Village News

Endowment Funds

   The prospect of having someone else match or stretch one’s own donation to a worthy cause is attractive to many people. In 2014 a friend of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) offered to match all new donations earmarked for a specific project, up to a maximum of $100,000. By the end of that year, funds had been raised to that amount, so our friend issued a matching cheque, and MHV was doubly blessed.

   We have a similar yet very different opportunity available to us now. On April 1, 2018, the Manitoba Government initiated the Manitoba Heritage Trust Program where new private donations to the endowment fund of a museum or an archives will be matched at a rate of 50 cents per dollar. The Province has made $5,000,000 available for this for a three-year period beginning April 1.

   An endowment fund is a pool of money invested for the specific purpose of generating ongoing revenue for an organization. In other words, the fund itself is not available for use, but the investment earnings from it are usable and will continue to be in perpetuity. For example, twenty years ago, friends of former federal cabinet minister Izzy Asper rallied to establish such an endowment fund. They collected $265,000 to be invested. In the succeeding 20 years, the earnings from this fund have provided gifts to its beneficiaries of $270,000, and the fund has a current value of $315,000. In addition to contributing more than its original value, the fund itself has grown.

   For the Manitoba Heritage Trust Program, the Winnipeg Foundation will be managing all dollars raised during these next three years. After that, the funds for each participating organization will be transferred to local community foundations, in our case the Steinbach Community Foundation Inc.

   MHV currently owns a small endowment fund, managed by Abundance Canada, which is worth just under $100,000. The income it generates is used to assist with the operation of our museum. Many universities have substantial endowment funds, some of which are clearly earmarked for scholarships or bursaries.

   This Manitoba Government initiative is a new opportunity for MHV and for our constituency. Between now and March 31, 2021, every dollar donated to our MHV Endowment Fund, to an accumulated maximum of $50,000, will be stretched by an additional 50 cents by the Manitoba Heritage Trust Program. The limit of $50,000 has the potential to expand at the end of the three-year period, depending on how successful the other museums and archives have been in their fundraising.

   We are delighted about this opportunity and hope that many of our constituents will find it compelling as well. At the same time, we hope that donations made to the MHV Endowment Fund will not “cannibalize” donations that would otherwise be going into our annual operating fund. It is essential that we maintain a sufficient revenue stream to fund the daily operations of MHV.

   Donations to the MHV Endowment Fund can be made in person, by mail, or through the Canada Helps facility on our website at www.mhv.ca. Securities donations are also welcome and would be processed by the Winnipeg Foundation.

   While the static nature and the relatively conservative investment strategy of an endowment fund may seem less than appealing to some donors, we need to remember that this fund will continue serving our organization for the future life of MHV.

Calendar of Events

April 26 – 7:00PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

May 6 – 2:30PM, MHV Auxiliary Faspa (Mennonite Floor Patterns - Margruite Krahn)

May 12 – 9:00AM–5:00PM, Manitoba Day

May 13 – 11:30AM–2:30PM, Mother’s Day Lunch Buffet

Village News

Volunteers Matter

   Today Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) hosted a class of Grade 11 students from one of our local high schools. A question posed to us during a conversation with the group was, “What are the most significant challenges of operating the museum?” The answer to this common question is “money and volunteers.” We need money to operate the museum, and in order to be frugal with the limited dollars available to us, we try to get as much work as possible done by volunteers. Volunteers have only so much time and energy to give and are in high demand by other organizations as well. So MHV’s invitation to potential volunteers needs to add attractive value to their lives.

   People living in this part of Manitoba are regularly made aware of numerous opportunities to volunteer their time and talents to worthy causes. Many organizations including schools, churches, sports teams, and various other charities are dependent on volunteer labour. Most of these organizations would not be able to pay for the skilled labour they need and still make ends meet. Our community has a wealth of individuals who know the value of volunteering and who willingly participate in one or more causes.

