of the new settlements may have appeared to be “empty space” to the new settlers, in reality it had been home to over six hundred generations of First Nations people, as well as the Metis nation.

   This past August marked the 147th year of the signing of Treaties 1 and 2 between Canada and the Anishinabek and Swampy Cree of southern Manitoba, and Canada and the Anishinabe of southern Manitoba, respectively. These treaties and the Manitoba Act of 1870 were meant to protect the rights of Indigenous claims to land as Canada continued to grow westward. Unfortunately, many of these promises were broken, or simply never kept, resulting in generations of marginalization of Indigenous communities.

   After the Treaties were signed, the Canadian government implemented incentives for European immigrant groups to settle the land that had become available through these policies. The Mennonites were one of these groups. They were granted large blocks of land (the “East Reserve” in 1874 and the “West Reserve” in 1875), where they could freely live out their religious beliefs and cultural practices in relative isolation from the rest of society. The policies that benefitted Mennonites and other immigrant groups resulted in the removal of Indigenous communities from their home lands and led to the death and suppression of thousands of First Nations people. The legacy of these policies has impacted generations. The 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada ( outlines the ways in which Canada is still coming to terms with the roles played by the federal and provincial governments, churches, organizations, and individuals in this history and its implications on our country today.

   At Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), we typically focus on celebrating the way of life, beliefs, and culture of the Mennonites and their success in Manitoba. Sometimes, this celebration has come at the cost of neglecting the relationship between Mennonites, Indigenous communities, and colonialism. Perhaps the most common myth that has been perpetuated in Mennonite history is that the land upon which they settled was not just uninhabited but also “unused” and not properly cared for, and that Mennonites then made it productive through their success with agriculture. Although in recent years scholars have been addressing this myth in great detail, it can still often be too easy to uphold it when commemorating the successes of a community.

   Another aspect of Mennonite settlement that often goes forgotten is the personal interactions that the Mennonites had with First Nations and Metis communities on the prairies. For example, the Mennonite delegates scouting land for the East Reserve in 1873 were guided by a Metis man from the area, and it was the Metis who were hired to carry Mennonites’ belongings on ox carts when they first landed in Manitoba, at the junction of the Rat and Red Rivers in 1874. Katherina Hiebert, who became the first midwife on the East Reserve, exchanged skills and knowledge with Indigenous midwives in the area.

   While these types of encounters between Mennonites and First Nations people can be found in archival sources like diaries and records left by midwives, oral histories, local histories, or artefacts in a museum’s collection, they are often hard to find. Sometimes sources only hint at the existence of interactions and relationships between people.

   For example, a medicine chest that once belonged to Ältester Franz F. Enns, on display in the Permanent Gallery at MHV, hints at the possibility of collaboration or a transfer of knowledge between Mennonite and Ojibway healers. Enns had practiced homeopathy in the Terek settlement in Russia and then continued his practice after he and his family immigrated to Manitoba. The hypothesis of interactions between Mennonite and Ojibway healers is based on the similarities of the herbal sources and remedies noted in Enns’s accompanying notebooks during the time he practiced in Manitoba. To date, however, it is just that: a hypothesis that leaves us with many unanswered questions. Sources like the records left by midwives or the Enns medicine chest require much more research into the life and relationships between Mennonites and First Nations people in the early years of Mennonite settlement in Manitoba. They also, however, invite us to reconsider some of the myths we may have believed about Mennonite settlement in Manitoba and to view our present world and the co-existence of our cultures in Canada in a new light.

   As a community that is proud of its heritage and its past here in Manitoba, it is appropriate to commemorate our history. However, we also need to remember the circumstances that allowed our ancestors to settle here beginning in the late nineteenth century. It can be difficult to accept that the opportunities and successes of the Mennonites in Manitoba were aided by policies that favoured the colonial agenda in Canada. Nevertheless it is vital that MHV, as an historical institution, I as a curator, and the Mennonite community at large, continue to examine the full Mennonite settlement experience and the relationship with colonialism that began in the past and continues in the present.

