Mennonite Heritage Village

How to Survive Cabin Fever

By Gary Dyck

There once was a person who moved to a northern climate such as ours. While experiencing their harsh winter he let his neighbours know, “someone here must have done something very, very bad and we are still paying the price for that transgression!” At the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), we don’t believe this is true of Manitoba. In fact, we want to be a place where everyone, including newcomers, can enjoy winter in Canada.

Author Parker Palmer writes about how in their region, newcomers often receive specific advice for surviving winter; “the winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” Therefore, we invest in warm clothing, winter gear, and plan events throughout the winter. If we don’t, cabin fever can become a reality, or as Mennonites could say ‘semlin fever’ (semlins are the sod houses the first Manitoba Mennonites built to survive in). During the harsh winters of the 1870s and 1880s there were many winters where households were buried under snow for days at a time. In our Village Books & Gifts Shop we have a wonderful activity booklet for children that tells the story of ‘Sush’ and how her family survived being stuck in the semlin their first winter here. Their ingenuity will surprise you.

In the 1800s, cabin fever was another term for typhus, a sickness that relegated sailors to isolate in their ship cabin. However, it eventually became associated more directly to what North American settlers were feeling when confined to their log cabins all winter. Could this be a real condition? In 2015, the TV show MythBusters attempted to recreate these conditions and answer the question: cabin fever, fact or fiction? provided this report: “the two presenters, locked in individual cabins for days of snowy, dark Alaskan winter with no outside contact or entertainment, tested positive for irritability, forgetfulness, restlessness and excessive sleeping, thus proving that cabin fever exists, and winter is the worst.”

The good news is that MHV has just received a Travel Manitoba Tourism grant to provide a lot more winter programming next year. We will help people ‘get out there’ all winter long. The hope is to provide a skating lane, snowshoes, a winter path through our village and woods to walk, bike or kick-sled and more! It is amazing how much better you feel the rest of the day after some outdoor activity. A couple times a week goes a long way to keeping semlin fever away!

Upcoming Events: MHV’s galleries and Village Books & Gifts are open Tuesday to Saturday, 9am – 5pm. Our award-winning ‘Mennonites at War’ exhibit is also available online.

Winter Carnival, Rescheduled: March 5, 9am – 5pm. Save the date for our annual Winter Carnival! Admission is free and there will be plenty of fun activities for all ages. We continue to follow all public health orders of the Province of Manitoba

Free Skating Saturdays, 9am – 5pm. Come skate on the rink next to the General Store. Use of the rink is free, provided you bring a tin-for-the-bin to support Southeast Helping Hands. We have a spacious warm-up building to put your skates on. The buildings and trees provide shelter from the wind. To take part in museum programming you still need to show proof of vaccination to skate.