Village News

Barrys Barn

   Have you ever been asked what your all-time favourite Christmas gift was? Not necessarily from this year or last year, but the gift that you recall with greatest fondness from your past. Mine showed up under our Christmas tree about 55 years ago.

   Farm life influenced my thinking, my activities, and even my toys as a child. My toy box included miniature farm machinery and farm animals. Over time I accumulated numerous farm animals, all of which had their places on my imaginary farms on the kitchen floor. So it was quite distressing to me when one day, about a month before Christmas, one of my cows went missing.

   This cow was either an Ayrshire or a Red Holstein, and she had a calf. Because of their uniqueness, they were special animals in my herd. For reasons I didn’t understand, the cow didn’t take her calf with her when she disappeared. These inexplicable circumstances were quite troubling to me. Curiously my parents didn’t seem to share my concern or have any time to help me look for the cow.

   But one day, equally mysteriously, she reappeared. There was no more explanation for her unannounced arrival than there had been for her departure. Nor were my parents any more helpful in explaining how she might have reappeared. But all that mattered was that my herd was again complete.

   As was the custom at our house, many gifts were not wrapped and were simply placed under the tree behind closed living-room doors on Christmas Eve. Imagine my delight when on Christmas morning I bolted into the living room and saw a big toy barn under that tree. Because I had two sisters and no brothers, I knew immediately that this was MY gift.

   So now the mystery was solved. My parents revealed that my missing cow had spent some days in my cousin’s workshop as he built the barn to fit the cow and all my other similar animals. This was a real barn made of wood, with stalls, pens, gutters, a hay loft, and even a ladder going up the wall to the hay loft. And it was open along one side so that I could access the entire building. Needless to say, my new barn made the temporary distress of a missing cow well worthwhile.

   That homemade barn provided many hours of entertainment and joy. And it’s still a part of the memorabilia from my childhood. My grown-up daughter even recalls taking her Barbies to visit the barn from time to time. I think my grandchildren might soon enjoy it, so one of these days I’ll get it out of storage for them to play with as well.

   This year my daughter-in-law chose to make many of the gifts she gave to family members. From mittens to hair clips to homemade truffles (which are incredibly good), the TLC contained in these gifts adds something extra special.

   The gifts we receive this year may be homemade or may be ones that couldn’t possibly be made at home. But they will hopefully be accompanied by love and affection which is what makes the exchange of gifts at Christmas meaningful. And if this gift-giving spirit reminds us of the gift of Jesus to the world, it’s certainly an appropriate part of our celebrations.

   Our offices at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) will be closed from noon on December 24 until Monday, January 11. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the staff and the Board of Directors at MHV.

Village News

   Much of the warmth and excitement we experience in anticipating our Christmas celebrations comes out of our Christmas traditions. These traditions give us a pretty good idea of what’s in store as this season approaches. So we look forward to the things we know will happen, and we also anticipate some exciting surprises. So grab a mug of hot apple cider, and let’s share some Christmas traditions.

   At my one-room country school in Burwalde, between Winkler and Morden, we always prepared a Christmas program for our community. This involved decorating the building; setting up a stage for the program; learning songs, poems and lines for dramas; and buying and wrapping a present for the teacher and for the student whose name you had drawn. The culmination of this exciting event was coming home after the program with two presents and a bag of peanuts, candy and an orange.

   The Sunday School program usually happened on Christmas Eve. The Sunday School superintendent always read Luke’s version of the Christmas story from the King James Version of the Bible. The program usually included a nativity pageant, and one year when I was already a teenager, it was my turn to be Joseph. My father and I had spent the day working in the hog barn, and despite having had a bath before the program, I was convinced that everyone could smell the hog barn on me.

   After the Christmas Eve program, our family always went to the home of my three single aunts (who were also our surrogate grandmothers on our mother’s side of the family), where we exchanged gifts and enjoyed Christmas oranges, candy and other goodies. Often we would be joined by additional uncles, aunts and cousins.

   In the home where I grew up, the Christmas tree was integral to creating a festive environment. Given the fact that we were a family of five in a house with two rooms on the main floor and two rooms on the second floor, it seems remarkable in retrospect that we found room for a full-sized Christmas tree.

   Usually there were no presents under the tree until Christmas Day, which added considerable excitement to our anticipation. When my siblings and I came down from our bedrooms on Christmas morning, we would find the living-room door closed, because many of our gifts were not wrapped.