   MHV offers many varied options to anyone who wants to volunteer. Some people make themselves available for a three-hour shift during one of our major festival days (Canada Day, Pioneer Days, or Fall on the Farm) to help cook in the Short-Order Booth, supervise parking, sell tickets, provide demonstrations of heritage skills, or other similar tasks. Some volunteers come once a week to work on a task like mowing lawns or maintaining gardens. Others enjoy coming almost daily in May and June to support our Education Program, as up to 200 school children per day visit us on their field trips. These Education Program volunteers function as historical interpreters in various of our heritage buildings, drive the team for our horse-drawn wagon rides, or teach the children how to bake Schnetje.

   There are some significant benefits to volunteering at MHV. These include an opportunity to meet new people, a warm satisfaction that comes with serving one’s community, a free Season Pass to our museum, and a 50% discount on a meal in our Livery Barn Restaurant on the day that one is volunteering. That’s a pretty good value proposition.

   Our current list of volunteers includes over 300 names. These people range in age from 14 to 84, and perhaps even a little older. There are tasks suitable for this entire age range. We are thankful for each one who willingly helps with any of these tasks. Because no one can volunteer forever, we are particularly thankful when new volunteers join us to step in for those who are no longer able to participate.

   We will be hosting a Volunteer Orientation event on Thursday, April 26, at 7:00 PM in the MHV Auditorium. This will be a time for existing volunteers to be briefed on regulations and procedures for our upcoming season. It will also be a time for new and potential volunteers to learn more about the many various opportunities that exist here and to connect with our staff members.

   Please consider checking out what we have to offer at MHV. If you are unable to attend and would like to know more about volunteering at MHV please check out our website at www.mhv.ca or call 204-326-9661 and ask to talk with Robert Goertzen. A community with many volunteers is a healthier community.

Calendar of Events

April 19 – 7:00PM, Auxiliary Film Night: Seven Points on Earth

April 26 – 7:00PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

May 12 – 9:00AM–5:00PM, Manitoba Day

May 13 – 11:30AM–2:30PM, Mother’s Day Lunch Buffet

Village News

Is One Museum Like Another?

   Six staff members from Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) traveled to Morden, Manitoba, this week to visit the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre (CFDC). It is one of Manitoba’s seven Signature Museums and one of over 200 museums spread across our province. This museum focuses on the discovery, preservation and interpretation of marine reptile fossils found in the Morden/Miami area and throughout the province. They are not a dinosaur museum, although they do have dinosaur fossils. Dinosaurs lived on land, whereas the mosasaurs in this collection inhabited the sea which at one time covered much of central and eastern Manitoba from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. There is much more information about the interesting work of the CFDC on their website at www.discoverfossils.com.

   These fossils, the artifacts which the CFDC preserves and works with, were first discovered in the twentieth century and continue to be excavated to this day. The geological structure in that area consists of layers of bentonite interspersed with layers of shale. Bentonite is a clay that has been mined there for decades. As layers of bentonite were mined and cleared out, layers of shale were broken up to access the next strata of bentonite. In breaking up the shale, fossils were discovered but initially viewed only as a curiosity. In about 1970 it was realized that these might be rather significant geological artifacts, so at that point serious collection and study were initiated.

   The artifacts at Mennonite Heritage Village are largely everyday domestic items which go back 100 years and more. So by comparison, they are very “new” artifacts but they have been collected and preserved for a long time. And none would likely be classified as a “significant” discovery in the broader world.

   The artifacts (fossils) at the CFDC have stories within them, as do the artifacts at MHV. And it’s those stories that make collecting and exhibiting them so interesting. Being so old, the fossils don’t yield their stories easily. Much study and research needs to happen in order to understand what life may have been like in this great prehistoric sea millions of years ago. In contrast, at MHV we find it relatively easy to collect the stories about our artifacts. In many cases, the donors who bring them to us can sit down and tell us where they come from, why they are here, and what their significance was to our forebears 100 or more years ago.

   While there are pronounced differences in the way CFDC and MHV operate their respective museums, there are also significant similarities. Both museums run a variety of robust programs, and our education programs appear to be quite similar. Staff and volunteers in both locations create curriculum geared to provide education about their artifacts to people of all ages. Most notably, we both focus on school children. Museums are popular places for teachers to take their students on field trips and for parents and grandparents to take their children and grandchildren for a family outing. Both museums also offer guided programs, day camps, and general availability to the public.

