Homebodies - Amazed and astounded


Rita Friesen 
Neepawa Banner & Press

By now, most of you are aware that it doesn’t take much to amaze and astound me. It could be a sunset, or rise, the sweet smell of a newborn babe, the smile exchanged between two caring individuals. It was none of the above that amazed and astounded me this week. I was in Niverville with friends and the restaurant of choice was Hespeler’s Cookhouse and Tavern.

I was familiar with the family name, for William Hespeler, from Baden-Baden, Germany, became a British subject sometime before 1867. By then he and his brother ran a successful distillery and he had married a Canadian woman. In 1871 he was hired by the Canadian government as an immigration agent. Returning to Germany he heard that a number of Mennonite families in Russia wanted to immigrate to the United States. Reporting back to his authorities in Canada, he was instructed to persuade them to choose Canada. He was able to arrange for thousands of Mennonites to immigrate. He arranged for further Mennonite immigration. He combined his work for the government with his private business of grain merchant, but he also worked to ensure the welfare of new immigrants through the provision of emergency supplies and temporary shelter. He planned the town of Niverville, and (with his son) erected the first grain elevator on the Canadian Prairies. So the name is a huge part of my heritage.

The restaurant is a part of the Niverville Heritage Centre, a not-for-profit corporation and event centre, owned by the Niverville community. The complex includes a seniors care home, apartment units, and an event centre that hosts more than 150 weddings and special events a year and serves more than 18,000 people. The complex intergenerational living cultivates a meaningful connection between, families, children, and seniors. The kitchen provides food for the care home and the restaurant is open to the public. There is plenty of parking, and a play area for the young ones.

As I said, I was amazed and astounded. What far thinking person came up with this, and how did they convince the community to participate? Wheelchair friendly. Access to good meals, family connections, and living comfortably. Signs in the washrooms reminded that the center is not for profit. Our support of the events centre and the restaurant contribute to the viability of the establishment. Perfect location, not far from Winnipeg for special events, or an evening out, and not far from a college/university where there are students needing jobs.

One of my first reactions was that there was a tavern. Parts of Southern Manitoba have been quite resistant to the idea of a bar or a pub. (Recalling Hespler’s career as a distillery owner, pieces fell into place.) The food was excellent, portions generous. The service efficient and pleasant. Choice of seating included close to a fireplace, family size tables, and intimate corners. Lovely.  

I was inspired to see that medium sized communities can pool their resources for the greater good. And I understand they are not done dreaming, they want more services. Gives me hope for every community.