Village News

Love, Work and Play

 My first week as Executive Director is complete and another has begun. I am excited to be a part of it all; interviews with the Carillon, getting to know the staff and they me, working on a budget to present to the finance committee and then to the board. I met Jack Thiessen, an emeritus professor of German who is doing a book launch of a Low German dictionary with us. I’ve met with service technicians showing me what is still wrong with our HVAC system. In between those meetings were more visitors, phone calls, email, questions from staff and finally helping out at our Winter Carnival on Saturday.

 What a beautiful sunny day for our Winter Carnival! I saw fathers making getaway caves in the snow banks for their kids, mothers snuggling their toddlers on the horse wagon, children playing keep-away hockey on the rink and everyone roasting marshmallows by our bonfire. Our main street provided an opportunity for good old outdoor play.  This kind of interaction with care-givers and nature is exactly what our kids need in our new digital world.

 As I think back to my first week at MHV, I’m reminded of the three essential drives in life that child psychologist, Dr. Gordon Neufeld teaches; love, work and play. If you can find all three in one place, you have found gold. And that I have at MHV.

 

Calendar of Events

March 3, Vespers Service – 7:00 PM

Village News

The time has come to pass the torch, hand over the keys, change the sign on the office door, or whatever other metaphor one might apply to the situation. My term as Executive Director at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) has come to an end, and retirement has begun. As of Monday, February 11, Gary Dyck has assumed responsibility for the position.

   To introduce Gary to our readers, I conducted a brief interview with him. He responded to five questions that I posed.

   Welcome to Mennonite Heritage Village, Gary. Tell us about your background (growing up, education, previous work, etc.).

   I grew up just a couple of miles north of MHV. In 1993 I graduated from the Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) with a double Marketing/Accounting diploma and eventually was able to complete a Master of Arts degree in Global Studies from Providence Seminary. I loved growing up in Steinbach, and with that solid foundation my family and I were able to go overseas for 18 years, where I served as a holistic development worker. My roles during my time in Central Asia and China included directing the Literature and Translation Department of a large humanitarian organization and founding an organic fertilizer company for low-income farmers.

   What is it about MHV that attracted you to the role of Executive Director?

   This past summer I moved back to Steinbach with my family. MHV was our first and second choice to reengage with our community. It truly is a world-class museum, covering 500 years of a history and culture that our world needs to know about and learn from. Working at MHV is a terrific opportunity for me to rejoin a community I treasure and to use my social entrepreneurship skills for good.

   Tell us about some of your first priorities in this role?

   There are always the urgent needs of maintaining the heritage buildings, but I also want to focus on the long-term work of making MHV more self-sustainable. My personal priority is to develop strong relationships with the staff, volunteers and wider community. I myself can only do so much, but with a community engaged, a lot more can be accomplished.

   What visions for the future do you already have for MHV?

   Oh, where do I begin? MHV has and can have so many roles. It is a wonderful resource for history, education, life skills, mental health, culture and community development. One vision I have is to increase therapeutic use of MHV for the enhancement of physical, mental and emotional health in our community. Our beautiful setting offers much to contemplate and receive from.

   What else would you like our readers to know?

   I am very thankful for this opportunity. I look forward to getting to know many of you and working alongside you.

Calendar of Events

February 15, Teen Gala – Western Night – 7:00 PM

February 16, MHV Winter Carnival – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

March 3, Vespers Service – 7:00 PM

 

Village News

Museum Relevance

   In my younger years I had little or no interest in history, be it Canadian history, Mennonite history or any other history. I suspect my high-school history teacher may have sadly noted my apparent apathy. It’s not uncommon to hear similar sentiments from other people, even those my age, who still have little interest in things historical.

