Written by: Nita Wiebe, Gift Shop Assistant
My favourite time of year is autumn. Heat waves are over and the road trips are done. The back-to-school shopping has been accomplished and classes are in session. Crimson trees and golden shrubs have replaced the greens of spring and summer. The night air is crisper, making a delicious contrast with the warm burrow of bed. In my home, books that have been piling up, waiting to be read, put a tickle of excitement in my tummy. I anticipate the stories that will unfold and the knowledge that will be gained. The joy of new ideas and better understanding of the past are just around the corner! I can’t wait!
Now I understand not all people will ‘get’ what I’m saying, but many of you will, or you love people who do appreciate a well-turned phrase, a perfectly placed word, or the feel and smell of new paper…(I’m getting funny looks again!)…so let me tell you about what happens next. Village Books & Gifts at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) happens next. I imagine the scenario going something like this in someone’s home:
Ruth: Don’t forget we’re taking Dad out to celebrate his birthday next week.
Liam: Ooo, thanks for the reminder! What’s the family gift for this year?
Ruth: I think he had his eye on the ‘Mennonite Low-German Dictionary’ at MHV or that new book from Royden Loewen. I forget what the title is but you can always ask at the gift shop. Nita will know or at the very least, find out.
(Nita: Why yes Liam, I do have Roy’s last book and it’s called ‘Village Among Nations’. Shall I set one aside for you to come and pick up? I know how you hate wrapping gifts so let me do that for you too…)
Liam: Ruth, you have good ideas!
Or the scenario in the car on the way to Winnipeg:
Bill: So I imagine that the family gathering is coming up at Russ & Donna’s again? The guys were talking about bringing some new games this time. Any ideas?
Carrie: I saw a Crokinole board last week. I haven’t played since I was a kid! It’s an old game waiting for a whole new generation of players!
Bill: Great idea! I can see a Kjnipsbraat tournament happening already! Where do I pick it up?
(Nita: Bill, Nita here from Village Books & Gifts at MHV. I have a board boxed up, including instructions and the klatz for the game. Just swing by on your day off tomorrow and then you have a few days to practice before you and the boys start playing…)
Carrie: Let’s go together. I need to pick up a Mennonite Treasury for Gabby in her new apartment. And some stocking-stuffers for the hard-to-buy-for aunties on your side of the family. I saw the cutest jam scrapers in the gift shop…Ooo don’t forget to remind me to pick up a pair of those oven mitts with the removable liners. I nearly dropped a casserole last week while using those cheap thin ones I have!
Bill: Great! I love the one-stop-shop. Village Books & Gifts, here we come…
I hope to see you all this Fall.
Food, blankets, tools and clothing; whatever one could carry. In the confusion and danger of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the civil war that followed, many Mennonite families were forced to leave everything behind so that they might escape and immigrate to Canada. Astonishingly, some family treasures made it too – porcelain and Kroeger clocks, for example, and, in the case of one of the most recent artifacts to join the Museum’s collection, a child’s bed frame, donated by Hugo Unruh. Two meters long and made of metal, it was no small thing for refugees to bring with them.
This bed frame belonged to the donor’s grandmother, Helena Unruh, born in 1900, in Russia. She grew up in Barwenkowa, a town of about 30,000 with a railroad station, six steam-powered grist mills, and a Kommerzschule (business school), which she and two of her brothers attended. Helena’s father, David Heinrich Unruh, was a successful businessman and her family lived in a brick house on a large property near the train station. Following the start of the Second World War in 1914, things changed drastically for Helena and her family. In the midst of the violence and chaos of the Revolution, the police in Barwenkowa lost all authority and groups of bandits, led by Nestor Makhno, swept through the countryside. It was too risky to stay.
In 1918 they left everything behind and moved to Muntau, near Neu Halbstadt in the Molotschna Colony. Violence was commonplace and conditions were desperate. The family moved several times and was divided when the sons ‘disappeared’ to escape conscription. The situation worsened when a severe famine overtook Ukraine and Helena’s parents traded their gold wedding rings, the only items of value they had left by that time, for food. The family was reunited in Neu Halbstadt after the war and by this time Helena had married Nicolai Unruh.
