Funding for Repairs

For those who visit MHV from time to time, it will have become obvious that there is much to do in the village to repair and rejuvenate facilities. Buildings need to be painted, window sash needs to be replaced, boardwalks need repair and so on. Every task requires labour and materials adding up to a considerable cost.

Earlier this fall several supporters pledged a total of $40,000 to MHV specifically for the purpose of maintaining and repairing our facilities. Their challenge to us was to find an equal amount to match theirs. Recently we learned that the Steinbach Credit Union has responded to our grant application with a matching grant of $40,000 for this project. We are very grateful for this kind of generous community support.

While the total amount granted will go a long way toward refurbishing facilities, it will not complete all the jobs that need to be done. So early in 2012 we will challenge our constituency to again match the original $40,000 grant. We look forward with enthusiasm to the well being and growth of MHV.

MHV's Year in Review

At this time of year it’s not uncommon for the media and other organizations to review highlights of the past year. Given that Mennonite Heritage Village’s mandate involves remembering the past, it’s appropriate for us to consider our highlights of 2011.

In January the Board of Directors of MHV decided to step into the world of book publication. It was seen as one of the activities our museum should be involved in to expand its role in preserving and interpreting history. We will be releasing Arthur Kroeger’s book on Kroeger clocks early in the new year.

In February we celebrated the contributions made to Mennonite Heritage Village by one of our founders and longest-serving board members. Gerhard Ens, a longtime educator, minister, radio broadcaster, and supporter of the preservation and interpretation of Mennonite history, passed on to his eternal rest. His legacy at MHV is significant.

March brought the opening of a new art exhibit in the Gerhard Ens Gallery. The Art of Kornelius Epp: A Retrospective displayed paintings and sketches by this well-known Mennonite artist. Epp, a conscientious objector, started painting in a Siberian labour camp and continued his work after fleeing to Canada via Germany and Paraguay.

In April we were pleased to see a number of last year’s seasonal staff return for another summer at MHV. Benjamin Klassen, our Facilities Manager; Helen Bergen, our Food Services Manager; Kim Plett, our Education Program Coordinator; and Anna Falk, our baker, all returned to take on key leadership roles.

May was busy as the Village opened to the public and the Education Program shifted into high gear. Together with the Southeast Implement Collectors, we staged the annual Spring on the Farm and Tractor Show. New staff arrived to support these and other activities.

A replica of a 1902 Olds, built by the late Peter J. Toews and a number of young friends, took up residence in our Transportation Exhibit in June. The car was restored by Mr. Toews’ son Elbert with the help of Harry Toews. Ledingham GM partnered with us as a sponsor of the car.

In July, board member Rudy Friesen represented MHV at the official opening of the Museum für Russlanddeutsche Kulturgeschichte (Museum for the Cultural History of Germans from Russia) in Detmold, Germany. This visit was seen as the start of an ongoing relationship with that museum.

August saw the restoration of two billboards on Southeastern Manitoba highways. This was also the month in which we started a community blog on Earlier in the year we had initiated a Facebook account. We understand communication to be important.

In September we staged our first annual Heritage Classic Golf Tournament and Pig Roast. The participation of 73 golfers, with support by the MHV Auxiliary and many generous community sponsors, made this a great first event. Be sure to watch for the “second annual” in 2012.

At our Volunteer Appreciation Evening in October, our faithful and numerous volunteers were once again thanked for their work. As stated many times in the past, the work of MHV could not succeed without its volunteers.

In November it was our privilege to be the site of the Annual General Meeting and Awards Ceremony of the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce. We enjoyed this partnership with the Chamber and the opportunity to rub shoulders with so many community business people.

In December we enjoyed seeing many people shopping at the MHV Book and Gift Shop in the Village Centre. Mennonite Girls Can Cook has been the most popular item this year. We were also thankful for a steady stream of cash donations from many loyal supporters.

These are only a few of the many highlights of 2011. We are grateful for a good year at MHV and look forward to new and exciting experiences in 2012.

Emmanuel, God With Us

The Nativity

The Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century resulted from the study of scripture and a profound desire to live a life patterned after the life of Jesus, as recorded in the gospels. Individuals were not encouraged to do their own personal study of the Bible in that time period. Unfortunately the trends of the day had the public moving away from a Christ centered life toward a legalism which offered the church significant material benefits. In this environment the Anabaptists, and other reformers, boldly took a stand against prevailing thought and practice, often at great expense.

Every year, during Advent and the Christmas season, we hear people and organizations trying to be politically correct by not using the word “Christmas.” Instead they use terms such as “Holiday Greetings,” “Holiday Sales,” and the like. Almost as prevalent as the politically correct terminology is the lament that we must “keep Christ in Christmas.” This is an appropriate priority for those of the Christian faith.

I have a variety of vivid memories of Christmas from my childhood. They are mostly positive memories. I remember well the excitement that accompanied the opening of presents, the treat bags that we received from school, from Sunday School and from our grandparents, and the special times spent with cousins. The part that I recall with less fondness is the tradition of having all the children recite their memorized recitations at the extended family gathering. I could never understand why these performances precipitated so much laughter from uncles and aunts.

