What impacted me most about City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, January 3, was the fact that I missed it! I had been given to understand that the grant distribution meeting would be held on January 17 and failed to confirm that information, leaving me comfortably at home on the evening of January 3. My presence would not likely have affected the outcome of Council’s granting decisions, but I had wanted to be present to hear the comments of councilors regarding the significance of MHV to the community.
It is important to me that City Council and the public know that the board and staff at Mennonite Heritage Village are very grateful for the grant awarded to us. It is a significant amount of undesignated money which we are able to use at our discretion. Many granting organizations prefer to fund only specific projects such as buildings, educational initiatives, new exhibits and the like. It’s not uncommon for us to hear that grantors will not provide funds for operations. But we have energy bills, property taxes, building maintenance costs, salaries and a host of other operational expenses that still need to be met if we are to continue functioning. We appreciate the confidence Council has expressed in us by awarding this grant.
At MHV we are well aware of the importance of establishing relationships with many partners in the local community and beyond in order to maintain financial health and stability. While the lion’s share of our support comes from the local community, we do have donors in a number of other provinces. This past year we raised well over $200,000 in donations over and above government grants. We believe people and organizations donate money to us because they believe in our mission and in our ability to deliver that mission.
When our City Council considers how to award grants, it is appropriate that among other things, they consider the contribution the organization makes to the community as a whole. MHV offers the local community a number of specific things.
MHV preserves and interprets the pioneer history of this community. While our stories and exhibits by and large relate to the coming to the Mennonite people, the pioneer history of other people groups who arrived in this area about the same time is not unlike that of the Mennonites. A good knowledge and understanding of why we came, what we experienced when we arrived, and how we responded to those experiences will enhance our quality of life today.
A good museum is, in many respects, a teaching institution. Our exhibits and programs are designed to teach this pioneer history to our visitors. Our education program for school children hosts between 4000 and 5000 children, together with their teachers and parent supervisors, every year. These particular teaching experiences are not available elsewhere in this community.
A lesson in doing laundry
Every year MHV hosts more than 40,000 visitors. They come from more than 50 countries, from more than half of the American states, and from all Canadian provinces. This museum is undoubtedly the premier tourist attraction of Southeast Manitoba. We don’t know how much money these tourists spend in our community apart from what they spend at MHV, but it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t buy gas for their motor-homes, spend a night in a local hotel or eat in a local restaurant. Tourists bring a significant economic benefit to this community.
Volunteers are a key element in our work. Each year we are supported by hundreds of volunteers whose skills and knowledge add to the richness of our visitors’ experiences. Active volunteers are a benefit to any community. We have volunteers who are still in their teens, and we have volunteers who are in their 80s. Their work is important and greatly appreciated.
MHV, like most other significant museums, will be healthiest if its support comes from multiple sources: all levels of government, supportive businesses, interested individuals and a community of volunteers.