A simpler time.

Remember that time I accidentally visited a National Historic Site?

That day, the Joseph Schneider Haus had been closed, so I could only poke around the exterior of this living history museum.

Before Easter, I arranged for another visit to the restored 19th century Mennonite homestead, this time with the kids in tow.

We had the luck of being one of only a few families there, which meant no crowds (a sigh of relief from this introvert) and plenty of attention from the amazing costumed staff, who helped navigate, demonstrate and explain how life had been different in the region nearly two centuries ago.

We all loved it. We’re geeky that way.

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This visit really highlighted the fact that we’ve lost most of the basic skills that people needed to have mastered for survival and self-sufficiency up until the modern age. Most urban or suburban North Americans are helpless without electricity and wouldn’t know where to start to grow or hunt our own food.

(I barely kept our tomato plants alive last summer. Plus, I don’t usually kill insects – with the exception of mosquitoes – so I’d surely die of starvation if I somehow managed to survive the apocalypse).

Among the features at the Schneider house are a working culinary garden, a smoke- and bake-house, and a wood-stove kitchen where some of these skills and practices are kept alive as staff perform traditional household tasks with observation and participation from visitors.

If the Schneider family killed a goose to eat it, they used all of it – the feathers to stuff the pillows, the fat for moisturizing skin or soothing a sore throat, even the bones were made into toys for the children. In the pre-modern age, nothing went to waste. Now, we throw away everything with little regard for the consequences – out of sight, out of mind.

The kids loved exploring the house, which has been carefully researched and restored, with many original features still intact. On the way to the attic, we passed a little nook in the hallway as the sunlight streamed in through the warped glass of the window. A single wooden chair stood next to a table topped with a basket of needlework. I had to stop and make a picture.

I’m geeky that way.

Happy accidents.

I accidentally stumbled across a National Historic Site today.

I’d planned only a walk in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, not a museum outing. Somehow (but not surprisingly) I got lost and ended up on Queen Street, where I saw the sign for Joseph Schneider Haus. I’d never been there, though I’d heard of it. It’s a living history museum – costumed staff demonstrate traditional household tasks as they would’ve been performed on a 19th century Mennonite homestead.


However, my accidental visit occurred two days before the museum opens for the season. I had to make do with nosing around the exterior.

The house is set back from the road, and a couple of massive conifers obscure what had been the front entrance (the current front door is handle-less because the museum entrance is now around the side), so I may have missed it entirely without the signage.


In the early 1800s, the Schneider family, early Pennsylvania-German Mennonite settlers, built their home and a sawmill here. The two-storey frame house (considered Kitchener’s oldest dwelling) still survives and has been carefully restored. A number of outbuildings – a bake house, a wash house, a spring house – have been reconstructed based on archaeological evidence of this early Mennonite homestead.


It’s probably a lovely site in the warm weather months, when the kitchen garden’s in full swing and there’s a buzz of activity. So I’ll be back later this year, with the family in tow, to explore the interior of the historic house, too.

If I can find my way back, of course.


Thanks to Norm for hosting Thursday Doors. Thanks, too, for stopping by.