The Familiar and The New

The Familiar and the New

   I hope no one will be surprised to learn that May 1 was opening day for the summer season at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). This happens every year on the same day. The Village is now open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

   This year our guests can expect to experience many familiar things and also numerous new things. Certainly the Village will be familiar to our repeat visitors with its heritage buildings, monuments, open spaces, trees, flowers and water features. The barnyard, complete with a wide variety of farm animals, will also feel, sound and smell as it has in the past. Once again friendly staff and volunteers will be present to enhance the experience.

   The cuisine in the Livery Barn Restaurant, with its aroma, flavour and abundance, will not only remind guests of previous experiences in the restaurant but hopefully also of many meals they have enjoyed in their parents’ or grandparents’ homes. Along with our traditional vereniki, farmer sausage, borscht, kielkje, and plautz, we are again offering the Saturday brunch and the Sunday lunch buffets. Our bakery will again be producing much fine fare, including our famous sticky cinnamon buns.

   In addition to the ethnic food, the restaurant will be offering daily lunch specials. The Thursday special will again be homemade soup and bread - all you can eat. There are typically three types of soup and three types of bread to choose from. Friday’s special is a fish entrée, usually a pickerel fillet, with lemon pie for dessert. People who are only coming to the restaurant for lunch are not required to pay admission. Those who stay to tour all or part of the Village are expected to also pay normal admission.

    But not everything remains the same. One of the big changes is in the General Store. Roxanna and Nita have substantially reorganized the inside of the building. The artifacts on display in the store and the merchandise made and sold by local artisans have been tastefully re-arranged to give the place a new but traditional feel. Additionally, the number of artisans merchandising their products in the store has grown to 14. As a result there are a lot of newly offered items for sale. For many of our guests, a visit to our General Store is a significant part of the MHV experience.

   While a significant number of our visitors return year after year, and perhaps even more frequently, we also have the pleasure of meeting many new visitors. Just last Sunday I met a mother and her two children who had come out from Winnipeg for their first visit. The children were particularly interested in the animals. When they told me how much they had enjoyed the experience I sensed they would likely become return visitors. I also met a local family on their first visit to MHV. It’s hard to describe their astonishment at the richness of their experiences in the Village. They will definitely become return visitors because they purchased a Family Membership which includes a season pass for the year.

   We are pleased to offer the familiar and the new. And we are always pleased to host guests who appreciate either one, or both.

Calendar of Events:

May 10 – Mother’s Day Lunch Buffet in the LBR

May 18 – Spring on the Farm and Tractor Show

May 24 – MHV Faspa with The Sisters of the Holy Rock

June 7 – Lions Car Show

June 13 – MHV/Eden Tractor Trek

Setting up the Village

Setting up the Village

   Readying our historical village for the summer season is a great undertaking. Curtains, bedding, and tablecloths are laundered and ironed; straw mattresses are fluffed; floors are swept and windows are washed. With help from Erna Friesen, who has volunteered to wash and iron the village linens this year, we arrange everything from the elaborate Himmelbad (heaven’s bed) in the Chortitz housebarn’s Groote Stow (parlour room) to the humble teacher’s schlopbenkj (sleeping bench) in the private schoolhouse.

   Rather than hiding away their bedding in a linen closet, the Mennonites put them on display. The Himmelbad, so named for its cloudlike appearance, is piled high with layers of wool or feather mattresses and sheets, with pillows on top. The Groote Stow was a showroom for silent signs of status: the dowry chest, the clock, the china cabinet, and the guest bed stacked high with richly embroidered bedding. The very best needlework would be on the top layer – a way for Mennonite women of the house to show their artistic skill. The Groote Stow also doubled as a guestroom, and the Himmelbad was used to host overnight visitors.

   Our Chortitz housebarn’s Groote Stow would not be complete without a Kroeger Clock. Each winter we bring it indoors to protect it from the harsh winter temperatures. The Kroeger Clock represents a tradition of Mennonite-made clocks and a culture of time consciousness.