Suggested Further Reading:

Giesbrecht, Donovan. "Metis, Mennonites and the ‘Unsettled Prairie,’ 1874-1896" Journal of Mennonite Studies [Online], Volume 19 (1 January 2001)

"History of Aboriginal-Mennonite Relations." Mennonite Studies.

Enns, Elaine, “Facing History with Courage” Canadian Mennonite. Volume 19, Issue 5



Photo Caption: 1972.5.9, Dominion Lands Grant from the Dominion of Canada to Jakob Wall, 18th January 1884

Village News

Finances – Part III

   Every now and then I am asked, “Where does your revenue come from?” It’s always good to know that people are interested. In Finances – Part II, I explained that 60% comes from our internal businesses, 15% by way of government grants, and 25% from fundraising activities and donations. This article will focus on the “donations” part of our income.

   In 2016 and 2017 our “General Donations” accounted for just over half of the proceeds from our fundraising activities and donations category. Such funds come to us in a variety of ways. We receive individual one-time donations by cash, cheque, credit card or securities (shares); monthly donations through our website ( or by preauthorized debits from the donor’s bank account into MHV’s account; corporate donations; and bequests (being named as a beneficiary in a will). These are all appropriate ways to donate, and we welcome all of them.

   Some of these donation methods would be considered “planned giving.” The concept is simply a matter of planning to make a gift, or provide an income stream, to a charity in the future. An example of planned giving would be naming a charity as a beneficiary in one’s will. This can be done in a variety of ways and needs to be discussed with one’s lawyer to ensure that it is done correctly.

   Another form of planned giving would be through a life insurance policy. If a donor purchases and maintains a life insurance policy for which the charity is named as the beneficiary, that charity will eventually receive the proceeds of the policy without shortchanging the estate.

   Some donation methods offer specific tax benefits. Gail Johnson, in an article in the June 28, 2018, edition of The Globe and Mail, discusses a variety of ways to minimize taxes through charitable giving. In addition to avoiding family squabbles, Ms. Johnson says, “If it’s [the life insurance policy] structured properly, the annual premiums can be considered charitable giving, meaning donors receive a tax credit each year.” One’s insurance agent would be able to provide advice on how to set up such a structure.

   Ms. Johnson also comments on the benefits of donating stocks or securities directly to a charity. “Donating stocks that have accumulated capital gains can be advantageous, as you’re donating ‘pre-tax’ dollars.” When stocks are being donated to Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), they are first directed to Abundance Canada, who then issues a tax-deductible receipt, sells the stocks, and sends the proceeds of the sale to us. This constitutes a "double win" for the donor - first, eliminating the capital gains tax on the stock gain and, secondly, providing a tax-deductible receipt on the increased value.

   Ms. Johnson’s complete article, containing additional ideas can be accessed at

   We value every gift sent our way, and we call it a win-win situation when the form of giving offers benefits to both the donor and the recipient. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you wish to discuss any of these matters in more detail.

Calendar of Events

September 3, Fall on the Farm – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 6, Pickling & Canning Workshop – 7:00-9:00PM

September 13, Fermentation Workshop – 7:00-9:00PM

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 20, Sourdough Workshop – 7:00-9:00PM

Village News

Love Letters and Old Diaries – Part 3

Accounting and Autograph Books

   Going through my father Almon Reimer's papers after he passed away on December 24, 2017, I came upon many diaries, accounting books, and old papers of interest.

   The diaries in which my father wrote were small books with a section in the back for keeping track of accounting. The 1939 diary states, “Overtime – Received $1.61. Paid to father $1.00.”  Dad was not allowed to keep all the money he earned, right until he got married. In August 1944, Almon was paying $19.75 a month for room and board, $1.55 for income tax, $12.41 to the Red Cross (because of the war), and $1.09 for unemployment insurance. His wages were $75.00, so he had a balance of $40.20. At one point in his youth, Almon's father (John C. Reimer) paid him for going on time to work, for going to church and for not smoking. Oh, the challenges of youth!

   Going ahead to Almon's accounting book for December 1956, his wages were $219.70. He managed to house, feed and clothe our family of four children, give to missions, pay for Blue Cross, and even buy some gifts. Family Allowance at that time was $22.00 a month for four children. There was no car in our household at that time yet. Entertainment stretched to The Country Guide magazine – a four-year subscription for $1.00.

