It goes without saying that Pioneer Days is a signature festival for both Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and the surrounding community. We enjoy serving guests from here in the Southeast and beyond. Our volunteers often tell us interesting stories of their conversations with guests from other provinces and other countries.
The successes of this year’s festival can be attributed to the near-perfect weather, the support of our sponsors, the involvement of many community members as volunteers, and the hard work of our staff. While we achieved many of our goals, we do well to also consider the less-than-successful aspects of last weekend’s festival.
Total attendance at the four-day event was 5822. While we always wish for more, this is a reasonable attendance. However, last month on Canada Day we served approximately 5,000 guests in just one day, despite the fact that our offering of things to see was less robust. A significant difference between the two events was that on Canada Day we were able to offer free admission, thanks to our partnership with the City of Steinbach and a federal government grant. So clearly the price of admission can be a deciding factor for some people, either by choice or necessity.
One of our guests lamented the “cost of attending” Pioneer Days, presumably meaning the combined cost of admission and food. Occasionally we have observed guests bringing in their own food and enjoying their meal at our picnic tables. We assume they have felt the cost of purchasing food from the Livery Barn Restaurant or the Short-Order Booth was more than they could manage.
This is an ongoing dilemma for MHV. We would like our museum and our services to be available to all, and at the same time we need to ensure that the general operations of MHV are sustainable in the long term. In other words, we need a dependable income stream to pay for all the work that we do here. Our energy bill alone is $5,000 a month. We have 17 heritage structures, most of which need paint, shingles and various other repairs regularly.
We are confident that this museum provides great value for the price of admission. We are also satisfied that our food prices align well with other local restaurants. And still, we seem to be unaffordable to some.
MHV is blessed to have a large number of willing volunteers. During the four days of Pioneer Days, 303 people contributed at least one volunteer shift, and many contributed more. Clearly we couldn’t function without those volunteers.
At the same time, it is concerning that several of our pioneer demonstrations were not able to function last weekend because of a lack of volunteers with the required skills to operate certain equipment and carry out those demonstrations. Steam-powered sawing and threshing, printing, manure brick-making, and other demonstrations are currently in jeopardy due to a lack of skilled volunteers.
And we’re not alone. The CBC in Edmonton recently reported, “A lack of volunteers has led organizers of the Heritage Day event in Rochfort Bridge to call off the celebration, which was scheduled to take place Aug. 7.” From time to time we hear of small museums needing to close due to a lack of volunteers. These are sobering reports.
Here at MHV, we are very thankful to have the willing volunteers and general community support that we currently enjoy. At the same time, we need to keep asking ourselves and others how we can remain relevant in our constituency. What aspect of MHV will people value so much that they will remain, or become, engaged in the work of MHV as volunteers, donors or members?
We extend a big thank you to all who attended, volunteered at, or supported MHV’s Pioneer Days in one way or another.