In the 1920s, as part of an effort to alleviate the suffering among Mennonites in the Soviet Union, North American Mennonites made arrangements for Russian Mennonites to immigrate to Canada. This included an arrangement with the Canadian Pacific Railway that would grant Mennonite refugees loans to cover the costs of the trip to Canada. In 1922, Helena, Nicolai, and their six-month old child, Elfriede, immigrated to Canada under this arrangement.
Throughout the years of the Unruh family’s flight, this little metal bed, along with another like it that belonged to Helena’s brother, travelled with them, wrapped in its felt mattress for protection. Helena’s childhood bed became a family heirloom, passed down and used by children through the generations. The bed, and specifically the unique hand-painted scenes on the head- and foot-boards, is in excellent condition. Considering the miles it has travelled, the conditions under which these journeys were made, and the generations of children who have rested in it, this is a remarkable artifact indeed and we are privileged to care for it as part of the collection at the Mennonite Heritage Village.
The bed-frame was factory made in Russia and the hand painting would have been done in this setting as well. Pastoral scenes, flowers, etc. were decorative, and reflected a common motif in the late nineteenth century – romanticisation of rural life. The donor would not find deeper meaning in the paintings, rather sentimental attachment to the object and perhaps what it represented; a happy childhood and life that was lost in the revolution.
Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) preserves and tells the stories of Mennonites who came to Canada from Russia. Approximately 7,000 immigrants left Russia and settled in Canada in the 1870’s. The first migration took place in 1874, and these people settled here in what was then known as the East Reserve, establishing the village of Steinbach.
While MHV’s village is not located where the original village of Steinbach was, nor is its Main Street intended to be an exact replica of the Main Street of the original village, it is intended to illustrate what that first village street was like.
The 1920’s saw another 20,000 Mennonites migrate from Russia to Canada, escaping horrific experiences in the post-war era. Village life was no longer the norm in Canada, as farms were now spread out through the country. Rural community life often revolved around the church and the public school.
MHV’s village includes both a school and a church from the post-WWI era. The Barkfield School was built south of Steinbach in 1919 at the beginning of the shift from private schools to public schools. The Lichtenauer Church, built in 1929-1930, is representative of many Mennonite churches built in rural communities across southern Manitoba following the mass migration from Russia to Canada in the 1920s.
The Lichtenauer Mennonite Church was originally located in Ste. Elizabeth, just a few miles east of Morris. It was the first church built by the Mennonites who migrated in the 1920s. This congregation had its beginnings in 1926 when recent immigrants to the area began meeting for worship in homes. The church grew rapidly in the early years, recording 378 members and adherents in 1931. Two additional Mennonite churches were established in Arnaud in the decades following.
Rural populations shifted over the years, impacting Ste. Elizabeth and other Manitoba communities, and in 1989 the Lichtenauer Church closed its doors. In 1994 the building was moved to MHV, where it stands today as a reminder of congregational life in Southern Manitoba communities in the post-war years.
From time to time this church is still used for a wedding ceremony. This summer, through the generous donations of local supporters and a Community Places grant, it received a new coat of paint. Before this season is over, it will also be equipped with a new set of eaves troughs.
The ongoing maintenance of this church building, as well as all the other heritage buildings at MHV, is important to the preservation and the telling of the stories of why we are privileged to live here and how we got here.
Our Village is populated with many wood structures, some of them very old. As a result, we must attend to the maintenance and care of these buildings on a yearly basis. With the financial support of generous local donors and grants from the Province of Manitoba’s Community Places Program, we are usually able to undertake several projects each year.
This year we finished painting the Steamer Shelter, installed electric door openers in the Village Centre for improved handicapped access, and painted the Lichtenau Church. Four buildings will soon be equipped with new eaves troughs.
