Neubergthal has always known this place matters, and now it’s telling all of Canada why, in a competition of the same name.
The place is the Klippenstein house barn, one of two of the original buildings of this southern Manitoba village, and hauled here, timber by timber by Mennonite settlers in 1876 after being dismantled near Steinbach. There were no trees in sight in those days.
The competition Neubergthal is in is ‘This Place Matters,’ an Internet-based fundraising initiative of the National Trust of Canada. The charitable organization for historic sites launched the crowdfunding tool in 2015.
They learned about This Place Matters through Winnipeg connections, said Ray Hamm, a board member with the Neubergthal Heritage Foundation (NHF). It owns the site.
Theirs is the first Manitoba project to participate in This Place Matters, and they’re excited about telling its story, Hamm said.
Site in jeopardy
“The building is almost as old as Manitoba,” he said. And it shows.
“It’s a rescue project,” he said. “It’s on solid footing and it’s been raised and levelled. But right now there’s cables holding it together. The frame of the building is huge 8×8 timbers and tree trunks.”
The house has not been occupied since 1967. Cows were kept in the barn until around 2000.
The village of Neubergthal itself, as a national historic site, is eligible for cost-sharing programs through Parks Canada to help with its restoration, and they’re also looking for funds that way, said Hamm.
But funds coming through ‘This Place Matters’ would be a huge help.
The National Trust launched the online crowdfunding platform two years ago in Nova Scotia. The 2015 competition was for groups trying to save and restore lighthouses. That year 26 lighthouse groups won or raised close to $300,000 between them all.
To date, 64 communities across Canada have now used this to raise over $725,000 for heritage projects.
Basically, it’s the modern twist on community-based fundraising for heritage groups, said Natalie Bull, executive director of the National Trust for Canada, a charity for historic sites.
“It’s an exciting way to engage people well beyond the community to find funding for these places that matter,” she said.
Participating groups set a fundraising goal, then using social media post photos, videos and stories about their project to the website. Canadians can then register and vote for sites they think matter most. Each adds $1 to a project’s coffer, plus there are cash prizes for those with the most votes, and this year $220,000 in prizes to be won. Neubergthal is in a category eligible for a $60,000 prize.
Voters can also make direct donations to projects of their choosing.
What This Place Matters ultimately does is give all Canadians a chance to decide which heritage projects matter most and to help fund them, said Bull.
“With crowdfunding and crowdsourcing you can get votes and donations not just from your own community but from people you’ve never even heard of.”
The social media aspect of this is admittedly a bit daunting, but they’re getting help, said other NHF board members. It will come from younger people more familiar with using social media than themselves, said Shaun Friesen, adding that fits well with their ultimate plan for the restored site — as a storytelling and learning venue where the past is kept relevant for future generations.
They were happy to see they’d already garnered 51 votes just a few days into the competition last week, but no donations towards their $50,000 goal had been received as of June 30. The 2017 competition ends July 17. Donations to this project are eligible for tax receipts because NFH is a registered charity.
A unique story
The site most certainly matters to those who know it well.
“The barn itself has a unique story and it’s part of a unique pattern and story of how the Prairies were settled,” said Hamm. “There were indigenous people here for centuries but in terms of European settlement, Parks Canada has said these Mennonite villages and buildings were the first on the wide-open prairie.
The Klippenstein house barn was continuously occupied by generations of the same family. Its last occupant was Elizabeth Klippenstein, widow of John Klippenstein, a grandson of the founding family. The family’s hired man Eddie Schmidt also lived there. When Schmidt died in 2006 he left the site to the NHF in his estate.