Mennonite Heritage Village

Our Water – Our Choice

March 9, 2023

By Gary Dyck

For the past two weeks, Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) has hosted the Clean Environment Commission hearing about a proposed silica extraction project in our region’s main aquifer. I heard a significant amount of scientific study and presentations for and against this project. As I listened, I reflected on how most of us take clean water for granted. There is so much in life that is now automated and controlled by us humans that we often lose sight of the value of the natural resources we receive and use.

Historically, Mennonites have always had a close connection with water. Whether it be learning to develop dikes in the lowlands of Holland, draining the swamps of the Vistula Delta (modern-day Poland), or making use of the rivers of Imperial Russia. When Mennonite settlers arrived in Manitoba and Latin America, one of their most vital needs was to find and establish a good source of water. They needed it for drinking (no bottled water in the stores then), cooking, washing, fire control (wood barns filled with hay caught on fire easily), animal watering, and even for recreation (ponds and rivers made great swimming holes in summer and skating rinks in winter). However, it was not as abundant and easy to access for some.

For those that settled in the Rosenort/Morris/Niverville areas the aquifers were contaminated by brine deposits lower down. They had to rely on rainwater, river ice, and melted snow. We learned that not all water is readily useable. I’m sure many were thinking of leaving Manitoba. Fortunately, they could get water from the Metis, who hauled it long distances from the rivers with their hardy ox carts. Eventually, deeper wells were established (thanks to new businesses like Friesen Drillers) and safe water supplies were found. We could stay and live a good life.

In Canada, Mexico, and other areas where Mennonites reside, a safe and clean water supply is becoming increasingly strained. Today our houses are more numerous, our animal barns much fuller, and our precipitation less predictable. Let’s not add to the risk that our precious aquifers are already dealing with. More and more, there are less places with such a good supply of potable water as we have in south-east Manitoba. Although it easily comes to us hot and cold through pipes in our grounds, let us never forget our reliance on clean water for daily survival.

 Ice harvesting was once a community necessity.

The past year I have talked to people across the Mennonite community in south-eastern Manitoba about this silica extraction project – not one is for it. I have heard a lot of apprehension. Let’s learn from history. Five centuries later, we have realized that removing most of the wetlands in Europe was not good. We went too far. Let’s not make a decision today that will harm future generations. Once contaminated, aquifers cannot be made clean again.

Upcoming Events:

“Leaving Canada: The Mennonite Migration to Mexico” Travelling Exhibit Grand Opening, March 10, 7:30pm Join us for the opening of “Leaving Canada: The Mennonite Migration to Mexico,” a new travelling exhibit produced by Mennonite Heritage Village, the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, and the Plett Foundation. Where: Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery (610 Shaftesbury Blvd, Winnipeg) Date: Friday, March 10 Time: 7:30 p.m.

Resurfacing: Mennonite Floor Patterns Workshop, March 20 (10am to 3pm) On Monday, March 20, artist Margruite Krahn will be offering a full artist’s workshop on floor patterns. Spend the day with Margruite and create your own floorcloth! Maximum 10 participants. Register before Tuesday, March 14. For full details, visit

Winter in the Village (every Saturday 9am to 5pm) Bring your friends and family to MHV for skating, snowshoeing, kick sledding! MHV has rentals available for all three activities so that you can easily explore the grounds via snowshoe or kicksled. A warming hut (located in the General Store) will be open for visitors. The evening festive lights will return in December.

MHV Village Books & Gifts and Galleries are open Tuesday to Saturday. Currently MHV has two new exhibits for you to enjoy: “Resurfacing: Mennonite Floor Patterns” by Margruite Krahn and “Beauty in the Ordinary” by Southeast Artists.

Pier 21 the Musical, March 18 (7pm), March 19 (3pm) This musical utilizes a blend of Celtic and swing music to tell the stories of those who fled from Europe and arrived at Pier 21 – the gateway to Canada. Witness the adventures, hopes, dreams, and heartaches of immigrants, orphans, and war brides as they navigate their arrival to this new land. Tickets are $25 and include coffee & dessert.