Village News

VN 2017 10 19

Q & A with Jenna Klassen

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

What drew you to MHV?

   The beginning of my experience with MHV began when I was a kid. I visited many times on school field trips, as well as during Pioneer Days when my grandpa gave wagon rides with his horses in the village. I was always fascinated by the heritage buildings in the village, imagining how they had once been used and lived in by their owners so many years ago. My interest in history and museum work has been ongoing for many years, and I have been working in the museum field for about three years, mostly in smaller, community museums. Working as the Assistant Curator at MHV gives me the opportunity to explore my interest in Mennonite and immigration history, as well as further my skills and experience within the museum field and in the role of curating.

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

   One highlight has been touring the heritage buildings in the village in more detail than in past visits to the museum when I was only a visitor. As part of familiarizing myself with various aspects of the Assistant Curator position, I have done some in-depth reading of the history of the various buildings, including the architectural and structural features of each that made them functional (practically and culturally) for the early Mennonite settlers. Part of this in-depth exploration of the buildings is familiarizing myself with the conservation and restoration projects that have been undertaken, or still need to be undertaken. For example, the Waldheim house recently underwent extensive restorations that were completed this last summer.  The Waldheim house demonstrates the importance of these restoration projects in order to preserve these heritage buildings, so they can continue to be part of our Mennonite village. A building that requires extensive restoration is the Peters’ Barn, which is attached to the Waldheim House. Although it looks to be in pretty good shape from the outside, there is much to be done on the inside for it to be accessible and open to museum visitors. As a curator, projects such as these are challenging but the final product is even more satisfying. I am looking forward to contributing to larger projects such as these during my time at MHV!

What projects are you working on at MHV at the moment?

   Since the outdoor village has closed for the season, the village buildings need to be prepared for the winter. This week I have been going around to each building in the village to take out the linens (bedding, curtains, tablecloths, etc.), remove the old straw from the mattresses in the village houses, take out the wall clock from the Chortitz house, and other items that need to come indoors for the winter. This is a part of preserving the objects that are on display when the village is open during the spring and summer months. It also gives us the opportunity to have everything neat and clean for when we open next spring. The linens will be washed, new curtains sewn and hung, and mattresses stuffed with fresh straw. It also allows me to work outside on a beautiful fall afternoon!

You’re undertaking some unique research with part of the MHV collection right now. Can you tell me a bit about that project?

   I am currently working at MHV in two different roles. In addition to working part-time as Assistant Curator, I am still also a student, undertaking research for my Master’s thesis, using the MHV’s artefact collection as my primary source.  Specifically, I am looking at immigration through material culture, using the artifacts brought to Canada by the “Russländer,” the Mennonites who left Ukraine (or, southern Russia, as they remembered it) in the 1920s. I am analyzing around five hundred objects that range from children’s toys to clothing to photographs to teacups. Using these objects, I am exploring what they meant to the people who brought them all the way to Canada, kept them within the family for generations, and then finally donated them to the museum collection.

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

   Since I am still pretty new at MHV in my role as Assistant Curator, I have actually had more interaction with the collection through my role as a researcher. Currently, I am photographing the artefacts that I will be using for my thesis project. One of the interesting artefacts I’ve come across is a porcelain teacup that had once been broken in many pieces, but was stapled back together with thick, brass staples. This piece is interesting to me for my thesis because it suggests that the teacup meant a lot to the person it belonged to, so much in fact that they put it back together, and then packed it with their other belongings to bring to their new home in Canada. Items like this can demonstrate how objects hold meaning to the people they belong to.

   Thanks, Jenna. Although our outdoor village is now closed, our indoor galleries are still open. If you have not yet had an opportunity to take in our 2017 exhibit, Storied Places, we invite you to come and explore the stories that have shaped the Mennonite connection to place in Manitoba. While you’re here, please take a moment to share one of your own stories at our “Storied Map of Steinbach” station in the gallery.