At this time of year we also begin lining up projects for the 2015 season. One of the most urgent items on our list is the replacement of shingles on the roof of the Livery Barn Restaurant. This roof has been challenged by a number of vigorous rainfalls this summer and is now beyond repair. Replacing the shingles could cost up to $20,000. The Community Places Program requires that other partners contribute more than 50% of the value of a project of this magnitude. So we need to find donors who are willing to collectively contribute in the neighbourhood of $12,000-$15,000 toward this project, in addition to their normal annual donation towards our general operating fund. Contributions to this project can be forwarded to Mennonite Heritage Village, 231 PTH 12 North, Steinbach, MB R5G 1T8 and should be tagged for LBR Roof.
Anyone wishing to discuss other projects, such as a new dough-mixer for the Livery Barn Restaurant, should feel free to call Tashia or Barry at 204-326-9661.
By Jessica McKague
If you attended Fall on the Farm at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), you likely saw our new art installation bursting with colour in the Hallway Gallery. Celebrating Culture in our Community is a group show of four artists, Kim Gwozdz, Helen Banman, Melanie Penner, and Don Hoeppner, chosen by the Steinbach Arts Council (SAC) for their significant contributions to our arts community.
Don Hoeppner is a long–time local business owner. In retirement Don turned to the arts, exploring watercolour painting depicting serene moments in nature.
Melanie Penner began painting in the 1970s. Her passion is for painting the natural world such as landscapes in acrylic and multimedia, applying layers of fresh, bright colours. She has been instrumental to the arts programs and fundraising events at SAC. For the past 17 years, she has served on the Southeast Visual Arts Committee and the Gala Committee, was the initiator of the Buy or Lease Art program, and has led watercolour classes for children and adults.
Helen Banman has been a contributing member to SAC for the past ten years. In that time she has volunteered on the Southeast Visual Arts Committee and the Exhibit Committee, has showcased her artwork in a solo exhibit at the Steinbach Arts Council Hall Gallery, and has participated in the Southeast Open Judge, placing in the watercolour category.
For the past 15 years Kim Gwozdz has dedicated her time to SAC as a member of the Southeast Visual Arts Committee, the Southeast Artist Group, as well as the Eastern Manitoba Art Collective. She has taught beginner and intermediate acrylic painting classes for the past 10 years. Her work is represented not only in the SAC Buy or Lease Art program, but also with Wayne Arthur Gallery in Winnipeg.
Each artist has several of their finest works on display from the luminous watercolours of Don Hoeppner to the golden multimedia of Melanie Penner. And if you can’t seem to drink your fill from just one visit, you can always take one home! All four artists are part of the Steinbach Arts Council Buy or Lease program, an opportunity for businesses and homes to choose from a wide selection of art works for rent or purchase. You may have noticed a few works around town in such locations as Avenue Hair and Skin, The Steinbach Chamber of Commerce, Chicken Chef, Days Inn, enVision Community Living, Golden West Radio, G&E Homes, Harvest Insurance, Royal Bank of Canada, Steinbach Chiropractic Clinic, Steinbach City Hall, Steinbach Credit Union, Steinbach Family Medical, and Valeant Pharmaceuticals.
This exhibit rounds out MHV’s annual themed exhibits of Celebrate with Us. MHV at 50, on display in the Auditorium, documents the history of the museum from its founders and builders to school programs and the story of our windmill. In the Gerhard Ens gallery, A Growing Community Collection showcases the most extraordinary artifacts donated to the museum. And now, on display through to January, this art exhibit will celebrate the 35th anniversary of another community-driven institution – the Steinbach Arts Council, and acknowledge the talented artists who contribute to our arts community
It would seem that Fall on the Farm is a favourite MHV summer festival for many people. We wonder if it has to do with specific activities like hog and chicken butchering, with unique food such as corn on the cob and apple fritters, or with the fact that this is the last festival of the summer. Whatever the reason, over 2000 people attended this, our 50th anniversary edition of Fall on the Farm on September 1. This is an increase of about 500 people over last year’s attendance.
With the close of the summer festival season we need to again thank our volunteers, sponsors, supporting clubs, staff, and most importantly, the many guests who chose to attend and participate in the festivities. The museum and its festival program would not succeed without any one of these.
Steinbachonline.com is Steinbach's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.
About the Author
Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.