   Since we lived on a farm and the animals were our livelihood, they had to be fed and cared for before any gifts were revealed. To make matters worse, we also had to eat breakfast while the living-room door remained closed. So we were kept in great suspense until the door was finally opened and we were allowed to rush in and claim our gifts. Usually it was quite clear which gifts belonged to me, since both of my siblings were girls.

   On one of the days following Christmas we would have a family gathering at the home of our grandparents on our father’s side of the family. There we knew we would get more presents and another treat bag, enjoy a great meal, and have the opportunity to play with cousins who lived in other communities. There were usually two disappointments related to this particular event. First, the cousins who were around my age were all girls, so what was a young boy to do? Secondly, our grandparents, uncles and aunts all insisted we recite and sing the parts we had memorized for one of our Christmas programs. This little ad-hoc program always preceded the distribution of presents in order to ensure that we would be willing performers.

   With the passage of time and generations, some family traditions have continued, but we have also created new ones. It seems that Christmas traditions may be a little more flexible today than they were in the past. If that flexibility still enables us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as our entrenched traditions did in the past, then all is well.

Village Books and Gifts store hours:

-   December 19: 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

-   Monday through Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

December 24: Open until noon (Then closed till January 11)

Village News

Q & A with Alexandra Kroeger

   Alexandra Kroeger joined our team here at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in late November as our new Assistant Curator. Some of our volunteers and members of the public have had a chance to meet Alexandra, but for those who have not, I thought I would sit down with Alexandra for a “Question and Answer” session about museum life and her first few weeks here at MHV.

What drew you to MHV?

   I was just finishing up a term position as Acting Curator at the Transcona Historical Museum when I came across this job opportunity. It sounded perfect – I would get to build on the skills I had gained in Transcona, and I would be able to do so while learning about my Russian Mennonite heritage. Lo and behold, I got the job, and it’s even more fun than I’d imagined.

What has been the highlight of your first two weeks at MHV?

   Some big highlights for me have been learning how the Mennonite history I learned in university applies to me and my family, and learning how to tell this history using the artefacts we have in our MHV collection. Also, I’m very excited to know that a large part of my job is learning new things and then telling people about them.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

   Right now I’m doing research for two new exhibits. The first one is a small exhibit that will replace some of the textiles currently on display in the Permanent Gallery, so I know a lot more about Mennonite folk art than I did three weeks ago. This exhibit will be complete by the end of December. The second exhibit I’ve been working on is our new themed exhibit for 2016, which will replace Mennonite Food: Tastes in Transition in the Gerhard Ens Gallery in the new year. I’m also busy cataloguing a backlog of artefacts and editing our collections manual in order to standardize our cataloguing procedures. (Yes, museum people find this interesting!)

And finally, the question every curator gets asked: What is an interesting artifact that you have worked with so far?

   I haven’t been here long enough to become very familiar with the collection yet, but I would have to say I’m most interested in our collection of Fraktur art. Fraktur combines gothic script, calligraphy, and painting in a way reminiscent of Medieval manuscript illumination but was used to decorate everyday things like love letters, wall hangings, and birth certificates.

   Thanks, Alexandra. Although our outdoor village is now closed, our indoor galleries are still open. If you have not yet had an opportunity to take in our 2015 exhibit, Mennonite Food: Tastes in Transition, we invite you to come and explore Russian Mennonite history from the vantage point of the foods Mennonites have eaten throughout the centuries.

Village Books and Gifts hours:

-   Monday through Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

-   December 24 – open till noon

Village News

New Books

   Village Books and Gifts, the gift shop at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is seeing an increase in traffic these days. No doubt this has something to do with the rapidly decreasing number of shopping days left before Christmas and the fact that Village Books and Gifts has a lot of specialty gifts not carried by most other stores.

   As the name would suggest, books are an area of specialty for this store. Our book section focuses on Mennonite History, cook books, novels by Mennonite and other local authors, and a few children’s books.

   One of the more recent arrivals in the store is The Outsiders’ Gaze compiled and edited by Jacob E. Peters, Adolf Ens and Eleanor Chornoboy, and published by the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society. Most of what has been published about Mennonite life and culture has been written by “insiders.” The introduction to this book states “The material in this volume was deliberately chosen to present ‘the other side.’ Some of the selections are taken from government reports (Down, St. George, Locke); others from larger studios (Dawson, Shortt and Doughty, McLaren); still others from churchmen of other denominations (Bitsche, Woodsworth); and some from travelogue accounts (van Dyke, Rae, Barneby, Kropotkin, Hayward).”

   Laura Reeves’ Guide to Useful Plants has also recently been added to the book shelf. The back cover of this volume states, “What hoary puccoon is and how you can make beautiful dye from its roots? How wild bergamot will be your best friend during cold and flu season? Why cattail could save your life in a survival situation? How to make your own delicious maple syrup?”