   I also found a brown, tattered envelope labeled “Receipts from building Almon Reimer's house on Town Line Road.”  That road is presently called Loewen Boulevard. The house still stands there next to Birch Auto. A bill from C.T. Loewen & Sons says that Dad bought 175 bags of cement at 95 cents a bag on January 30, 1951. This cement was used to build the basement of the one-and-a-half-story house. Fast Brothers of Giroux charged $25.00 for digging the basement on May 20, 1951. On May 21, Almon paid A.D. Kroeker $45.00 for gravel. The house became Dad's ongoing project for years, as he paid for everything in cash. Mom and Dad moved the family into the warm, coal-heated house before Christmas in 1951.

   My mother Annie's family (Sawatzkys) had not kept as many records as my father's family had, but I did come upon one fascinating bit of history. My mother's uncle, F.W. Sawatzky, went to Poland in the 1970’s to find out about our family’s background. He found that the Sawatzkys are descended from West Prussian Polish nobility. The line was traced back to Johannes Zauacky, a Polish nobleman who lived in 1620. This name had changed to Sawatzky by 1776.

   My maternal great-grandmother was Anna Sawatzky, fondly called “Gousie” by the grandchildren. I found her auction sale advertisement for her move from Altona. It showed what kind of items were necessary to run a poor old woman's household at that time. The sale was scheduled for Friday, October 6, in the 1940's. She was selling items such as three barrels, one dishpan, one bench, stovepipes and two axes.

   For Christmas in 1937 my mother got an autograph book. As was popular at the time, Annie passed this little red, velvety booklet among her friends and relatives to give them opportunity to write little verses and wishes for her. Annie herself wrote a verse in the beginning of her book: “Go little autograph far and near, To all the friends I love so dear, And fit each one to write a page, That I may read in my old age.” Her school chum Anna Regehr wrote: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest, Till the good becomes the better, And the better becomes the best.” Another friend wrote: “If you see a cat climb up a tree, Pull her tail and think of me.”

   I feel blessed to have found these historical facts and memories from my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Calendar of Events

September 3, Fall on the Farm – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 6, Preserving Food Workshop – 7:00-9:00PM

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

Village News

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A Mennonite Wall Clock as Steampunk

   Last Wednesday I walked into the Gerhard Ens Gallery to check out the latest additions left by visitors at our interactive postcard table in The Art of Mennonite Clocks exhibit and read: “My favourite clock [in the exhibit] was the ‘Cadillac Clock’ because it looked like it was from steam punk [sic].” The writing suggests that this particular postcard was left by a younger museum visitor. As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what this visitor meant by saying a historical Mennonite wall clock looked like “steampunk.” Fortunately, there’s Google for that.

   Once an exhibit is opened, it always requires some level of regular maintenance and daily tending: artefacts need to be monitored for tampering or damage, cases need to be cleaned of fingerprints and dust, and items that have gone askew need to be straightened. In the case of The Art of Mennonite Clocks, which Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) produced in partnership with Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation (, this daily tending also involves two tasks that have become a highlight of my museum workdays. One is winding the single clock that we have running in the exhibit (though this seems to be a popular job amongst staff and someone often beats me to it.) The other is checking what’s new at the postcard station.

   When we plan an exhibit, we always try to find ways to make it relevant to our guests. Why should people care about Mennonite history, and in the case of this exhibit, why should they care to spend time learning about this one specific Mennonite artefact? We try to incorporate concepts that will help answer these questions, include visuals that will grab people’s attention and information that will hold it, and then ask questions that will resonate with our guests, both young and old, and make the connection between history and their own lives. This work is always an experiment, so we eventually just open the exhibit and see how it goes!

   The postcard station in this year’s exhibit was one of these experiments. We offer two “postcards” for visitor feedback. One asks, “What is your favourite clock in the exhibit? Tell us why!” The other carries the simple invitation: “Design your own clock face!” This station is a delight to maintain because the response has been overwhelming, especially from our younger visitors! We have already had to re-order postcards twice, and our main tourist season is only half over. Because wall space for posting responses is limited, we decided to start an Instagram hashtag so that visitors can also share their creations online. Find MHV on Instagram at @MHVillage and post your creations and reactions to the exhibit with the hashtag #mennoniteclocks.