Calendar of Events

November 5, 7:00 PM - Vespers Service

November 9, 7:00 PM – Celebrating 150 Years of Immigration

November 17&18, 9:00 AM–7:00 PM – Christmas in the Village

Photo caption: Jenna Klassen, the new Assistant Curator at the MHV.

Village News (October 10, 2017)

Village Books and Gifts

“A light wind swept over the corn, and all of nature laughed in the sunshine.” - Anne Bronte

Our Outdoor Village at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is in the process of being tucked in for a long winter’s nap. The robins have packed their bags and are on their way to their next destination. The MHV pond is full of gaggling geese, who are busy planning their southern migration.

The 2017 season is marked by a myriad of memorable experiences that I will not soon forget. Once again we are well on our way to hosting over 40,000 guests from all over the world. Canadian travelers commented that they chose a “stay-cation” in celebration of Canada’s 150th. Festival days were filled with a wide variety of old fashioned demonstrations, hearty music, and children’s features. Visitors were elated to have the opportunity to purchase old fashioned candy and locally handmade items in the General Store located in the outdoor village.

I have personally had several conversations with guests who emphasized how impressed they were with our excellent customer service, our inclusive, family-friendly atmosphere, the impeccable condition of the village, delicious Mennonite cuisine found in our Livery Barn Restaurant, and Canada’s only functioning windmill.

Mennonite Heritage Village is one of Travel Manitoba’s top ten “Must-see-ums”. So many of our guests mentioned that the museum was on the top of their list to visit this year. Last week I chatted with a visitor from Texas who commented “We are glad we stopped in to see the museum. Friends had recommended that MHV is a must-see on our trip to Canada. We are very impressed with all the Village has to offer”.

Our Tourist Info-center continues to be a highlight filled with local information for those who are travelling across the Southeast and beyond. Our knowledgeable Reception staff daily engaged in great conversations about visitors’ family history and why they came to tour the museum. Staff take the time to listen, inform visitors of the Russian Mennonite immigration as well as help the traveler on to their next destination. Customers who make purchases in Village Books and Gifts express how impressed they are with the great selection of unique books and souvenirs found in this gift shop.

Village Books and Gifts is excited to carry titles that embrace our history, tell our story and sometimes tend to challenge our inner metal. We carry a great selection of local authors and children’s books as well as a large selection of family history books and immigration timelines.

With Christmas just around the corner, folks will drop by regularly to get that hard to find book and unique gift. We have a vast array of history books, novels, cookbooks, cards, waffle irons, old fashioned toys, wooden clothing racks and crokinole boards, dolls, games, puzzles, locally handmade jewelry and MHV Auxiliary retro aprons. Menno Apparel continues to be one of our most popular items, a feast for the eyes that tickles your funny bone. We are a store with so much more, it’s an experience. Thank you for considering the items in Village Books and Gifts. With your help MHV can continue to present the Russian Mennonite story and serve the local community with festivals, education, meeting places, and tourism.

There are many ways to support the work being done at Mennonite Heritage Village. MHV is a not-for-profit organization, so your purchase in Village Books and Gifts continues to help support MHV’s service to the community.

Calendar of Events

October 1 and following: MHV galleries, gift shop, meeting rooms, and offices are open Monday through Friday

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

November 5: 7:00 PM – Vespers Service

November 17&18: Christmas in the Village

Village News (October 5, 2017)

A “Storied Map of Steinbach”

To mark Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, the theme at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) for 2017 is “Storied Places.” Our exhibit on this theme explores the reciprocal relationship between people and their ‘place.’ We look specifically at Mennonites in Manitoba and ask: what is the meaning that people give to place, and equally, that place gives to us as people? We do this by focusing on four topics, “Space,” “Place,” “Neglect,” and “Memory,” each of which follow the progression of the relationship Mennonites developed with their place in Manitoba from 1874 to the present.

