Village News

Pioneer Days Book Launch & Reading

   As families fulfill their summer travel plans, I am always excited to see that many have included the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) as one of their primary stops. Our staff often receives expressions of their appreciation for the care MHV has taken to preserve the Russian Mennonite story.

   Pioneer Days is one of the highlights of my summer. Visitors from all over the globe visit our museum during this August long weekend to experience the sights and sounds of days gone by.

   In celebration of our heritage, Village Books and Gifts will be presenting an Author Book Launch/Reading on Monday, August 6, at 2:00 p.m. in our auditorium. This event will feature two authors, Harold Jantz and Harold N. Wiens, as well as gifted pianist Kimberly Dyck.

   Flight, written by Harold Jantz of Winnipeg, tells the story of the efforts taken by the Mennonites to flee the Soviet Empire in 1929 and 1930. Jantz, who has a personal interest in the story, says his father was one of about 20,000 Mennonites who escaped to Canada before the Soviets closed the doors to emigration in 1929. As he was researching his family history, Jantz learned it was also then that Soviet leader Josef Stalin made life miserable for wealthy Mennonite farmers, who were called Kulaks.

   Jantz states, "The Kulaks were people who were the more prosperous farmers. They were the better farmers. They were considered enemies and many, many of them were removed from their farms, were sent into exile, were, in some cases, even executed. They were treated with tremendous harshness." However, Jantz adds, Stalin didn't stop there.

   "There was a tremendous attack on religion. So, huge numbers of religious leaders, certainly among Mennonites, but among the Orthodox and others as well, were sent into exile or, perhaps, executed. They (the Soviets) introduced a five-day week (with no Sabbath) which meant that if you were religious, you couldn't plan for your services. There was also a significant crop failure in 1929.” Jantz states that “all of these factors prompted Mennonites to plead to leave the Soviet Union for Canada. Some Mennonite families made it out but many others did not.” The book tells the stories of these families, based largely on letters published by a Winnipeg-based Mennonite weekly newspaper, which was called the Mennonitishe Rundschau at the time.

   Kimberly Dyck began her career as a musician in Steinbach studying under Jane Duerksen. She graduated with a Performance degree from the University of Manitoba, studying under Dr. Judy Kehler-Siebert. She enjoys performing as a solo musician as well as collaborating with other instrumentalists and vocalists. One highlight of her journey was performing as Manitoba’s representative in a national competition in 2011. Kimberly currently teaches piano from her home in Steinbach and is on the executive of the Southeastern Manitoba Festival.

   Harold N. Wiens of Edmonton, Alberta, has written a book titled Return to Odessa. This story is about a Mennonite baby named Raisa Friedrichsen who is born as her mother dies in Blumenau, Ukraine - one of the last villages established in the historic Molotschna Colony. Her father, only sixteen years old, leaves Raisa to be raised by her grandparents, taking on the role of her “brother.” With schoolyard bullies harassing her with the truth, Raisa (now known as Christina) finally leaves home to find a new life in Odessa.

   After a series of unfortunate events, Christina finds herself a single mother of two teenage sons on the eve of the Russian Revolution. She must do whatever it takes to keep her boys safe. The fictional events in this book were inspired by the experiences of Harold’s parents, Nikolai and Anna Wiens.

   Harold is a singer and Professor Emeritus who recently retired from the Department of Music at the University of Alberta, where he held a teaching position for thirty-five years.

Calendar of Events

August 3-6, Pioneer Days - 9:00AM-6:00PM

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 – 10

September 3, Fall on the Farm – 9:00AM-5:00PM

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

Village News

Love Letters and Old Diaries – Part 2

   Aside from my father's letters, diaries and photographs, I found other interesting writings. In an obscure envelope I found the short biography of my great-grandfather, John R. Reimer, father to Maria (Mrs. John C. Reimer). He had not been a physically strong person and thus found it difficult to get work which he could do. For a while he was the herdsman for the village of Neuanlage's cattle. Each day he would walk down the only street in the village and collect the cows, walking to the common pasture. At the end of the day he would bring them home.

   John R. Reimer taught school in Neuanlage, a satellite colony of Blumenort, from 1894-1896. In 1895 he and his wife, Maria, bought a village lot. In October 1896 he opened a store in the largest room in their house to get more income. He sold groceries, hardware, dry goods, clothing, footwear, medicine and kerosene. Most people had charge accounts which they paid when able. He also accepted farm products like eggs and butter in trade. John R. Reimer died at age 30 because he could not get medical help which would likely have been available today.