   The postcards demonstrate that visitors are spending time in the exhibit, engaging with the content and learning about these Mennonite wall clocks that have so much to tell us about history. They also show that visitors are engaging with each other, as ‘conversations’ sometimes spring up between postcards that have been posted on the wall weeks apart. But the biggest takeaway for me as the Curator is that children are engaging in a way that we did not anticipate. A glance at the postcard wall quickly demonstrates that our younger visitors are spending a lot of time and creative energy designing their own clock faces after viewing the exhibit. Some of my favourites, including imaginative Mennonite wall clocks based on the “Hickory Dickory Dock” nursery rhyme and on the Harry Potter series, are posted at #mennoniteclocks.

   Children that I have observed in the exhibit do not typically engage with it the way adults do. They do not read the exhibit panels and artefact labels in the order the curator would like them to be read. From one point they zip full speed to something else clear across the gallery that catches their eye, and then a moment later exclaim about something else, and run (again, full speed) to the next thing.  Two things intrigue me as I watch this take place: 1. The level of enthusiasm and wonder children can have for the smallest things; and 2. The seeming impossibility of ever getting a point across to an attention span that is two seconds long!

   Although children are engaging with the exhibit differently than adults do, the postcards they leave demonstrate that they are paying attention to these clocks and are captivated by them. A number of younger visitors, for example, have noted their favourite clock was “the one with the right time” or “the one that said 2:36 because that was the right time,” likely indicating their appreciation for the “Living Clock,” the clock that we keep running in the exhibit, which is therefore always on time.

   Another young visitor noted his or her favourite was “the one in the correct Roman fashion.” Assistant Curator Jenna Klassen and I puzzled over this cryptic comment for a moment and then realized which clock this very astute visitor was referring to. While the dials of thirty-two of the thirty-three clocks in the exhibit inaccurately depict the Roman numeral for the number four as “IIII,” there is one restored clock in the exhibit that depicts the number correctly as “IV.” After reading this comment, Jenna and I reviewed the postcards designed by children and realized that most of them flouted convention and mimicked the “IIII” found on the majority of the clocks in the exhibit. They may not read all the labels, but our younger visitors had picked up on this minutest of details that likely slips by most adults. (As an aside, this choice to use “IIII” rather than “IV” on clock dials was to visually balance the dial to be more aesthetically pleasing.)

   Thank you to everyone who has left a postcard on the wall and especially the children and younger visitors who have put so much imagination into their clock creations! And thanks to one unknown visitor in particular, I now know what steampunk is – and I agree, the “Cadillac Clock” does look like steampunk! Be sure to visit The Art of Mennonite Clocks and share your stories and designs on the postcard wall and online at #mennoniteclocks.

Calendar of Events

September 3, Fall on the Farm – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 6, Preserving Food Workshop – 7:00-9:00PM

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

Photo caption: The “Cadillac Clock” as steampunk.  The clock (Acc. No. 2015.30.1) is part of MHV’s collection and was made in 1889).

Village News

Museum Finances – Part II

   We all know how much people enjoy reading, talking and thinking about finances. So I thought we would offer a “Part II” (and maybe even a “Part III”?) to the article we published several weeks ago and make a series out of it. As our faithful readers will recall, Part I dealt with the high-level financial structure of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). This article will get us down to a level of more detail.

   We noted in Part I that about 60% of our revenue comes from our internal operations, which include food services, gift shop, facility rentals and admission. 15% of our operating income comes from government grants, and 25% from donations and fundraising activities.

   So one might ask, “Where is that money spent?” MHV’s largest single expenditure is employee costs (wages, benefits and statutory deductions).

   We employ curators to look after our large collection of valuable artifacts and to create relevant, effective and high-quality exhibits for our galleries. Their work requires specialized education and training in Mennonite history and museum operations.

   Our Education Program requires staff with vision, energy and expertise to create and administer programs for 3,000 - 4,000 students annually. The delivery of this program largely falls within four months of the year, so the coordination of the program is quite intense during those months.