MHV’s mission is to preserve and interpret the history of Russian-descendant Mennonites in Manitoba. While we stay true to our mission by focusing on the history of this specific ethno-religious group, we are also very mindful of being relevant to our increasingly diverse constituency. Our exhibit, therefore, focuses on Mennonite history but very consciously uses it as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion in our community about what our relationship to our local place really is. This exhibit is certainly about people coming away with a better understanding of the history of Mennonites in Manitoba, but our main goal was to engage people in how they think and feel about their own lives; to invite them to reflect on the points at which this history of Mennonites in Manitoba can intersect with their own lives, whether they are Mennonite or not.

To this end, each portion of the exhibit uses a key question to engage visitors, not only to learn about Mennonite history, but also to encourage them to think afresh about their own lives. In the portion of the exhibit entitled “Space,” for example, we ask: “How do you feel the first time you visit a new place?” In “Place,” we question: “What makes you feel at home in a new place?” The topic “Neglect” invites visitors to reflect on what places used to be important to them, but aren’t anymore.

The exhibit ends with the topic “Memory,” in which we look at the ways in which the Mennonite community in Manitoba has sought to remember its past in the latter half of the twentieth century. We recognize that in studying history it is important to know some of the key dates and decisions that were made, but a larger portion of history is studying how people lived, what they thought about their lives, and how they interpreted their world. So in this portion of the exhibit, we invite our guests to share some of their own stories, asking: “What stories can you tell about your home?”

This final question is the essence of the exhibit, as we’ve sought to understand how Mennonites viewed their place (and their past) and to encourage our guests to think about these same things in their own lives. As visitors exit the Gerhard Ens Gallery, we invite them to contribute to the exhibit by helping us build a “Storied Map of Steinbach.” While our constituency branches out far wider than just the city, our focus on local place in this exhibit also highlights the fact that we are members of the specific, local community in Steinbach as well. We ask our visitors to share their stories of specific places in Steinbach that have meaning for them. Visitors fill out a postcard, place it on a ledge in the exhibit, and then I “pin” those postcards to a map of Steinbach. The result is a map of the city filled with points of meaning and the stories behind why people feel this way.

While we often ask visitors to participate in our exhibits, this year’s response has been far and above the best in recent memory. People young and old, those who are new to Steinbach or who have called it home for generations, all have stories to share. Some of my favourites include:

  • “My home – I always described the street to friends as ‘the one with the churches on both ends.’”
  • “Jake Epp Library – where I first made ‘friends’ in book when I moved to Steinbach.”
  • “I got my ear medicine hear [sic]” (I choose to believe the pun was intended by this young visitor!)
  • “Before my wife and I were married, we parked on Keating Road to admire the stars! When it was time to go, my car wouldn’t start. We had to walk all the way to Sherwood Place, where her parents lived, to pick up their car to boost mine. A long and embarrassing ‘after midnight’ walk.”

To find out more about the “storied places” of Steinbach, as told by fellow Steinbachers, you’ll have to visit the “Storied Places” yourself and fill out a postcard of your own. For those who connect with us on Facebook, you can also submit a place and story of your own on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MHVSteinbach) as well.

Calendar of Events

October 1 and following: MHV galleries, gift shop, meeting rooms, and offices are open Monday through Friday

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

November 5: 7:00 PM – Vespers Service

Village News

The Future of our Museum

   A year ago, delegates to the annual conference of the Association of Manitoba Museums (AMM) viewed a new film directed by Andy Blicq of 4th Avenue Productions. The End of our Memories laments the loss of community museums and suggests that there will likely be further casualties. The film is well done and well worth watching, but it left many of us with a heavy heart and a sense of discouragement.

   At this year’s AMM conference, presenters again reminded us of the challenges museums face, including an abundance of damaging pests and a shortage of cash and volunteers. However, they also presented many creative ideas and opportunities. All good reasons for Manitoba’s museum operators to spend a couple of days together and share stories.

   The first presentation at last weekend’s conference was by Colin Ferguson, President and CEO of Travel Manitoba, focusing on various promotional opportunities they offer our industry. Recently they have created a list of “Must-See-Ums” on their website, which provides information about featured Manitoba museums. Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is fortunate to be one of the museums highlighted on that list.

