Village News

Farewell from Jessica


   For the last three and a half years, I have been lucky enough to work at one of the finest museums in the world: Mennonite Heritage Village. From installing exciting new exhibitions to leading tours of curious visitors around the village, it’s been a diverse and immensely meaningful experience. I’ve also had the privilege of working with unforgettable volunteers and staff who have taught me not only about museum work but also about relationships and community. As I move forward, I carry this place and its people in my heart.

Village News

Outdoor Signage Project

   The traditional layout and historic buildings at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) create a spirit of place quite unlike any other. Every effort is made to make visitors feel as though they have stepped out of the contemporary and into an immersive historical environment – a Mennonite village circa 1874 through the 1920s. In order to preserve this atmosphere, written interpretation such as labels and panels are intentionally sparse and carefully placed, about one per historic building. In recent years, many of these interpretive panels have been rotting and in need of replacements, while several historic buildings have been awaiting some form of interpretation. This season, we worked to meet both these needs with funding from the provincial Heritage Grants program.

   Aging interpretive signs have now been replaced with fresh designs for the windmill, the Chortitz oak tree, our piece of the Berlin Wall, the orchard, the vegetable garden, the Reimer Store, and the Hoeppner Memorial. As well, a completely new sign for our sawmill was installed just last week. This sign is especially exciting because ours is no ordinary sawmill. It interprets a significant part of Canadian history and a major tenet of Mennonite culture and identity – the story of pacifist beliefs in a time of war.

   This sawmill was used by conscientious objectors (COs) in the Alternative Service camp at Riding Mountain National Park during World War II. While stationed here, COs built and improved roads, chopped firewood, and used the lumber from the mill to build bridges and a dam, as an alternative to engaging in military service. Thousands of COs in Canada worked in forestry and agricultural industries, completed infrastructure projects instrumental in developing Canada’s national parks, and served in hospitals and mental hospitals across the country.


   We plan to install several more signs in the village, including a completely new one for the Peters Barn. This barn arrived on the museum grounds in 2006 and has been undergoing restoration, such as the re-shingling of the roof in 2013. The new sign will tell the story of the Peters family and draw attention to the barn’s unique Dutch-style lap-notch joinery. This last set of signs will complete our outdoor interpretive panel project, with refreshed signage ready for next year’s season in the village.

Village News

West Reserve Arrival

   Sunday, September 13, 2015, was a day that I believe will stick in some people’s minds and be part of their conversations for some time to come. At 2:30 p.m. on that sunny afternoon, about 400 people gathered in a large tent at Fort Dufferin (just north of Emerson) to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Mennonites coming via steamship to Canada. From Fargo, North Dakota, they had made their way via the Red River to Fort Dufferin.

  The program we had set up for this event included some things from that historical time, such as the Lange Wiesz and other songs of thanks to God. Rev. Peter D. Zacharias was one of the key presenters, speaking on the topic “Why Did They Leave Their Home Country?: From Ukraine to Manitoba, Canada (Fort Dufferin).”

   The second presenter was Rev. Abe Wiebe, on the topic “The Unrest That Led the People to East Paraguay in 1948, and the Return Back to Canada”. Another interesting story was presented by Eleanor Chornoboy, called “The Role of Women During Pioneer Years.” Conrad Stoesz, vice–chair of Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society (MMHS), spoke on “The Importance of Fort Dufferin During the 1875–1879 Period of Immigration” and the Post Road. Many hearts were touched by these stories, as some listeners had not heard them before and others were re-hearing them in a more detailed and meaningful way.

   We also held the unveiling of the commemorative cairn that was just recently placed on the bank of the Red River close to where the ship docked. Faspa (potluck), including Reeschtje and coffee, was also part of the day’s activities.

    This event was a great occasion to reflect on these significant elements of our Mennonite history.

Village News


   Syria and its refugee crisis have been prominent in the news of late. Because of atrocities taking place in that country, many of its residents have fled to find homes in a number of European countries. It seems to me that conditions in my home country would need to be extremely bad before I would choose to leave my home, my possessions, and maybe some of my family to re-establish myself in another country. And indeed, life in Syria currently appears to be exceptionally difficult.

   As I listen to the news, my mind is often drawn to Mennonite history stories I’ve heard from the 1920s and 1940s. Life in the former Soviet Union became very difficult for many people during those time periods.

   In her book The Russlaender, Sandra Birdsell tells the story of a young girl who lives through the horrors of 1920s Russia. During this post-World War I era, bands of bandits were raiding and brutalizing communities, particularly large estates. The girl in the story lives on an estate owned by a wealthy Mennonite because her father is an employee of the farm. The estate owner and most of his family are murdered by bandits. While the girl survives the massacre by hiding in a pit prepared for her by her father, she spends years experiencing the hardships common to refugees in that country at that time.

