Mennonite Heritage Village


September 1, 2022

By Gary Dyck

Mennonites like starting movements. From the Radical Reformation to justice initiatives like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank that helps feed the world’s poor, to several peace initiatives including the Peace Trek and the Dirk Willems Peace Garden that we completed in August. Several years ago, a committee of concerned citizens mobilized to develop a peace exhibit at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). The goal was to create ‘a world-class outdoor Peace Exhibit’ that ‘would point to the way of peace in an increasingly violent world’. It took several years and around a quarter million dollars, but eventually they succeeded.

To demonstrate their success, let me tell you about three people. The first is my 92-year-old Mennonite father. Upon seeing the installation of Peter Sawatzky’s sculpture here, my father asked me what it was. I was surprised he didn’t know the story of Dirk Willems, but it became an opportunity to tell him. A good discussion followed.

The second person is in the middle of her life. One of 50,000 visitors from around the world we welcome here at MHV annually. She is intrigued by this sculpture. ‘This is one of your heroes?’, she asks incredulously, ‘most cultures build monuments to their greatest warriors, leaders, or one who accomplished something major.’ ‘Being able to respond with the compassion of Christ to your enemy, to see them as a human in need is accomplishing something major,’ I respond. More conversation follows.

The third person is a 5-year-old boy. He was here the week before and asked his mother about the funny looking sculpture. She shared the story and conversation followed. Later, as I walked with him from the pond towards the garden, he began to run, ‘let’s go help Dirk save his enemy’. He then came alongside Dirk and begun pulling on the jailor’s hand. The example and story of Dirk will stay with him the rest of his life.

Boy tries to help the statue of a drowning man
The Dirk Willems sculpture engages this five year old’s imagination for peace

This peace exhibit is certainly a terrific place for learning as well as a great conversation starter. The beautiful garden that surrounds the exhibit makes one want to stay and ponder more. A 500-year-old movement of peace continues.

A movement has also begun on our grounds. MHV has never developed the pond corner of the museum, but since the peace exhibit project began, a trail that now goes through our woods, passes the historic Russländer church, circumnavigates the pond with a second bridge added, goes over a couple small hills, passes the Berlin wall and completes the loop to the Dirk Willems Peace Garden. Thank you, Peace Exhibit committee, for the inspiration!

For the stabilization of the pond shoreline, the initial development of the trail, and the dock bridge, we received $50,000 in funding from the Conservation Trust, and they would like me to pass this on to you: “The Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corp (MHHC) is pleased to partner with MHV to support nature-based approaches to climate change. The Conservation Trust is a Manitoba Climate and Green Plan Initiative, administered by MHHC. Trust funds provide new opportunities to improve land, water, wildlife, and soil health across the province and connect people to nature.” 

I hope you can make it out to Fall on the Farm this Monday, September 5th. Amid all the activity, be sure to take time to stroll around the pond and visit the Dirk Willems Peace Garden. Let’s keep the movement going!

Upcoming Events:

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. 

September 5, Monday – Fall on the Farm 9:00am – 5:00pm: Experience harvest work, hearty food, corn on the cob, music, hog butchering, and pioneer demonstrations to celebrate the arrival of Fall. Regular admission rates apply

September to November – All My Relations series, TBA. Save the date! Starting September 13th and leading up to and following the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation (September 30th) MHV will be hosting an engaging series of events to learn about our Indigenous neighbours and history.