   Peter Cantelon, from the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre in Morden, and Joe Brown, from the Miami Museum located just 10 minutes north of Morden, talked about their recent partnership in preparing and promoting a new exhibit. As all good partnerships do, this one benefits both museums. We at MHV are also fortunate to be able to partner with various organizations, such as schools in the Hanover School Division and the Eden Foundation. No doubt additional partnerships will continue to be developed, increasing MHV’s relevance in our community.

   Rachel Erikson, Manager of Museum Programs at the Manitoba Museum, provided an overview of various programs they have used to engage different interest groups. Their Table Talk program invites a small group of people to hear a lecture on a specific subject and then discuss it over refreshments. Block-printing workshops at their museum provide a training opportunity for those interested in this craft. A yoga class held in the gallery which displays their dinosaur exhibit offered a unique yoga opportunity. These are just a few of the programs they have offered and found to be successful.

   Eric Napier Strong, Curator/Manager of Seven Oaks House Museum in Winnipeg, showed us how they are helping their museum become a meeting place in their community. MHV’s new Summer Pavilion is giving us a variety of new opportunities to provide a gathering place within our own community.

   It is evident that MHV and many other museums are struggling to find enough volunteers and dollars to continue our existing services to our communities. And these challenges are not likely to get any easier in the near future. Our task now is to become ever more creative in offering services and programs that will engage people of various demographic groups and continue to increase our relevance in our constituencies. We want to ensure a solid future for MHV in our community.

Calendar of Events

September 28: 7:00 PM – Volunteer Appreciation

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

September 30: Last day of restaurant and outdoor village operations

October 1, MHV galleries, gift shop, meeting rooms, and offices are open Monday through Friday

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

Wind in our Sails

   Many communities in Manitoba have their own recognizable icon that provides identity and a conversation piece for community members and visiting tourists. These include replicas of animals, insects, plants and various other objects that in some way tell a story about the community.

   The windmill at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is such an icon for the city of Steinbach. The unique aspect of our icon is that it is a functioning machine that actually mills flour. While it is in fact a replica of the original windmill that was built in 1877, it is not an inert symbol.

   The 1877 windmill, built and operated by Abram Friesen, served the community for only two years. It was located in the area where Friesen Machine Works now operates. The arrival of the steam engine and the unpredictability of winds in this area left the windmill unsuitable for ongoing use, so it was sold and moved out of Steinbach.

   The first replica windmill was built at MHV in 1972. It was lost in a fire in 2000, but one year to the day after that fire, the current windmill was commissioned. This quick resolve to replace the former windmill speaks to the value our community places on the windmill.

   Today it is still a valuable icon to both MHV and the City of Steinbach. It attracts visitors from many countries to Southeastern Manitoba. Some of these visitors spend the night in local hotels or campgrounds, buy fuel at local stations, eat in local restaurants, and provide general economic activity here. The windmill “puts us on the map.”

   Because the windmill is a machine and not a building, and because it is made almost entirely of wood, it requires careful and ongoing maintenance. In a few weeks a millwright from Holland will spend nine days here, checking and fine-tuning its function and structure.

   Wood has a tendency to shrink and swell with variations in humidity levels. This may require periodic shimming of gears and shafts so that they will continue to run smoothly. Wood also deteriorates when exposed to the weather too long. The deck of our windmill has begun to decay and needs to be replaced. This is another project we hope to complete this fall, in addition to the professional fine-tuning. We expect the two projects combined could cost as much as $25,000.

   While the windmill is a replica of very old technology, we will now engage in some very contemporary fundraising to generate funds to cover these costs. With the help of Canada Post, we will mail-blitz over 9,000 homes in the Southeast to invite partnership in these projects. We will also make our first attempt at “crowd funding,” an internet-based method of engaging interested people in new projects. If you follow MHV on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Pinterest, you can expect to hear about our windmill project, which is literally “keeping the wind in our sails.”