   At Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), we often discuss how our museum can be relevant in an environment where many people do not find history engaging. MHV needs to be a vital member of its community and its broader constituency. Our education program, which involves several thousand students annually, is one of the ways we reach our community. We hold festival days like Manitoba Day, Canada Day, Pioneer Days, Open Farm Day, and Fall on the Farm, which together attract 10,000 - 15,000 guests annually. Our facilities are available to families, businesses and other organizations for meetings, parties, picnics, receptions and the like. However, we need to be consistently relevant year round, not only during the summer season.

   With this in mind, MHV has a host of February activities planned to engage people’s various interests. The month of February is officially designated “I Love to Read Month,” so we will highlight that with our second annual Author Reading Event on Thursday, February 7, at 7:00 p.m. in our Auditorium.

   The following authors will read from their recent publications and be available to sign books purchased that evening: Waldemar Janzen – Reminiscences of My Father Wladimir Janzen; Werner Toews – Sketches From Siberia, The Life of Jacob D. Suderman; Glen Klassen – Hope, Healing and Community. The ensemble Accent will provide musical entertainment. This event will be relevant to book lovers and historians alike. Admission is free.

   On Friday, February 8, at 6:00 p.m., the local Peace Project Committee will host a fundraising banquet at MHV to raise money for an interpretive exhibit to supplement the recently installed monument of Dirk Willems. The evening will feature a choir from the Crystal Springs Hutterite Colony and a talk by Dora Maendel, a teacher at the Fairholme Hutterite Colony. She will tell the story of four young men sentenced to 20 years in Alcatraz for their refusal to enlist in the military in 1918. This event will have particular relevance for those who value our Anabaptist history and theology. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at MHV by calling 204-326-9661.

   On the following Friday, February 15, MHV will host a teen gala event with an Old Time Western County Fair theme. Activities will include an escape room; a photo booth; carnival games; face painting, henna and airbrushing; dancing and snacks. This event seeks to increase our relevance to high-school-age students. It begins at 7:00 p.m., and admission is $10.

   Then on Saturday, February 16, we will host the second annual MHV Winter Carnival. Beginning at 10:00 a.m., there will be skating, horse-drawn sleigh rides, a bonfire, indoor and outdoor games, and snacks will be available from a canteen. Regular MHV admission rates apply, which means that all current MHV members get in free.

   An additional activity is also available at MHV throughout February and the remainder of our winter months. The City of Steinbach has once again created a skating rink on our museum grounds. We are making it available to our community free of charge (except on Feb. 16 as noted above) during regular museum hours. We are open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. A great family outing!

   MHV’s relevance to our community will continue to increase as we seek to serve various interest groups and demographics in creative ways. History may suddenly seem less stuffy to the sceptics out there.

Calendar of Events

February 7, Second Annual Author Reading Event – 7:00 PM

February 8, Peace Project Fundraising Event – 6:00 PM

February 15, Teen Gala – Western Night – 7:00 PM

February 16, MHV Winter Carnival – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Village News

My Favourite Things

   Think of your favourite things. Excluding people or places, like your favourite café or park, think about the objects that fill the spaces in which you live and make a list of your top ten. What things came to mind? Why did you choose them? 

   I did this exercise myself recently, and it pushed me to consider again the importance of materiality in our lives. The stories connected to the objects on my top ten list recall the people I love and who love me. They prompted me to think of the things I know that are true and reminded me of what I’ve learned and where I’ve come from. The value in these things is not their monetary value or even, in many cases, any inherent beauty they may have. Their value for me is in these back stories, the things that provide a tangible connection to my own history.

   In my list of favourite things, for example, are my bicycles, one for summer and one for winter. They aren’t the fanciest bikes, and in fact my winter bike is old, not very attractive, and not worth much. My bikes made my list because of what they have come to represent for me. I started cycling during a season of chronic migraines and pain that, for me, has been part of dealing with post-concussion syndrome over the last number of years, and I started winter cycling in a year when this pain was at its worst. In this context, my winter bike has come to symbolize thankfulness, faith, strength, resilience, adventure, and the quieter, bass-note kind of joy that I started to learn about through a difficult circumstance. My summer bicycle, on the other hand, represents something much different and lighter: an uncontainable, childish joy from the fun of going as fast as I can and beating my time and the playfulness of getting soaked cycling through a mud puddle in spring.