   Both CFDC and MHV are significantly dependent on volunteers. Very few, if any, museums in Manitoba are able to operate without the support of volunteers. These generous people assist with delivering the education programs, preparing artifacts, maintaining facilities, and much more.

   Museums such as ours also depend on their communities to support them financially, through cash or in-kind donations or through sponsorships. Governments, businesses, and individuals regularly step up to the plate with support for these entities that do so much to improve the quality of life in their communities.

   As unique as each of Manitoba’s 200 museums is, all work hard to preserve valuable historical artifacts and records, and all are eager to host guests from across the province and beyond. This summer, when so many museums will be open, why not consider a day trip, or several, to visit some of these treasures in our province.

Calendar of Events                                           

April 19 – 7:00 PM, Auxiliary Film Night: Seven Points on Earth

April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

Village News

VN Photo 2018 04 05

Mennonites and Beer Steins

   According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), the saying “Anyone who is a genuine Mennonite must be able to hold his drinks” is attributed to Dutch Mennonites of Northeast Germany. It may surprise some to know that the supposed connection between Mennonite culture and sobriety is a relatively recent one. Even Steinbach, which had a reputation for being a “dry” town until just a few years ago, was not always as “dry” as many have assumed.

   Recently, Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) accepted a donation of two glass beer steins discussed recently by Erin Unger in a blog entitled “Interesting Items I’ve Found at the Steinbach MCC” (Mennotoba.com). By all appearances, these steins may be souvenir items produced by MHV in 1974 to celebrate the centenary of the first Mennonite migration from Russia to Manitoba (or alternately might just be samples left by a souvenir sales representative). The two steins feature two different designs, each featuring different images of the museum’s auditorium (which in 1974 was referred to as the Artefact Building) and its windmill. We know little as to why MHV would have chosen to distribute beer steins for this celebration, or whether in fact they did, but this certainly does add an intriguing take on the assumed “dry” history of Mennonites. Inspired by the beer steins, I decided to see what information I could find on the relationship between Mennonites and alcohol to determine if Mennonites truly do have a “dry” history.

   Historically, Mennonites are not a “sober” people. In fact, the consumption and creation of alcoholic beverages by Mennonites stretches far back to their time in the Vistula Delta (or Northeast Germany) in the eighteenth century, particularly in and around the city of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). One of the earliest known Mennonite distilleries in Danzig was Ambrosius Vermeulen’s Zum Lachs, which produced “Goldwasser” liqueur, a brandy with floating flecks of gold. The brandy became famous, and the business was run by Mennonites for two centuries.

   However, Mennonites did not distill and sell liquor because of a particular interest in the business. Rather, it was one of the few vocations available to Mennonite trades and craftsmen due to the increasingly rigid rules of trade guilds in Danzig. Nevertheless, the responsible consumption of liquor was accepted by the Mennonite community and the church — alcohol and tobacco were available at the West Prussian and Danzig church board meetings, and ministers and elders of Mennonite congregations even participated in family distillery businesses.

   The liquor business among Mennonites migrated with them to Russia in the nineteenth century. By 1819 there were several Mennonite brewers in the Chortitza Colony, and many Mennonite villages had “drinking houses.” Brandy was passed around at funerals, and schnapps was served at Faspa. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Kleine Gemeinde congregation took a firm stand against tobacco and drinks with high alcohol content but didn’t outright forbid wine and beer. Upon settling in North America, many members of the Kleine Gemeinde were influenced by the temperance movement and formed even stricter attitudes against alcohol.

   How strict these attitudes were is up for debate. Some historical sources say no alcohol was to be found in entire villages, others say wine was served at particular occasions. One such occasion was the annual hog-butchering bee, a community event enjoyed by Mennonites in Russia and later in North America. During the butchering process, the host brought out a bottle of wine (or, on occasion, liquor), and passed it around. Every man took a swig, the size of which depended on the thickness of the pig’s bacon. According to Norma Jean Vost in Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, Volume 2, this was called “Spakj mӓte,” or “measuring the bacon.” Arnold Dyck, in Lost in the Steppe, suggests “this…went on all day, not very frequently, but frequently enough to keep everybody strong and in [a] good mood.”

