This is Part 3 of a series on our Great Northern Adventure 2002, in which we take a circuitous route to visit some polar bears in Canada.
November 5-6, 2002
After our exciting jaunt into North Dakota, we drove northeast to Steinbach, Manitoba. Frank’s ancestors were Mennonites, so Frank has always been interested in Mennonite history and settlements. There is a large Mennonite population in Manitoba, and most of it appears to be centered in Steinbach.
As we drove in, Frank noticed the car dealerships had the names like those of his ancestors, like Friesen and Penner, which thrilled him to no end. I guess that gave the place an air of familiarity to him, but I was unimpressed. I suppose I would have felt differently if they had names like “Choi” or “Kim."
We found our way to the Frantz Motor Inn, which Frank had reserved in honor of his late Grandmother Tena Franz. “Probably some distant relation,” he mused.
The place had a creepy, “Twin Peaks” sort of atmosphere, with blood red carpet, beat up walls and dim naked lightbulbs swinging overhead. There was something unsettling about the experience, like we might see a ghost wearing a polyester leisure suit or possibly see “Crime Scene” or "Biohazard" tape around one of the doors. It may be somewhat telling that I can only describe these places in terms of old television shows—they seemed to be stuck in time, and in this case it looked like the place had not been redecorated for about 30 years. Our room was actually much nicer than the hallway led us to believe it would be.
We ate dinner in the motel’s restaurant, The Brass Lantern. It was unremarkable except for the fact that the portions were huge and served on what might have been used as a turkey platter instead of a plate. It was just what we needed, more big bland food. Alexander’s chicken nuggets were about the size of his 95% percentile toddler head. We retired to our room and watched the results of the U.S. elections. The Republicans appeared to be making significant gains in both the House and Senate. We went to sleep depressed.
The next morning, it was bitterly cold. We ate more big bland food at the Brass Lantern, then loaded up the car and drove to the Mennonite Heritage Village.
The Mennonite Museum was welcoming, with a well-stocked gift shop, displays on Mennonite History and migration patterns and an empty auditorium. The Heritage Village was closed for the winter, but we were able to walk around and look at the buildings. It was cold and windy, so we walked down the main street, peered into a few windows, and checked out the Dutch-style windmill. Most of the buildings were spare and utilitarian, but there was one gorgeous, vibrant cardinal-colored barn that looked a little out of place against the stark landscape. It was too cold to spend a lot of time outdoors, so we hurried back into the museum to warm up.
Inside the museum, Frank wandered off to look at displays of his ancestry, but Alexander want to find out what was behind one of the doors. We peered in to find an empty auditorium. You might think Alexander was raised by a troop of vaudeville refugees, because he's never met a stage he didn't like. He decided to put on a little show for me. While Frank perused the gift shop, Alexander got up on the stage and belted out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for an enraptured audience of one. Then, he announced, “Your turn, Mommy!”
So, I got up and sang, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, which was met with wild applause from Alexander. We went back and forth on this for about a half an hour and sang every song we both knew, including such classics as “Old McDonald”, “Wheels on the Bus”, “Baby Mine”, “Rock-a-bye Baby” and "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Each time, he climbed up on stage and insisted that I do the same when it was my turn. Frank finally found us and joined the fun, but we had to quit when a curious museum employee busted us and evicted us from the stage.
Frank bought a number of gifts for family members at the museum, including some stories and songs in Low German for his brother Bob and cousin Franz. He asked the blue-haired receptionist/cashier/party pooper, “What percentage of people living in Steinbach are Mennonites?”
She replied, “Percentage? Oh, I think everyone here is 100% Mennonite.”
That pretty much summed up Steinbach, Manitoba.