   This materiality of life is something we all experience to some degree in our personal lives, but when I walked into work the day after I made my list, I thought about our museum’s collection in a new way too. This, in part, is why museums do what we do! Unfortunately, some artefacts have arrived here without a clear history. For example, the velocipede on display in the main gallery is certainly unique in our collection and fascinating in what it conveys about leisure activities or transportation in the early 1900s, but we know next to nothing about its specific history.

   For the most part, however, our museum’s artefact collection is comprised of objects that were treasured by the people who donated them, and by the donor’s ancestors in many cases.  They are objects that carried enough inherent significance that their owners thought it worthwhile to keep them. Over time, they became heirlooms by virtue of the meaning they contained and the symbolism bestowed on them by their owners.

   For example, one of the last additions to the artefact collection in 2018 was a beautiful piano constructed of burled walnut, built by Erich Brandes in Berlin (ca. 1899). This piano was purchased from the German consul in Winnipeg in the early 1930s by Henry (Heinrich) Dyck for his sister Elisabeth (Dyck) Peters, not long after their 1925 arrival in Canada.

   The siblings had lived through the horrors that attended life for many Mennonites in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution, including the murder of their father. He was a schoolteacher, killed by anarchists while trying to obtain food for his family. Once in Canada, Elisabeth worked as a domestic in Winnipeg from the age of fourteen, and her brother took on a number of “blue-collar” jobs. Both eventually worked at getting an education and became teachers, ultimately university professors. The donor reported that the gift from Henry (the donor’s uncle) to Elisabeth (the donor’s mother), made so soon after their arrival in Canada, was made at an enormous sacrifice.

   The physical materiality of this beautiful piano contains all of this history. And there is much more yet that we aren’t privy to, because the piano was later passed from Elisabeth to her daughter and then occupied a prized place in the donor’s home for many more years before the decision was made to donate it to Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). When the piano arrived at our museum and was settled into its new home in our collections storage room, I snapped a photo of it and sent it to the donor.  Her response to my email has stayed with me. She thanked me for sending the photo and then shared that even though she was thankful the piano had a new home, it had still been a “wrench” for her to see it go.

   MHV’s collection contains over 16,000 artefacts. Consider all the stories that these objects represent and then all the histories of the people in whose lives they played a part. As a curator, I have the opportunity of handling these artefacts – from the very smallest stored in our collections storage room, to our very largest heritage buildings in the village - and hearing their stories. This is a privilege for me and something I don’t take lightly, but when I considered my favourite things and what they symbolized in my life, it struck me anew what it means when people donate their objects to MHV and entrust us with their histories, all for the good of the community.

   I now offer you this challenge: Think back to that list of your favourite things and consider the secret life of the objects around you. I dare you to try doing this without smiling, as you think over the richness that these everyday things bring to our lives and how they connect us to our past. Then come visit the galleries at our museum and contemplate all the histories embedded in plain sight throughout the exhibits and what it means to belong to a community of people who are willing to share their stories with one another in this generous way.

Calendar of Events

February 3, Vespers Service – 7:00 PM

February 7, Second Annual Author Reading Event – 7:00 PM

February 15, Teen Gala – Western Night – 7:00 PM

February 16, MHV Winter Carnival – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Village News

Reaper, Binder and Spreader

   These three words have at least three things in common at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). They are all old farm implements in our machinery collection. They all have a significant number of wooden parts. And because their wooden parts make them more vulnerable to weathering and decay than metal machines, they are all desperately in need of repair.

   In earliest times, the term “reaper” likely referred to a person. This individual would be using a scythe (a long knife with a long wooden handle) to cut grass or ripe grain to prepare it for threshing. Various mechanical devices were later invented to automate this process.