   While the windmill historically had value as a piece of machinery to make feed and flour in 1877, today it has significant value as a “storyteller,” a tourist attraction, and a machine that still makes flour. If you’ve forgotten what our MHV windmill looks and smells like, come for a visit to get a nostalgic reminder.

Calendar of Events

September 28, 2017: 7:00 PM – Volunteer Appreciation

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

Stories: Tales told by idiots?

   In Shakespeare's famous play, when Macbeth hears that Lady Macbeth has just committed suicide, he cries out that his life is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." He has concluded that the story of his life is just a string of events that has no meaning.

   Yes, our lives are just strings of events, one thing after another. But if that were all, there would be nothing to celebrate, nothing of lasting interest, no meaning.

   When I was at university in the 60s, it was fashionable to be an existentialist. Sartre and Camus were the heroes. Each person was totally responsible to create his or her own meaning - to create a story from scratch that brings into existence a unique individual, responsible only to self. Even though this extreme individualism now seems silly, it is still alive and well in the current trend toward political libertarianism.

   The truth is that our own personal story is just one small part of a thousand interlocking stories. If you saw me riding my bike down Abe's Hill at full speed with my arms in the air, you might think, "What is the meaning of this?" A full account of my foolhardy activity would involve the invention of the bicycle a hundred years ago, the creation of the hill by a famous former Steinbacher, the complex story of the "arms in the air" gesture, etc., etc. A tiny episode in my private life is entangled with innumerable episodes in the lives of innumerable other people in the very non-private life of my world.

   The stories of the pioneers in our area - Catholic Métis, Presbyterian Clearsprings settlers and Hanover Mennonites - are all parts of my personal story and give it meaning. They are stories of people bound together by their active embrace of their history. During the Great Depression these communities survived while "heroic" individualists abandoned their farms.

     We continue to celebrate these stories locally in our festivals, our street names, and most explicitly in our museum, Mennonite Heritage Village. And now we are also privileged to share in the experiences of the people who have come here after the pioneer era.

   Meaning comes out of stories. We tell them to convey what it's like to be alive. How did this come to be? Why is that there? How did you survive? Isn't it nice that the Pistons won? How sad about Aunt Mary! These are not tales told by an idiot; they have preludes, plots, climaxes, and denouements.

   We are always acting out of frameworks of meaning that we have been given. For one, we inherit a fully functional language in which we create our own reality with words. Our lives are roles we are playing in institutions established long before we were born. We are sons and daughters, parents, teachers, officers, mentors, believers and bicycle-club members, long after these structures were initially set in place.

   It is important for us to keep all these connections alive and to participate in them mindfully. We must know our enveloping stories and pass them on to the next generations.

Calendar of events:

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 28, 2017: 7:00 PM – Volunteer Appreciation

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

Fall on the Farm

   Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) held this year’s Fall on the Farm festival on Monday, September 4. This annual Labour Day event concludes our series of summer festivals.

   Fall on the Farm always contains certain elements that are not part of any other festival, and this year’s event included those unique aspects. Perhaps the major and most popular Fall on the Farm activities are the butchering demonstrations. For the hog butchering, meat from an abattoir-slaughtered hog is cut up and processed. A couple of chickens from our own small flock are used in the chicken-butchering demonstration. Part of what makes these demonstrations special is the attention our volunteer butchers give to the guests. All questions are welcome and answered to the fullest extent possible.

   Another traditional element of this fall festival is a workshop on saving seeds from your garden and preparing the garden for winter. We are grateful for the expertise and participation of the members of the Steinbach and Area Garden Club who offer this workshop.

   The MHV Auxiliary fries Apple Fritters only at this festival. These are a great substitute for the Rollkuchen that are served on numerous other festival days. The fritters are also appropriate for the season, given that many of our apple trees are overloaded with apples at this time of year.

   One of our volunteers has repaired our stationary silage chopper and offered a demonstration of its use by cutting up our garden corn and mixing it with some alfalfa. We didn’t have a lot of corn, so it was a brief demonstration and yielded very little silage. But hopefully our livestock will enjoy it in the next few days.

