Mennonite Heritage Village

New Acquisition Sheds Light on History of Education in Steinbach Part One

by Andrea Klassen, Senior Curator

According to family history, David G. Falk developed a love for local history through his work building Mennonite Heritage Village’s (MHV) Auditorium, the museum’s original building, in the 1960s. As a brick layer, Falk was not involved in the work of collecting artefacts or creating exhibits for the new museum, but his family nonetheless point to his involvement in the early days of the museum as the spark that ignited his passion of collecting antiques that told the history of Steinbach and the surrounding region. In the 1980s he opened a small museum on his property off Highway 12 to house his growing collection. For the next thirty or so years, Broken Wheel Antiques was open to the public when Falk was at home, which, his son Gordon Falk told me last week, was most of the time.  Inside, visitors could tour his collection of local antiques and memorabilia, which Falk kept spotless. The small private museum closed in fall 2010 and Falk died a year later. In 2020, his family approached MHV about donating some of the items in this unique collection.

One of the items that MHV accepted from Falk’s former collection is a bicycle that once belonged to Steinbach teacher Gerhard Giesbrecht (G. G.) Kornelsen.  G. G. Kornelsen taught grades one and two at various Steinbach schools from 1902 to 1917.  This was a significant period in the history of public education in Manitoba, as 1916 ushered in the highly controversial Public Schools Act, which mandated attendance at public, English-language schools throughout the province, which eventually sparked the emigration of approximately 8,000 Mennonites from Canada to Latin America in the 1920s. 

Over the course of his teaching career, G. G. Kornelsen would have experienced the rise, fall, and eventual acceptance of public education in Steinbach.  He began as a teacher in the public Steinbach School District No. 65 (established in 1878). He then became one of two teachers in the two-roomed Mennonite private school (established among Steinbach’s Kleine Gemeinde when they reverted their public schools to private institutions after the provincial government mandated the flying of the Union Jack at all district schools in 1906). And finally, he moved to the new two-storey “Kornelsen School,” (also known as “Steinbach School No. 1” and “Central School” until it was torn down in 1964), opened in 1913 when Steinbach’s Kleine Gemeinde once again grew accepting of district schools run by the government. After his career at the Kornelsen School ended in 1916, G. G. Kornelsen taught in the private school in Steinbach for a year and then as a senior years teacher at the school in Blumenort in 1919.  After this, Kornelsen left his teaching career and took on a variety of roles, including that of traveling salesman for the J. R. Watkins Company in southeast Manitoba. 

ED note: Find out next week how his students helped him greatly with his new career. It is a great inspiration of ‘crowd-funding’ before there was even such a phrase. In the meantime, check out our Dirk Willems Peace Garden on!

Calendar of Events (*Note: upcoming events may be cancelled due to COVID-19, check our website or call for the latest information)

Galleries and Village Books & Gifts are open year-round.

Now until April 1, 2021: “MCC 100 Years” exhibit

October 31, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Christmas in the Village – Christmas Market in our beautiful auditorium, hot chocolate and wagon rides outside (weather permitting). Hot lunch available 11:30am – 1pm.

November 8, 4 p.m.: Peace Sunday Faspa with Wilma Derksen. Space is limited to 50 please call in your RSVP. A freewill offering will be taken.

November 10, 7 p.m.: Mennonite Village Photography book launch. Admission is free, but space is limited. Call MHV (204-326-9661) to reserve your spot.

May 1, 2021: Outdoor Village buildings and Livery Barn Restaurant re-open.