The Schilstra Collection
Since the end of November, when I joined the staff at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), I have been working with the Schilstra Collection. The Schilstra family (alternately spelled “Shilstra”) were not Mennonites themselves but served the Mennonite community around Steinbach for many years.
Drs. Alexander J. (1872-1962) and Anna McConnell Schilstra (1871-1942) were the first licensed medical doctors in the Steinbach area. They moved here from Gretna in 1909 and stayed for two years until they moved to British Columbia in 1911. Following the First World War, they returned to Steinbach. Alexander acted as the first Health Officer of the Hanover Municipality from about 1918-1936. Anna was a licensed medical doctor and practiced medicine under her husband's license, often assisting him as a consultant and anesthetist. She was much in demand for her services in the areas of childbirth and childcare. Whereas her husband was known to be rough and demanding, Anna was remembered for her kindness.
They had two children, Marie (1906-1989) and Urquhart (1908-1984). Marie’s education was halted when she needed to drop out of the University of Manitoba, reportedly due to mental-health issues. She lived with her parents until they passed away and likely took over the ownership of the family home until her death. Urquhart married Lillian Poleson of St. Boniface (1914-1972), moved to Toronto, and became a Hawaiian steel-guitar virtuoso by the stage name of Uncle Tom Alexander. He did not get along with his father and only reconciled with him after his mother's death in 1942. He died on a Toronto golf course in 1986.
The Schilstra Collection is large and varied. There are letters, medical textbooks, and appointment books. If you follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/MHVSteinbach), you'll probably have seen a picture of their obstetrical record for 1936-37. There are also a surprising number of books on how to raise poultry. Personal items include gloves that probably belonged to Dr. Anna, as well as Dr. Alexander's Medical Corps uniforms from the First World War. Perhaps most poignant are the books and toys that belonged to the Schilstra children.
None of the items in the collection have been donated by the Schilstras themselves. They came to MHV as donations from several different people but primarily from the Reimer family. The Schilstra property on First Street (just east of Elmdale Street and Friesen Avenue) was purchased by P.J. Reimer after Marie Schilstra's death in 1989. He cleared out the house before it was demolished. Items of interest which he had removed were then donated to Mennonite Heritage Village by his family after his death in the mid-1990s.
We are currently in the process of researching and re-organizing this collection. How interesting it is to learn about the lives of people from the very objects they owned!
Calendar of Events
March 22 – 7:30 PM; MHV Annual General Meeting