Housebarn Project Receives Major Cash Injection

The Neubergthal Heritage Foundation received some good news on the weekend in regards to a major project the organization has embarked on.

Parks Canada announced on Saturday that it has approved a grant of $560,000 to assist in funding the restoration of the Klippenstein housebarn located in the community. The foundation wants to rehabilitate the timber frame building that was one of the original structures erected in the village.

Neubergthal was founded in 1876 by a group of Mennonite families as part of Canada's efforts to settle the west. The village was designated as a National Historic site in 1997, and is one of the best-preserved single street Mennonite villages in North America. The village layout and architecture was developed over centuries of Mennonite life in Europe and Russia.

Not only will the housebarn be rehabilitated to its original state, but it will also serve the community in various ways, according to Foundation chair Shaun Friesen.

"It will be converted into a multi purpose facility that will involve education, a venue for social events such as weddings and a community centre for the village."Ray Hamm

The federal funding announced on the weekend represents approximately 50 per cent of the overall restoration cost of the house and barn and the yard. The rest of the money must be matched dollar for dollar by the community. Local fundraising efforts will get underway shortly.

According to the Canada Historic Places website, the heritage value of Neubergthal rests in the distinctive settlement forms resulting from Mennonite traditions of community development and architectural forms that express a belief in an egalitarian, communal and self-sufficient social structure. The community occupies six sections of land where residences, farmyards, and communally owned arable fields and pasturelands are arranged in long narrow farmsteads. The farmsteads that form the village are positioned in traditional fashion behind fencing along a single tree-lined street, creating a distinct identity.

"We think the project is important for the area because this is one of the two barns that is original in the village from its initial settlement," said Foundation member Ray Hamm. "These are the only two timber frame barns left in the village and we want to hang on to this one. It has a story to tell."

It is those kinds of stories the Foundation is trying to preserve, stories that are essential to preserving heritage, according to Friesen.

"Stories capture memories and weave them into a place to create a powerful sense of what a culture and a people are all about. We view these stories as not simply about the Mennonites that came here, but stories of settlement and settling the west. That's why it's important that we involve our aboriginal neighbours, because this is Treaty One land. When the Mennonites showed up in 1874 Treaty One was three years old at that point. Without realizing it, we became treaty people and that means we need to focus on relationships that are beneficial to everyone."

Flo MillerFlo Miller is a cultural resource management advisor with Parks Canada in Ottawa, and was in Neubergthal for the funding announcement on Saturday. Miller said Neubergthal represents a unique part of Canada's history.

"One of the reasons this place is interesting for me is because of other Parks Canada sites that I've worked at. For example, one of those places was the Motherwell historic site (in Saskatchewan) that commemorated homesteads in Canada. I also worked at the Batoche National Historic Site that commemorated Metis riverlot land patterns. So, here in southern Manitoba we have Mennonite street villages that were not commemorated anywhere and Neubergthal is an oustanding example of that kind of settlement. The community now has the heritage site designation and they have done great work at conserving the buildings."

Engineers are currently reviewing the plans to restore the Klippenstein housebarn in consultation with Parks Canada and the final details are expected to be hammered out this fall. 

"We want to get moving on this before winter gets here," said Hamm.