   In Steinbach, another example of a Mennonite community, this “good mood” is not a new sensation. The city’s first public ”men’s only” beer parlor opened in the early 1930s in the Tourist Hotel on Main Street, in the very center of town. Abe Warkentin’s book Reflections on Our Heritage: A History of Steinbach and the R.M. of Hanover from 1874 informs the reader that despite a petition to have it closed down in 1950 to “take away the temptation from the younger generation,” the parlour remained open. Today, a liquor vendor can be found next to the Superstore, and many of the city’s restaurants openly serve a variety of alcoholic beverages.

   We might not know for sure whether MHV commissioned a variety of beer steins for their 1974 celebration of Mennonites arriving in Canada, but it is clear that alcohol has been enjoyed by Mennonites in celebrations for centuries. If we’ve tended to forget about this long history, or maybe swept it under the rug, perhaps we should rather raise an MHV beer stein to celebrate our long and fascinating shared history.

Calendar of Events

April 19 – 7:00 PM, Auxiliary Film Night: Seven Points on Earth

April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

Photo Caption: Hog butchering in Chortitza Colony. Note the man in the upper right corner posing for the photo while pouring a fortifying beverage. (Photo courtesy of Vost, Mennonite Foods & Folkways from South Russia, p.224)

Village News

What is a Mennonite?

   As a child, I asked my mother what a Mennonite was. She told me it was anyone who was a member of a Mennonite church. In 2008, when the MHV Board of Directors was interviewing me for my current role, I was asked about my view of what a Mennonite is. As I recall, I quoted my mother. They hired me anyway. In fact, I don’t think anyone challenged my response.

   Every now and then I try to engage people in a conversation about what a Mennonite is. Predictably I get various answers. Some people identify themselves as cultural Mennonites. In southern Manitoba, that would likely mean that they grew up in a home where Low-German was spoken and that they enjoyed Faspa as their Sunday afternoon meal and frequently ate foods like Vereniki with Schmauntfatt, Rhubarb Plautz or Plueme Moos. Chances are they also attended a Mennonite Church at some point, and may or may not do so any more.

   These people are identifying with a culture that evolved when a group of Mennonites left Europe in the mid-sixteenth century and fled to Prussia, which today is Poland. After about 200 years in Prussia, this group of Mennonites migrated to Ukraine, an area which then was part of Russia. Then in the nineteenth century, they started migrating to North America, arriving in Canada first in 1874.

   Marty, my wife of 43 years, is also a Mennonite. She grew up in a “Mennonite” home in Bluffton, Ohio, (a “Mennonite” community) and was baptized in a Mennonite church. However, she does not speak Low-German and had rarely heard it until I met her. She grew up eating popcorn for Sunday supper and had never eaten Vereniki with Schmauntfatt, Rhubarb Plautz or Plueme Moos. Marty’s ancestors are from the Swiss Mennonite group. Her people came to North America from Alsace Lorraine, a part of France which was at times German territory. This group has its own cultural uniqueness.

   Some of the European Mennonites who came to North America in the nineteenth century have retained some very conservative lifestyle practices, such as using horses and mules rather than tractors to work their fields, living without the benefit of electricity, or traveling by horse and buggy rather that by a motorized vehicle. We respectfully refer to these as Old Order Mennonites. Their culture is certainly unique in our present times.

   There are currently more Mennonites in Africa and India than there are in Canada. Many of these people have begun to identify as Mennonites more recently and have not developed a unique culture. I’m pretty sure very few of them speak Low-German - or Pennsylvania Dutch, for that matter. And I doubt that many of them ever eat the ethnic foods that we enjoy and serve in our Livery Barn Restaurant.

   When I attend meetings of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, which includes Mennonites from B.C. to Quebec, we don’t talk about the cultural things we have in common. Because when we consider Mennonites from around the world, we realize we don’t have a common culture. Various Mennonite groups have developed unique cultural elements, but these are not all the same.