   The most celebratory highlight of our 2017 Fall on the Farm was the ribbon-cutting which marked the official opening of our new events centre, the Summer Pavilion. A number of MHV’s board members, staff, volunteers and supporters gathered at the Pavilion at 11:00 to commemorate this event. Congratulatory comments and reflections of thankfulness were offered by Will Peters, MHV Board Chair; Michael Zwaagstra, City of Steinbach Counselor; Barry Dyck, MHV Executive Director; and Ted Falk, Member of Parliament for Provencher (who was unable to attend but had sent a note). After the cutting of the ribbon and a prayer of dedication, the guests socialized over coffee and cookies.

   The official commissioning of our Summer Pavilion is a momentous event for MHV. Conversations about replacing our events tent with a permanent events centre go back as far as 2005. The subject became a serious topic of conversation in 2011 when the board chose it as its highest-priority project. Planning the project and raising the money to move forward took the better part of six years. Erecting our new building took only seven months.

   The building has already served us in a multitude of ways. All of our festival entertainment for our 2017 season took place in the Summer Pavilion. It was particularly valuable to have it available at Fall on the Farm, because the weather turned quite miserable with wind and rain for part of the day. If our entertainment had been staged in the tent at that time, anxiety and discomfort would have ensued. As it was, our new building provided a calm and comfortable environment.

   The Pavilion has also been used for the summer sessions of our school program, as well as for weddings, staff picnics, and a class reunion. It is so much more versatile than the tent ever was.

   While the weather was somewhat disruptive to this year’s festival, we were pleased to have just under 1,300 guests attend, undaunted by the wind and occasional rain.

   At several points during the day, an announcement informed our guests that there will be a Volunteer Appreciation event at MHV on September 28 at 7:00 PM. All MHV volunteers are welcome to attend. We want to celebrate another good year and offer words of thanks for the volunteer work that makes our museum sustainable.

Calendar of events:

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

   Looking back on previous Village News columns, I see that the curatorial staff at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) write a lot about upcoming exhibits and new artifacts, but we don't often write about what else we do behind the scenes. Since I've been doing a lot of cataloging lately, I thought I would write about what happens after we accept an artifact for our collection. We already have over 16,000 artifacts at MHV, so ensuring that we record every single artifact - and making sure it can be found later - is an essential part of what we do here.

   In this article, I'll be tracking a donation we received last year: two suits and other items that belonged to the Honourable Jake Epp, former Member of Parliament for the riding of Provencher. It all began when a volunteer at the Steinbach MCC Thrift Shop found these items in the donations pile and asked us if we wanted them. Before we could say yes, however, we needed to ask ourselves the standard questions that help us determine how a particular item would fit in our existing collection. For example, do we know who owned it? In this case, there was a note inside the garment bag saying that these items had belonged to Jake Epp, and a quick phone call to the Epps confirmed it. Next, do we already have lots of the same thing in our collection? We do have many suits but have only one other artifact that belonged to Jake Epp - his chair from the House of Commons. Lastly, and most importantly, we ask ourselves how the item will help us tell the history of Russian-descendant Mennonites. In this particular case, it is significant that Jake Epp was the first Mennonite to represent the former Mennonite East Reserve in federal politics. With all the boxes ticked, so to speak, regarding this donation, we were able to tell the Thrift Shop volunteer yes, we would like to have the suits.

   Once we had decided to accept this donation, we had to fill out a detailed donation form. This form transfers legal ownership of the items to MHV and helps us track and take care of our collection according to museum standards. Then we recorded the donation into our accession register (a list of every single item in our collection) and assigned a number to it. This donation's number is 2016.11, which means that it's the eleventh donation we received in 2016. Each separate item in the donation is assigned a third number; this means that 2016.11.1 is the first item in the eleventh accession of 2016, and is the only item in our collection that has this number.

   To make sure that we know which item has been given which number, we attach each item’s number directly to the item itself. Most of this particular donation consisted of formal wear, so we used an archival-quality permanent pen to write each number on a separate piece of archival-quality twill tape and then sewed each tape onto the designated item of clothing.