   Learn all of this and more when you take a walk on the wild edible side with botanist and forager extraordinaire, Laura Reeves. Through her expert knowledge and enlightening anecdotes reaching all the way back to her childhood, Laura will bring you up to speed on identifying, sustainably harvesting and skillfully preparing over 65 of the most intriguing wild plants and mushrooms of the northern prairie and boreal forest – from acorns to zoomsticks!”

   In For the Children: Pursuing Religious and Political Freedoms Melvin D. Epp begins story-telling with the experiences of his ancestors Peter and Agnethe Epp who resided in West Prussia in the mid-1800s. Over time they migrate to Russia and then to North America in an effort to escape oppressive governments. The Introduction states “We can only speculate on what we would be today if Grandfather-and Great-Grandparents-had gone another way. Would we be in Siberia? Paraguay? Or Canada? Or non-existent? … Would we have faith?” No doubt many people with similar backgrounds have asked similar questions.

   In addition to these and many other interesting books, Village Books and Gifts has a selection of vintage style toys, Crokinole boards, wooden clothes dryers and many other unique gift ideas. Drop in and check it out.

Village News

Farewell to a Friend

   This week Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is saying goodbye to a friend and loyal supporter. Mr. Arthur Kroeger passed away on Friday, November 13, at the age of 93. His memorial service was held on Monday, November 23.

   Mr. Kroeger was born into a clock-making family in Rosenthal, Chortitza, in Russia. The Kroeger clock-making business goes back to the Vistula Delta near Danzig (Gdansk), Poland, in the early eighteenth century. The business was relocated to Southern Russia when the family migrated to that area. Since then, many of the clocks made by the Kroeger Company have been brought to North America through subsequent migrations of Mennonites to this continent. Given the stressful circumstances under which many of these migrations took place, it’s quite remarkable how they actually managed to bring these relatively large and delicate clocks with them. Clearly the clocks were very important fixtures in their homes.

   During the time of the Russian Revolution and the Second World War, the Kroeger family experienced considerable trauma. Arthur Kroeger’s father was taken from the family by the Soviet Secret Police; his mother was sent to a forced-labour camp and was lost to the family for 13 years; his brother died in the forced-labour camp.

   By 1950, with the help of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Mr. Kroeger and his fiancé succeeded in immigrating to Winnipeg where they established a home, family, community and career.

   My contact with Mr. Kroeger goes back about five years when he asked us to publish his book about the Kroeger clocks. The resulting book is a beautiful collection of information about Kroeger clocks, including many photographs and drawings, as well as stories about the Russian Mennonite experiences. This was a significant accomplishment for someone approaching the age of 90, and MHV is proud to have had the opportunity to publish this fine work.

   In the past, whenever people asked us where they could have their Kroeger clocks fixed, we always referred them to Mr. Kroeger, and he was always willing to try to help. Now we will need to find other resources.

   Mr. Kroeger had a passion for Russian Mennonite history in general. He was very aware of the monuments in our village which recognize Johann Bartsch and Jakob Hoeppner for their work in negotiating the agreement which made it possible for Mennonites to emigrate from Prussia to Russia in the late eighteenth century.

   Last summer Mr. Kroeger noted that the lettering on those monuments had become quite difficult to read. In collaboration with our MHV Curator, he arranged to have a craftsman redo the lettering on the Bartsch monument at his own expense. He was planning to have similar work done on the Hoeppner monument next summer. He was also in the process of fine-tuning a booklet he had written about the Bartsch story when his health failed recently.

   We are deeply grateful to Arthur Kroeger for his commitment to preserving and telling important stories from Russian Mennonite history. We offer our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Village News

MHV Book Wins Excellence Award

   On October 2, 2015, Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) received the Award of Excellence in the Research and Publications category at the annual awards banquet of the Association of Manitoba Museums. This is a significant award, as it represents recognition from Manitoba’s museum community for the excellent research, design, and production work of MHV staff in the creation of A Collected History: Mennonite Heritage Village.

   At this time just a year ago, we were working frantically to get the manuscript for this book ready for production. Writers, designers, and editors were busy trimming all elements to perfection. The newly published book was then launched on December 6 at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg and on December 9 here at MHV. It immediately became a popular Christmas gift.

   Vision for such a book had begun several years earlier. Roland Sawatzky, our curator at the time, had developed a plan to use approximately 40 of our museum’s artifacts to tell the Mennonite story, beginning with the Anabaptist movement in the sixteenth century.

