Mennonite Heritage Village

I spent Victoria Day Monday out in Steinbach at the Mennonite Heritage Village—a perfect way to enjoy a warm May afternoon. It's less than an hour's drive away from Winnipeg. Upon arrival we were transplanted to another time. And since I love history, I was as happy as a duck in water. We started with the indoor exhibit which featured maps, photographs and background information about the Mennonite migrations.  I was especially interested in the artifacts that pertained to the children and women and to any Soviet connections. The Russian Mennonite story is similar to the Volhynian Germans.  More than 20,000 Mennonites came from Russia during the 1920s and thousands more came after the Second World War. 

The Mennonites have always placed much importance on family and on education. There were clothes, books, school supplies and even hundred-year-old toys on display. A couple of dolls reminded me of the clay-headed doll with the soft body that I crafted last month with my Russian instructor. 

Clay was also the building material for a sod hut, called a Semlin, built by early settlers for their temporary lodgings. We got to walk through one with a particularly tragic story attached to it. Severe weather and disease took its toll on early settlers. We have much to be grateful for—homes with central heating, plenty of easily obtained food, along with advances in medicine and technology.

This village is sort of the Mennonite equivalent to Lower Fort Gary (built by the Hudson's Bay Company)—minus the fortifications. Perhaps Mennonites used their faith as a shield, rather than walls of stone. They are well-known pacifists. Many immigrated to Manitoba from Russia to avoid the draft. Their thriving communities are a testament to the strength of peace.  

Back to the tour. On this particular day—tulips, lilacs and picture-perfect geraniums added to the quaint domesticity of the village. A shy young donkey refused to bray for me. But the lambs bleated and goat kids were eager for pets from human kids. Beautiful, strong horses trotted by proudly pulling a carriage load of visitors.

For me, the centre point of the village is its beautiful windmill. I couldn’t help but think of my own grandfather’s windmill—broken by communism and hate—during the anti-kulak campaign under Stalin.  Climbing up the innards of this windmill I imagined my mother seeking shelter in the windmill during a storm. The only thing missing were the storks.

Anyone looking for a day trip out of Winnipeg—consider exploring the Mennonite Heritage Museum. It’s educational and fun for all ages.  You don’t even need to bring lunch. There’s a restaurant and lots of traditional farm cooking available.  And, you don’t even have to be Mennonite to enjoy it.   

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