   My next step was to catalog the donation. This means entering as much as we know about the artifact into our database. We observe and describe the item down to the smallest detail, what its dimensions are, where it was made, where it comes from, where it was used, what condition it’s in, and so on. This is also where we record the item's history and significance.

   You have to get very up-close and personal to artifacts to catalog them properly. On occasion you find the things that stayed behind in the pockets, the tiny rips in the lining, and the food and sweat stains that didn't come out during dry cleaning. Handling the clothing of someone who, in this case, is still alive and whom I've never met, is a little strange, but it's still just another part of my job.

   Once everything you know or can observe about the artifact is in the database, it's time to put everything away. I put Jake Epp's tuxedo on a mannequin, brought his chair out of storage, and made a small display about Mennonites and politics in our Permanent Gallery. But that still left several items that need to be put into storage at this point.

   We can't just put artifacts wherever they fit in our storage space. We position them according to function - all shoes in one place, all kitchen utensils in another - in a temperature- and humidity-controlled room. Every shelving unit is assigned a unit number, and each shelf is also numbered, so every artifact can be assigned an identifiable permanent location. Every time we move an artifact, we update its location in the database so we will know where it is at all times.

   This whole process is not a very visible part of a curator's job, but cataloging and storing artifacts properly are some of the most important things that happen at a museum. This helps us to track the artifacts that have been given to us in trust, to preserve them, and to record their histories for future generations.

Calendar of Events

September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

storied places

Storied Places from Other Perspectives

   Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada through our theme for 2017, “Storied Places,” which explores the connection people have with their “place.” What is the meaning we give to place, and what is the meaning that our place gives to our lives?

   This theme, and our exhibit on display now in the Gerhard Ens Gallery, explores the dynamics of the historical relationship Mennonites created with their local place in Manitoba. That exploration, however, is only a small part of the inspiration and the intent behind “Storied Places.” As Curator, part of my role on the MHV team is to think strategically about the museum’s role in the community and about how the Curatorial Department can move this work forward through our exhibits and research. A large part of my strategy behind “Storied Places” was to leverage our own exhibit and use it as an opportunity to reach out to the community in new ways. By initiating a conversation about why “place” is so meaningful in our lives as individuals and drawing as many different perspectives as possible into this discussion, we have been able to enter into the life of our community in a greater way.

   Some of the key connections we have been able to foster through “Storied Places” this year are with schools in Steinbach and the surrounding areas. Some of these partnerships were continuations of connections already begun. We have enjoyed working with Paul Reimer’s Advanced Photography class at Steinbach Regional Secondary School for about five years, and that relationship continued this year with their exhibit now on display in our Art Hall. We also embarked on new partnerships with Todd Peters’ Advanced Photography class at Landmark Collegiate and Jennifer Armstrong’s grade five and six class at Landmark Elementary, whose exhibits are on display in our Auditorium.

   From my perspective, these student exhibits have been one of the most exciting developments in working with “Storied Places” thus far in 2017. The exhibit process we went through with each class started with visiting the students in their classrooms to discuss the theme and our intended approach to it in our own exhibit at the museum. Then came the exciting part, where we opened the discussion to the students and got to hear their perspectives on what makes their community unique. What were the stories they had to tell us?

   The typical stereotype of younger people is that they are not engaged with or very much interested in history or museums, in discussing the merits of their community, or in exploring and giving voice to the emotional connections they feel to “home.”  What we see in this year’s sixty-five photo essays in the student exhibits, however, is exactly the opposite.

   The students explore the historical life of their communities through buildings, like the family home or the corner store that no longer exist because they have been torn down, or the beauty inherent in dilapidated buildings and farm equipment, leftovers from the past that most people overlook. They discuss the role of sports - on the volleyball court, the hockey rink, or pick-up basketball on the tarmac - in building and forming their sense of self and community. They focus on the ways that cherished places on family farmsteads, visited over the course of their childhoods, have shaped who they are as individuals. Some of these significant places are the backyards and parks where they forged relationships with siblings and friends; others are the everyday places like tree houses and garage workshops that taught them what the concepts “home” and “family” mean. Not only have the students engaged in these very personal topics, but they have allowed us into their unique perspectives in a very public way. Their exhibits allow us to share in their experiences and insights into the places, people, and histories that continue to shape who they are as people.

