August 3, 2023
By Gary Dyck
This week it is 149 years since the first Mennonites arrived in Manitoba. For the 150th anniversary, Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) plans to re-enact their arrival at the Red River and then trek with a red river ox cart across the prairie to our museum in Steinbach. There was no village for those first settlers. Fortunately, the Metis had built immigration sheds a few miles from the river that would serve as temporary shelters until they were ready to establish their villages. I enjoy setting up a campsite, but what a sight it would be to see those first Mennonites setting up their semlin sodhouses in the open prairie.
I have a friend who works at another museum. He is astonished at how many people just want to talk about their complaints about the present and their fears for the future. It doesn’t surprise me too much that this conversation happens in a museum. Museums are created for our well-being and are places of reflection on the ongoing preservation of our communities. As museum expert John Falk shares, “There are precious few two-hour experiences that create such lasting memories! Museum experiences are clearly special events in people’s lives–they must be, or they would not be so salient and so memorable.” He goes on to say that as humans we pay attention to what could be important for our survival, “one of the distinguishing features of human conscious awareness has been the ability to size up the situation, and based upon similar, past situations, envision how to act in the future.” Consciously or unconsciously, this is one of the reasons people visit museums and bring their children to museums.
So, it does not surprise me that my museum friend has visitors looking for a couch and openly talking about their fears with him daily. What does concern me though is the discouragement. Visitors are no longer wanting to learn about how the settlers before them overcame the big challenges of the day, instead, they are coming to the museum feeling paralyzed. Their heads full of the problems and theories that they read and reread on the internet. Once again, we need to learn from the concrete experiences and actions our ancestors took to make their lives work. It is time that we get off the boat, step onto solid ground, and build a village that will help us all survive and thrive again.
At MHV we have a couple opportunities right now to support the village. The upcoming Pioneer Days (August 5-7) is a three-day event full of Mennonite settler activity. It takes a lot of work to host 1000s of people at MHV, but well worth it. If you would like to help give us a call today! Then on August 19th, we host our second annual Peace Trek which is a cyclathon that starts at the Mennonite Landing site on the Red River and finishes at MHV (more info below and on our website – mhv.ca).
MHV’s grounds and Livery Barn Restaurant are open seven days a week! The restaurant is open 11am to 4pm, and the grounds are open 9am to 5pm, except Thursdays 9am to 8pm, and Sundays 11:30am to 5pm, including our famous Sunday buffet till 2pm.
Pioneer Days, August 5-7, 9am to 5pm. Experience the life of the early Mennonites in Manitoba at our Pioneer Days festival! Witness pioneer demonstrations, steam-powered field work, live music, and lots of great food as we share the stories of Manitoba Mennonite beginnings.