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Woolwich backs plan for new museum of Mennonite culture

Ronald Martin is getting support from the township for a Mennonite-themed museum on his Bridge Street property near St. Jacobs. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

Plans for a new museum to document the area’s Mennonite history are moving ahead with the support of the township, with Woolwich council backing the project.

Martin’s Historical Place will feature various agricultural artifacts from the 1800s and 1900s and provide history on the Mennonite culture. It’s to be located on Ronald Martin’s farm property at 1057 Bridge St. W. near St. Jacobs and the Waterloo border.

“My friend suggested that we have a place to store old documents, letters and things like that, and then it grew from there,” said Martin of the project.

When completed, the museum will also house tractors, backhoes and various farming artifacts from the 19th century.

“He also has original artifacts that the Pennsylvanian Mennonites moved with them from Pennsylvania,” added Rajbir Sian, the economic development and tourism officer at Woolwich Township. “So things like clothing and literature. But also just simple items such as furniture and toys.”

Sian predicts this will be a popular attraction since there are numerous requests about the Mennonite community. In most cases, those inquiring would be directed to the Mennonite Story, an exhibit in St. Jacobs.

“This opportunity provides to the visitors and the residents, a unique opportunity in that they can see original artifacts used by the Mennonite settlers in the 1900s and also be able to ask the questions that they have directly to the Mennonites themselves,” said Sian. “Because the historical museum will be staffed with members from the community.”

The residence hosting the museum also has quite a bit of historical significance.

“It’s going to be on the property that was created in the 1820s,” said Martin. “That’s when the lot was created. We’re putting up a new building, but we’ll also be using the old structure.”

The new structures will include the main barn, which is slated to be constructed adjacent to the building. This has been a project of Martin’s for years, and he is looking forward to finally seeing it come to fruition. Admission will be free, similar to the Mennonite visitor centre in St. Jacobs.

“It’s not-for-profit,” explained Sian. “It would operate similar to how The Mennonite Story operates. That being said, if you’re coming in as a visitor, if you want to make a donation, a donation is completely up to you. And the amount of the donation is up to you as well.”

The township will be contributing approximately $500-$1,000 towards signage advertising the agricultural museum. Other initiatives by Woolwich Township include a display rack, roughly costing $70-150 and complimentary brochures to spread the word.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to really showcase the heritage and the history behind our community and showcase that barn-raising culture that the township was founded upon and that our residents still firmly believe in,” said Sian.

An exact date for the opening of Martin’s Historical Place has not yet been determined; however, Woolwich has officially agreed to a partnership with Martin to get the project rolling.

“The township has an agreement now,” said Martin. “So we’ll have to start getting the architects and the engineers to start working on the drawing. It’s going to be a little bit. But we’re definitely trying to get it moving.”

1 comment
  1. I’d love to see information about the history of Mennonite’s with Indigenous communities be included in this as well. It is an important history that Mennonite’s often do not know or tell. MCC Central States region has done a ton of work compiling and creating resources to learn and teach about this. Check out – dofdmenno.org.

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