   When I was a boy, George Sawatzky was a professional photographer in Winkler. At that time, Mr. Sawatzky lived alone because he had become separated from his wife and daughter during their panicked attempt to flea Russia after World War II. He succeeded in getting onto the train (and eventually to Canada), but his family did not. As a result, they spent decades living in separate countries. When George and his wife finally located one another in their later years, Mrs. Sawatzky came to live in Canada, but their daughter only came to visit because she was now an adult and had a family of her own.

   Being refugees is part of our history as Mennonites. How quickly we forget the impact of those experiences. At Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) we try to help people remember and value their roots.

Fall on the Farm

   Our last festival of the 2015 season was wonderfully successful. Despite all the rain preceding the event and forecasted for festival day itself, we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day, with enough wind to keep the mosquitos in hiding and to provide a milling demonstration in the windmill. More than 1,900 people chose to come and enjoy the various pioneer demonstrations, entertainment, and food. While this is not a record turnout, it’s right up there with the best turnouts we’ve seen in recent years.

   The hog- and chicken-butchering demonstrations are always highlights at this festival. Children are quite fascinated to see all the parts of a chicken laid out on the table. Adults and children alike are intrigued by the process of making and smoking sausage.

   The ground was too wet for any field-work demonstrations, but the steamer was operational and did some of its work sawing lumber at the sawmill and also threshing a load of wheat sheaves. Firewood was cut by a horse-powered saw and the umgang.

   Many visitors took the opportunity to enjoy an MHV waffle with vanilla sauce, prepared by our MHV Auxiliary. This festival also offered fresh apple fritters and corn on the cob.

   We are grateful to have been so well supported by our constituency this year.

Calendar of Events

September 20 – Supper From the Field (4:30 & 6:30)

October 1 – Livery Barn Restaurant and outdoor Village closed for the season

October 4 – Vespers Service (7:00 PM)


October 15 – Volunteer Appreciation Evening (7:00 PM)

Village News


   While Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) earns approximately 60% of its revenue from our own business units (such as the Livery Barn Restaurant, Village Books and Gifts, MHV facility rentals, and admission sales), the remaining 40% of our expense budget must be covered through fundraising efforts. Additional revenue is generated through grant applications, specific fundraising events (like our Heritage Classic Golf Tournament, Supper From the Field, and waffle sales at Summer in the City), and through individual and corporate donations.

   Canada has more than 85,000 registered charities, in addition to all the unregistered groups like sports teams and school classes who sell chocolates, magazine subscriptions and grocery gift cards. So there is obviously a lot of competition for charitable dollars.

   Charities which feed the hungry, heal the sick, or save lost souls readily pull at our heart strings, and rightly so. Many other less emotionally appealing organizations also do very important work. We have no interest in debating, or even trying to determine, whose work is most important.

   Although MHV does not provide any of those critical services described above, we do carry out important work. As a museum, we preserve and interpret culture, which helps us to remember how we got to this place, this country, this environment of freedom and prosperity. Can we even imagine living in a community where heritage is not valued and culture is not preserved? How would we remember both the successes and the failures of our forebears and learn the things that those ups and downs can teach us? How would we pass along to our children these important lessons from history and engender in them a propensity to place value on understanding our past? How shallow would our lives be if we were preoccupied only with our present and our future? To be sure, we do need balance.

   MHV also does important work as a local tourist destination. Every year we welcome visitors from all across Canada, from more than half of the American states, and from more than 50 other countries. It would be interesting to know how many of these tourists would venture off the Trans-Canada Highway and come to Steinbach were it not for this museum. It would also be interesting to know how many dollars each of these tourists spends in our community before returning to the Trans-Canada Highway and continuing their travels. We believe the economic impact of having this museum located in our community is significant.

   During the next few weeks, MHV will be embarking on a new and significant fundraising project. In addition to the usual levels of support for the museum, we will be inviting the public to participate in funding for several vital and substantial projects. We will encourage donations and pledges of support for key initiatives that will help us build foundations for a strong future - a strong future for both our museum and our community.

Golf Tournament

   September 9 is the date of our Heritage Classic Golf Tournament. This year it takes place at The Links at Quarry Oaks. Tee-off time is 12:00, and lunch and dinner are included. Call Patricia at 204-326-9661 to register.

