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:

Village News

Western exposure

The Waldheim House

   The Waldheim House is our oldest heritage building and the first one brought to this site. It was built around 1876 by Julius Dyck in the village of Waldheim, Manitoba, three miles south of Morden. The house was dismantled a few years later and moved to a new location outside the village. In the early 1960s it was moved to Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and has been here ever since.

   The years have taken their toll, and the house is now in need of restoration, specifically the roof and the log walls, both inside and outside. For the last several years, we have been looking for resources to do the necessary repairs and have finally found partial funding for it through the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. Restoration will take place in 2016 and 2017.

   Recently Jerry and Marjorie Hildebrand paid a visit to MHV because they suspected that our Waldheim House may have been the one that Jerry lived in as a young boy. Their exploration of the house convinced Jerry that it had in fact been his home in the past. Following is the article Marjorie wrote after that visit.

   “In 1875, when Mennonites from the Ukraine landed at Fort Dufferin, they fanned out along the southern Manitoba border, establishing villages such as they had known in their former country. One of those villages was Waldheim located in the western end of the West Reserve and settled in 1878 by 24 families, mostly from the Fuerstenland colony of south Russia. The village broke up between 1883 to 1885. An old oak log dwelling in Waldheim, built by Julius Dyck, was moved to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach.

   “My husband, Jerry Hildebrand, lived in that log house when he was a young boy, from 1933 to 1937. He has some clear memories of the four years he lived in that square-timber log house. He also remembers the Krahns and Rempels who were near neighbors. One of the Krahn daughters now lives in the Tabor Home in Morden. When we visited her in August of 2015 she, even though she is 93 years old, remembered the Hildebrands being their neighbors. We visited the MHV this July to check on the house. Jerry is certain that it is the house where he lived in the 1930s.

   “Jerry’s parents, Bernhard and Helena Reimer Hildebrand, were a young couple with four children when they moved to Waldheim from their rented place near Friedensruh. The place had a house with an attached barn, such as the Mennonites had built when in the Ukraine. Starting off as a young farmer, he could only rent the homestead and land here as well. The family was very poor, but Jerry and his sisters had not known life any different, so at the time it didn’t seem that poor. It was the time of the Depression when it hardly ever rained. The earth was dry and the winds would blow the dirt in the air. One year his father seeded 55 acres of wheat at one bushel to the acre and in fall reaped only 50 bushels. That meant he did not reap as much as he had seeded in the ground.

   “One day the children saw their mother dumping a sack of used clothing on the kitchen table. She was crying. The Red Cross had brought used clothing to the community. She chose what she could use for her family and then repacked the remaining articles and passed them on to the Krahns next door who did the same.”

   Such contacts with people who have had first-hand experiences in the buildings which now make up our Heritage Village are especially valuable to us.

Calendar of Events

October 4 – Vespers Service (7:00 PM)

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

Note:  As of October 1, the Livery Barn Restaurant and Outdoor Village are closed until May 1, 2016.

Village News

Adrienne Dewsberry 2015 09 21


New Assistant Curator

   We would like to wish Jessica all the best in her future endeavours. We have appreciated the joy and energy she has brought to our team. Jessica’s work has been characterized by a high degree of professionalism in her maintenance of the museum’s artifact collection and care of our heritage buildings; creativity and resourcefulness in researching and preparing exhibits; and enthusiasm in sharing the Russian Mennonite story with our museum’s guests. She will be missed, and our warm wishes go with her as she leaves MHV this week to pursue new adventures and further studies.

   To fill the vacancy created by Jessica’s departure, we are pleased to announce the appointment of Adrienne Dewsberry, who takes over as our new Assistant Curator this week. Adrienne brings to the position a background in history, archeology, and museum studies, with experience in various types of museum facilities. She worked at Fort William Historical Park, an open-air historic site in Thunder Bay, for over 8 years. She also completed her practicum for her museum training at Lougheed House Museum, a National and Provincial Historic Site in Calgary, Alberta, this last summer. We are delighted to welcome Adrienne to the MHV team.

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



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.