   While the hours of operation for our Livery Barn Restaurant are limited to a relatively short day, it needs to function with regularity and professionalism, in strict compliance with government health standards. Approximately a dozen staff members are required in full-time, part-time and casual roles.

   Renting our facilities to wedding parties, businesses, families and individuals requires staff availability at irregular hours, particularly with respect to evening and weekend functions that require supervision. And there are other critical positions.

   This museum has grown over the years and is now well past the stage where it can be run primarily by volunteers, as was possible many years ago. While we still depend on many volunteers for the delivery of much of our programing, all of the abovementioned functions (and others) at MHV require regular and professional attention. Hence our significant labour cost.

   Another area of ongoing major expenditure is facility maintenance, given our host of heritage and commercial buildings to maintain. Our energy costs alone are in the neighbourhood of $4,000 monthly. We can quickly see that this museum has an expense appetite substantially larger than that of one’s home.

   Capital expenditures (sometimes unpredictable) continue to be significant, for new acquisitions as well as the replacement of roofs, furnaces and the like. Our village has 17 wooden heritage structures, all needing a considerable amount of care and maintenance. Most of these costs fall into our capital (or project) fund, which is over and above our operating fund. Right now we have three leaking roofs, a decaying deck on the windmill, and three furnaces that need to be replaced. These are relatively urgent projects, requiring about $150,000 to accomplish.

   Almost three years ago, MHV introduced our Foundations for a Strong Future campaign, established to fund the construction of our Summer Pavilion, the restoration of the Waldheim House, the replacement of all the HVAC systems in our Village Centre, the elimination of our operating debt and the enhancement of our endowment fund. This campaign has so far been successful in that it has generated $2,250,000 toward a $3,000,000 goal. To now complete that campaign, another $750,000 in donations and pledges is needed.

   Yes, it does seem that our need for cash is unending. We invite our constituency to continue to provide regular support, especially for our annual operating fund. We also invite people who value the work of the museum to consider some additional donations toward some of our larger projects and our campaign, without shortchanging our essential operating fund. We encourage you to join us in our mission to preserve and teach our history to youth and adults alike, to create and maintain a community meeting place, and to generate tourism for our region.

Calendar of Events

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 – 10

September 3, Fall on the Farm – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 6, Preserving Food Workshop – 7:00PM-9:00PM

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

Village News

Pioneer Days Book Launch & Reading

   As families fulfill their summer travel plans, I am always excited to see that many have included the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) as one of their primary stops. Our staff often receives expressions of their appreciation for the care MHV has taken to preserve the Russian Mennonite story.

   Pioneer Days is one of the highlights of my summer. Visitors from all over the globe visit our museum during this August long weekend to experience the sights and sounds of days gone by.

   In celebration of our heritage, Village Books and Gifts will be presenting an Author Book Launch/Reading on Monday, August 6, at 2:00 p.m. in our auditorium. This event will feature two authors, Harold Jantz and Harold N. Wiens, as well as gifted pianist Kimberly Dyck.

   Flight, written by Harold Jantz of Winnipeg, tells the story of the efforts taken by the Mennonites to flee the Soviet Empire in 1929 and 1930. Jantz, who has a personal interest in the story, says his father was one of about 20,000 Mennonites who escaped to Canada before the Soviets closed the doors to emigration in 1929. As he was researching his family history, Jantz learned it was also then that Soviet leader Josef Stalin made life miserable for wealthy Mennonite farmers, who were called Kulaks.

   Jantz states, "The Kulaks were people who were the more prosperous farmers. They were the better farmers. They were considered enemies and many, many of them were removed from their farms, were sent into exile, were, in some cases, even executed. They were treated with tremendous harshness." However, Jantz adds, Stalin didn't stop there.

   "There was a tremendous attack on religion. So, huge numbers of religious leaders, certainly among Mennonites, but among the Orthodox and others as well, were sent into exile or, perhaps, executed. They (the Soviets) introduced a five-day week (with no Sabbath) which meant that if you were religious, you couldn't plan for your services. There was also a significant crop failure in 1929.” Jantz states that “all of these factors prompted Mennonites to plead to leave the Soviet Union for Canada. Some Mennonite families made it out but many others did not.” The book tells the stories of these families, based largely on letters published by a Winnipeg-based Mennonite weekly newspaper, which was called the Mennonitishe Rundschau at the time.

