The Value in Artifacts

   Recently a friend dropped by Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) to donate a couple of beautiful old shawls to the museum. When I inquired about the stories accompanying them, I was informed that their history was unknown, as they had been purchased at a garage sale.

   Because we didn’t know their origins or the story of their journey prior to the garage sale, we happily and gratefully added those lovely shawls to our MHV costume collection. This is not an artifact collection but rather an assortment of “props” to be used by our volunteer interpreters when hosting guests in one of our heritage buildings. Costumes enhance the authenticity of the experience for our guests.

   In contrast, let’s look at the Waldheim House, the first heritage building to be brought to the MHV site and currently the oldest building in our Village. A file was created for this building when it first arrived here, and anything we’ve learned about it since then has been added to the file.

   Last summer we were awarded $100,000 in funding by the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program. This funding will contribute to the cost of carrying out major restorative work to this 140-year-old building. The log walls are in need of some repairs, and the thatched roof needs to be replaced.

   At the time we received this funding, we wrote about the house in this column to inform our constituency of the work being undertaken. In response to the column we have heard from members of the Julius Dyck family, the family that built the Waldheim House. They have graciously provided us with new information about the house, including a sketched floor plan from the past, complete with furnishings as they were located at that time, and a picture of a wood stove that provided heat for the house in a previous era.

   This is valuable information to add to our database. It assists us in developing complete and accurate stories for the file and for use in our interpretive activities. Also valuable is the connection with the family members, who will provide whatever information they have. Our Curator, Andrea Dyck, also made a trip to the Waldheim Cemetery recently to examine the final resting place of the original owners, acquiring further information about this family.

   We like to tell stories about our artifacts and the lives of the people who owned them. These stories can only be as accurate as the best information we have. We try to glean that information from donors when we take ownership of the article. This is why we discourage people from simply dropping artifacts off at the front desk. Instead, we ask people who are interested in donating an artifact to gather as much background information about it as they can and then arrange to meet with our curators. This allows time for our curators to learn and document some of the history related to the object being donated and is also a good opportunity for both MHV and the donor to complete the necessary paperwork to legally transfer ownership of the donated object.

   We would encourage anyone possessing documented and verifiable information about any artifact that has been donated to MHV to pass it on to us. We want to maintain accurate information in our files. Storytelling at family gatherings and cleaning up boxes of old items and documents can yield new historical information; please share it with us.

Louis Riel Day

Mennonite Heritage Village will be closed on Monday, February 15, to observe Louis Riel Day.

About the Author

Gary is responsible for the overall management of MHV. Guiding the staff, informing the board, and networking with officials, volunteers, corporate sponsors, individual donors and other guests. He has a business diploma and a MA in Global Studies from Providence Theological Seminary. With his family he did humanitarian work for 18 years in Asia, including being a CEO of a Compost Enterprise in China. He loves to discuss the Mennonite story and how it is relevant in our world. Learn more about the MHV.

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