The Waldheim House, built in 1876 by Julius Dyck (1852-1909) in the former village of
Waldheim (near Morden), is the oldest building on the grounds of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). It is currently undergoing extensive restoration to preserve it for future generations. We have been in contact with the family of Julius and Katherina (Unrau) Dyck (1853-?) over the past year, and we thought that the restoration of the house provided a perfect opportunity to meet some of these descendants and gather more information about the house's history. So on Monday, November 21, MHV Curator Andrea Dyck (no relation to Julius) and I went on a curatorial field trip to Morden.
Our first stop was at the Kopper Kettle in Morden, where we met Alfrieda Dyck and Julie McNeice, Julius Dyck's granddaughter-in-law and great-granddaughter. They took us to the farmyard where the Waldheim House originally stood, which has been in the family since 1878. The property is currently owned and farmed by Alfrieda's son Larry and his wife Val. The only remaining trace of the log house is the concrete foundation of the barn's Owesied (lean-to), which is buried under the gravel in the driveway. From the yard, you can see the road marking what used to be the village of Waldheim, just half a mile to the east. This farm provided a start for several couples in the family who began their married lives there, including Alfrieda and her late husband, Frank Dyck (Julius and Katherina’s grandson).
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the home of Jake (Julius and Katherine’s grandson) and Grace Dyck in Morden, where we met more of the Dyck descendants. John U. Dyck (1890-1968), the third youngest son of Julius and Katherina Dyck, inherited the farm after Julius’ death in 1909. At some point Julius, or perhaps his son John, built a larger house on the yard. This house burned down in 1935. Instead of using the insurance payment to rebuild his house, John used the money to pay off the debt on his land and moved his family into the old log house, which was still standing but serving as a machine shed, housing some blacksmithing equipment. Jake (John U. Dyck’s youngest son and Frank’s twin brother), remembers well what it was like to live in the old log house. He recalls the layout of the house (slightly different than it is now) and the place where each member of his family slept, which in some cases meant five to a bed! John and his eleven children lived there for seven years before he was able to save enough money to build another house. That house, built in 1942, is still standing and lived in today.
Both Andrea and I had a lovely time with the Dyck family and feel incredibly privileged to have been a part of these family reminiscences. A heritage building is a very particular type of artefact, but like any other object in MHV’s collection, being able to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge of the object’s past helps us to share this history with our visitors. Seeing the original location of the Waldheim House and hearing these stories about the home and the people who built and lived in it also provides a context for this history. We are excited as we watch the restoration of this significant building taking shape, which will continue next summer with the installation of a new and authentic thatched roof. We look forward to sharing that once-in-a-lifetime experience with MHV’s many guests during the 2017 summer tourist season.