   Another diary of great interest to me was written by my grandmother, Mrs. John C. Reimer. She was married about half a year when she began writing.

   Life was very simple in those days of living in Steinbach. But the work of planting massive gardens and harvesting them was hard. My grandfather had severe arthritis for some years, leaving Maria to dig and sack all the potatoes by herself. She was a tough woman and didn't complain in the diaries. It was a challenge to always keep homemade bread and other food on the table. It was easiest if one kept to a strict schedule: one day for washing clothes, one day for ironing, one or two days for baking, and the other days for more baking, making rag rugs, sewing, etc.

   They spent a lot of time visiting back and forth. This was their main social entertainment and the way to get news in a time of no radios and televisions. Visiting also involved feeding a lot of people, but Maria’s meals were very basic. She would make soup and potatoes for one meal, and soup, bread and cookies for another. Meat was a rare treat.

   Death was always with them. Maria writes of one young mother who passed away, leaving many children; two children who got scarlet fever and died quickly; and a man who died when the well he was digging caved in on him. There were a lot of funerals, and the life expectancy was lower than it is now. My grandma mentioned in her diary how she had to quickly make a lot of buns (zweibach) for the lunch after a funeral. On a lighter note, there were also weddings (included in a Sunday morning service), which provided a time for visiting and eating later.

   In a folder labeled “J C Reimer Preservings,” I found a six-page, timeline diary of the life of my grandfather, John C. Reimer. In 1897, when he was three years old, his parents moved to an “unimproved bush farm” off Highway #52 in Steinbach at the site of present-day Southland Church.

   In 1899, at the age of five, John's mother sent him to the store in Steinbach with only a memorized list of seven items to purchase, and he had not forgotten one thing. Could we put responsibility like that on a five-year-old today?

   I also found an article from 1884 on Klass Reimer's first store building, which is now at the Mennonite Heritage Village. In a transcript from audio tape, recorded in 1987 at the 175th anniversary celebration of the Kleine Gemeinde, John C. Reimer has a talk about Kleine Gemeinde education. These old photographs and carefully preserved writings are such treasures!

Calendar of Events

August 3-6, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Pioneer Days

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 - 10

September 16, Open Farm Day – 9:00AM-5:00PM

Village News

Museum Finances

   There are times when it becomes obvious to me that some individuals do not understand what’s involved in the operation of a museum like Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). When someone tries to negotiate a discount on a gift-shop purchase, or when someone sneaks into a festival without paying admission, I realize that they don’t know who actually owns MHV and how it is funded. Of course, there are likely many people who do faithfully pay our list prices in Village Books and Gifts as well as our admission fees who also don’t really know how this place is sustained. So for everyone’s benefit, let’s review some financial facts and structures related to MHV’s operation.

   MHV is an incorporated charity. Our 400 members would in some respects be considered the owners of this museum. However, they do not own shares or any forms of equity in the corporation. So if MHV were ever to fail, the assets would be distributed among other like organizations, not among our members.

   Our income is derived from three basic sources. About 60% of our gross operating income typically comes from our four internal businesses: admission at the front entrance or at the gate on festival days; gift shop sales; the Livery Barn Restaurant and catering; and meeting-room rentals by organizations and individuals. However, there are also quite a few expenses involved in operating these four business groupings.

   We are fortunate to receive various grants from all three levels of government. Federal, provincial and municipal grants make up about 15% of our gross income in an average year. A number of these grants are for things like specific program initiatives and hiring summer staff.

   The remaining 25% of our gross revenue, which amounts to about $250,000 annually, is generated through various fundraising events like the Tractor Trek, the Heritage Classic Golf Tournament, the waffle booth at Summer in the City, the Heritage Classic Car Show, and our current trip raffle, as well as through general donations. Numerous businesses and individuals support us with regular donations toward the operation of our museum. These are annual, monthly or just random donations.

   Over and above our operating budget, we have a capital budget, which provides support for various capital projects such as the construction of the Summer Pavilion, the replacement of our HVAC systems in the Village Centre, and the restoration of the Waldheim House. With 17 heritage buildings constantly needing to be maintained, we seem to always have a few projects in the hopper waiting for funding. Right now the windmill needs a new deck, three roofs on as many buildings are leaking and need to be replaced, three rooftop furnaces on the Village Centre still need to be replaced, our sawmill needs a major overhaul, and a number of buildings need fresh paint and various siding repairs. We should regularly be painting three buildings every year.