   The Mennonites loved to plant lush flower and vegetable gardens and kept beautiful fruit orchards. Mennonite women in particular expressed themselves through the decorating of their homes and yards with flowers. This affection for flowers can be seen in the names given to Mennonite villages in Manitoba, such as Rosenort, meaning “Place of Roses”.

   Some flowers were planted near the house in window boxes. Mennonites particularly enjoyed geraniums (Ommeraunje). Each spring here at MHV, pots of geraniums which have been kept indoors through the winter are set in the windows all around the Village. Mennonite women also planted such flowers as the Hollyhock (Stockroos), Lilly (Lelje), Marigold (Stintjnoagle), Rose (Roos), and Pansy (Schwaulum-Uag). Thanks to the hard work and support of the Steinbach and Area Garden Club, this Mennonite gardening tradition is kept alive each year at the Mennonite Heritage Village.

Opening for the Season

   Both the Village and the Livery Barn Restaurant (LBR) will open for business on Friday, May 1. Remember that guests who just come for lunch at the LBR are not required to pay admission.

Annual General Meeting

Annual General Meeting

   Approximately 40 members attended the Annual General Meeting of Mennonite Heritage Village at the museum on April 7. Willie Peters, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, filling in for a convalescing John Klippenstein, led the assembled members through approximately 75 minutes of reporting, business and celebration.

   The report from the Board of Directors provided information on its work in the past year. The approval and maintenance of board policies was a major part of the work. The board also processed an invitation to membership in the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, and participated in a Chortitza Oak Tree planting ceremony at the offices of Mennonite Central Committee in Winnipeg in celebration of both organizations’ 50th anniversaries.

   The Executive Director reported on a number of operational highlights from 2014. The publication of A Collected History; Mennonite Heritage Village was clearly one of the accomplishments that has been celebrated. This volume will serve as a souvenir for many of our guests allowing them to own an “exhibit” that will remind them of MHV and the stories we tell.

   Last year we again addressed a number of facilities issues. The Lichtenau Church and the Steamer Shelter were painted and a number of buildings received new eaves troughs. The Village Centre Doors were equipped with electric door openers for improved handicapped access and an electronic billboard was installed near the highway.

   While our Auditor always provides a very encouraging report, this year the tone of his comments was particularly buoyant. While we’ve operated with a balanced budget for a number of years now, this year our statement actually reported a significant surplus. This was due to a large bequest received during 2014 and a very successful drive to pay off some of our debt in December. Given that bequests are normally one-time contributions and that the December drive was entirely designated for debt repayment and not for current operations, we will still need to be as frugal as ever in our 2015 operations. The members accepted a balanced budget for the current year.

   A slate of four directors was elected to the board. Allan Kroeker, Carol Kroeker and Sid Reimer were reelected and Roland Sawatzky was elected to his first term. Each board member is eligible to server three terms, each being three years in length.

   Anne Friesen was recognized for her ten years of service on the Board of Directors. Anne was first appointed as a representative of City Council and then was elected by the members. Her interest in the work of MHV was inspired by the passion of her late husband, H. K. Friesen. Anne has served the community through her involvement on the MHV Board and its committees with diligence and integrity.

   Immediately following the conclusion of the AGM the Board met to organize its Executive Committee. John Klippenstein was elected as Chair, Willie Peters as Vice Chair and Carol Kroeker as Secretary.

   As is the case with many events at MHV, there was opportunity to socialize and share stories around cookies and coffee after the conclusion of the meeting.


Staffing Opportunities

   This is the time of year when we do most of our hiring at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). As usual, we have a number of openings this year, most of them being summer jobs.

   For those who enjoy the outdoors and brisk physical work, we are looking for a Facilities Assistant. We are also recruiting a person who enjoys working with children to assist with the administration of our Education Program. Our Livery Barn Restaurant is in need of several workers who enjoy meeting and serving the public. For those who are looking specifically for weekend and evening work, we need someone to be the on-site staff person for our rental activities. You will find more information about these opportunities on our website at under the menu item Involvement.