The week before Christmas our one-room country school would suspend all study related activities and spend the entire week preparing for the annual Christmas program. This program consisted of carols, poems and short plays. The majority of the program was focused on the message of the birth of Christ. Everyone from the community attended.

The Sunday School Christmas program was always held on Christmas-Eve. Every year, Mr. Frank Brown, the Sunday School superintendent, would read the Christmas story from the King James Bible. Most years the pageant would involve a nativity scene of some kind. The Christmas story was always clearly told.

As long as my grandparents were with us we had family gatherings which included all the uncles, aunts and cousins, some of whom we didn’t see more than once or twice a year. In addition to the aforementioned children’s recitations we would typically hear the biblical account of the Christmas story and sing a number of carols, some in English and always, for the benefit of my grandmother, some in German.

Today we live in a society that, by and large, enjoys celebrating at this time of year. In fact, we enjoy celebrating so much that we are in danger of losing sight of the real Christmas story and its significance in our world. It is my wish and prayer that the passion for a Christ centered life exhibited by our forebears would inspire us to truly celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.

Family Stories

Last week I received an email from an acquaintance in Winkler asking me if I had copies of my Klassen grandparents’ obituaries and the obituaries of my Klassen uncles and aunts. All but one of them, and my mother, have passed on by now.

Like many other people, my interest in history and family genealogy has only taken root in recent years. My immediate response to the request was that I had never seen any of the requested obituaries and had no idea where they might be found. So I replied to the email from Winkler with regret that I could not be helpful. This email was copied to my siblings and five cousins, inquiring whether they had any of the requested information.

The next morning there was a response from my cousin Helen in St. Catherines, Ontario. She said it seemed to her that my mother had compiled a booklet of Klassen family tree information some years ago. And she was right. I remembered being given a copy of the book. I also remembered experiencing minimal interest in this significant work my mother had undertaken.

So now that I recalled the existence of this book, the next step was to recall where I had stored it. My wife came to the rescue, quickly pulling it out of the history section in our basement bookshelf. In fact, there were two copies. One is mine and the other belongs to my son, who evidently has not quite reached the age at which these matters become particularly interesting. What do they say? “Like father – like son.”

That evening I sat down with the book and read, with considerable interest, the obituaries of my Klassen grandparents, whom I had never met because they passed on to their eternal home before I was born. Grandpa Abram F. Klassen came to Canada from Bergthal in Russia via the SS Sardinia as a seven-year-old boy in 1875. Grandma Helena (Wiebe) Klassen came as a one-year-old girl on the same boat. Their families settled in the Grunthal area. After they eventually met and married, my grandparents moved to the Horndean area in the West Reserve. They farmed, raised 10 of their 12 children, progressed in their faith and, by today’s standards, died at relatively early ages. I was fascinated to get this glimpse into the lives of these people whose blood flows in my veins but whom I have never known.

My parents, my grandparents and most of my uncles and aunts can no longer tell me stories about their life experiences. Now more than ever, I wish I could have those conversations with them. Why is it that so many of us only develop our interest in our personal history when it’s too late to satisfy that interest through conversations with family members? How can I help my children, my grandchildren and the youth of our constituency develop an interest in things historical while their family information is still readily accessible? And maybe most importantly, what can I do to preserve the stories that will help future generations to better understand the decisions, actions and values that have brought us to where we are today.

The mission of Mennonite Heritage Village is “to preserve and exhibit, for present and future generations, the experience and the story of the Russian Mennonites and their contributions to Manitoba.” Much of what we do here is aimed at people like me who, on their own, realize too late the value of their history. As the stories recede farther and farther into the past, our work becomes that much more challenging and also that much more important. We must continue to develop new and engaging methods of telling these significant stories.

A New Theme

A few months ago someone suggested we select a different theme annually so that new things will be taught each year and our visitors will have new and different things to see and experience. As we discussed the idea at management staff meetings the concept began to develop support and shape. The chosen theme would inform our exhibits, our festival activities, our education program, perhaps even the merchandise we sell in our Gift Shop. We view this as being a significant new initiative at MHV.

Once our management team developed vision and enthusiasm for the concept, we began the process of selecting a theme for 2012. Five good suggestions were tabled for our consideration. After some thought and dialogue, we have chosen to theme our 2012 activities around children. Children played a different role in the family and the community at the time of the early migrations to Canada. Their responsibilities in the home and on the farm were different. Toys were nothing like what they are today. The role of children in the family structure has changed over the decades. There are many facets of the role of children to be explored. We’re excited about the possibilities.

Christmas at MHV

With December rapidly approaching, thoughts and activities are turning toward Christmas. At Mennonite Heritage Village, preparations for our annual Touch of Christmas festival are the most obvious of those activities these days. Directors Wilmer Penner and Sheila Reid have volunteered their directing skills to bring this program together. A rehearsal schedule has been established, with a talented troupe of actors and actresses on board. Publicity posters have been designed, printed and hung in various community locations. If you haven’t already done so, mark your calendar for 6:30 p.m. on either December 2 or December 3 for this year’s festival. Each evening will again include an indoor drama and an outdoor nativity, as well as sleigh rides (beginning at 5:00 PM) and refreshments after the pageant.