   As a charity, MHV does not generate a profit. Our budgets always guide us toward a break-even yearend position, and we’re always grateful when that happens. In years when we do have a modest surplus, we are happy to pay off some debt.

   We are only able to operate this way because we have a supporting constituency. Thankfully there are many organizations and individuals who recognize the value we bring to the province and to this community as a museum, a tourist destination, and a community meeting place, and as a result, they make generous donations to sustain MHV’s ongoing operations. I would personally be happy to discuss questions anyone might have about our finances. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Calendar of Events

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

August 3-6, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Pioneer Days

August 13-17, Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 8 - 10

Village News

Love Letters and Old Diaries - Part I

   Earlier this year, Becky Kornelson told me about the diaries and letters that her late father, Almon Reimer, left for their family to read. Almon was the son of the late John C. Reimer, one of the founding members of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). And we have a number of artefacts from Almon’s lumber-camp experience in our collection. So I invited Becky to write an article for us about some of the things her father had included in his letters and diaries. Here is Part I of her submission:

   “Old diaries, letters, photographs and love letters can be fascinating. My father, Almon Reimer, passed away this last Christmas Eve. Our family inherited many letters, diaries, and biographies. Each tells a tale of lives long ago.

   “Almon kept diaries from 1937 to about 1950. From them I have learned that at age fourteen a boy did a man's work - six days a week, all summer long and Saturday evenings during the school year. His education ended at Grade eight. His father John C. Reimer was his school teacher these eight years. He took an agricultural course at one point. The rest of his education was in the 'school of life'. Almon's diary of Wednesday, July 4, 1937 – ‘Worked at Plett Brothers. Brought home $12.50 a week.’  I understand now my father's strong work ethic. Retirement for him meant years of work at our local thrift shop repairing bicycles and other things.

   “As a child, I was fascinated that my Dad had two fingers missing. I found the date in his diary of when it happened. February 1, 1939, Dad wrote ‘Worked at Plett's till 8 A.M. Sawed off some fingers. Went to Steinbach.’ He was a mere fifteen years old. There was not much workplace safety in those days, but he did get money from the Workmen's Compensation Board to the sum of $355.00, which his father put away and gave to him at the time of his marriage to Annie Sawatzky.

   “His diaries also portrayed that entertainment was fairly simple for him as a teenager. August 27, 1939 – ‘Drove to town on bike. Was on street with boys and gals.’ And November 30, 1939 – ‘Skated in Evening.’ He also loved to listen to hockey on the radio. Saturday, December 2, 1939 he wrote ‘Black Hawks – 3.  Leafs - 3. 10 minutes overtime.’

   “Being very curious of Mom and Dad's romance, I delved into the love letters for a more personal glimpse. I knew they began dating at age sixteen. Often they would meet each other casually and talk together. They got to know each other's siblings and would visit together. My Dad either walked from Blumenort to Steinbach or sometimes skated on the creek to meet his dear Annie. They often skated at the primitive outdoor rink all evening. Almon walked Annie home and skated or walked back to Blumenort.

   “Then the letter writing began in a serious fashion, because Almon was sent to Roblin to work in a lumber camp by his parents and the church, in preparation for becoming a CO in WWII. The letters spoke of brothers and friends of Almon who got the call from the government to come to court in Winnipeg. There they could put in their conscientious objection to fighting and taking lives of people. This call was on the minds of the young men who didn't know if they would have to fight or could stay in Canada to do alternative service. Annie wrote in her letters back to him that she wished the war was over. It was a relief for Annie and Almon when he was called to court and told he should go back to his old job of building the round cheese boxes, as Canada was sending a lot of cheese overseas. Almon also wrote in his diary that the war was always on their minds.  September 1, 1939 – ‘Germany declares war against Poland at night’. September 3, 1939 – ‘In church it was announced that England declares war on Germany’. September 10, 1939 – ‘Canada declares war.’

   “The physical letters themselves were also revealing. The postage stamps on the envelopes cost 1, 2, 3, or 4 cents featuring the picture of King George. The paper became coarser as fine paper was less accessible because of the war. Almon also wrote in the English Script with a few lines here and there in the Gothic script. Now there are few who can hand-write at all never mind in Gothic German.

