Written by: Evelyn Friesen and Linda Schroeder
The foundation and impetus for establishing a Mennonite museum in this region was initiated by the late John C. Reimer. In 1966, countless artifacts which had already been collected by the retired school teacher found space in a new Artifacts Building at present-day Mennonite Heritage Village. Before long, the Museum became a popular learning centre for thousands of students. Teachers appreciated the history lesson offered by costumed guides in an authentic environment which included a windmill, a housebarn, a blacksmith shop, an Old Colony Church and several other heritage buildings.
Records from 1967 show that 67 school groups, representing all school divisions in Manitoba, had visited this new Village Museum. To accommodate the increasing number of tour groups and to develop further programming, it soon became necessary to hire staff to manage what had until then been done by hundreds of dedicated volunteers.
With funding from Multiculturalism Canada in 1987, several teaching aids were produced. A booklet expounding the Village story was published, and a comprehensive guide book was developed. These provided valuable information for the dozens of guides who accompanied the 173 school groups touring MHV that year.
The ever-growing need to accommodate adult tours and to customize the learning experience of visiting schools resulted in an additional expansion in 1990. The creation of two well-designed indoor galleries allowed for the implementation of a Winter Program in which students could harness a wooden horse, bake schnetki, quilt, play circle games, etc. Throughout May, June and September, up to 4000 students arrived in big yellow school buses to see history come alive and to learn why 8,000 Mennonites had left their comforts in Russia, determined to build semlins, log houses and house barns to call home in Manitoba.
The Education Program at MHV saw its biggest surge in school attendance in the years 2000–2006. The record year seems to have been 2002, when approximately 8,100 children participated in one of five available programs. Due to the large volume of children visiting each day in summer, the tour format was changed to feature an interpreter in each heritage building — telling or showing the various aspects of Mennonite pioneer life.
At the request of teachers, “Curriculum Connections” was designed, which continues to offer effective programs that fit an MHV tour into the social-studies unit of students from Kindergarten to Grade 8. Whether defining “community” or understanding “Societies Past and Present,” MHV gives opportunity to explore examples of the early Mennonite experience in Manitoba. Many school children are excited to don costumes and participate in the various hands-on and interactive programs. As well, the inception of an Archaeology Program, directed by MHV’s Curator, allowed dozens of college students to participate in a fascinating “dig” at the site of the former village of Blumenhof last summer.
A year-end evaluation reads, “School programming is vital to MHV. The interest that is developed during school visits is immeasurable.” MHV is inspired by the positive feedback from students and educators alike, and we are committed to providing relevant and interesting learning opportunities. The reader's participation and support in these essential programs is encouraged.
We welcome your visit to MHV's website (www.mhv.ca), which provides more detailed information about all current programs.