   What we as Mennonites do have in common is a faith system. A faith system that espouses a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, God’s son, and encourages individuals to make personal choices to model their lives on Jesus’s example, affirmed through baptism. A faith system that practices a community hermeneutic where communities of faith together seek to interpret and understand scripture. A faith system that values peace, sometimes leading to active participation in peacemaking and to conscientious objection to participation in war. A faith system that encourages its proponents to support and care for the unfortunate and the downtrodden. To be sure, Mennonites are not the only people who value and do these things. But these are the things that all Mennonites have in common.

   My intent is certainly not to belittle what we call “Mennonite Culture.” After all, the purpose of our museum is largely to preserve the Russian Mennonite culture. It’s interesting, it’s fun, and there’s no question that it’s important to preserve it. But let’s also remember that we Russian Mennonites are only a relatively small group of Mennonites globally and that the faith aspects all Mennonites have in common are also part of our story and worth preserving.

Calendar of Events

March 30 - Closed for Good Friday

April 19 – 7:00 PM, Auxiliary Film Night: Seven Points on Earth

April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

Village News

Hours, Minutes, Seconds

   This year Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is celebrating clocks, devices for measuring time.
   Whereas nature measures time in years (equinox to equinox) and in days (midday to midday), people are on their own when dividing up each day. There is nothing in nature that sets the length of hours, minutes or seconds.
   So who decided on 24 hours per day, 60 minutes per hour and 60 seconds per minute?
   The honour for the hours seems to belong to Egyptian astrologers living more than 4,000 years ago. Using complex star gazing, they decided that daylight should have 12 divisions and that the night should be divided into 3 or 4 "watches," corresponding to actual time periods when night sentinels stood guard. Maybe that's where we got the word "watch."
   To tell the time, Egyptians used sundials during daylight and water clocks day or night. A water clock was simply a container filled with water which was allowed to drip at a constant rate. Dropping water levels corresponded to elapsed hours. This primitive clock was very inaccurate but close enough for their purposes.

   The 60 minutes and seconds come from the Mesopotamians, also about 4,000 years ago. Whereas we count by 10s, doubtless because we have 10 fingers, they decided to count by 60s. This was nice for them because 60 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30! For people who did not have decimals, this system yielded lots of neat fraction possibilities: 1/30, 1/20, 1/15, 1/12, 1/10, 1/6, 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2. These fractions were very useful in dividing farmland and sacks of barley.

   As astronomy became more sophisticated, a precise system was invented, based on 12 constellations seen along the orbits of the planets, each one rising and setting at more or less equal intervals. This was the first 24-hour system, with 2 hours allotted to each constellation. It gave rise to the zodiac and all that astrological nonsense which is still very much alive today.
   The 24-hour system spread to the Mideast, to India, to Greece and Rome, and from there to us. Curiously, it was also developed in China about 500 BC. Before that, the Chinese had a kind of decimal system but then changed to the 12-hour daylight clock, perhaps due to contacts with the Mideast. Whereas the Middle Eastern love of the number 12 was probably related to the number of "moons" per year, in China it was supposed to have come from the observed 12-year orbit of Jupiter.

   Ancient Hebrews were not fond of astrology for theological reasons, but even they liked the number 12, noting that Jacob had 12 sons, giving rise to the twelve tribes, which probably was echoed in Jesus' 12 disciples.

   Nowadays, the “second” is still the ultimate standard for time measurement. According to Google, it is now defined as "9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation that gets an atom of cesium-133 to vibrate between two energy states." Thus an ancient time measurement is enshrined in modern language.

   In more recent eras, the many ordinary and ornate clocks now residing at MHV have faithfully roused Mennonite farmers to get ready to do their milking and schoolchildren to find their boots for the morning walk to school. Now they are resting and waiting for your visit.

Calendar of Events

March 30 - Closed for Good Friday

April 19 – 7:00 PM, Auxiliary Film Night: Seven Points on Earth

April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

Village News

“Must-See-Ums”

   Social media contests don’t usually get my attention, but the one that made its way into my Inbox today was an exception. Maybe it did so because it creates an opportunity for Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) to win a prize and get some added publicity without spending more money.

