It was my privilege to address the South Eastman Rotary Club at their recent meeting in Steinbach. The club is a long-time supporter of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV).
Besides renting the auditorium in our Village Centre for a number of their events each year, the Rotary Club has shown particular interest in our windmill. The club has been providing yearly funding toward the maintenance and care of this iconic structure on our campus.
This maintenance and care is a significant matter. The track on which the head rotates, in order to keep the main sails facing into the wind, needs to be lubricated regularly. From time to time the structure needs to be re-painted. This was last undertaken in 2012 and was a substantial task, involving many hours of meticulous work and a very tall scissor lift.
Security is another essential element of care for the windmill. The building is currently equipped with a burglar alarm, heat sensors and a sprinkler system. It is also illuminated by three very large flood lights that have a considerable impact on our energy bill.
Our windmill is a significant artifact for the museum and a prominent icon for our community. Steinbach is known far and wide for its windmill. While we can’t readily quantify the impact it has, it clearly helps identify our museum as a tourist destination.
The windmill also plays an important role in educating our guests. One need only be present for a few minutes during a windy festival day, when the mill is producing flour, to realize how much learning is taking place as people gather in the building to watch and talk with the millers. Additionally, about 4,000 students participate in our formal Education Program every year. By far the majority of those young people enter the windmill and learn about its operation and its contribution to communities in the past. Some school classes attend to participate in our Structures Program, which is often taught in the windmill.
Historically, knowledge of windmill technology enabled the Mennonites to drain land in the Vistula Delta of Poland (then Prussia) and turn the area into productive agricultural land. In Russia, windmill use shifted from drainage to grinding grain and sawing lumber. The Red River Colony (now Winnipeg) of Selkirk Settlers, Métis, French Canadians, and First Nations had built 18 windmills by the time the Mennonites arrived in 1874. From 1876-1906, the Mennonites of Manitoba built or rebuilt a number of windmills, including the Steinbach windmill in 1877.
Despite our windmill’s current functions related to tourism and education, as well as its provision of flour for the Livery Barn Restaurant’s bakery, it is not the workhorse it once was. Today’s windmills look very different and are largely used to generate electricity. It’s good to see that we’ve learned new ways to harness the energy of the wind for domestic purposes.
We appreciate the commitment of the South Eastman Rotary Club to assisting us in maintaining our windmill as a functioning artifact and teaching tool.
Calendar of Events
April 7 – MHV Annual General Meeting – 7:30 PM
April 23 – Volunteer Orientation – 7:00 PM