   “Among Dad's papers I found food ration stamps. These were given to allow Canadian citizens to get some kerosene, gasoline, and food products that were hard to get during the war. Almon and Annie's wedding on August 12, 1945 had an inexpensive meal of sandwiches and store-bought cookies which they were able to get with ration coupons. They had a double wedding with Annie's sister, Margaret and her fiancé Frank Friesen in order to cut wedding costs. While on their honeymoon in Kenora all the bells and whistles and noisemakers went off as the town celebrated the end of the war. There are two precious photos, one of Annie and one of Almon as they sit at the window of their cottage listening to the celebrations. I wonder what their thoughts were as they sat there.

   “Things have changed a lot from 1948 to 2018. Almon's diary entry - January 1, 1948 ‘I came home only yesterday from my two day stay at the hospital caused by blood poison from a little scratch on my hand. We had our Christmas at my folks. We were all home for dinner (noon meal) and afternoon. We sang some and Ernie recited. Then the gifts were given. Dad brought us home on sleigh. It started storming at night.’ Today tetanus shots keep us from getting blood poisoning from a mere scratch. We take things like that for granted.

   “To find old writings, photos, and papers of people from our past can be a goldmine, telling us so much of what we may not have heard before.”

Calendar of Events

July 14, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Car Show

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

August 3-6, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Pioneer Days

Village News

   More than 4,000 guests attended Steinbach’s Canada Day celebrations at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) on Sunday, July 1. The City of Steinbach and MHV joined forces once again in hosting this Canada Day party. With this event, we create opportunities for residents, as well as guests visiting our community, to celebrate the good things that life in Canada has to offer.

   There were numerous opportunities for both adults and children to enjoy the day. A barnyard full of animals, the flag-raising ceremony, barrel-train and wagon rides, live entertainment, great food, and lots of fresh air and sunshine kept people occupied from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Then at 8:00 PM entertainment and food were featured at the evening session at the Steinbach Soccer Park. The day of celebration was capped with a spectacular fireworks display.

   The mission of MHV is to remember, to interpret, and to retell the stories of the Mennonite people who have come from Russia to Canada since 1874. During the various migrations, numerous Mennonites have chosen to make Canada their home. In many cases that decision was based on available farmland, together with religious and political freedoms. Many of them have made significant contributions to Canadian society, flourishing in agriculture, education, business, and the arts.

   Our guests at MHV on July 1 represented many different ethnicities and religions. One of our volunteers noted that there seemed to be an unusual number of guests who were not able to converse in English. From a show of hands during the flag-raising ceremony, an estimated 10% - 25% of attendees where not born in Canada and chose to live here. While some of these may have been guests from another country, no doubt many were local residents who have arrived in Canada recently.

   While the Southeast hasn’t always been viewed as being open and welcoming to all kinds of people, recent evidence would suggest otherwise. Some years ago we heard that the City of Steinbach is the second most ethnically diverse community in Manitoba, second only to the City of Winnipeg. The significant diversity of guests who have been attending our Canada Day festivals seems to bear that out. Many of the churches in the Southeast have sponsored refugees over the years, contributing to our current multi-ethnic population.

   While MHV represents a particular people group in the stories it tells, it also identifies with other people groups who have fled persecution and have been accepted as refugees in various of our communities. MHV continues to be open to guests and members from various backgrounds. Our museum is a place where many people are reminded of things from their past. And last Sunday in particular, it was a place where people could come to celebrate their good fortune to be Canadian residents.

Calendar of Events

June 17-July 7 – Manitoba Food History Project

July 7, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Southeast Implement Collectors Tractor Show

July 9-13, 10:00AM-4:30PM – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 5-7

July 14, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Car Show

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

Village News

Jenna Klassen image      VN 2018 06 28

Russian Mennonite Food History

   The Manitoba Food History Project food truck has been parked in the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) parking lot for over a week now, and will be there until July 7. The project’s goal is to collect stories surrounding Manitoba food to determine how our province’s food has been “produced, sold, and consumed,” and how this has changed over time. Their presence at the Village has inspired me to investigate the role food has played in Russian Mennonite history and culture. Mennonites around the world have differing food traditions, depending on their history and geographic location. Here I examine specifically the Russian and Russian-descendant Mennonites that settled in Manitoba in the late eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century.

   Cottage cheese perogies (Vereniki), farmer sausage (Foarma Worscht), noodles (Kielkje), and summer borscht (Summa Borscht) became popular, everyday foods among the Mennonites living in the Vistula Delta (today Poland) and New Russia (today Ukraine). These foods have become synonymous with the culture of Russian Mennonites and Russian-descended Mennonites. Mennonite food culture has been preserved in numerous cookbooks and food blogs, discussed by historians, and reproduced for tourists who want a taste of Russian Mennonite tradition. Today, this food serves as a cultural touchstone, a way for Mennonites to connect to their heritage and continue centuries-old traditions.