   This contest has been initiated by Travel Manitoba, a provincial Crown corporation whose purpose is to promote tourism in our province. They focus on local, national and international markets, promoting fishing and hunting lodges, community and music festivals, museums, campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, and a variety of other tourist destinations and activities. They seek to inform tourists about the rich and varied activities that make visiting Manitoba worthwhile.

   As one of seven provincially appointed Signature Museums, MHV has collaborated with Travel Manitoba in a variety of ways. Along with numerous other museums, MHV is currently being promoted as a “Must-See-Um.” Travel Manitoba has created this handle because they believe in the opportunities museums present to the tourism industry. Museums offer a variety of intriguing exhibits, stories and experiences that are not necessarily available elsewhere in their respective communities.

   The contest Travel Manitoba has designed is a friendly competition between “Must-See-Ums” (museums) in Manitoba. Each of the thirty-two museums listed invites people to cast online votes for them. There are five rounds in this competition, and voters are allowed one vote in each round. So it’s important to check the voting site frequently to be aware of the completion of one round and the initiation of a new one.

   To cast your votes for MHV, access the contest at www.exploremb.ca, or on our MHV Facebook site. Scroll down to the “Must-See-Ums Madness” post and click on the link there. This leads to a long page of information and instructions, and eventually to individual boxes for each of the thirty-two museums. Clicking on MHV’s box will make the poll available, allowing one to vote and showing the latest poll results.

   We encourage readers and friends to support MHV in this online contest for two reasons. Sharing such posts on social media is an easy way for our supporters to once again remind friends of the presence and activities of MHV. This competition also puts us in a position to potentially win the grand prize, which is an opportunity to have a professional video made of some aspect of our museum. MHV is on several social media sites, and we have a YouTube channel. All of these are prime places to post a quality video which invites people to engage in the work of MHV.

   So it’s really quite simple. To support MHV in a very cost-effective way, simply vote and share. Thank you for your participation.

Calendar of Events

March 21 – 7:30 PM, Annual General Meeting

March 30 - Closed for Good Friday

April 19 – Auxiliary Film Night, “Seven Points on Earth”

April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

Village News

“What do these stones mean?”

   Last weekend I attended the annual gathering of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba. Several speakers used stones as images to help illustrate their specific point. One of these speakers referred to an event described in the fourth chapter of the biblical book of Joshua.

   In this narrative we find the migrating Israelites confronted by the Jordan River at flood stage on their trek from Egypt to the “Promised Land.” After miraculously clearing a dry path for them through the river, God instructs one representative of each of the twelve Israelite tribes to take a stone from the middle of the river and together build an altar with them on the other side. The purpose of this altar is “to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them [what happened here]. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:6 & 7 NIV)

   A river at flood stage would be a huge barrier to this migrating group of more than 600,000 people, especially with no bridges or ferries in sight. Miraculously the waters were parted, and all the people and their livestock and possessions made it to the other side. The altar was intended to be a reminder to future generations of God’s miraculous provision for the Israelite people - an experience well worth remembering and recounting.

   Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) might similarly be considered a type of “altar.” It is a “memorial” designed and maintained to remind current and future generations of God’s faithfulness to another people group on a very challenging journey. Spending an hour or two at MHV is a great way for younger people to vividly encounter stories about the experiences of their ancestors, including some of the “Jordan Rivers” they had to cross and how they were enabled to do so.

   While this museum primarily tells the story of the Mennonites who came from Russia to Canada as refugees, beginning in 1874, MHV can also be a reminder to people of other ethnicities of their own stories of immigration and “Jordan River” crossings. Many of the pioneer elements in the Mennonite experience which we display through our artifacts and exhibits are also common to other ethnic groups, such as spinning wheels, butter churns, horse-drawn sleighs, and wood-fired cook stoves.

   Refugees arriving in Canada more recently have come from a wide variety of countries and bring memories of all kinds of experiences with them. It is important that they also find ways to preserve these memories, both the difficult ones and the joyful ones.