   Kimberly Dyck began her career as a musician in Steinbach studying under Jane Duerksen. She graduated with a Performance degree from the University of Manitoba, studying under Dr. Judy Kehler-Siebert. She enjoys performing as a solo musician as well as collaborating with other instrumentalists and vocalists. One highlight of her journey was performing as Manitoba’s representative in a national competition in 2011. Kimberly currently teaches piano from her home in Steinbach and is on the executive of the Southeastern Manitoba Festival.

   Harold N. Wiens of Edmonton, Alberta, has written a book titled Return to Odessa. This story is about a Mennonite baby named Raisa Friedrichsen who is born as her mother dies in Blumenau, Ukraine - one of the last villages established in the historic Molotschna Colony. Her father, only sixteen years old, leaves Raisa to be raised by her grandparents, taking on the role of her “brother.” With schoolyard bullies harassing her with the truth, Raisa (now known as Christina) finally leaves home to find a new life in Odessa.

   After a series of unfortunate events, Christina finds herself a single mother of two teenage sons on the eve of the Russian Revolution. She must do whatever it takes to keep her boys safe. The fictional events in this book were inspired by the experiences of Harold’s parents, Nikolai and Anna Wiens.

   Harold is a singer and Professor Emeritus who recently retired from the Department of Music at the University of Alberta, where he held a teaching position for thirty-five years.

Calendar of Events

August 3-6, Pioneer Days - 9:00AM-6:00PM

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 – 10

September 3, Fall on the Farm – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

Village News

Love Letters and Old Diaries – Part 2

   Aside from my father's letters, diaries and photographs, I found other interesting writings. In an obscure envelope I found the short biography of my great-grandfather, John R. Reimer, father to Maria (Mrs. John C. Reimer). He had not been a physically strong person and thus found it difficult to get work which he could do. For a while he was the herdsman for the village of Neuanlage's cattle. Each day he would walk down the only street in the village and collect the cows, walking to the common pasture. At the end of the day he would bring them home.

   John R. Reimer taught school in Neuanlage, a satellite colony of Blumenort, from 1894-1896. In 1895 he and his wife, Maria, bought a village lot. In October 1896 he opened a store in the largest room in their house to get more income. He sold groceries, hardware, dry goods, clothing, footwear, medicine and kerosene. Most people had charge accounts which they paid when able. He also accepted farm products like eggs and butter in trade. John R. Reimer died at age 30 because he could not get medical help which would likely have been available today.

   Another diary of great interest to me was written by my grandmother, Mrs. John C. Reimer. She was married about half a year when she began writing.

   Life was very simple in those days of living in Steinbach. But the work of planting massive gardens and harvesting them was hard. My grandfather had severe arthritis for some years, leaving Maria to dig and sack all the potatoes by herself. She was a tough woman and didn't complain in the diaries. It was a challenge to always keep homemade bread and other food on the table. It was easiest if one kept to a strict schedule: one day for washing clothes, one day for ironing, one or two days for baking, and the other days for more baking, making rag rugs, sewing, etc.

   They spent a lot of time visiting back and forth. This was their main social entertainment and the way to get news in a time of no radios and televisions. Visiting also involved feeding a lot of people, but Maria’s meals were very basic. She would make soup and potatoes for one meal, and soup, bread and cookies for another. Meat was a rare treat.

   Death was always with them. Maria writes of one young mother who passed away, leaving many children; two children who got scarlet fever and died quickly; and a man who died when the well he was digging caved in on him. There were a lot of funerals, and the life expectancy was lower than it is now. My grandma mentioned in her diary how she had to quickly make a lot of buns (zweibach) for the lunch after a funeral. On a lighter note, there were also weddings (included in a Sunday morning service), which provided a time for visiting and eating later.

   In a folder labeled “J C Reimer Preservings,” I found a six-page, timeline diary of the life of my grandfather, John C. Reimer. In 1897, when he was three years old, his parents moved to an “unimproved bush farm” off Highway #52 in Steinbach at the site of present-day Southland Church.