   Our experience of working with the students in Steinbach and Landmark on our “Storied Places” theme this year has strengthened my conviction that MHV’s role in the community is much more than the work we do on our physical campus. Our outdoor village and the exhibits we produce are essential to who we are as a museum; however, that is not where our work ends. We can be a venue for discussion and exploration, using history as a vehicle to cultivate community and to engage people – of all ages and all backgrounds – in new perspectives and understandings of our world and the people around us.

Calendar of Events

September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

September 29 & 30: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Manitoba Culture Days

October 13 & 14: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM – Threads of Time Quilt Show

Village News

Chicken Feathers

   When I was a young girl, our family would travel bi-yearly to my mother’s homestead, located south of a small sleepy town in southern Saskatchewan. My grandparents had emigrated from the Ukraine when they were first married in 1905. They purchased land and built their homestead. Life was not easy on the prairies but they persevered, and seed sprouted where once there were rocks. I admired their work ethic, “intestinal fortitude” and deep faith.

   My parents would pack up our station wagon with all kinds of goodies as we prepared for our mid-summer road trip. My four siblings and I would heartily barter for a window seat and then settle in for the nine-hour trip. As we traveled, we would talk endlessly about all the things that we were going to do when we got to the farm - we had all kinds of plans. The journey to the farm seemed to take forever, but Baba always welcomed us with a huge hug, a warm cup of fresh farm milk and homemade cookies. We always looked forward to sleeping in her feather bed. That was an enormous treat. Gido, a man of few words, gave us a big smile and a hearty handshake. In the morning we often woke up before the roosters’ crow. Baba usually made a big breakfast, including eggs, ham and the best homemade bread and jam. Good times.

   On one particular visit, we awoke early in the morning to find Baba’s tiny kitchen full of aunts, uncles and cousins. We wondered what was going on. Aunt Mary said, “It is chicken butchering day on the farm. So you city kids are in for a treat.” I gasped, “I can’t do that.” This was a new experience for us. We had no idea what to expect, but we soon found out. We all gathered by the barn to receive our chore duty for the day. I was assigned plucking feathers off the processed chicken. After I calmed down, Aunt Lucy kindly guided me through the feather-plucking process, and eventually we got the job done. I also had many opportunities to milk the cows, feed the pigs, learn how to make butter and operate the cream separator. I was crowned an official farm girl by the end of our visit. 

   The Outdoor Village at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) not only reminds me of my grandparents’ farm but also retells the incredible story of the perseverance and “intestinal fortitude” of the Russian Mennonites who immigrated to Canada. They made their way through difficult circumstances, and they used their ingenuity to create beauty out of ashes. They were very innovative and excelled to become top producers in their “fields of expertise.” 

   I find it very hard to choose just one building on the museum grounds as my favourite. Each building has its own rich history and is a vital part of the whole story. Each building communicates that “it takes a village to raise a child.” The MHV staff and volunteers work tirelessly to provide visitors with their best “pioneer” experience.

   This is my second season as manager of MHV’s Gift Shop, Reception, and General Store. I have had opportunities to chat with visitors from all over the world. Guests have stated time and again that the Mennonite Heritage Village museum is one of the best they have visited this year. It is clean, informative and family friendly. Our Reception staff are knowledgeable and friendly and endeavour to introduce our guests to a top-quality museum experience.

   It is an honour and privilege for me to serve alongside a talented group of staff and volunteers at MHV.

Calendar of Events

September 4: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM - Fall on the Farm festival

September 17: 11:30 AM – 5:00 PM – Open Farm Day

The views expressed in Community Blogs are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by SteinbachOnline.com

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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.

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