Opening the shutters to the past

The roof is sagging, the paint is peeling and the shutters hang loosely from their hinges. 

But if this house could speak, it would tell stories of long ago days when village life was the best life. A time when homes, like family values and lessons learned around the supper table, were meant to last.

When Peter Klippenstein moved his family from the East Reserve in the Ukraine to the brand new village of Neubergthal in the 1870's, he left the house but brought the barn with him.

Every tamarack timber was carefully numbered so that the sturdy barn could be reassembled on Canadian soil. It was attached to the new house, in the traditional and practical style of early Mennonite dwellings.

Years later, the housebarn was passed on to son Bernhard, then to his son John, whose widow ran the farmstead from 1950 on with hired hand Eddie Schmidt.

When Schmidt died in 2006, he willed the property to the Neubergthal Heritage Foundation Inc. 

Since the village was declared a National Historic Site in 1989, the foundation has gone to great lengths to preserve many of Neubergthal's old buildings and maintain the original street village pattern, one of only a few still found in Canada.

Foundation members see the Eddie Schmidt Housebarn as a valuable window into the past. 

Foundation chair Margruite Krahn says Schmidt had a real heart for education, and frequently donated money to a bible school for Mennonites in Mexico.

As a legacy to Schmidt, the foundation has decided to turn the property into an education centre. Coupled with tours of Neubergthal's other historic buildings, the centre will be a place where schools can go on field trips. It will also be a place where the public can learn all about timeless Mennonite traditions. 

The foundation plans to restore the housebarn and surrounding property to their original glory, and hopes to use it as a setting for life skill courses in gardening, home food preservation, sewing, animal husbandry and woodworking.

It will also be a place that will ring with culture through writing, drama, story-telling, architecture and fine art. The Eddie Schmidt Housebarn Education and Resource Centre will be done in three phases, with completion slated for 2012. 

The foundation hopes to raise $600,000 for the restoration project. They would like to invite you to an informative event on May 7 at 3:30 p.m. at the Friesen Housebarn Interpretive Centre. 

The event will include tours, wine and cheese and fresh-baked bread from a Russian bake oven. For more information or to RSVP, contact Margruite Krahn at krahnmp@wiband.ca or call 324-1612.