   Our daughter and son-in-law recently took their two children to Disney World and related venues in Florida. Undoubtedly one of the family’s objectives in this excursion was to have a good time. Perhaps equally important in the minds of the parents was a desire to help their children build wonderful childhood memories, memories that add to their quality of life and can’t be taken away from them.

   Granted, family trips to Disney World have very little in common with refugee migrations. But our grandchildren will now retain great memories of their recent Florida excursion. The ancient Israelites most surely took with them spectacular memories of crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. And our ancestors who migrated from another country in times of distress have left us with numerous artifacts and stories of their own memories. So when our children ask “What do these stones (museum artifacts and exhibits) mean?” let’s ensure that they get answers that preserve the memories of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents . . . .

Calendar of Events

March 21 – 7:30 PM, Annual General Meeting

March 30 - Closed for Good Friday

April 26 – 7:00 PM, Volunteer Orientation

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

Village News

Olympics, Controversies, and the Mysteries of Soviet Tea Glass Holders

   As the 2018 Winter Olympics closed in South Korea on Sunday night, my mind wandered to the artefact collection at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). This connection might not be one most people would naturally make, so let me explain...

   In 2016, Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History at the Manitoba Museum and MHV’s former Senior Curator, spotted a set of six metal tea glass holders (also called “Podstakannik”) at a sale at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg. Noting their unique style and obvious roots in the Soviet Union, he donated them to the artefact collection at MHV. This is where our story begins.

   Although they have earlier roots, glass holders took on a new kind of significance during the Soviet era. Tea in Russia was often served in glasses rather than cups. To provide stability and enable a tea drinker to enjoy the beverage comfortably without touching the hot glass, holders with handles were designed, into which the tea glass was inserted.

   During the Soviet era, these tea glass holders, and the prominent cultural place they occupied in Soviet society, were used by the Soviet government as prime advertising space. All six of the Podstakannik in the Sawatzky donation showcase various achievements of the Soviet era.

   All of them feature a design of grapes and foliage stamped onto the silver-plated copper and nickel alloy. The fronts of four out of the six depict an image of a globe above a branch with leaves on the left and a satellite on the right. In the centre of the globe is the Kremlin, with satellites (including the famous Sputnik 1) shooting upwards towards a crescent moon. The front of another of the glass holders features the image of the Soviet hammer and sickle in front of a building with light beams crisscrossing the sky.

   It is the sixth and final Podstakannik which connected this year’s Olympics and its related controversies to MHV’s artefact collection. The front of this one features the prominent image of the Olympic rings in front of the iconic Olympic torch. Above this there are a star and a flag bearing the year 1980. That was the year Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics and another year of Olympic controversy involving Russia, characterized perhaps most memorably by the US-led boycott of the games as a protest against the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.

   Although their history contains some gaps, we do know that the tea glass holders residing at MHV belonged to Heinrich Hamm, whose family was a part of the “Great Trek” out of the Soviet Union in 1943-1945. While they made it to Germany and received permission to immigrate to Canada, the family’s history states that Heinrich and his older brother Woldemar were separated from their parents as they were getting ready to board the ship, ready to emigrate.  Woldemar was shot and Heinrich was captured by the Soviets and shipped off to Siberia, where he was forced to work in a gold mine. He was finally able to come to Canada in 1965.

   The mystery about these tea glass holders is how they came to be in Heinrich’s possession. From analyzing the design on the four holders celebrating the space achievements of the Soviet Union, we can assume that they could have been manufactured as early as the late 1950s. It would therefore be feasible that Heinrich could have had them in his possession when he came to Canada. Others, however, like the one decorated with the 1980 Olympic rings, was clearly produced long after he left the Soviet Union. We can only guess that perhaps he received this Podstakannik (or even all of them, for that matter) from friends still living in the Soviet Union. Some artefacts don’t give away their secrets that easily.

