Life Upstairs

Stories from Brubacher House's live-in hosts

Canada Day

A view from the museum

On Canada Day, Brubacher House has normally been open for the public to drop-in during the University of Waterloo celebrations. Most hosts had volunteers, friends and family, who were stationed in each room of the museum and visitors would cycle through. Hosts and volunteers got front row seats to the entertainment and fireworks at the end of the day.

July 1, 2005

“Canada Day was a big event...After the tours were over, we loved that we could invite all our friends and family over to our 'front lawn' to watch what felt like our own private fireworks display over Columbia Lake. We also remember how quickly the events on the field were dismantled after the crowd left, and how bright the lights were to allow workers to clean up the tents and garbage well into the night, leaving a perfectly clean field the next morning.”

July 1, 1998

“Our first day was on July 1, 1994 - and was quite an immersion experience!...We answered basic questions, directed traffic and did 'crowd control.' We enjoyed the day, because of the 'buzz' but also the opportunity to hear from local volunteers who had a strong connection with the House and the wider Pennsylvania Mennonite Dutch story. Personally, we also had a great seat to watch the evening's fireworks!”

“Volunteers made sure visitors didn't touch anything they weren't supposed to (or try lying down on the bed). It was often sweltering hot. Some years the stone house was still cool inside, but not always.”

July 1, 2018

“We seemed to get Canada Day down to a science, and then the university stopped running the event!

"It always took about a week to set up, and a week to wrap up such a big event...Besides the museum tour, we would usually have kids’ crafts and the museum video running in the basement, and MCC comforter knotting on the veranda. Our apartment would become the VIP lounge and cooling station, where we would provide pizza, lemonade, snacks, and a fan for tired volunteers. It was always a fun but exhausting day, as we would welcome around 300-400 visitors in the course of a few hours, and volunteers would have to shout over the loud music from the concert stage out back. Over the years, we added a banner on the back porch and lawn signs around North Campus, which helped to bring more people in, and Laura’s uncle would also walk around handing out old postcards of the museum and inviting people in for a tour, so the museum became quite a draw. We always kept our doors open a little longer than posted, just because there was so much interest. At the end of the day, we would close up, and our crew of volunteers would find a nice spot on the hill to enjoy the fireworks together. ”

“We did open house hours with a few volunteers to divide and conquer. One year a photographer set up a time lapse camera in our apartment to document the crowd for UW Canada Day.”

July 1, 2008

“Canada Day was always a very busy day. There was a constant flow of people visiting the museum. We provided refreshments and bbq for our volunteers, and then enjoyed the live music and fireworks.”

July 1, 2016

“We had very enthusiastic friends volunteer to be trained and lead tours throughout the day. A few years we had volunteers standing in each room, chatting about the space as curious guests came through; other times, if the flow of traffic was slow, we could take individuals on personalized tours. We generally opened around noon, though traffic pickup was definitely highest in the hour before fireworks.

"We did connect with UW about any needs or expectations around the day, but in practicality our connections to UW the day of were usually just for a glass of water, an extension cord or a hose!”

After Museum Hours Celebrations

Chris Steingart and Jillian Burkhardt

As life-long residents of Waterloo Region, Chris (a history major) and Jillian (a religious studies major) were drawn to the unique and historically significant opportunity that Brubacher House offered. They loved the huge back porch and the deep window sills. Of course, being newly married, it didn’t hurt that the rent was free!

Arlyn and Judith Friesen Epp

Arlyn and Judith Friesen Epp were moving to Waterloo to complete their university studies and were looking for affordable student housing and employment opportunities. A contact of theirs linked them to Brubacher House. Judith was drawn to the beauty of the space and the chance to be rooted in some of Waterloo County’s history and geography. Arlyn was enrolled to finish his BA in History (specializing in Mennonite history) and one of his favourite summer employment gigs was conducting tours of his hometown. They had just finished a pastoral assignment and were glad to continue working together as a couple.

Colin and Jennie Wiebe

Colin and Jennie Wiebe were asked by Paul Penner, Chair of the Brubacher House Committee, to take on the role of hosts. At that time, the North Campus around Brubacher House had a 9-hole golf course and fields. Moving there was like living in the country again, which is where Colin and Jennie both grew up. It also fit well with Jennie’s summer job as an agricultural interpreter at Doon Heritage Village. It was too good an opportunity to pass up!

Joshua and Laura Enns

Joshua and Laura are the current live-in hosts at Brubacher House. 

This article, published shortly after they moved in, details some of Laura and Joshua’s reasons for wanting to become Brubacher House hosts.

They had spent the previous year-and-a-half living and travelling in the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. Visiting so many museums and historic sites really renewed their interest in history–particularly their own Mennonite family histories. And volunteering with Christian Intentional Communities, like the Iona Community in Scotland, opened their eyes to the ways in which heritage buildings could offer a sense of place, vitality, meaning, and rootedness to faith groups, community arts, and social justice movements. As a recent MA Community Music graduate, Laura was dreaming about historic buildings in Waterloo where she could organize community programming around the arts, faith, ecology, and history. She was familiar with Brubacher House because of her experiences volunteering there as a youth on Canada Day, while Brandon and Bethany Leis were hosts. Brubacher House seemed like a hidden gem with lots of potential. Amazingly, around the same time that they started talking about this vision, the host position became available, and they applied! They interviewed from a youth hostel in Athens, and ended their trip early in order to start their term as hosts.

Mark and Allison Brubacher

Allison and Mark met working in costume at a history museum. They both finished their history degrees while they dated each other. It felt like a natural fit.

Brandon and Bethany Leis

Bethany Leis had recently completed her Mennonite Studies minor at Conrad Grebel University College and the host position was a great connector between her schooling and life. The setting and location along with an exchange of free rent for hosting duties seemed like a wonderful way to live in the city, save money, work and continue education in a master’s program when newly married.

Karl and Jacquie Reimer
The Brubacher House host position became available about eight months after Jacquie and Karl finished their undergrads. Jacquie was still job searching, and after completing (most of) a history undergrad it seemed like an exciting opportunity. They knew very little about Brubacher House before their interview. During their undergraduate degrees, while living on campus at UW, they had no idea the house was even owned or operated by UW. In the end, the opportunity to be storytellers and welcome so many different people to the house, plus the amazing living space and location were the things that made them say “yes!”