I don’t know how many times I’ve visited in Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. It’s been many times over the years and I keep coming back because it’s such an enjoyable place to visit. Too often, though, I think people (myself included) look at the buildings as quaint artifacts of a by-gone era, rather than carefully curated items that intend to tell a very specific story – that of the Russian Mennonites.
Because, yes, you can go to the museum, with children in tow, and say, “hey, look, kids, this is how they lived in the olden days,” but you can also go a bit deeper.
A recent addition to the museum further enhanced my understanding of the fact that these are not mere “buildings,” but buildings with a specific story and context behind them. Last year the museum put up a monument to honour Conscientious Objectors. For years, Steinbach has had a war memorial on Main Street, but until this monument at the Mennonite Heritage Village, not a single public commemoration of COs existed in Steinbach. That’s pretty remarkable considering that the majority of local residents would not have been actively enrolled in the military (although some were, of course).
But just as interesting is the placement of the monument next to the sawmill. For years I thought of the sawmill as just an old timey artifact. ‘Oh, look, that’s how they used to cut wood.’ That sort of thing. I don’t know if I just never bothered to read the information about the sawmill, but I didn’t realize until very recently that the sawmill at the Mennonite Heritage Village is the actual sawmill used by Conscientious Objectors while serving alternate service during World War II at Riding Mountain National Park. That’s the reason the CO cairn was placed right next to it.
To me this brings the sawmill to life. It’s not just old technology, but rather an important piece of the Mennonite story, with a direct connection to our peace position.
All of the buildings at the museum have stories like this. The indoor galleries do an excellent job at providing a good context for what you’ll see in the village, so do not skip them. And, just as importantly, on your next visit….be sure to read the plaques!