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.

Village News

VN 2016 12 1 Dyck family

   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.

Village News

Christmas at MHV

   It was a pleasure to have lunch with a small group of volunteers at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) today. Predictably Christmas became a key part of our conversation around the table. While a few had started their Christmas shopping, nobody in the group had finished. Some had already set up a Christmas tree, and at least one of those thought they might also be setting up another one. Apparently there are very narrow trees available now for those whose floor space is limited. Some individuals talked about including candles in their decorating, both real ones and those with electronic lights, while acknowledging that the former brings with it a fear that one day they might forget to blow out all those candles before going to bed. We also enjoyed conversation about some of the Christmas programs that will be available to us in the next weeks.

   In keeping with these timely conversations, today was the day we started getting our MHV Christmas decorations out of storage. The next three to four weeks will be quite busy with a variety of Christmas activities taking place in our Village Centre. On Saturday, November 26, the second annual Steinbach Christmas Market, sponsored by Canadian Gold Beverages, will take place at MHV between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you attended last year’s event, you will have an idea of what to expect. Some of last year’s vendors will again be in attendance, and there will be new ones as well. Food and craft vendors will offer products for sale in the Auditorium. Food items available will include quail eggs, perogies and baked goods from the Culinary Arts class at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. One of the unique crafts for sale will be pedal go-carts. Village Books and Gifts will also be open, with its unique assortment of toys, books and other gift ideas. Admission is free, so bring the family.

   Our meeting rooms in the Village Centre provide excellent venues for both small and large corporate Christmas parties. Between now and the middle of December we will host many such celebratory functions. There are still a few choice spots available. Call Roger at 204-326-9661 if you’re looking for a comfortable place for your Christmas function. Our MHV Christmas trees will not have real candles on them as they did many years ago, but the atmosphere will still be warm and welcoming.

   MHV is first and foremost a museum. We are here to collect artifacts and tell stories so that our unique history will not be forgotten. But our facilities are not required every day for our programs and activities, so we are making them available to the public whenever possible. This allows us to serve our constituency while generating some additional revenue. Come and see what we have to offer.

Village News

   On an exceptionally beautiful November morning, with the sun shining and the temperature well above freezing, approximately 120 interested people gathered near the sawmill on the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) grounds. They had come for last Saturday’s official unveiling of a new cairn designed to commemorate the roles and contributions of Conscientious Objectors during World War II.

   During World War I, Mennonites had been exempt from military service as the result of an immigration agreement dating back to the 1870s. During World War II, however, Mennonites who were drafted for military service had to apply for exemptions based on religious convictions if they wished to qualify as conscientious objectors. Approximately 3,000 men from Manitoba were eventually granted Conscientious Objector (CO) status.

   Eight of these COs were present with family and friends at Saturday’s unveiling ceremony. While the audience appeared to largely be made up of people with grey hair, there was also a significant contingent of younger people – the children and grandchildren of the COs. It was very good to see the interest displayed by these various age groups.

   Noting this interest, in light of the advanced age of these COs, causes one to wonder who will tell their stories to future generations when these men are no longer able to do so. Who will record and preserve them? How might MHV play a role in ensuring that these inspiring stories are retained? We hope this monument will serve that purpose.

   Since Canada has not had conscription to military service for many years, most of the audience at Saturday’s gathering have never had to examine their belief system and make the difficult decision whether to enlist or to apply for CO status. What happens to a belief system that isn’t tested rigorously from time to time? How strong will the Mennonite commitment to pacifism remain when it isn’t called upon to help make life-altering decisions?

    This is certainly not a call for a reintroduction of conscription to military service in our country. It is simply a reminder of the role museums and archives play in retaining very significant information from our past. At MHV we collect and preserve stories through our collection of artifacts. When we are offered new contributions to the collection, we make a point of interviewing the donor to learn as much about the artifact as we can. This information becomes a part of that artifact’s record.

   Every now and then family members ask for information about an object that originated in their family and is now in our collection. We are happy to provide them with that information and to make arrangements for them to view the artifact, if they wish to. Our collection and our archives are also used to create exhibits in our public galleries. In this way the visiting public benefits from the stories as well as the artifacts in our collection.

