Mennonite Heritage Village

Wind in our Sails

Village News (September 21, 2017)
By Barry Dyck

Many communities in Manitoba have their own recognizable icon that provides identity and a conversation piece for community members and visiting tourists. These include replicas of animals, insects, plants and various other objects that in some way tell a story about the community.

The windmill at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) is such an icon for the city of Steinbach. The unique aspect of our icon is that it is a functioning machine that actually mills flour. While it is in fact a replica of the original windmill that was built in 1877, it is not an inert symbol.

The 1877 windmill, built and operated by Abram Friesen, served the community for only two years. It was located in the area where Friesen Machine Works now operates. The arrival of the steam engine and the unpredictability of winds in this area left the windmill unsuitable for ongoing use, so it was sold and moved out of Steinbach.

The first replica windmill was built at MHV in 1972. It was lost in a fire in 2000, but one year to the day after that fire, the current windmill was commissioned. This quick resolve to replace the former windmill speaks to the value our community places on the windmill.

Today it is still a valuable icon to both MHV and the City of Steinbach. It attracts visitors from many countries to Southeastern Manitoba. Some of these visitors spend the night in local hotels or campgrounds, buy fuel at local stations, eat in local restaurants, and provide general economic activity here. The windmill “puts us on the map.”

Because the windmill is a machine and not a building, and because it is made almost entirely of wood, it requires careful and ongoing maintenance. In a few weeks a millwright from Holland will spend nine days here, checking and fine-tuning its function and structure.

Wood has a tendency to shrink and swell with variations in humidity levels. This may require periodic shimming of gears and shafts so that they will continue to run smoothly. Wood also deteriorates when exposed to the weather too long. The deck of our windmill has begun to decay and needs to be replaced. This is another project we hope to complete this fall, in addition to the professional fine-tuning. We expect the two projects combined could cost as much as $25,000.

While the windmill is a replica of very old technology, we will now engage is some very contemporary fundraising to generate funds to cover these costs. With the help of Canada Post, we will mail-blitz over 9,000 homes in the Southeast to invite partnership in these projects. We will also make our first attempt at “crowd funding,” an internet-based method of engaging interested people in new projects. If you follow MHV on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Pinterest, you can expect to hear about our windmill project, which is literally “keeping the wind in our sails.”

While the windmill historically had value as a piece of machinery to make feed and flour in 1877, today it has significant value as a “storyteller,” a tourist attraction, and a machine that still makes flour. If you’ve forgotten what our MHV windmill looks and smells like, come for a visit to get a nostalgic reminder.