Peer through the windows of the past

Lori Penner, The Red River Valley Echo, September 13, 2018

Enjoy a day of history, storytelling, music, food and Low German at the annual Neubergthal Culture Day.

On September 15, you can immerse yourself in the past by taking part in this fascinating event, which provides visitors with a hands-on tour of some of the historic homes and buildings in the village, as well as a chance to learn all about the rich history and culture of the original Mennonite settlers who established this community in the 1880's.

Neubergthal is 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 years.

One of the biggest projects, the old Klippenstein house barn, was completed just this year and renamed the Commons Barn.

This timber frame building was 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, west of the Red River.

The original posts and beams were saved during the restoration, to give visitors an appreciation of past construction techniques, and the amount of careful effort that was put into its relocation.

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

This has been one of the busiest summers the village has ever seen, in terms of tourism. About 1,500 visitors took tours of the H.F Hamm house, the Friesen House Barn Interpretive Centre, and the Altbergthal School, and participated in some of the small workshops which covered everything from bread baking, darning and mending, to game nights, as well as poetry and story nights.

Shaun Friesen, chair of the Neubergthal Heritage Foundation, says interest in the village continues to grow each year.

"I see Culture Day as a celebration of our successful tourism season. But we also want to establish rituals and routines here in the village. Those are a strong part of culture. We want this to be a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather, for a variety of events," he says.

"We see it as our mandate, as much as possible, to create those kinds of events, and give people the opportunity to attend. This year, with the Commons Barn, we offer a venue that is extremely unique. People will be able to see part of culture through art, food and music, and then the stories will tell themselves."

Culture Day begins at 2 p.m. with free seminars at the schoolhouse and the H.F. Hamm house.

Presenters include Royden Loewen from the University of Winnipeg, who will discuss indigenous displacement during the Mennonite immigration, and Ernie Braun, author of the Historical Atlas of the East Reserve, who will talk about the development of schools, and their impact on the Mennonites, at 3 and 4 p.m.

Low German presentations by Edwin Dueck, Rose Hildebrand and Joyce Friesen will also take place throughout the afternoon, along with an artisan market and music from various local artists at the Commons Barn.

At 5 p.m. visitors can enjoy a Soup & Pie supper for just $15.

Free housebarn tours will also take place at that time.

Evening entertainment begins at 7 p.m. with a hilarious presentation by Andrew Bergman, creator of The Daily Bonnet, and some amazing Bluegrass and Gospel music performed by The Letkeman Brothers. Admission is $20. Registration begins at 1:30 p.m. Family rates are available.

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