   The garden was a vital source of food for Mennonite families. Gardens were planted, cared for, and harvested by women and children and produced healthy additions to family meals. Among the foods commonly grown were potatoes, beans, cucumbers, watermelon, cabbage, tomatoes, kohlrabi, rhubarb, and ground cherries. Herbs were given their own corner of the garden and were used to enhance daily meals. Mennonite favorites were dill, parsley, summer savory, and sorrel. Fresh vegetables and herbs were enjoyed in the warmer months and then were pickled, canned, and dried for use in winter.

   Mennonite gardens were also places of cultural change. Mennonites who migrated from New Russia soon found that the Manitoba climate was inhospitable to some of the produce that had been part of their everyday lives. The long growing seasons required by some vegetables and fruits were drastically shorter in a new climate. Mennonite women adapted to these changes by incorporating plants native to Manitoba into their gardens and recipes. But Mennonite history was sustained through the planting of heritage seeds. Brought from New Russia and planted in Manitoba gardens, many of these seeds continue to grow in gardens today.

   Another food that accompanied Mennonites on their migrations was zwieback, or “twice baked.” These buns were made with one bun stacked on top of another and then baked twice. They were commonly eaten at Sunday meals, weddings, funerals, and holidays.

   The buns were not only a celebratory staple but also became the food of survival for Mennonite immigrants. The journeys Russian Mennonites took as they transplanted “home” from one country to the next were long, and food could be scarce. To ensure their families did not go hungry on these journeys, Mennonite women baked dozens of these buns and then toasted them (hence the term “twice baked”) until they were dry. The toasted buns would last the many months of travel, and perhaps even the first months in Manitoba as Mennonite families established themselves in a new country. Once in Canada, zwieback continued (and continues) to be served on special days and occasions.

   In addition to zwieback, cheese and cold meats were served at Faspa, a late afternoon lunch or coffee. On Sunday afternoons, Faspa became an opportunity for socializing with friends and relatives. The zwieback eaten at Faspa were served with jelly, which was quite a treat for Mennonite children, who were only allowed to eat plain buns on the other days of the week.

   Throughout the years, Russian Mennonite food was never simply a thing to consume. It served as a means of physical survival on long trips during migrations, and of cultural survival as Mennonite women planted seeds from their old home in New Russia in their new home in Manitoba. Food was also used in social gatherings, which brought people together and strengthened community ties. Mennonite food continues to play a significant role in Mennonite life and culture, and it remains a form of material culture that connects these current-day Mennonites to their past.

Calendar of Events

June 17-July 7 – Manitoba Food History Project

July 1, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Steinbach’s Canada Day Celebration (with fireworks at the Soccer Park at 10:45PM)- FREE ADMISSION

July 7, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Southeast Implement Collectors Tractor Show

July 9-13, 10:00AM-4:30PM – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 5-7

July 14, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Car Show

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

Photo Caption: “Image of vegetable garden at Mennonite Heritage Village” (Credit to Mennonite Heritage Village)

Village News

Community Collaboration

   How does one manage when there is too much to do, especially when the “maintenance” items on the list are quite important and the “projects” are of high value? Strategic priority management, cooperation and diplomacy are helpful, perhaps even essential.

   Several years ago a small group of museum supporters approached the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) Board of Directors with a proposal to create and locate a monument recognizing conscientious objectors (CO’s) who served in alternative fields of service during times of war. Since that initial conversation, this project has grown to now include a substantial peace monument.

   The MHV Board of Directors recognized both key elements of this project as being in alignment with the mission and values of our museum and potentially a valuable addition to our collection of exhibits. The challenges it presented were the aspects of available labour and financial resources to make it happen. This would not be a small project. As a result, the initiators of the concept agreed to form a committee which would own the project and manage it on behalf of MHV, reporting to MHV’s Board of Directors.

   In a recent media release, committee member Abe Warkentin wrote, “A peace exhibit committee has commissioned Manitoba sculptor Peter Sawatzky to build a bronze statue of martyred Anabaptist Dirk Willems. The monument is expected to be a concrete way of recognizing the Anabaptist ideals of peacemaking.

   “The life-size statue to be completed in 2018, will be the focal point of a new peace exhibit at Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. The Mennonite Heritage Village is a world-class museum attracting 40,000 visitors per year from around the world.