Calendar of Events

September 7 – Fall on the Farm (10:00-5:00)

September 9 – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament (12:00 Noon tee-off)

September 20 – Supper From the Field

Village News

Field Work

   The spectacle of the threshing demonstration, with the steam engine roaring and golden straw flying through the air, sparks interest and a crowd of spectators on festival days at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). And it’s no wonder. Seeing the machinery static, forlorn and sedentary, standing askew in the grass, just doesn’t cut it. Once coaxed into life, these machines transform into industrious agricultural monsters, too great and loud to ignore.

   Our threshing demonstration is more than just a great show. It also interprets a significant aspect of Mennonite life on the farm in earlier times, where threshing - much like a hog-butchering bee or barn raising - was a community-wide event. Similarly, for our demonstration it takes five or six volunteers to operate the thresher, with another three or four from Steam Club ’71 to operate the steam engine, the source of power.

   The threshing machine, powered by a belt from the steam engine, separates the grain kernels from the straw and chaff. It is a three-step process:
1. Bundles of grain are pitched into the hopper, or feeder. 

2. These bundles are fed into the separator, a rapidly rotating set of blades that tears the bundles apart, then knocks kernels from the straw. The straw rack removes most of the straw, and the rest falls onto a series of progressively smaller shaking screens, removing more straw and chaff.

3. In the cleaner, a stream of air blows the remaining straw and chaff away. The clean kernels are dropped into a waiting wagon, while the straw and chaff are blown out onto a straw pile.

   Threshing is far from being the only agricultural endeavour at Mennonite Heritage Village. We have approximately seven acres divided into three fields. Crops are rotated so each year we have a field each of wheat, oats, and summer fallow. The land is cultivated, seeded, and harvested with significant involvement of some South East Implement Collectors Club members.

   To break up the land, we use either the heavy 6-bottom plow, which requires the steam engine to pull it; a 3-bottom plow, pulled by a tractor; or the single-bottom breaking plow pulled by a team of horses.

   After the crops are cut and bound into sheaves with a binder, the sheaves are stooked. (A stook, also known as a shock, is an arrangement of grain sheaves in a tapered construction designed to keep the grain heads off the ground and protect them from precipitation.) Last week, staff and volunteers stooked our field of oats. These stooks will now be stacked on wagons and stored until they can be threshed. We use oats here at the museum as feed, and it is eaten with gusto by our horses, cows, sheep and goats.

   Thank you to our volunteers who coax these old machines into life each year and make the interpretation of Mennonite pioneering life possible. Check out our upcoming threshing demonstration at Fall on the Farm on September 7! 

Calendar of Events

September 7 – Fall on the Farm (10:00-5:00)

September 9 – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

September 20 – Supper From the Field



Village News

Volunteer Opportunities

   Volunteers enrich any community. It’s been quite a while since we last wrote about volunteer opportunities at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). These opportunities change somewhat with the seasons. Summer provides many opportunities for people who enjoy cutting grass. We have three ride-on mowers and even now could use more operators who have experience with similar equipment.

   There is work for aspiring arborists. We have young trees that need to be tended and encouraged. We have mature trees that need pruning, and we have old trees that need to have dead branches removed.

   We are always looking for people with woodworking or carpentry skills. Picnic tables, benches and fences need repairs. The screen doors that slam shut after every time they are opened often need some skilled attention. Right now we have one that needs to be rebuilt. Looking ahead, we plan to rebuild our chicken cages and shelters in October. During the winter we would like to repair wagons and rebuild wooden wagon wheels in our heated shop. Many of these items need painting once they’ve been repaired. The list never ends.

   MHV does not have an Information Technology (IT) department. We would be delighted to find a volunteer who could help us resolve day-to-day computer challenges. For those of us who don’t have high levels of expertise with computers, attempting to trouble-shoot those technology issues is an inefficient use of our time.

  We are aware that a number of our supporting clubs are also looking for new volunteers. Specifically, the MHV Auxiliary would welcome people who love to prepare and serve food, who enjoy the various aspects of quilting, and/or who enjoy serving the public. The Auxiliary provides a significant fundraising function for MHV, and its members also serve as good ambassadors for our organization.

   No doubt the local Steam Club would also be happy for some new volunteers. During Pioneer Days they were short-staffed and therefore unable to operate the steamer. These people also provide much of the expertise when it comes to setting up the threshing machine. Not very many people know how to do that anymore, so we need new volunteers to learn and become involved.

   We always have a need for volunteers who know how to harness and drive teams of horses. During May and June we harness the team almost every day for the children who attend our Education Program. On festival days there is typically a high demand for horse-drawn wagon rides. It’s usually too much for one team to handle, so we need additional teams on those days. Normally the local Draft-Horse Club comes to help out, and no doubt they would be open to new members as well.