Office Manager Marigold Peters reports that our Gift and Book Shop continues to be open for business Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. We still have a supply of great cookbooks to give as Christmas gifts. Mennonite Girls Can Cook is a bestseller this year, delighting scores of readers and promising to delight even more! The book contains lovely personal write-ups, stories about the recipes and their origins, great pictures, and of course lots of recipes for tasty food. This hardcover 208-page cookbook sells for only $24.99.

As well, two specialty products manufactured by Blue Sky Opportunities are currently in stock in our Gift Shop. Blue Sky Opportunities, Inc. is a non-profit organization in Altona which is committed to maximizing the independence of adults with intellectual disabilities, through employment and residential opportunities within their community. One of their employment programs includes the building of wooden crokinole boards and large wooden clothes-drying racks. Our Gift Shop has carried the crokinole boards for some time already, but the drying racks are a relatively new option for our shoppers. Each rack is a sturdy 36” collapsible wooden structure which comes in a box suitable for gift-giving. It requires assembly (instructions included), but the only tool needed is a # 6 Robertson screw-driver. A great “green” gift if you are considering ways to be more friendly to the environment.

Fall Turkey Dinner

Every year the MHV Auxiliary stages a turkey dinner as a fundraiser for Mennonite Heritage Village. For years this event was held on Grey Cup Sunday. This year the dinner will take place on Sunday, November 20 from 12:00 noon till 2:00 PM. Tickets are $15.00 each and are available from Auxiliary members or at the MHV office. Call 326-9661 to purchase your ticket.

Remembrance Day

For me, Remembrance Day is always a time of reflection and introspection. This year my ponderings gelled into the following conclusions:

I believe it is important for us to remember the many people who have stepped forward to defend our country’s freedoms. Many have done so because of their love for Canada and a profound sense of duty in times of unusual challenges. Regardless of motivation, they consciously stepped into dangerous circumstances and demonstrated their commitment to the retention of freedoms in our land. Many gave their health and even their lives for the greater cause. One can’t help but admire such courage.

I believe it is important for us to remember the many conscientious objectors who also chose to serve their country, but in other ways. They served in health-care facilities, built national parks, fought forest fires, planted trees, etc. Many did so because of their moral and religious convictions regarding the taking of human life. Regardless of motivation, they spoke into society’s conversations of the day and made significant economic contributions to our country. In many cases, a portion of their wages was turned over to the Red Cross. Many spent months, even years, in alternative-service work camps, away from family and careers, as their contribution to our country’s exceptional needs. One can’t help but admire such commitment.

I believe it is important for us to practice and promote peaceful methods of conflict resolution, even to the point of significant personal hardship. The life of Jesus, as reflected in the Scriptures, is exemplary in its attention to peace and reconciliation. War has typically required the sacrifice of many lives on all sides of the conflict -- lives of family members who otherwise still had much to contribute to their respective homes and societies. Not only are efforts toward peaceful conflict resolution important in relationships between countries and ethnic groups, they are also important in our homes, communities, churches and workplaces. A relationship in conflict tends to be weak and non-productive, whereas a relationship that has seen its conflict resolved in a mutually beneficial way is a strong relationship. Peaceful conflict resolution may not always be possible, but I believe we must pursue it relentlessly, and I will continue to pursue win-win solutions for conflicts which touch my own life.

Touch of Christmas

Touch of Christmas has a long history at Mennonite Heritage Village. It is our only winter festival event, and in the past few years its appearance has changed considerably. This year Touch of Christmas will take place on December 2 and 3.

Whereas the event has previously involved activities throughout the day on Friday and Saturday, as well as part of Sunday, this year it will be a two-evening event. The grounds will open at 5:00 PM both evenings for those who wish to get a head start on the horse-drawn sleigh rides. At 6:30 the Christmas pageant will begin in the Village Centre Auditorium. Similar to recent years’ pageants, the audience will again be led outside to the stable for a live nativity. We hope and pray that the weather will be suitable. After the live nativity, the sleigh rides will continue, and there will also be hot chocolate, cookies and a carol concert to enjoy. People of all ages will find this to be a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.

In recent years, our expenses for this event have unfortunately been outweighing income. This year, in an effort to cover our costs, we will be charging a modest admission fee of $5.00 per person, regardless of age. However, individuals or families who hold a current and valid MHV membership will have the opportunity to enjoy this event free of charge. (Just one of the benefits of MHV membership. . .)

The Live Nativity

Sleigh rides for all

Vespers Service

Another community group that contributes regularly to life at MHV is the Vespers Choir. This is a local group of talented Musicians who prepare a one hour program of sacred music, prayers and readings once a month during the winter months. They present these Vespers services on the first Sunday of each month at 7:00 PM in the Village Centre Auditorium. Come and join them this Sunday, November 6.

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.