   “Sawatzky is renowned for various sculptures, including the Seal River Crossing, a 29-foot-long sculpture of nine caribou in downtown Winnipeg as well as a 21-foot York boat in Selkirk.

   “Willems was one of around 4,000 martyrs killed in Europe in the 1500s for their understanding of the practice of baptism (among other charges). Holding to the doctrine that one should only be baptized upon confession of faith, they re-baptized adult believers and refused to baptize infants. Willems became known for rescuing his captor after breaking out of prison and was burned at the stake near his home village of Asperen, The Netherlands on May 16, 1569....

   “Willems was imprisoned in a residential castle turned prison and escaped by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags. Emaciated from his imprisonment, he did not break through the ice surrounding the castle but his heavier pursuer broke through.

   “Willems, hearing his guard’s call for help, turned back and rescued him. The guard wanted to release him but the mayor ordered his recapture and imprisonment.

   “Willems was sentenced to execution by fire on May 16, 1569….”

   With a great deal of planning, negotiation and coordination, the expanded peace exhibit project is underway. The initial component, a monument honoring conscientious objectors, was completed in 2016. That monument now stands beside our sawmill (which was operated by CO’s in the past) on the MHV grounds. The second component, a monument of the Dirk Willems experience, is currently being built and is scheduled for completion in 2018.

   MHV is fortunate to have people in our constituency who are so invested in our mission that they have volunteered to take on such a large project. There have been many meetings where this project has been developed - committee meetings, board meetings, and joint meetings of the board and the committee. Considerable time has been spent in finding common ground on various aspects of the project, as there is determination to satisfy all parties involved in the best interests of MHV. We are grateful for ongoing progress.

Calendar of Events

June 17-July 7 – Manitoba Food History Project

July 1, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Steinbach’s Canada Day Celebration (with fireworks at the Soccer Park at 10:45PM)

July 9-13, 10:00AM-4:30PM – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 5-7

July 14, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Car Show

July 25, 10:00AM-6:00PM – Heritage Classic Golf Tournament

Village News

VN 2018 06 14

Food Stories

   We aren’t often invited to enter a food truck, tell stories and prepare one of our favourite old recipes. Normally we purchase food from the proprietor of such a venue. But our community will soon have a unique opportunity to spend time on the other side of the window.

   From June 17 to July 7, Dr. Janis Thiessen and Sarah Story will be conducting research in the north parking lot of Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV).

   According to the University of Winnipeg’s NewsCentre, “Dr. Janis Thiessen is hitting the road to ask Manitobans in the Steinbach area to share their food histories and family recipes and she’s inviting people to register now to participate. Thiessen, Associate Professor (History) and Associate Director of the Oral History Centre at The University of Winnipeg, is rolling into town in her newly branded and outfitted Manitoba Food History Truck, which will be parked at the Mennonite Heritage Village (231 Highway 12 North, Steinbach) from Sunday, June 17 to Saturday, July 7, 2018.

   “Manitobans will be invited to hop on board the truck to cook a dish that is meaningful to them, while research team members interview them about their lives. Research team members and students will use this innovative approach to conduct oral histories on Manitoba food history, which will be shared with the public via a podcast series, pop-up exhibits and events, a website of digital stories and maps, and a food truck cookbook.

   “The goal of the Manitoba Food History Project is to produce a comprehensive history of food manufacturing, production, retailing, and consumption in the province of Manitoba from 1870 to the present day. The two driving questions behind the research are: ‘How has food been produced, sold, and consumed in Manitoba?’ and ‘How has this changed over time?’”

   The University of Winnipeg reports that this truck will also make stops in Winnipeg and the Parkland region over the next several years.

   “The Manitoba Food History Truck (owned and operated in partnership with Diversity Foods) will travel to these three regions of Manitoba so that the project team –– including food history students and research assistants –– can conduct life-story interviews with Manitobans while they cook local, historical, meaningful recipes aboard the truck. These oral histories will help to inform people’s understanding of the business, labour, ethnic, Indigenous, and local histories within the province of Manitoba.

   “Throughout the project, research team members will be working toward producing a variety of research outcomes that will provide opportunities for students, meaningful contributions to scholarly research in food history, and engaging and accessible representations of Manitoba’s food history. This will include a collection of oral history sources (to be archived at the Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg), experiential learning courses in business history & food history at The University of Winnipeg, digital stories and vignettes of Manitoba food history, pop-up exhibits and public events, a podcast series on Manitoba food history, and a Manitoba Food History Truck cookbook.”