   In 1899, at the age of five, John's mother sent him to the store in Steinbach with only a memorized list of seven items to purchase, and he had not forgotten one thing. Could we put responsibility like that on a five-year-old today?

   I also found an article from 1884 on Klass Reimer's first store building, which is now at the Mennonite Heritage Village. In a transcript from audio tape, recorded in 1987 at the 175th anniversary celebration of the Kleine Gemeinde, John C. Reimer has a talk about Kleine Gemeinde education. These old photographs and carefully preserved writings are such treasures!

Calendar of Events

August 3-6, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Pioneer Days

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 - 10

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

Village News

Museum Finances

   There are times when it becomes obvious to me that some individuals do not understand what’s involved in the operation of a museum like Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). When someone tries to negotiate a discount on a gift-shop purchase, or when someone sneaks into a festival without paying admission, I realize that they don’t know who actually owns MHV and how it is funded. Of course, there are likely many people who do faithfully pay our list prices in Village Books and Gifts as well as our admission fees who also don’t really know how this place is sustained. So for everyone’s benefit, let’s review some financial facts and structures related to MHV’s operation.

   MHV is an incorporated charity. Our 400 members would in some respects be considered the owners of this museum. However, they do not own shares or any forms of equity in the corporation. So if MHV were ever to fail, the assets would be distributed among other like organizations, not among our members.

   Our income is derived from three basic sources. About 60% of our gross operating income typically comes from our four internal businesses: admission at the front entrance or at the gate on festival days; gift shop sales; the Livery Barn Restaurant and catering; and meeting-room rentals by organizations and individuals. However, there are also quite a few expenses involved in operating these four business groupings.

   We are fortunate to receive various grants from all three levels of government. Federal, provincial and municipal grants make up about 15% of our gross income in an average year. A number of these grants are for things like specific program initiatives and hiring summer staff.

   The remaining 25% of our gross revenue, which amounts to about $250,000 annually, is generated through various fundraising events like the Tractor Trek, the Heritage Classic Golf Tournament, the waffle booth at Summer in the City, the Heritage Classic Car Show, and our current trip raffle, as well as through general donations. Numerous businesses and individuals support us with regular donations toward the operation of our museum. These are annual, monthly or just random donations.

   Over and above our operating budget, we have a capital budget, which provides support for various capital projects such as the construction of the Summer Pavilion, the replacement of our HVAC systems in the Village Centre, and the restoration of the Waldheim House. With 17 heritage buildings constantly needing to be maintained, we seem to always have a few projects in the hopper waiting for funding. Right now the windmill needs a new deck, three roofs on as many buildings are leaking and need to be replaced, three rooftop furnaces on the Village Centre still need to be replaced, our sawmill needs a major overhaul, and a number of buildings need fresh paint and various siding repairs. We should regularly be painting three buildings every year.

   As a charity, MHV does not generate a profit. Our budgets always guide us toward a break-even yearend position, and we’re always grateful when that happens. In years when we do have a modest surplus, we are happy to pay off some debt.

   We are only able to operate this way because we have a supporting constituency. Thankfully there are many organizations and individuals who recognize the value we bring to the province and to this community as a museum, a tourist destination, and a community meeting place, and as a result, they make generous donations to sustain MHV’s ongoing operations. I would personally be happy to discuss questions anyone might have about our finances. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Calendar of Events

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

August 3-6, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Pioneer Days

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 - 10

Village News

Love Letters and Old Diaries - Part I

   Earlier this year, Becky Kornelson told me about the diaries and letters that her late father, Almon Reimer, left for their family to read. Almon was the son of the late John C. Reimer, one of the founding members of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). And we have a number of artefacts from Almon’s lumber-camp experience in our collection. So I invited Becky to write an article for us about some of the things her father had included in his letters and diaries. Here is Part I of her submission:

   “Old diaries, letters, photographs and love letters can be fascinating. My father, Almon Reimer, passed away this last Christmas Eve. Our family inherited many letters, diaries, and biographies. Each tells a tale of lives long ago.