   This plan experienced a hiccup when Roland moved on to another museum, but his commitment to the project remained strong. He assured us he would volunteer his time to ensure the book’s completion. When our new curator, Andrea Dyck, reviewed the proposed project, she quickly developed an equally strong commitment to pursue it. So the work began in earnest in April of 2014.

   This involved selecting artifacts to be featured, photographing selected objects, designing the book, writing the narratives related to each artifact, raising money to cover production costs, and editing the entire manuscript at multiple levels.

   We very quickly found that numerous businesses in our constituency were in support of the project and willing to provide funds for the publication costs. This has allowed us to use the book as a means to generate operating revenue for our museum.

   A Collected History: Mennonite Heritage Village is a picture book, a history book, a story book, a souvenir and a portable exhibit all in one. It’s also a high-quality production and deserving of this Award of Excellence. We are pleased to be recognized by our peers for the work we’ve done.

   The book is available for only $20 at MHV’s Village Books and Gifts and at McNally Robinson at Grant Park in Winnipeg.

Village News

Village Books and Gifts

   One of the strategic priorities of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is Education. It is important to us that our guests, regardless of age or ethnicity, learn about history, be it Mennonite history or pioneer history, when they visit our museum.

   Our education program which typically hosts about 4000 students annually is one of our major means of achieving this strategic priority. The exhibits in the galleries and in the out-door village, and our festival events also serve to educate our guests. Perhaps a less obvious teaching venue at MHV is Village Books and Gifts, our gift shop. On the surface it may appear to be exclusively a revenue source.

   While Village Books and Gifts is a revenue source, it also provides numerous educational initiatives. The most obvious one would be the sale of books. Most of our books cover Mennonite subject matter of one kind or another or are written by authors connected to the Mennonite world. The most obvious example would be our own volume, A Collected History: Mennonite Heritage Village, a souvenir of the museum and a portable exhibit.

   The recently released Historical Atlas of the East Reserve is another example of educational books that are available in our gift shop. This book provides much historical information about the former East Reserve by way of maps, photographs and narratives. Mennonite Girls Can Cook, both the original volume and the Celebrations edition, have educated many cooks and will continue to do so.

   Village Books and Gifts also sells DVDs and music CDs, many of which focus on music that has been and continues to be meaningful to Mennonites. Recordings by Canzona recall many older German choral works that were popular in our churches in the past. Eduard Klassen’s offerings with his Paraguayan Harp reflect the worship experiences of many Mennonites who settled in Paraguay, beginning in the 1920s. These and many other unique recordings are available in our gift shop.

   Menno Apparel has been a popular item in the store this year. Tee-shirts with slogans that reflect Russian Mennonite culture or juxtapose it with an element of pop culture have drawn considerable attention. Some examples would be, “The Duecks of Hazard” or “Make Borsht, not Bombs.”

   The Crokinole board is a game that was found in many Russian Mennonite homes and is still taken quite seriously by some. It and other old fashioned toys are available in our gift shop providing many with a connection to their past and giving many younger people a taste of life in former days.

   While games, toys, and tee-shirts with slogans on them may not be profound teaching tools, they clearly present opportunities for people to tell stories from their past. And isn’t story telling one of the most effective teaching tools?

   These items and others are available at Village Books and Gifts. The store is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Village News

Volunteer Appreciation Event

   On October 15 the staff at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) held an event to thank the volunteers who have made much of the museum’s programming possible. Approximately 85 people came out to enjoy unique snacks and words of gratitude from staff members, as well as from Carol Kroeker on behalf of the MHV Board of Directors.

   The evening’s theme revolved around specific things that had been accomplished at MHV because of the contributions of the volunteers. Anne Toews, the evening’s chairperson, invited volunteers to share stories about their experiences at MHV. Numerous individuals stepped to the microphone to share some of their favourite anecdotes. One person spoke particularly passionately about how volunteering had been instrumental in the restoration of her health.

   The audience also took time to pay tribute to volunteers who had passed on in the last year. This poignant exercise is also a sobering reminder that there is a natural attrition that happens within any group and that new members will need to step up to fill the roles of the departing members. MHV has many interesting volunteer opportunities in a wide variety of areas.

Village News

Historical Atlas

   If you’re like me, the mention of a “historical atlas” likely conjures up images of very old, difficult-to-recognize, black-and-white maps bound in a nondescript soft cover. The authors of the newly published Historical Atlas of the East Reserve have set out to wipe that image from our minds and have achieved a degree of success in doing so. This became evident at the launch of this beautiful full-colour volume last Saturday.