   When MHV was approached about the concept of hosting a food truck on our campus, our first questions were “Will they be making the kind of food we make in our Livery Barn Restaurant?” and “Will they be selling food in competition with our restaurant?” They quickly assured us that they will not be producing any food for sale. It’s all research.

   Food is such a significant part of Russian Mennonite culture, as it is for many cultures. MHV is pleased to support Dr. Thiessen’s research initiative, and we invite the community to participate as well. Interested participants should sign up here or visit the project’s website at http://manitobafoodhistory.ca.

Calendar of Events

June 15-17 – Waffle Booth at Summer in the City

June 17, 11:30AM-2:30PM - Father’s Day Lunch Buffet

June 17-July 7 – Manitoba Food History Project

July 1, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Steinbach’s Canada Day Celebration (with fireworks at the Soccer Park at 10:45PM)

Village News

Feeling Sorry or Grateful?

   Every now and then, we at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) feel sorry for ourselves. Actually, we have a lot to be thankful for and few reasons to feel that way. But when certain challenges show up, we tend to compare ourselves with other museums that “have it easier,” a tendency which is not usually productive.

   For example, we’ve just learned that the roof of our Hochfeld House needs urgent attention. The shingles are old and starting to curl, and some have actually peeled off in the recent strong winds. When a roof needs new shingles, we always need to assess whether the structure under the shingles needs some repairs. In this case, we think that might be the situation.

   Numerous other buildings in the Village also need attention of various sorts, either immediately or in the very near future: Our windmill needs to have its entire deck replaced. That job will be undertaken this fall. The Reimer Store and The Printery need new paint. Fortunately, we have a volunteer who has adopted this project and has started scraping this week. (No doubt he would welcome some additional volunteers.) The Livery Barn Restaurant needs some significant repairs and a new coat of paint. Our hip-roof barn in the barnyard needs a new roof, some repairs and a fresh paint job. If someone had the will and the expertise to do it, we would welcome the restoration of the sling system in the barn. This apparatus was used to lift hay into the hayloft before farmers had bale elevators. The Chortitz Housebarn is also in need of repairs and paint.

   All seventeen heritage buildings on our campus are wood structures, and all but one have cedar-shingled roofs. While cedar roofs are supposed to last fifty years, the paint on the buildings below them will likely last only five years. To keep the paint on all seventeen buildings consistently looking fresh and protecting the wood, we should be painting three buildings every year.

   We must similarly be concerned about our old farm machinery. This collection of artifacts includes numerous very large items that are costly to maintain. But without restoration and maintenance, these historically valuable items will be lost. A corn binder, a manure spreader, and various other pieces with wood parts are particularly vulnerable to deterioration and loss.

   As we contemplated this very lengthy and expensive maintenance list recently and considered the fact that many other museums have only one building and a much “smaller” artifact collection to look after, we admittedly felt sorry for ourselves.

   But in the bigger picture, we know that there are many things for us to be grateful for. We are thankful that people have shown enough confidence in us to entrust important and large artifacts into our care. We are grateful to have local people and organizations with the wherewithal to maintain a complex piece of machinery like our windmill. Seeing a volunteer step up to paint the Reimer Store and the Printery is a blessing. We are thankful for the many volunteers, individual and business donors, foundations and governments who have made it possible for us to maintain our valuable artifacts and facilities over the years.

   While comparisons with other museums can sometimes result in discouragement, the reality is that we are blessed to be in a mutually beneficial relationship with our constituency. MHV preserves and interprets history, provides a community meeting place and community events, and attracts tourism, which is beneficial to many other local organizations. In return, MHV receives much-needed volunteers, skilled craftsmanship, financial resources, and meaningful artifacts with their accompanying stories. We are grateful.

Calendar of Events

June 9 – MHV/Eden Tractor Trek (departing at 10:00AM)

June 15-17 – Waffle Booth at Summer in the City

June 17, 11:30AM-2:30PM - Father’s Day Lunch Buffet

July 1, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Steinbach’s Canada Day Celebration (with fireworks at the Soccer Park at 10:45PM)

July 9-13, 10:00AM-4:30PM – Pioneer Day Camp for children ages 5-7

Village News

VN 2018 05 31 Kroegermhv

Sharing the Stories of Artefacts and Living Objects

   An exhibit like The Art of Mennonite Clocks, currently on display in our Gerhard Ens Gallery, doesn’t happen without a lot of cooperation. This exhibit has married the strengths of two organizations, Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and Kroeger Clocks Heritage Foundation (KCHF), and two ways of looking at objects: as artefacts and as living objects.