Volunteer Opportunities

   Mennonite Heritage Village always has a variety of volunteer opportunities for people with all kinds of interests and skills. Very soon we will be looking for individuals to help deliver our Education Program to all the school children who will come to MHV on their field trips in May and June. This is an exciting time to be involved. Our facilities also need a lot of ongoing attention from volunteers. We will be looking for people to ride tractors to mow the yard; carpenters to do general repairs; painters to refurbish benches, fences and picnic tables. On festival days, we will need ushers, short-order cooks, printers, blacksmiths, sawmill assistants, and other helpers. Volunteering allows one to gain access to the event without needing to pay admission and also gives one a discounted meal ticket. Call Anne Toews (204-326-9661) to register as a volunteer or inquire about specific opportunities. All volunteers should attend the Volunteer Orientation at MHV on April 23.

   MHV’s summer season is about to begin. Why not get involved this year in enjoyable and significant work.

MHV Membership

   This is a good time of year to consider buying a membership in Mennonite Heritage Village. The museum is not owned by the City of Steinbach or any other government body. It is a corporation, registered as a charity and owned by its members. Memberships are categorized for either families or single individuals. Not only does a membership offer one the satisfaction of supporting an important institution, it also includes a number of more tangible benefits. All members have a season pass to the museum. This pass is good for a year and provides access to all festival events but not to fundraising events. A member is also eligible to vote at the Annual General Meeting, receives three issues of our newsletter Village Voice annually, and may visit other signature museums in the province at discounted rates. Memberships can be purchased by dropping in at the museum during regular office hours or online at

The Easter Holiday

   Easter is arguably the most significant holiday in the Christian calendar. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation on which the Christian faith is built. I find it interesting that our society has chosen to make Christmas a much more flamboyant holiday than Easter.

   Easter comes in a bundle which includes Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent; Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter; and Good Friday, the Friday before Easter. The 40-day season of Lent officially ends the day before Easter Sunday. It is interesting to note that Sundays are not included in the 40-day count leading up to Easter. Easter Sunday then becomes the first day of the 50-day Easter season, which ends on Pentecost Sunday. Clearly the Christian calendar provides ample opportunity for celebration on both sides of this sacred day.

   There is evidence that a season of Lent was observed in the Apostolic era, as far back as A.D. 330. Some believers viewed it as an imitation or remembrance of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and dealing with temptation. Others viewed Lent as a time of soul-searching, repentance, reflection and “taking stock” of one’s values and practices.

   For a period of time, beginning in the 16th century, Anabaptists chose not to celebrate most of the holidays traditionally observed in the Christian calendar. Evidently this had to do with a perception that these holidays were in fact creations of the State rather than the Church.

   Today some Mennonite churches celebrate Lent as a season of reflection, preparation for the celebrations of Good Friday and Easter, and in some cases, fasting. Fasting may involve giving up certain foods or it may involve avoiding certain activities and replacing those activities with something that helps them prepare for Good Friday and Easter.

   No doubt all Mennonite churches celebrate Good Friday and Easter. Some may also have a communion service on Maundy Thursday, and others may also have a worship service on Easter Monday. Very few, if any, would still have a service on the Tuesday after Easter, which was actually a practice in the past.

   One of the food traditions Mennonites have picked up during their time in Ukraine/Russia is that of enjoying Paska on and around Easter. Paska is the Ukrainian name for an Easter bread common to that culture and still common to the Russian Mennonite culture as well. Our curators are currently doing research for an exhibit in the Gerhard Ens Gallery that will speak to our 2015 theme of Mennonite Food: Tastes in Transition. Perhaps at some time during this exhibit, which will open by May 1, guests may be offered a sample of this tasty Easter bread.

New Development Coordinator

Patricia West Cropped

 Mennonite Heritage Village is pleased to announce the appointment of Patricia West as our new Development Coordinator. Patricia will be responsible for our fundraising events, sponsorship programs, and promotional materials and activities. She brings experience from a variety of administrative and volunteer roles. Patricia grew up in southeastern Manitoba and has been involved in numerous community events over the years. We are pleased to have her skills and commitment to excellence on board at MHV.

