MHV’s Assistant Curator, Jessica McKague, is our guest writer this week.
“Every artifact at Mennonite Heritage Village, even such seemingly commonplace objects as a chisel or sewing basket, can offer an extraordinary insight into the past. These are not only useful tools but also material memories of a Mennonite experience. Information-based artifacts, such as notebooks and letters, provide a more definitive record.
“We recently received five ledger books containing the accounts of the Steinbach Loewen Funeral Home from Mary Loewen. These books cover the years from 1929 to 1958, with entries by Abraham Toews Loewen (Founder), Daniel Loewen, Henry Loewen, and Robert Loewen.
“The story of the Loewen Funeral Home is significant as it relates to the development of the City of Steinbach. Its establishment signaled the change in Mennonite funerary practices from in-home funerals to ‘funeral homes’ or chapels. These ledger books will be invaluable for future research related to past citizens of Steinbach.
“The first ledger book by Abraham Loewen is now on display in the Auditorium as part of the exhibit Through the Eyes of a Child. Shown are the pricings of goods and services offered by the funeral home, such as an ambulance trip, burial permit, casket, and digging.
“Another valuable addition to our collection was donated this past October: the wedding dress, shoes, camisole, under-waist and photograph of the donor’s mother, Anna (Unger) Jansen, and father, Peter Arthur Jansen. They were married in 1919. The photograph shows newly-wed Anne in her white wedding dress and Peter in his Royal North-West Mounted Police uniform. Interestingly, the Mounted Police’s policy at the time was that no mounted policeman should be wed until he had served in the force for a certain number of years. Peter did not meet this qualification, so he was discharged after his marriage was discovered.
“Peter spoke fluent German and was used as a translator during the war. He refused to go into battle due to his beliefs. Although he was ethnically Mennonite, he identified as agnostic.
“Anna’s parents, Abraham Unger and Anna Enns, lived near Morden, MB. In 1917 Anna left home to study dressmaking in Regina, where she first met Peter.
“The story of Anna and Peter is perhaps not representative of traditional Mennonite culture, but they were a Mennonite family nonetheless and a part of the Russian Mennonite story. Peter’s self-identification also shows that the dichotomy of Mennonite faith and Mennonite ethnicity was already present by 1919.
“The dress itself was quite scandalous for a Mennonite wedding, with its shear nylon material, low V-neck, and high hemline. As can be seen in these donations, the objects themselves tell a great deal about Mennonite society and material culture, but the stories that go along with them can tell us even more. Because within every artifact of any material, whether it is furniture, quilt, or musical instrument, there is the potential to add another piece to the Russian Mennonite story and deepen our understanding of the past.”