   These six artefacts have been in MHV’s collection for over two years now, but what brought them to our attention again recently was an unsolicited package we received in the mail a few weeks back. The package contained two tea glass holders with the identical space-themed design as the four in the 2016 Sawatzky donation. What makes these two unique, however, is that they came in their original, mint-condition packaging. Additionally, one of the boxes included a small slip of paper, a type of “Certificate of Authenticity,” also in pristine condition. The certificate indicates that the glass holders were produced as limited editions and that the item inside the box was #411 and was purchased in 1986. While these artefacts still require more research, their addition to the collection helps contextualize the earlier tea glass holders from the Sawatzky donation and help us better understand some of these modern artefacts.

   As a side note, we generally prefer not to receive artefacts  without prior consultation (as in the case above). It is usually a very complicated process to connect with the legal owners, and we need to get a history of the object in order to know if it would fit in our collection. So if you have something you would like us to consider for our museum’s collection, please give us a call and ask to speak to one of the curators. We would be more than happy to discuss your object with you.

Calendar of Events

March 4, 7:00 PM – Vespers Service

March 30 - Closed for Good Friday

May 1 - Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the Outdoor Village

Image Caption:

Three of the tea glass holders in MHV’s collection. On the left is the one from the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow and on the right, the one with the Soviet hammer and sickle (both from the 2016 Sawatzky donation). In the centre is one of the space-themed tea glass holders, with its original packaging, which recently arrived at MHV.

Village News

Winter Carnival

   Planning an outdoor winter festival is risky business, as attendance can easily and significantly be affected by inclement weather. For this reason, we are thankful that last Saturday was a pleasant day weather-wise. A brief spell of cold afternoon wind didn’t seem to discourage the children and parents enjoying our first Winter Carnival at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV).

   From 10 AM till 4 PM, guests came to check out our various outdoor activities. A bonfire provided warm-ups as needed, as well as an opportunity to create s’mores. Music DJ’d by Summer Bounce Entertainment enhanced the overall atmosphere.

   The most popular activity appeared to be the horse-drawn bobsleigh rides. Menno Barkman and John Krahn graciously gave of their time to provide the rides, using Menno’s team of Morgans. The hard-packed snow on our village streets made a suitable track for them.

   We are grateful to the City of Steinbach for creating a large outdoor skating rink for our guests to enjoy. There are no boards around it, so it’s not a hockey venue, but a number of guests brought their skates and enjoyed the ice surface for pleasure skating. Sledding opportunities were provided by Fast Brothers, who kindly moved a bunch of snow on our yard to create a small hill.

   In addition to these activities, guests also enjoyed ice bowling, mini-golf, plank (smoosh) races, tug-of-war, and a beanbag toss, complements of sponsors such as The LumberZone, Birch Auto Supplies, Metalmaster Autobody, Firewood 2 Go and PBX. The temperature was just a little too cold to stage the planned snowman-building contest. Perhaps we’ll try a snow-sculpturing contest next year instead.

   In the Village Centre, a beverage bar sponsored by Sweet Life Tea and Coffee Ltd. offered hot chocolate, tea and coffee, as well as some snacks. A canteen staffed by volunteers provided hotdogs and cold drinks sponsored by Sobeys. Each table in the canteen offered one or two table games for guests to enjoy while they warmed their fingers and toes.

   It’s appropriate for MHV to stage such an event, as our museum is an established meeting place in the community. We host three summer festivals attended by thousands of local visitors, as well as tourists from far and wide. We like to help people remember where they came from and how they got here. This Winter Carnival focused on activities that go back many decades, maybe longer. No electronic games were part of this carnival.

   The fact that so many individuals, businesses and organizations stepped up to contribute products and services for this event tells us there is an appetite for a winter carnival such as this in our community. This was our first attempt at staging one. Although attendance was modest, it was clear that our guests were having a great time. Is there enough interest in our community to build on this event and stage another one next year? We would love to hear thoughts and suggestions from our readers. We’d like to know how you think this festival could be enhanced to provide an even more valuable service to our community.

Calendar of Events

February 22, 7:00 PM - An Evening with the Authors

March 4, 7:00 PM – Vespers Service

March 30, closed for Good Friday

May 1, Opening day for the Livery Barn Restaurant and the outdoor village

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

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.

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