   Britannica.com informs us that the earliest mechanical reapers were invented and patented in the early 1800s. Some of these machines had a sickle, or “reciprocating,” cutter bar that cut the stalks of grain, a table that held the cut grain, and a series of paddles that rotated over the table and pushed the bunches of grain off the table. These bunches could then be manually tied into sheaves, which would be set up in small groups, or stooks, to dry. Once dry, the sheaves would be collected and threshed in a thresher or separator.

   Today, the most commonly used mechanical reapers are swathers and combines. The type of reaper that preceded today’s swather was a binder, which we still use in one of our pioneer demonstrations. This machine cuts the grain and bundles and ties it into sheaves to facilitate handling.

   Various models of binders were used to cut and bundle either cereal grains or corn. The corn binder, similar to the grain binder mentioned above, cut corn stalks and tied bunches of stalks into bundles for easier handling. These bundles of corn were then typically taken to a stationary silo filler to be cut into silage.

   The manure spreader was an early model organic fertilizer spreader. Composted manure was loaded into the spreader and broadcast on the fields, pulled by either horses or a tractor.

   These are all interesting machines, and videos of each one in operation can be found on YouTube. MHV’s machinery collection includes at least one reaper, one corn binder, and one manure spreader. As noted above, the many wood components on these old machines are decaying and need to be replaced, hopefully with a view to using these functioning artefacts for our pioneer farming demonstrations.

   Here’s where we offer a great opportunity to anyone who enjoys working with wood as a hobby. We have a heated shop with a variety of woodworking tools. This would be a great place for interested volunteers to gather one or more days a week to work on restoration projects such as this one. In winter, our staff enjoy having volunteers join them in the Village Centre for free coffee. In summer, when the Livery Barn Restaurant is in operation, meals are available to volunteers at half price. Give us a call at 204-326-9661 if this interests you, and we’ll provide more information about project options.

Calendar of Events

February 3, Vespers Service – 7:00 PM

February 7, Second annual Author Reading Event – 7:00 PM

February 15, Teen Gala – Western Night – 7:00 PM

February 16, MHV Winter Carnival – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Village News

New Shoes or Polished Shoes?

   Many years ago, the chairperson of my church’s finance committee told our gathered membership that he had not purchased new shoes for his presentation of the proposed new budget, but he had at least polished them. No doubt this comment was to reflect the austerity which had shaped that budget.

   It would seem to me that the finance committee chairpersons of most charitable organizations would tend to “polish” their shoes rather than “purchase” new ones for similar reasons. And I suspect this will be the case at the next Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) Annual General Meeting (AGM).

   Our 2018 books have now been closed, statements have been printed, and budgeting worksheets have been distributed to department heads. It probably goes without saying that budgeting is nobody’s favourite activity. But it needs to be done.

   There may be several reasons why people generally don’t enjoy writing a budget. There is a lot of uncertainty involved in this exercise. A former colleague in one of my previous careers used to tell us, “We know the budgets will be wrong; we just need to figure out where they will be wrong.” So we do our best to project what will happen and then incorporate as much flexibility into the action plans as we can. (Is this starting to sound more like art than science?)

   One of the factors we need to project is changes in revenue. Can we expect more guests to visit the museum this year than last year, thereby increasing our admission revenue? And if so, why? How will the number of guests affect sales in Village Books and Gifts and in the Livery Barn Restaurant? How will local traffic impact sales in those two venues? Will the number of people using our Summer Pavilion, our Auditorium, or one of the other meeting rooms increase compared to last year? And again, why? What grants can we expect to receive for various programs and projects? Will donations and fundraising revenue increase or decrease?

   While we consider these questions, we also need to figure out how we will need to manage our areas of responsibility in order to bring about increases in revenue. What exhibits and programs will attract local, regional, national and international guests? What products and services will make our gift shop and restaurant popular destinations? What services will make our rental facilities attractive to local businesses, family groups and wedding parties? What fundraising events will the public find engaging and compelling?

