Neubergthal Heritage Village Celebrates Record Tourist Season

The village of Neubergthal has enjoyed one of its busiest summer tourist seasons on record.

Well over a thousand people have toured the National Historic Site over these past few months to get a first hand look at one of the best-preserved single street Mennonite villages in North America.  

Several homes and house barns have been restored to their original appearance over the past few years. One of the biggest projects, the old Klippenstein house barn, was completed this year and renamed the Commons Barn.

Shaun Friesen, chair of the Neubergthal Heritage Foundation, says that structure has generated a lot of interest from visitors.

"It really increased our traffic. We had approximately 1,500 visitors this year which dovetailed nicely with some of the small workshops we held ... in which people could tie in everything from bread baking, darning, mending, poetry nights, story nights. It was meaningful to everyone who was there."

The Commons Barn is a timber frame building that was one of the original structures erected in the village. Originally built near Steinbach when Mennonites first came to Canada, the barn was disassembled and rebuilt in its present location when some families moved to the West Reserve located west of the Red River where there was better farmland. 

"We feel it is a very unique facility because it was moved sometime in the 1880's and reassembled in Neubergthal. In our efforts to restore it, we managed to save and showcase all of the original posts and beams, so people can look at something that, to my knowledge, has not happened anywhere else in the West Reserve. There are lots of stories of Mennonites moving things, but not from the East Reserve to the West Reserve," said Friesen.

The exterior of the Commons Barn has been restored to its original appearance, and the interior functions as a large multipurpose space to host visiting groups, events, and the community.

Friesen notes that, while the newly restored Commons Barn has been a very popular attraction, other buildings like the Altbergthal school have also created a buzz.

"We've had a huge resurgence of interest in the school. People who have come to tour the Commons Barn have also asked for a tour of the school too. So, we offer tour packages that also include the school, the H.F Hamm house, and just down the road there's the Friesen House Barn Interpretive Centre, and people are interested in all of them. We've had kids as young as ten posting a video on YouTube of what it was like for them as they walked through the Friesen housebarn."

Heritage Canada, in its description of Neubergthal, says "the heritage value of the community 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."

Friesen says the next restoration project will focus on the house that the Commons Barn is connected to.

"People have been extremely interested in the Klippenstein house which we now date from 1907. It has some amazing painted floors which will be refurbished and restored down the line somewhere. As soon as we finishing paying for the Commons Barn restoration, the house will be our next big push which will be the final piece to tie it altogether."