   The mission of MHV is “to preserve and exhibit for present and future generations the experience and the story of the Russian Mennonites and their contributions to Manitoba.” If the new cairn and this reflection on the unveiling ceremony will prompt a few families to ensure that the stories of their CO family members will be recorded and preserved, then all the efforts to create the monument have been worthwhile, and MHV’s mission is unfolding as it should.

 

Village News

“Mennonites, Land and the Environment”

   It might have been my farm background that piqued my interest in this year’s Mennonite Studies Conference at the University of Winnipeg. Or maybe it was the quality of presentations that are typically delivered at this annual event, which is sponsored by the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies under the leadership of Dr. Royden Loewen, Chair of Mennonite Studies at this university. Or perhaps it was simply the opportunity to rub shoulders with historians whose company and stories I have learned to enjoy. Whatever the reasons, I had the privilege of sitting in on part of Mennonites, Land and the Environment recently.

   Given that I’m a farm boy and this was an academic conference, there were certain presentations that I engaged in more readily than others. The lecture Hutterites and Agriculture in Alberta: Past, Present and Future, presented by Simone Evans from the University of Calgary, was interesting and engaging. While it would appear that Hutterites farm vast amounts of land, it actually works out to be only about 600 acres per family unit. Their agricultural practices are contemporary, in fact leading-edge in many cases.

   Daniel Leonard from the University of Winnipeg presented a paper on Manitoba’s Voluntary Mennonite Peasant Farmers. Peasant Farmers in Canada are largely professional and business people who have moved from urban settings to small farms. They are often referred to as “back-to-the-landers.” They are typically drawn to the lifestyle offered in a rural setting and the opportunity to grow much of their own food. Their farms range in size from seven to forty acres. In their quest for sustainable practices, some of these farmers will ensure that they have only as many animals as their acreage can support, in terms of both feed production and waste disposal. If the manure from the animals is more than the farm’s acres can utilize as fertilizer, there are too many animals.

   Farmers face challenges in balancing sustainable agricultural practices with economics and the need to feed a rapidly growing world population. In past decades the agricultural industry has significantly increased food production per acre in many countries, all the while seeing good farmland taken up by urban sprawl.

   Another recurring theme in many presentations was the acknowledgement that much of our farm land was originally land occupied by First Nations people.

   Royden Loewen is currently leading a project called Seven Points on Earth, which is examining Mennonite agricultural practices in seven communities in various areas of the world. These are Manitoba, Iowa, Friesland, Java, Siberia, Zimbabwe and Bolivia. Papers addressing each area were presented at the conference, some of which will be published in the 2017 Journal of Mennonite Studies. Subscriptions for this journal are available at [email protected].

   It’s good to see Mennonites engaging in these dialogues along with the rest of society.

Village News

Conscientious Objector Cairn to be Unveiled at MHV

   At 11:00 a.m. on November 12 a cairn honouring Mennonite Conscientious Objectors (COs) during World War II will be unveiled at the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV).

   This cairn is a welcome addition to the grounds of MHV. Over the years, the museum has done a good job of telling the story of Russian Mennonites migrating to Manitoba and settling here, including the articulation of the spiritual and ethical impulses involved. This new cairn will enhance the telling of that story to all visitors to the MHV grounds by focusing attention on the more than 3000 Manitoba Mennonite COs who paid the price of their convictions in the 1940s.

   The impetus for this new project came from the Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship Manitoba Inc. (EAF), an organization dedicated to preserving a peace stance within Mennonite churches in this province. Before this project came to fruition here in Steinbach, EAF had already initiated the erection of CO cairns in Altona and Winkler.

   A long-time member of EAF, Harvey Plett, was joined by other local persons interested in erecting this cairn in Steinbach, including Lawrence Klippenstein, Abe Warkentin, Evelyn Friesen, Al Hamm, Elbert Toews and Jack Heppner. Together, and with the cooperation of the MHV Board, they have seen this project through to completion.

   The present location of the monument on the main street of the village near the saw mill may be temporary. Its permanent location will be determined over the next few years as part of an overall site plan the MHV Board is presently developing.

