Village News

You Never Know

  • Gary Dyck, Author
  • Former Executive Director, MHV
Jacob S. Friesen
Jacob S. Friesen at work at his desk (Courtesy of: Mennonite Heritage Center Archives)

At Mennonite Heritage Village you never know what you might hear, see, or learn. One Sunday this summer, while helping out at MHV’s Livery Barn Restaurant, I invited some guests to sit at my table. I found out their marriage is over 50 years old. So, I asked them how they met. It turns out young Jake had been milking the family cow in New Bothwell when he got kicked hard. He ended up going to my grandmother Ginter’s home as she was a chiropractor of high repute. While in my grandmother’s waiting room (which doubled as her living room), Jake saw a young woman also nursing her shoulder. With this ailment in common, shy Jake worked up the nerve to ask her about it. Turns out she had also been kicked while milking their family cow in the Grunthal area! From that shared commonality began a beautiful marriage that is now over 50 years strong! As I said, at MHV you never know what you might hear, see, or learn.

This year MHV and our contracted work teams are working hard to complete not just one renovation, but five. These include repainting the Livery Barn Restaurant exterior, restoring the Printery, upgrading the Reimer store lights, painting the General Store, and refreshing the Village Centre trim. All these buildings are looking much better, and we hope the final paint rounds can be done before the cold comes.

The most significant portion of this project is the Printery, which we plan to rename “Steinbach Post.” Its simple foundation was failing under the elements and the weight of the heavy printing presses. I wonder if the original Printer, Jacob S. Friesen, had the same problem when he set up his own shop in 1909. Fortunately, a new foundation and stained wood floor are now in place, and we look forward to setting up Mr. Friesen’s desk and candlestick-style phone as he had arranged it in the photo from 1917. What I love about this photo is seeing him in action with all his clutter, not just posing for the camera.

Mr. Friesen started the Steinbach Post, a business that underwent many transformations. ‘Die Steinbach Post’ was a unique German-language newspaper that was a valuable source of information and connection, not only for the Mennonite community in Steinbach but throughout the Americas. During WWI, German publications were banned in Canada and Friesen began publishing in English. In 1922, about 8,000 Mennonites began leaving Canada for Mexico and Paraguay. They left much behind, but did not cancel their Steinbach Post subscriptions. The first letter from a Mennonite in Mexico to the Steinbach Post editor included an update on their situation, ending with a PS requesting that they be able to keep receiving the paper. The lowly Steinbach Post quickly grew into an international newspaper serving all the Americas: North, Central, and South for decades to come. It kept Mennonites everywhere connected. What a story!

The total estimate for the Village Street Renewal Project is $110,000, and we now have all the funding needed. The bad news is that the condenser and motor for our Livery Barn Restaurant walk-in coolers required unexpected replacement, and we require an additional $13,000. Please consider donating today to ensure the village street and the remarkable stories it tells remain ready and vibrant for the next generation.