New Artifact Donation

   We recently received a Familien-Bibel, or family Bible, from Lorraine (Epp) Bergmann to add to our MHV collection. A family Bible is an heirloom handed down from one generation to the next within one family, with each successive descendant recording new births, deaths, baptisms, and marriages. It was often a Mennonite family’s most treasured book, well-worn from use and kept for generations.

   This particular family Bible was purchased in Russia and given as a wedding gift to Jacob and Katharina Epp in 1874. Jacob and Katharina lived on a beautiful estate in Rosenort, Russia. When Jacob built their new house, most of the materials were imported. They constructed a housebarn, with an adjoining building to house hired workers, and also a pigeon house. Everything was trimmed with rungs painted in two colours. Their garden bloomed full of roses, and the pathways were made of stone. In the orchard there were red currants, gooseberries, and fruit trees.

   Jacob and Katharina Epp managed their farm estate until some of their married children were able to take it over, at which time Jacob and Katharina became house-parents in a seniors’ home. Jacob suffered from arteriosclerosis, and on July 9, 1919, he became seriously ill. Due to unstable political conditions, it was difficult to notify family members. Couriers who travelled by train were hired to bring the news to those of their children living in the Crimea, Schoenfeld and Memrick settlements. Daughter Maria and her husband, Peter Kliever, were harvesting crops and berry picking at Schoensee when they were notified, but Maria left immediately to be with her father. Jacob died peacefully on July 19 and was buried in Rosenort.

   In 1924, after the years of war, revolution, disease, and hunger, Katharina and her children (Jacob, Johann, Abraham, Maria and husband Peter)decided to seek emigration to Canada. By this time, the authorities had already confiscated their farmland and many of the better animals. They took refuge in the farm buildings until they were able to leave the country.

   Often a family Bible is passed from one generation to the next through the eldest son of the family. What is interesting about the history of the Kliever Bible, however, is that Katharina passed it to her youngest daughter, Maria (Epp) Kliever. Maria, in turn, gave it to her daughter, Katherina (Kliever) Epp, who gave it to her daughter, Lorraine (Epp) Bergmann, who has now donated it to MHV.

Flax Straw and Manure Bricks

 Last week, MHV had the opportunity to host the 8th Annual Biomass Workshop, organized by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development and presented by the Manitoba Bioenergy and Bioproducts Team.

   As part of an agenda packed with presentations about strategies for incorporating the use of biomass energy into various industries, and the cutting-edge technology that could make this possible, I had the privilege of giving a brief presentation on the historical uses of biomass energy among Mennonites in Manitoba. The term “biomass energy” refers to the energy derived from the use of living or recently dead biological or renewable materials from agricultural (plant or animal), marine, or forestry resources. Two of the sources of biomass energy commonly used by Mennonites in the past are flax straw and manure.

   Flax straw was used for a variety of purposes in Mennonite households. Very often it was used as an ingredient in plaster, providing structural support to the mixture, similar to rebar in concrete. The plaster was then used to seal walls on a building or on an outdoor clay oven. For energy purposes, flax straw was commonly used as the fuel source for the outdoor oven. This oven was an important part of a family’s household and was used for baking in the summer, in order to keep unwanted heat out of the house. The baking in this type of oven is accomplished by radiated heat instead of heat derived directly from a fire source, so the item to be baked is only inserted into the oven after the fuel has burned up.

   Although wood was used for the oven when it was available, flax straw was often the preferred fuel because of its many benefits. First, it was a readily-available and free source of fuel in a farming community. Second, it burns very easily, partly because the straw doesn’t collapse when baled, which allows greater air circulation in a bale of flax straw, producing a better fire. Third, flax straw is a high-heat fuel source. Per ton, its heating value is said to be similar to soft coal and higher than any other crop residue. It also produces more heat per unit weight than wood.

Monday 2012 61 Reduced   Another source of biomass energy historically used in Mennonite homes in Manitoba was manure bricks. Although there were drawbacks to this fuel source (for example, it was obviously not a suitable fuel for baking purposes), it also had significant benefits. It was a readily-available, renewable, and free source of fuel; it provided a slow but adequate heat; and it was odourless.