   The Peace Position has historically been one of the defining characteristics of Mennonite identity. When it emerged in the 16th century, Mennonites were convinced that if the scriptures are read through the lens of Christ it becomes clear that the way of peace is the way for all Christ followers. “Love in all relationships” became their motto and it informed all areas of life, including personal and public.

   Throughout their 500-year history, Mennonites have at some critical points struggled to maintain this peace position. Sometimes intense persecution served to limit their resolve. At other times Mennonites began to question whether the way of peace was in fact central to living out the gospel of Christ. And, from time to time, certain Mennonite communities have dropped the peace emphasis entirely.

   It is interesting to note that in the 21st century many thoughtful Christians in non-Mennonite faith traditions are beginning to discover and embrace a biblical understanding of peace similar to that of the historical Mennonite position.

By erecting this peace cairn honouring COs during World War II, the Steinbach Peace Committee is hoping to raise awareness of the centrality of the peace position in the Mennonite church of the past. As well, that it will help to strengthen the peace emphasis of Mennonite churches in the 21st century. And it would be a bonus if this cairn would encourage non-Mennonite believers who are currently embracing the way of peace.

   Come and take part in the unveiling of this CO cairn at 11:00 a.m. on November 12th. Use the south entrance to access the Mennonite Heritage Village for this event. Admission to the grounds is free. See you there!

Village News

   As someone who works in a museum, I find it so interesting to see items considered so precious that families have kept them for many years. It is often our privilege to accept these items into our collection here at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) so that we can preserve both the object and the stories that go with it.

   Sometimes families keep items that remind them of where they have come from (for example, our collection of china brought over from Russia in the 1920s). Other times, families keep objects that remind them of loved ones lost. One such item which recently came to my attention is a chemise that had stayed in a family from the time it was made in 1879 until it was donated to us last year.

   This chemise belonged to Maria (Toews) Krueger (1857-1889), who lived in Rosental, Chortitza Colony, South Russia (now Ukraine). She probably made and embroidered this chemise herself, likely to go into her dowry chest in preparation for her marriage. She married Jacob Krueger (1852-1921), of the clock-making Kroeger/Kruegers, on May 17, 1879. According to the donor, Maria would have first worn this chemise on her wedding night.

   Tragically, Maria passed away after giving birth to her sixth child in 1889. We don't know if she gave birth in the Rosental hospital (built in 1874) or if she was attended by a midwife. If the latter, this person who had helped Maria throughout her labour would probably have been the same one who then prepared her body for burial. After these preparations were completed, but before her body was put into its shroud, it was dressed in this chemise for one last time. It is unclear whether the wearing of the same chemise for one's wedding night and after ones death was a custom, or whether this was simply the most convenient garment at hand.

   Jacob married Maria Hamm (1865-1954) just over a year after Maria Krueger's death. This doesn't seem like a long time to us, but often Mennonite men and women remarried only months after the death of their spouse.

   Maria’s chemise was passed down to her daughter, also named Maria (1883-1974), presumably as a memento of her deceased mother. Daughter Maria brought it with her when she and her family emigrated to Canada in 1900. Maria (later Voth) then passed it down to her own children, and it stayed within the family until her granddaughter donated it to MHV.

   You can see this chemise on display in our permanent gallery.

Calendar of Events

November 6 – Vespers Service, 7:00 PM

November 11 – Closed for Remembrance Day

November 12 – Conscientious Objector (CO) monument unveiling ceremony, 11:00 AM

Village News

Manitoba Museums

   Several weeks ago I was elected to the Council (Board of Directors) of the Association of Manitoba Museums (AMM) at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Boissevain, Manitoba. This group, which seeks to serve the museums of Manitoba in a variety of ways, holds its annual conference and AGM jointly every fall.

   According to the AMM website, there are nearly 200 museums in Manitoba. A museum is defined as “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.” This includes “exhibition places such as art galleries and science and interpretation centres; institutions with plant and animal collections and displays, such as botanical gardens, bio domes, zoos, aquariums and insectariums; cultural establishments that facilitate the preservation, continuation and management of tangible and intangible living heritage resources, such as keeping houses and heritage centres; and natural, archaeological, ethnographic and historical monuments and sites.”

