By Nia Rogers
One of the most important aspects to note about any object at a museum is that the object is not merely an object but represents a link into the past. It provides us with a necessary gateway to step into the realities of someone else’s life and offers an invitation to make a personal connection to events and people long since passed.
One such item in MHV’s collection is a Russian coat. If you merely took the item at face value, perhaps you would think it was a handsome coat. If you dug a little deeper into the life of the jacket, you would find out it was made by a Jewish tailor in 1916. It was worn by Abraham Peter Regier of Chortitza when he was a student in the Halbstadt Kommerzschule in Molotschna Colony, South Russia.
The jacket was part of the week-day uniform. It is interesting to note the gold-coloured badges placed on the lapel of the jacket in recognition of service in a construction battalion during World War I. This jacket provides us with a link to the extraordinary life of Abraham Peter Regier.
Regier was born in 1895 in Chortitza, Ukraine. He was a highly educated man, having acquiring five years of additional schooling at Halbstadt Business College. After his marriage in 1920 to Margaretha Kroeger (daughter of clockmaker David Kroeger), Regier cared for his wife’s siblings, as well as his own, when both sets of parents succumbed to Typhus. During the Russian revolution, he served in the Red Cross, was a town clerk, and worked as an accountant in the industrious Koop Factory. In July of 1923, Regier lead 769 people to Canada. With his growing family, he settled in the Peace River District of Alberta, where he was one of the founding members of the Alberta Wheat Pool. Regier moved to the Niagara Region in Ontario, where he was not only the chair of the Niagara United Mennonite Church Council but also founded the Niagara Credit Union in 1945. In 1964 Regier was recognized as “Citizen of the Year” by the Niagara Town and Township Chamber of Commerce. He passed away in 1995 at the age of one hundred.
Regier’s handsome jacket could simply be admired for its rich black fabric, gold-coloured buttons, velvet texture, and excellent craftsmanship. However, we have also seen a second deeper meaning behind the jacket, which contributes to the life and legacy of Abraham Peter Regier.
Another item donated recently to MHV is a doll named “Bertha”. At first glance, Bertha looks like a fairly ordinary toy. However, if you look closely, you will notice how well she has been preserved, from her porcelain head, to the tips of her handcrafted leather gloves, to her little wooden feet. Bertha allows us to peek into the life of eight-year-old Elizabeth Martens, to whom she was given as a gift in 1900. From her good condition, you know that Bertha was loved and that she mattered to Elizabeth and her family.
The doll and the jacket are important not only because they allow us to possess a physical piece of Mennonite history, but also because they provide us with tangible links to the past. To get to know an item in a museum is to get to know its historical significance, the story and, by extension, the person behind it. Every object in a museum represents a story waiting to be heard, or a person with whom you can identify.