   We also have a number of winter opportunities. Clearing snow from sidewalks and the parking lot often needs to be attended to fairly quickly after a snowfall or a storm. We have a variety of snow-clearing equipment and simply need the people to volunteer their time to give to these invigorating tasks. An indoor winter opportunity involves photography. We would like to photograph all of our 16,000 artifacts so that we could add digital images to our artifact database. Someone who enjoys photography and working with technology could be helpful to MHV in this area.

   Fall on the Farm will take place on Labour Day. We will again need about 100 people to volunteer at various tasks like supervising parking, taking admission, cooking or serving in the short-order booth, volunteering as a blacksmith or printer, or serving as an interpreter in one of our heritage buildings.

   Call us at 204-326-9661 if any of these opportunities catch your attention.

Calendar of Events

September 7 – Fall on the Farm (10:00-5:00)

September 9 – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks

September 20 – Supper From the Field fundraiser



Village News

New Donations

   New donations add to our collection of artifacts and our collection of stories. The stories are often as interesting as the artifacts. Here are a couple of those stories.

Burial Frock

   Some of the artifacts donated to Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) shed light on all aspects of life and death. Mary Luewen recently donated a burial frock or “chemise”, which is a dress resembling a nightshirt. The burial frock is part of an old funerary tradition, considered scriptural by many Mennonites, who cite Revelation 3:4 “…and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” The frock was worn by the deceased until a white funeral shroud and coffin could be made. It could be passed down to the children of the deceased, with the intention of being used again, or kept by the family as a way to remember the departed.

   Luewen’s donated burial frock originally belonged to Maria Toews (b. 1857). She married Jacob B. Krueger in the year 1879. According to the donor, the frock was first worn on the wedding night, and last worn at one’s funeral. The embroidery would seem to support this, as it contains her initials and “1879,” the year of her wedding. Maria died in 1889 while giving birth to her sixth child. Her daughter, also named Maria, was six years old when her mother died. The frock was passed down to her daughter, Maria (Toews) Voth. Maria Voth never wore it, but kept it. Burial frocks like Maria Toews’ were commonly used in Russia but less so in Manitoba, especially after the 1930s when funeral services moved away from the home and into established funeral businesses.

Normal School Certificate and Diploma

   Another recent donation to MHV’s collection is a diploma and certificate from a Normal School, or teachers training college, in Morden. It was donated by Leona Rempel. These artifacts reflect the occupational opportunities and limitations placed upon Mennonite women in the early 1900s. Teaching was a profession that unmarried Mennonite women were encouraged to pursue. Helena Hiebert was born in Winkler, Manitoba and attended Normal School in Morden. She graduated at the age of 20 in September, 1913. Helena’s first teaching assignment was to a small country school in the Pembina Hills. She moved on to a schoolhouse of approximately 40 children in Winkler. After receiving an offer from Steinbach she decided to continue her teaching career there. At that time, the village of Steinbach did not encourage extended schooling beyond age 15. Here she met a friendly car salesman by the name of Jacob Toews (a grandson of the pioneer of 1873, Cornelius Toews). They married in 1921. At that time in history, marriage ended a woman’s teaching career. Helena’s daughter was born in 1924. In 1929, Jacob passed away very suddenly. In this school district at that time, neither married women nor widows would have been hired as teachers, so life became difficult for Helena and her family. Helena spent her days into old age making a living having boarders or foster children. She passed away at age 88.

   We would like to thank all donors for entrusting their artifacts to MHV. Like these two artifacts, each object can illuminate a unique aspect of Russian Mennonite history in Manitoba. If you are interested in donating to the collection, we would be pleased to discuss your artifact with you.

Calendar of Events

September 7 – Fall on the Farm (10:00-5:00)

September 9 – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament at Quarry Oaks

September 20 – Supper From the Field fundraiser

Village News

Pioneer Days a Success

   Pioneer Days, the Signature Festival of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), was successful in a number of respects. Attendance at this four-day event was up for the fourth consecutive year. Just less than 6900 guests chose to participate in the festivities. Clearly the perfect weather contributed significantly to this strong attendance.

   Pioneer demonstrations contributed to success insofar as they were new to many guests. This year we were pleased that Friesen Drillers again demonstrated well drilling as it was done 100 years ago. It was a popular demonstration last year, and again this year. One of the current year’s new demonstrations was a recently restored player piano. Dozens of people gathered round each time to hear great music produced by the pianist using his legs more than his hands.

   We believe the strong presence of families with young children in the audience is an indicator of success. It’s gratifying to see all these children learning to appreciate the museum. We hope some will be inspired to get involved in museum work in the future.