   And it doesn’t get any easier. We also need to determine the optimum prices to set in our gift shop and restaurant, for museum admission, for our facility rental business, and for fundraising events. In other words, what value will people place on our products and services in order to feel that they are being treated fairly and enjoy doing business with and supporting our museum?

   Salaries of our paid staff make up a significant part of our expenditures. Our staff need to be treated fairly, which is addressed in part by paying wages that are at least similar to what they could earn in the for-profit world. At the same time, we need to be fair to the many MHV supporters who make donations to our work and therefore be frugal with all our operating costs. And at the end of this budgeting exercise, our final budget must of course be a balanced budget.

   For the next several weeks, department heads will be processing all these questions and trying to come up with the best combination of revenue and expense projections for this new year, shaped by last year’s performance as well as our 2019 strategic plan. We will be guided by our knowledge of the broader museum industry, by our understanding of our supporting constituency, and by our good will towards our community. Plan to attend our AGM in April to see how we did!

Calendar of Events

February 3, Vespers Service – 7:00 PM

February 7, Second annual Author Reading Event – 7:00 PM

February 15, Teen Gala – Western Night – 7:00 PM

February 16, MHV Winter Carnival – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Village News

vn 1 11 19 

Photo Caption: Curator Andrea Dyck cleaning the small case that holds some of the Bibles in our collection.

 

The Joy of Cleaning

   About once a year, the curatorial department at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) devotes a week or two to one of our favourite parts of our job: cleaning. No, I’m not kidding. There is nothing more satisfying than tidying, scrubbing, and washing all those things we had meant to address throughout the year but didn’t have the time for. And doing it in the weeks before Christmas break means that when we get back to the office, our curatorial and exhibit areas are glowing spaces that will give us motivation and inspiration for our upcoming projects.

   Our 2018 project goal was to clean the entire permanent gallery. This was quite an undertaking! Neither Andrea nor I knew when the gallery had been last cleaned. It had certainly been quite a while, as there was a significant layer of dust on the wall panels. As we prepared for this task, we excitedly anticipated using the backpack vacuum cleaner we had purchased in 2017, thanks to funding from the Heritage Grants program.

   This project really gave us the opportunity to take it for a spin! Although vacuuming and cleaning the gallery may seem like a low-priority task, it is actually an important part of preventative conservation practices. (To read more about preventative conservation, see the “Village News” article from November 30, 2017, https://steinbachonline.com/community-blogs/mennonite-heritage-village/village-news-128.) Vacuuming dust out of cases and wiping walls and windows not only makes the gallery look more pleasing to visitors; it also helps prevent the deterioration of our artefacts. Keeping the artefacts themselves clean through regular vacuuming and dusting is especially important for their long-term preservation.

   Not only did this project give us visual satisfaction of a clean space; it also gave us the opportunity to get a closer look at some of the artefacts that are usually kept behind glass. One that particularly intrigued me was a medicine chest. This chest belonged to Aeltester Franz F. Enns, who practiced homeopathic medicine in the Terek settlement in Russia, and also later in Canada when the family fled from the newly formed Soviet Union in 1918. He brought this chest with him, which was filled with over 100 tiny glass jars of ingredients for his medicines. These include arsenic, cannabis, belladonna, sulfur, and chamomile, to name a few. Many labels on the jars are Russian, while others are from different herbal dispensaries throughout Manitoba and Alberta, indicating that he did continue practicing after migrating to Canada. We didn’t have very long to focus on the medicine chest, but I hope to do more research on the different herbs and remedies Enns used. Stay tuned for a future post!

