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by Ruth Marlene Friesen
On September 25, 2021, the Managing Board of the Saskatchewan River Valley Museum in Hague, SK., hosted a unique event. They called it the Hague Cultural Day. It was a chance to show the younger generation perhaps, how things were done just a generation or two ago. They offered a pancake breakfast, and demonstrations of the old-fashioned way of butchering a pig, (with the results on sale later in the afternoon), and baking bread in a clay oven.
A lunch of a hot fresh sausage on a bun, with chips and pop was served at noon, and I believe again, for an early supper.
Since I grew up in Hague, and after 12 years in London, ON., returned to care for my aged parents, and thus lived there for another 23+ years, but have now lived in Saskatoon for 14 years, I was curious enough to want to be there that day, confident that I would get to meet a number of people I had known before but not seen in quite a while. When no one else offered to attend and write up a report for MHSS, I became more motivated to go. But it seemed a good idea to take some friends with me. My friend Anna Fehr of Warman begged to come along as soon as she heard of the event. She had been last year and enjoyed it very much.
My friend Gaynor, who came to Canada at age 8 from Wales, often spoke fondly of her Welsh cultural background, but as COVID restrictions had kept her from getting out anywhere for 18 months was quite willing to come along when I invited her. As long as she would not have to hear the pig being shot. (She has super sensitive hearing). I assured her that would be taken care of early in the morning, long before we got there.
Another friend of mine, is Cecile, a shy Chinese University student in her third year, whom I know through our Church's ESL class. She had not been out of Saskatoon in 3 years, and would not venture such an outing by herself, but I thought she would enjoy the experience of a different culture. She was happy to come.
It took longer to collect my guests in the morning than I had anticipated so we arrived at the museum at noon, and we were the last in line to pick up our lunch. We went out to sit at a picnic table positioned so we could take in the whole compound and see all the buildings that made up this many-faceted Mennonite experience.
We decided that we would tour the museum first, and then move around to the smaller buildings. That took us about an hour.
This was a large quilt hanging with pioneering scenes on it.
One of my favourites is the large glass-enclosed model of hague as a villgae in its earliest development.
Of course, I proudly pointed out the paintings on the walls around that room by Mr. J. E. Friesen, who used to own the General Store, and in his retirement drew sketches, painted billboard-sized images of the steam-engine trains, and wrote up many stories of Hague's earliest history.
I had come to know him personally, as I often chauffeured Mrs. Agatha Friesen to doctor appointments, and her husband sometimes showed me around to his paintings, and in the basement he had set up aisles of his antiques much in the way he had set up his general store, except this was much more crowded.
Here my Chinese friend is studying some of the artifacts along one wall.
When we had circled back to our starting point, Dick Sawatsky jumped up and asked if we wanted to see the history room. He kindly unlocked it for us. I saw many more photos or eary pioneers or residents of Hague on the wall, so I went around slowly to see if I could spot people I knew. There were quite a few, but none of my own family.
We all commented on the large rectangular piano.
At last we came out into the sunshine and found a musical group under the shade of the porch were performing some songs. I did not recognize them and there was no sign to indicate their name(s). After a bit of discussion we decided to visit the little white church first. Gaynor soon had a coughing fit, and we realized she was allergic to some scent in there. So we didn't stay long.
The same thing happened when we entered the small school house. I was happy to explain that my first year and a half of school had been in a one room school much like this. Cecile found it all fascinating. But since Gaynor was having coughing fits, we came out soon. (That may also have been what distracted me from taking photos there).
We wandered closer to the building where the butchering seemed to be happening, (although there were garage or gas station signs about too), but it looked like they were about done, so we turned and headed towards the house-barn combination.
When I spied the open cauldron or Mia Groapan I veered closer to have a look inside. It appeared that some sausage had been cooked in there, but was already removed.
Norm Penner came up then, to greet me, and I introduced my guests with me.
From there we headed finally to the house-barn combination. I looked forward to showing off two items that my siblings had donated, but which originally belonged to our great-grandparents, Isbrand and Anna Friesen, who had homesteaded in a soddy a bit north-west of Rosthern before this part of the pariries became Saskatchewan. Our beloved Gr'ma Elisabeth (Friesen) Kroeker had been born there in 1896. These items had belonged to her next, and then our Mom.
This red wardrobe was built by my great-grandfather, Isbrand Friesen for his bride, Anna Neudorf back in the North West Territory Days. It was passed down to our Gr'ma Kroeker, then to Mom, and then to my brother Ernie. However, he couldn't see any use for it in his home in Winnipeg, and so he asked me write up its history to go with the wardrobe and to donate it to this musuem.
This was the treadle sewing machine that my great-grandfather bought from a traveling salesman just before they had twins. My Gr'ma Elisabeth was 10 at the time and the teacher in their small German school had to admit that she had learned everything he had to teach. So her official education was done and she stayed home to hem diapers for her new twin brother and sister on the new treadle sewing machine. Gr'ma told me that her mother even sewed horse blankets with that treadle machine!
In time it became Gr'ma's sewing machine, and she sewed all the clothes for her 10 children on it. Later, when our Mom was in hospital so long, my sister Elsie went to Gr'ma's to learn to sew. When we had an auction sale of Gr'ma's things when she was moved to the Rosthern Nursing Home, Elsie bought it for $200.
Then, when Elsie was moving to BC to train as a Health Inspector, she brought it over to our place and asked me to write up its history and donate it to the museum.
Well, my guests and I wandered through all the rooms and into the barn part too, but our stamina was winding down.
We did want to check out the clay oven where some women that I knew where keeping an eye on it selling the bread for $5 a slice. (I think the choice of butter or jam was free.) While we were chatting with several people, someone came from the building where the butchered meat products had been prepared were now for sale.
A number of people hurried over there - apparently knowing the supplies were limited - so we followed. (Well, Gaynor was tired enough to stay seated a picnic table.)
I was curious enough to go back there to look. I was in time to pick up the last two small rings of liver sausage, and two short pieces of ribs in a yogurt container. (They did not last long when I got home.).
On the way home I made conversation in the car by asking what had stood out the most for each of them. I don't recall Anna's answer, and Gaynor was trying hard not to be too negative because of her allergies, but Cecile told me that she was most intrigued about the small school. In China she had only ever seen huge, educational complex buildings with many classrooms and teachers. I was glad that I'd guessed correctly; she would enjoy this outing.