   “Almon kept diaries from 1937 to about 1950. From them I have learned that at age fourteen a boy did a man's work - six days a week, all summer long and Saturday evenings during the school year. His education ended at Grade eight. His father John C. Reimer was his school teacher these eight years. He took an agricultural course at one point. The rest of his education was in the 'school of life'. Almon's diary of Wednesday, July 4, 1937 – ‘Worked at Plett Brothers. Brought home $12.50 a week.’  I understand now my father's strong work ethic. Retirement for him meant years of work at our local thrift shop repairing bicycles and other things.

   “As a child, I was fascinated that my Dad had two fingers missing. I found the date in his diary of when it happened. February 1, 1939, Dad wrote ‘Worked at Plett's till 8 A.M. Sawed off some fingers. Went to Steinbach.’ He was a mere fifteen years old. There was not much workplace safety in those days, but he did get money from the Workmen's Compensation Board to the sum of $355.00, which his father put away and gave to him at the time of his marriage to Annie Sawatzky.

   “His diaries also portrayed that entertainment was fairly simple for him as a teenager. August 27, 1939 – ‘Drove to town on bike. Was on street with boys and gals.’ And November 30, 1939 – ‘Skated in Evening.’ He also loved to listen to hockey on the radio. Saturday, December 2, 1939 he wrote ‘Black Hawks – 3.  Leafs - 3. 10 minutes overtime.’

   “Being very curious of Mom and Dad's romance, I delved into the love letters for a more personal glimpse. I knew they began dating at age sixteen. Often they would meet each other casually and talk together. They got to know each other's siblings and would visit together. My Dad either walked from Blumenort to Steinbach or sometimes skated on the creek to meet his dear Annie. They often skated at the primitive outdoor rink all evening. Almon walked Annie home and skated or walked back to Blumenort.

   “Then the letter writing began in a serious fashion, because Almon was sent to Roblin to work in a lumber camp by his parents and the church, in preparation for becoming a CO in WWII. The letters spoke of brothers and friends of Almon who got the call from the government to come to court in Winnipeg. There they could put in their conscientious objection to fighting and taking lives of people. This call was on the minds of the young men who didn't know if they would have to fight or could stay in Canada to do alternative service. Annie wrote in her letters back to him that she wished the war was over. It was a relief for Annie and Almon when he was called to court and told he should go back to his old job of building the round cheese boxes, as Canada was sending a lot of cheese overseas. Almon also wrote in his diary that the war was always on their minds.  September 1, 1939 – ‘Germany declares war against Poland at night’. September 3, 1939 – ‘In church it was announced that England declares war on Germany’. September 10, 1939 – ‘Canada declares war.’

   “The physical letters themselves were also revealing. The postage stamps on the envelopes cost 1, 2, 3, or 4 cents featuring the picture of King George. The paper became coarser as fine paper was less accessible because of the war. Almon also wrote in the English Script with a few lines here and there in the Gothic script. Now there are few who can hand-write at all never mind in Gothic German.

   “Among Dad's papers I found food ration stamps. These were given to allow Canadian citizens to get some kerosene, gasoline, and food products that were hard to get during the war. Almon and Annie's wedding on August 12, 1945 had an inexpensive meal of sandwiches and store-bought cookies which they were able to get with ration coupons. They had a double wedding with Annie's sister, Margaret and her fiancé Frank Friesen in order to cut wedding costs. While on their honeymoon in Kenora all the bells and whistles and noisemakers went off as the town celebrated the end of the war. There are two precious photos, one of Annie and one of Almon as they sit at the window of their cottage listening to the celebrations. I wonder what their thoughts were as they sat there.

   “Things have changed a lot from 1948 to 2018. Almon's diary entry - January 1, 1948 ‘I came home only yesterday from my two day stay at the hospital caused by blood poison from a little scratch on my hand. We had our Christmas at my folks. We were all home for dinner (noon meal) and afternoon. We sang some and Ernie recited. Then the gifts were given. Dad brought us home on sleigh. It started storming at night.’ Today tetanus shots keep us from getting blood poisoning from a mere scratch. We take things like that for granted.

   “To find old writings, photos, and papers of people from our past can be a goldmine, telling us so much of what we may not have heard before.”

Calendar of Events

July 14, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Car Show

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

August 3-6, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Pioneer Days

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.