   Our cleaning project also gave us a chance to evaluate the artefacts in the permanent gallery and assess the opportunity for some changes to reinvigorate the gallery in a manageable way. Periodically switching out some of the artefacts for other ones is important not only because it presents different artefacts to visitors. It also helps us to protect and conserve the artefacts we have on display. Because artefacts made of materials like fabric and paper are sensitive to light, we try to rotate our textiles and paper artefacts when possible. In the next month, we will be switching out some of our current artefacts to showcase other ones in our collection, as well as some of our new donations. So keep an eye out!

   Although our year-end cleaning project had seemed like it would be a massive task, we were actually able to clean the entire permanent gallery and the artefacts on display in under two weeks! Is it silly that I’m already looking forward to our 2019 project…?

Calendar of Events

January 10, Auxiliary Film Night – Seed to Seed – 7:00 PM

February 3, Vespers Service – 7:00 PM

February 7, Second annual Author Reading Event – 7:00 PM

February 15, Teen Gala – Western Night – 7:00 PM

February 16, MHV Winter Carnival – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Village News

Highlights of 2018

   While not everything we did at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in 2018 went according to plan, we had numerous highlights in various areas of our work.

   As defined by its mission statement, MHV is first and foremost a museum. One of the highlights of our museum operations this past year was the creation of our current exhibit in the Gerhard Ens Gallery, The Art of Mennonite Clocks. This joint initiative between MHV and the Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation is an outstanding display of 33 old wall clocks, along with stories about each one. A station in the gallery invites guests to leave a note with an observation about the exhibit or a sketch of a clock. We have enjoyed unprecedented participation in this aspect of the exhibit, receiving many comments and drawings.

   A museum is also an educational institution. The education programs at MHV attracted thousands of children again this past year. Normally most of this activity takes place during May and June when school classrooms are doing field trips and in July and August when daycare centres do field trips. But in 2018, students continued visiting the museum in September, October and even November. We also worked on some experimental initiatives with administrators and teachers from the Hanover School Division. These activities are in keeping with our goal of being a museum that engages its constituency year-round, not just for five months in summer.

   Because MHV is an impressive and professionally operated museum, we are also an international tourist destination. Each year we have guests from more than 50 countries. In 2018 our visitor count as of the end of October already exceeded our number of recorded visitors for all of 2017. Each year our staff and volunteers have interesting stories to tell of encounters they have had with people from other countries.

   A new monument has become an added attraction for our tourist clientele. The Peace Project Committee donated and erected the Dirk Willems monument in November. This monument is a visual expression of the value and importance of empathy and love for all people, a teaching which has applications in our homes, in our workplaces and around the world.

   In addition to being a museum and a tourist destination, MHV is also a community meeting place, and thereby a community builder. Thousands of guests attended our festivals and other events in 2018. A number of new events were introduced during times of the year when we normally haven’t had much activity at the museum. We offered a Teen Gala for our youth, a Winter Carnival for families, and an Author Reading Event for anyone who enjoys books. A downward adjustment in our membership fees resulted in a doubling of our annual membership numbers. Many of the new members are young families who see MHV as a fun place to spend time as a family, during a festival or at any other time.

   The use of our facilities by individuals and community organizations grew substantially in 2018. Our new Summer Pavilion was in frequent use as a venue for a variety of community events such as corporate staff picnics, fundraisers, class reunions, birthday parties, and wedding receptions.

   Our Livery Barn Restaurant experienced a good increase in business this past year. This restaurant addresses all three functions of MHV as described above. It serves ethnic food to help interpret Russian Mennonite culture. It provides tourists with an “experience,” which is often referred to “experiential tourism”. And it provides a venue where community members can relax and socialize around a great meal.

   We believe that the many highlights MHV has experienced during 2018 have also helped improve the quality of life in our community. Our plan for 2019 is to improve still further on our 2018 experiences.