   The community contributed in various ways. The Steinbach Chamber of Commerce again provided support by way of planning the Pioneer Days Parade. 35 local organizations provided sponsorship for this and other summer events. Special interest clubs like the MHV Auxiliary, The Steinbach and Area Garden Club, the Southeast Draft Horse Association and Steam Club ’71 all supported our work.

   Last, but certainly not least, hundreds of volunteers served one or more shifts at jobs varying from supervising parking to flipping burgers. All of these contributors added to the success of the day.

   Our dependence on volunteers also reminds us regularly that this dependence is also vulnerability. This year the steamer was not in use because the local steam club didn’t have enough certified operators available to run it safely. We wonder how long we will be able to offer demonstrations with a steam engine when only a small number of people still know how to operate a steamer and no new people are learning. Will we be able to offer a threshing demonstration ten years from now if we can’t find people interested in learning how to operate a thresher? Skills such as threshing, log sawing, spinning and quilting are not required in today’s economy.

The Waldheim House

   For several years it has been obvious to us that our oldest heritage house, The Waldheim House, has been in need of significant repairs. The log walls need new chinking, the interior walls need to be re-plastered and the roof needs a new layer of thatch. But these are very specialized repairs because they are not generally required today and as a result, there are very few people who have the skill to do them. Hence they are also quite costly.

   Recently we have secured funding of $100,000 from Western Economic Diversification Canada. This, along with additional funding from some local and other government partners, should make the repairs feasible over the next several years.

   This project should generate broad interest in that the house comes from the former village of Waldheim, just south of Morden, Manitoba, and other heritage organizations will have the opportunity to view the specialized work that will be done here.

Calendar of Events

August 10-14 – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 9-12

September 7 – Fall on the Farm (10:00-5:00)

September 9 – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

September 20 – Supper From the Field

Village News

Player Piano Restoration

   For the very first time at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), visitors will get a chance to listen to our newly restored player piano during Pioneer Days! Player pianos have captured the imagination of so many listeners over the years, with their delightful jukebox capabilities and mysterious inner workings.

   Also known as the pianola or self-playing piano, the instrument reads its sheet music off rolls of perforated paper, with its pneumatic mechanism, pressurized by the foot pedals, pressing the keys. According to Lydia Dyck, donor of our newly restored instrument, the pneumatic mechanism was taken out of this piano by her father when she was a child, so as to remove distractions and encourage serious practice. This last year, Lydia enlisted the expertise of Gerry Neufeld to restore the original mechanism. After many hours of complex work, he has successfully brought the piano back to full functionality.

   This player piano was purchased by Elizabeth (Penner) Hamm between 1923 and 1934, when she was a young woman. Elizabeth migrated from Russia to Canada in 1905 as a baby, with her mother and grandparents. When she was seventeen she attended Normal School in Regina and became a teacher. She taught for eleven years in one-room schools in the Herbert, Saskatchewan, area. It was during her teaching years that she decided to buy this player piano.

   From an early age, Elizabeth’s daughter, Lydia, loved music. She took lessons and practiced on this piano, later teaching many of her students on it as well. She completed her Bachelor of Education with a Music Major and went on to study harmony and take her Grade 10 piano program at the University of Edmonton. Lydia married Henry Dyck, and in 1976 they moved from Saskatoon to Steinbach. In Steinbach, Lydia began teaching music and giving piano lessons full time. She taught choir and band and learned to play several more instruments.

   When Lydia donated her player piano to the museum in 2010, she explained its significance to her family’s history and to her own story and faith: “When I look at this antique player piano and its story, I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to learn not only notes with it but also develop the gifts I had within me, and to share the music with a wide area of musicians in our southern Manitoba area today. Out of gratitude I choose to have this piano at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum as a symbol, when I am gone, of what God can do if we give what we have for others.”

   We would like to express our thanks to Lydia Dyck for donating this artifact to our collection at Mennonite Heritage Village and also to Gerry Neufeld for his enthusiasm for the project and the countless hours of volunteer time he gave to restore this piano to playing condition. Please join us in the MHV Auditorium for a demonstration featuring this unique artifact on Friday, July 31, at 3:30; Saturday, August 1, at 3:00; and Monday, August 3, at 3:00.

Calendar of Events

July 31-August 3 – Pioneer Days (10:00–6:00 daily)

July 31, August 1 & 3 – Player-Piano Demo with Gerry Neufeld

August 10-14 – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 9-12

September 7 – Fall on the Farm (10:00-5:00)

September 9 – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

September 20 – Supper From the Field

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.