   The museums located in our province include a variety of sizes. There are very small museums in smaller communities, staffed entirely by volunteers; medium-sized museums, such as Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV); and large museums, like the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, which operates with a multi-million-dollar budget.

   The AMM seeks to provide support and services for all sizes and types of museums. For professional development training, the Certificate Program in Museum Practice consists of seven courses designed to assist museum staff and volunteers in developing and operating their respective museums. A Cultural Stewardship program offers site visits by a trained conservator, environment-monitoring equipment loans, emergency-preparedness plan development, pest management, and information on resources for museum supplies and services. Advocacy support is provided by connecting with other museum organizations, such as the Canadian Museum Association, and attending museum events like Canadian Museums Day, which takes place on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, as well as creating and supporting museum awareness initiatives such as Manitoba Day in May.

   As a member of the AMM Council, I will represent the Eastern Region, which is one of seven designated regions in the province. I look forward to connecting with the 14 museums located in this Eastern Region and would enjoy visiting each of them if possible.

   The AMM website states: “the Association believes that museums are an important and integral part of society. They are places of learning, and connection to each other, the past, and the future. They are meeting places and places of solitude. They make a positive contribution to a community’s quality of life, economically and otherwise.” I most certainly agree.

Calendar of Events

November 6 – Vespers Service, 7:00 PM

November 11 – Closed for Remembrance Day

Village News

A New Season

   The ending of our summer season marks the beginning of a new and different season of activity at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). Although our outdoor village and the Livery Barn Restaurant are now closed until May 1, 2017, we want everyone to know that the museum is still open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. Guests continue to have access to our indoor galleries, our gift shop and our meeting rooms.

   So what will keep our staff busy now as we head for year-end? Normal fall activities include preparing our heritage buildings and the rest of the village for winter, writing and analyzing reports on our 2016 operations, preparing exhibits and education materials that will develop our theme in the new year, fundraising to try to close the year with a balanced financial statement, applying for grants to fund staff positions and projects next year, and writing strategic plans and budgets for the next year’s operations. This is also the time of year when some of our staff take time off to use up banked hours from a very busy summer season.

   But this particular fall we have a number of unique activities happening. As Alexandra Kroeger noted in last week’s Village News column, for about the last two months we’ve hosted a traveling exhibit in our Gerhard Ens Gallery. Along the Road to Freedom is moving on to another venue so will be taken down and packaged for shipping right after Thanksgiving. Our curators will then reinstall Beyond Tradition: The Lives of Mennonite Women, which will occupy that gallery for the balance of the year.

   Last week we had a sod-turning ceremony to initiate construction of our Summer Pavilion. This building will replace the big white tent next year and will provide many new opportunities for MHV programs and community activities. Penn-Co is eager to get the project underway shortly so that the concrete work can be done before the ground freezes and also to ensure that the new building will be ready for use by May 1, 2017. We are very excited about the fact that we will not need to erect the tent in spring and that we will have so much added functionality.

   For almost a year, we had been looking for a contractor to do log-wall repairs to the Waldheim House, our oldest building. Both exterior and interior walls need to be refurbished. We are pleased that Myron Hiebert and Michael Klassen have come forward with considerable passion for the restoration of this 1876 house. Their project too will begin this month and be completed for our 2017 season. We are currently looking for a qualified craftsman to put a new thatched roof on that house next summer.

   Our iconic windmill is also undergoing some restoration this fall. Bob’s Woodworking will be installing new louvres on the main sails of the windmill. These louvres are there to allow the operator to adjust according to the amount of wind available and the amount of power required to grind the wheat. Additionally, Broesky Painting will be painting the new louvres, the railing around the main deck and a few other critical areas of the windmill.

   While our Foundations for a Strong Future development initiative has had a very encouraging response from our constituency, businesses, governments and foundations, we still need to raise just over $1,000,000 to complete the campaign. Raising that amount of money, plus the usual funds which are essential to close this year in the black, will be a significant task.

   So while our hours of operation and our activities are different now than during the summer tourism season, we still find our days and weeks slipping by with almost alarming speed. But staff are happy to now have our weekends available again for some of the personal things we couldn’t do during those busy summer months.

Calendar of Events

October 10 – Closed for Thanksgiving Day

November 6 – Vespers Service, 7:00 PM

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

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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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