Calendar of Events

December 23 to January 7: Closed for Christmas and New Year’s

January 10, Auxiliary Film Night – Seed to Seed – 7:00 PM

February 7, Second annual Author Reading Event – 7:00 PM

February 15, Teen Gala – Western Night – 7:00 PM

February 16, MHV Winter Carnival – 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Village News

VN 2018 12 20 Photo

Of Christmas Past (Part Two)

A New Generation

   Time passed by until one crisp wintery day near Christmas in 1957 young Larry Almon and his sister Rebecca Ann, living in Steinbach, took their toboggan and walked to Bush Farm where their grandparents, John C. Reimers, now lived. John C. had begun farming in 1944 on the land where Southland Church now stands. Larry and Rebecca had a saw to cut down their first Christmas tree. It was with great excitement that they pulled the pine tree home on the toboggan. Tonight they would decorate the tree and enjoy some of their mother's homemade oatmeal-date cookies. Life couldn't get a lot better!

   Steinbach's stores had changed a lot since Klass Reimer built his humble little shop which now stands on the Mennonite Heritage Village street. One very snowy evening Rebecca and her mother walked uptown to shop for Christmas gifts at the “5 cent to $” Store on Main Street. Rubber boots protected her feet from the deep snow, a little snow melting on the stockinged legs above. Her money was clutched in her blue hand-knit mitten.  Rebecca bought her younger sisters coloring books for only five cents each. She looked at the dime in her hand and saw the picture of young Queen Elizabeth and handed it to the cashier. She wondered what it would be like to be a queen. It couldn't be as much fun as shopping for Christmas! What a successful shopping trip they'd had! Their arms were full of packages on the way home. Gusts of wind blew into their rosy faces. Rebecca had a warm scarf tied around her head, and snow and frost stuck onto the mouth area. Eyelashes were icy. It was good to get home. The door squeaked with the cold and the window in the door was beautiful with Jack Frost's artwork. They pulled off boots, coats, and caps and warmed up in the heat of the coal furnace. Christmas music greeted them on the radio, and Rebecca sang along to 'Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed'. Christmas was definitely the most exciting time of year!

   Christmas programs in school and church celebrated the age-old story of Christ's birth in Bethlehem. Larry and Rebecca joined in enthusiastically in the celebrations and family gatherings.

The Winds of Time

   It was a very brittle, cold, stormy day in 1988. The John C. Reimer family gathered to celebrate Christmas. They had brought favorite foods, delicious foods, many not available in 1884. Almon's sister, Mary, had spread the traditional red tablecloth on the serving table. Later they sang the old songs, 'O Du Froehliche', 'Deinen Koenigstron', and 'O little Town of Bethlehem'. The Christmas Story was read from the Bible. Then Almon had a surprise for the great-grandchildren. He spread out on the floor a large, old horse hide named Frank and the small children sat on it – Larry's, Rebecca's and others. John C. Reimer sat near the children in a wheelchair, a colorful afghan covering his knees. He told the children a story about long, long ago. Almon played his harmonica. And the cold wind blew.

Calendar of Events

December 20, Accents Concert – 7:30 PM

December 23 to January 5: Closed for Christmas and New Year’s

January 10, Auxiliary Film Night – Seed to Seed – 7:00 PM

 

 

  

Caption for Photo:

“John C. Reimer in the wheel chair and Almon Reimer playing the harmonica at the Reimer Christmas gathering in 1988.”

Village News

Christmas stories that take us back in time have a unique appeal. Today’s column is a two-part story written by Rebecca Kornelson for The Carillon’s annual Christmas story writing contest in a previous year. It is republished here with permission from The Carillon and Rebecca Kornelson.

 

Of Christmas Past (Part One)

Steinbach's First Store

   The winter winds of 1885 blew cold over the Manitoba prairie, Klass Reimer hurried into his little store on Main Street situated just east of the present corner of Reimer and Main Streets in Steinbach. This was Steinbach's first store.

   It was a morning near Christmas and the fire in the store needed to be built up for the day. Busy housewives would be arriving to buy sugar, flour, molasses, raisins, and other essentials for Christmas baking.