   Approximately half the clocks in the exhibition have come from MHV’s collection of artefacts. The other half have been loaned to MHV by organizations, including The Manitoba Museum and Mennonite Heritage Archives, and by individuals in the community. Most of the clocks from this latter category were loaned through KCHF.

   Artefacts are objects that are preserved, stored, and exhibited as a part of a museum’s official collection. If you’ll excuse what becomes a pun in this particular case, they are objects upon which time has essentially stopped. The state of an artefact when it enters a museum’s collection is usually the state in which it’s kept. Of course, preventative conservation measures are put in place to prevent further deterioration and to stabilize the object, but scratches in the paint or dents in metal, for example, are for the most part left as is. This is because they stand as evidence of an object’s past, as markers of its experience, and they speak to its history in a way that repairing them would erase. So in our exhibit you will see clocks that might be bent, marked, or in some other way no longer in pristine condition. These clocks bear the marks of their history.

   A Mandtler clock in MHV’s collection is a good example of how the imperfections in an object can be more important than its restoration to perfect condition. The story told by the donor at the time this clock was donated to our museum is that the scratches marring the clock’s face were made by anarchists’ swords during a home invasion in the Soviet Union prior to the family’s emigration.

   Artefacts in a museum’s collection also change legal ownership from individuals to the museum. They receive a high level of protection as part of the collection, with strict environmental, access, and care restrictions placed on them, and they become accessible to the public in ways that objects held in private homes don’t typically have the opportunity to be. As MHV’s curator, I feel honoured when I get to sit down with individuals who are donating items to our collection and am entrusted with not just the item itself, but also with the history the item has carried for that person or that family, sometimes for generations. I count these interactions with donors as one of the most fulfilling parts of my job and some of my key reasons for doing what I do.

   In contrast to museum artefacts, objects kept in people’s homes in the community continue to accumulate a history. They continue to have a life of their own. The clocks loaned from the community for our current exhibit are part of the life in the houses from which they come, part of the story of their owners’ lives. These living objects don’t have the restrictions placed on them that artefacts in museum collections do, so they are free to be repaired, painted over, or otherwise altered – sometimes for better and sometimes perhaps not. Visitors to The Art of Mennonite Clocks will see wonderful examples of beautifully repaired clocks, like Ernest Braun’s Werder clock (see last week’s “Village News” column), as well as examples of more debatable restoration choices. Even their temporary presence in this exhibit becomes a part of the history of these living objects in a way that’s quite different from artefacts held in museum collections. These community clocks come from private homes and are sharing a family history in a very public way. These objects will undoubtedly be deeply missed in family homes during their time in our exhibit, so it is quite special that they’ve been loaned to us. We are grateful to those individuals who have contributed so richly to our exhibit by sharing their clocks with the public in this way.

   As we heard from the stories that were told at our exhibit opening a few weeks ago, Mennonite wall clocks are a unique artefact, with a full and rich history. MHV, with our collected artefacts, and KCHF, with the stories and visual records in its virtual collection, both have a role in helping to preserve this history. We hope to do so through our current exhibit as we highlight the role which these unique objects played in the span of Mennonite history. As visitors will also see in the exhibit, there is still much more to be done in terms of research on individual clocks and on this group of objects as a whole. So in addition to generating interest in the clocks themselves, we hope that our exhibit will also spur research into the material and social history surrounding these artefacts and their various makers.

Our goal with this exhibition is that visitors experiencing The Art of Mennonite Clocks will see these clocks as bearers of a long history and as works of art, inside and out, in their own right.

Calendar of Events

June 9 – MHV/Eden Tractor Trek (departing at 10:00AM)

June 15-17 – Waffle Booth at Summer in the City

June 17, 11:30AM-2:30PM - Father’s Day Lunch Buffet

July 1, 9:00AM-6:00PM – Steinbach’s Canada Day Celebration (with fireworks at the Soccer Park at 10:45PM)

Photo caption:

As a central piece of the Mennonite home, clocks often bear markers of the experiences of their owners. This clock hung in the home of Abram and Susanna Loewen of Neu-Schoensee, New Russia. During the Russian Revolution, the soldiers’ swords scratched the paint on the clock, a reminder of this tumultuous period in Mennonite history.

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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