   Manure bricks could be produced manually by spreading out a layer of manure mixed with straw to a depth of about a foot, leading horses to walk over the mixture to compact it, cutting it into squares with a spade, and then letting it dry. The bricks could also be prepared mechanically with a manure-brick extruder. For this method, the manure mixture was fed into one end of the machine, which was attached to a power source. The brick maker’s auger would then move the mixture through the machine and form it into rectangular bricks, which the operator would then cut to the appropriate size with a spade. The prepared bricks were then laid out to dry.

   Manure bricks were typically used as a fuel for the large brick oven which was an important feature of the typical Mennonite housebarn. This oven provided heat for the household, served all its cooking and baking needs during the colder months, and was also equipped with a meat-smoking chamber up in the chimney. The housebarn was built around this central oven, designed so that most of the rooms bordered on at least one of the oven’s exposed, brick walls. In this way, heat could radiate from these walls into each room and thereby provide sufficient heat for the entire house, even when the oven was only stoked twice in the day.

   The manufacture and use of both of these energy sources are displayed at MHV during some of our festival days. Volunteers provide historical demonstrations, baking bread in the outdoor oven and making manure bricks with the manure-brick maker which is an artifact in our museum’s collection.

Calendar of Events

April 7 – MHV Annual General Meeting – 7:30 PM

April 23 – Volunteer Orientation – 7:00 PM

South Eastman Rotary Club Supports MHV Windmill

It was my privilege to address the South Eastman Rotary Club at their recent meeting in Steinbach. The club is a long-time supporter of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV).

Besides renting the auditorium in our Village Centre for a number of their events each year, the Rotary Club has shown particular interest in our windmill. The club has been providing yearly funding toward the maintenance and care of this iconic structure on our campus.

This maintenance and care is a significant matter. The track on which the head rotates, in order to keep the main sails facing into the wind, needs to be lubricated regularly. From time to time the structure needs to be re-painted. This was last undertaken in 2012 and was a substantial task, involving many hours of meticulous work and a very tall scissor lift.

Security is another essential element of care for the windmill. The building is currently equipped with a burglar alarm, heat sensors and a sprinkler system. It is also illuminated by three very large flood lights that have a considerable impact on our energy bill.

Our windmill is a significant artifact for the museum and a prominent icon for our community. Steinbach is known far and wide for its windmill. While we can’t readily quantify the impact it has, it clearly helps identify our museum as a tourist destination.

The windmill also plays an important role in educating our guests. One need only be present for a few minutes during a windy festival day, when the mill is producing flour, to realize how much learning is taking place as people gather in the building to watch and talk with the millers. Additionally, about 4,000 students participate in our formal Education Program every year. By far the majority of those young people enter the windmill and learn about its operation and its contribution to communities in the past. Some school classes attend to participate in our Structures Program, which is often taught in the windmill.

Historically, knowledge of windmill technology enabled the Mennonites to drain land in the Vistula Delta of Poland (then Prussia) and turn the area into productive agricultural land. In Russia, windmill use shifted from drainage to grinding grain and sawing lumber. The Red River Colony (now Winnipeg) of Selkirk Settlers, Métis, French Canadians, and First Nations had built 18 windmills by the time the Mennonites arrived in 1874. From 1876-1906, the Mennonites of Manitoba built or rebuilt a number of windmills, including the Steinbach windmill in 1877.

windmill Despite our windmill’s current functions related to tourism and education, as well as its provision of flour for the Livery Barn Restaurant’s bakery, it is not the workhorse it once was. Today’s windmills look very different and are largely used to generate electricity. It’s good to see that we’ve learned new ways to harness the energy of the wind for domestic purposes.

We appreciate the commitment of the South Eastman Rotary Club to assisting us in maintaining our windmill as a functioning artifact and teaching tool.

Calendar of Events

April 7 – MHV Annual General Meeting – 7:30 PM

April 23 – Volunteer Orientation – 7:00 PM

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.