   Maria looked at the fabric that had just been brought in by sleigh from Winnipeg. It would be nice to make an apron for each of the girls for Christmas. For her sons she had been busy knitting socks. Her youngest son, twelve years old, would love the pocketknife she spied in the glass case. Another two customers came in and Klass whistled for help to his wife through the message pipe that connected to their house. Greta sent a daughter to help.

   English farmer Mooney came from Clearspring area. His list had razors (for shaving), molasses, salt, nuts, and a bag of candy for the children for Christmas, and something pretty for his wife. Ah, yes, a new handkerchief would be just the thing.  Anna's mother sent her to get some Wonder Oil for Jakob's toothache and some 'burstremp' for Dad – the large size. She had coins tied into her handkerchief to pay for the goods. She unwrapped the coins and looked at them and saw the picture of Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria was the special person who had allowed the Mennonites to come and make a new life in Canada. Anna handed the money to Klass and he handed her a letter that had come in the mail. It was from some cousins in Russia, their old home.

   Christmas was celebrated simply. A few old songs telling Christ's birth would be sung in church. Some family would gather together if they were able and eat whatever bounty the farm would provide – perhaps only fried potatoes, fried ham, 'pluma mousse', bread and some cookies. Few gifts would be exchanged.  Klass Reimer's store made a few more items available for the people of this new community.

Joy of the Thirties

   October 30, 1931 John C. Reimer, grandson of Klass Reimer, stepped into his school classroom in Blumenort. It was a chilly autumn morning, so he had come early enough to light a fire in the stove. Today was his 37th birthday. He wondered what the day would bring.

   A teacher in charge of eight grades needed to be a bit of an acrobat. Perhaps it was time to begin practicing for the Christmas program. He would need to find a 'Wunch' for each child to recite. He checked his bookshelf for his Christmas books. He might have to write some simpler lines for the youngest pupils and some to send home for the preschoolers who were also a part of the school program each year. Son, Almon, was eight years old this year – just the age when young boys get very excited about Christmas events. It was a pleasure for John C. to have his sons Enoch, Almon, and Ruben in his classroom, but they had to toe the line like the other pupils. No favorites with John. C.! Closer to Christmas he would put all the boys to work cutting evergreen boughs and decorating the school with them. The girls would make lovely paper chains and decorations.

   The last day of school had arrived. It was with great excitement that everyone seated themselves on the benches made of planks of wood. It was an afternoon program because the families had farm chores to do in the evening. Outside it was snowing softly, giving a hushed Christmasy feeling. The songs were sung well and the poems recited – some confidently and some apprehensively.

  “Once a little baby lay,

  Cradled in the fragrant hay.

  Long ago on Christmas.

  In the manger he was found,

  And the white sheep stood around,

  Long ago on Christmas.”

Each child received a red or green cheesecloth 'tootje' full of goodies. John C.'s wife, Maria, had busily sewed these before Christmas. As John C. closed the door behind him when the program was over, he smiled. He was pleased with how the children had performed.

   Christmas Eve Almon and his brothers were eager to bring in a lot of firewood, feed the chickens, and do other chores. Then they set out plates with a name tag in it. It was difficult to fall asleep that night and they were up as early as allowed the next morning. Besides candy, peanuts and an orange they found a toy on their plate – one an airplane, one a tractor, and one a pocketknife. A teacher's wage didn't go far in those days.

   Christmas afternoon the lively horse Frank was hitched to the sleigh and off they went to visit the grandparents. They had a lovely day of feasting and visiting. After reading the Bible, singing some songs, and saying a 'wunch' the children each got a small gift. Christmas was a joyful time.

Calendar of Events

*MHV Off-Season Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM*

December 20, Accents Concert – 7:30 PM

December 23 to January 5: Closed for Christmas and New Year’s

Steinbachonline.com 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.

Login