   The old Chortitz Church at Randolph was filled to capacity as members of the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society launched its latest publication. This hardcover book looks like it will be more suited to coffee tables than to dusty archival shelves. Its 256 pages are filled with colourful maps and charts, beautiful photographs, and narratives telling many stories of villages that once existed in the Rural Municipality of Hanover, many of which have disappeared and are merely a dot on a map today.

   The evening was chaired by Jake Peters, Chair of the EastMenn History Committee of the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society. Ernest Braun of Niverville, Glen Klassen of Steinbach, and Harold Dyck of Winnipeg - the three people who produced the atlas - each addressed the audience briefly with stories about the book’s production. Dr. John Warkentin, Professor Emeritus at York University in Toronto (and interestingly one of the founders of our Mennonite Heritage Village) took time to congratulate the authors, editors and committee for their fine work. Signed copies were presented to a number of contributing individuals and organizations.

   The evening ended with a lot of visiting around coffee and cookies, as well as the opportunity to purchase a book and have it autographed. The public will find these books for sale at Village Books and Gifts at the Mennonite Heritage Village, at Die Mennonitische Post in Steinbach, and at the Mennonite Heritage Centre on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg.

Village News

Photo fo CCI shoes

Conservation of Blumenhof Shoes

   Over the course of four summers (2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012), Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), under the leadership of its former curator, Dr. Roland Sawatzky, partnered with the University of Winnipeg on an archaeology project at the sites of the remains of two housebarns built in the 1870s in the former Mennonite village of Blumenhof, three miles north of Steinbach. One of the housebarn sites belonged to Cornelius S. and Sarah Plett and was inhabited by three generations of Pletts before it was abandoned and the land turned into farmland in 1906. The project unearthed many valuable fragments, and sometimes whole objects, that are useful in investigating the everyday lives of this family. However, one of the most intriguing finds was a cache of dozens of individual pieces of footwear, ranging from boots to shoes in adult’s to children’s sizes, 1.5 metres below the surface of the earth in what was once the cellar of the house. The reasons behind this cache of footwear remain a mystery.

   While the clay in the soil worked to protect these objects for the hundred plus years they were embedded in the earth, once they were removed, the shoes needed extensive professional conservation in order to preserve them. MHV approached Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI), who generously agreed to take on the project of conservation work on sixty-seven shoes in autumn of 2012. This project allows CCI interns to gain valuable work experience doing complex conservation treatments on archeological artifacts in a variety of mediums, since the shoes have felt, wool, linen, and rubber materials associated with them. In turn, this partnership allows MHV to receive professional conservation on these valuable artifacts.

   Each piece of footwear goes through a series of steps in the complete process of conservation. First, a condition report is written and “before” photographs are taken to document the condition of the piece before it receives treatment. Next, the shoe is cleaned in a bath to remove dirt and re-gain some flexibility in the material. Third, the shoe is soaked in a solution of water and polyethylene (PEG) for a few days. This solution will penetrate the cells in the leather and prevent further damage when the shoe is later dried. After this step, the shoe is removed from the solution, frozen, and then placed in a vacuum-freeze dryer. This is preferable to air-drying because it dries the shoe in a way that causes less stress and potential damage to the material. After the shoe is dry, it is brushed and vacuumed to remove any remaining dirt, stabilized and consolidated with a solvent-based adhesive, and then, where possible, re-shaped with ethanol and water. After the shoe has been cared for in this way, a custom-made mount is constructed that will provide it with extra support. The final step in this lengthy process is to document the final product with full photographs and then to package each shoe in custom-made packaging to protect it during transit from Ottawa back to MHV.

   To date, CCI has completed this treatment on twenty-four shoes and cleaned and freeze-dried twenty-seven others. Sixteen shoes are still in the beginning stages of this extensive conservation process. Once this process is completed, the shoes will be sent back to MHV where they will join the other more than 16,000 artifacts in the museum’s collection. Objects like these shoes allow us to explore the everyday life of Russian Mennonites like the Pletts, who were living in Manitoba around the turn of the twentieth century.

   These shoes, and the other artifacts found over the course of this multi-year archeological project, have been graciously loaned to MHV by Royden and Mary Ann Loewen, who provided permission for the project to take place on their property. We are grateful for their trust in allowing MHV to be the caretakers of these items. We would also like to thank CCI for the extensive work they are continuing to do with this unique collection.

   For more information on the CCI treatments and to read a blog by Alyson Tang, an intern in their archeology lab, on her work with these artifacts, visit CCI’s Facebook page at:

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.