Life Upstairs

Stories from Brubacher House's live-in hosts

Family Life Through the Seasons

While Brubacher House is only open for drop-in tours from May-October, life in and around the museum continues throughout the year for the hosts. The seasons change and many family and friend gatherings occur.


A huge ice storm, Columbia Lake, March 2016.

Daffodils and baby swallows, spring 1983.

Oran Enns walking under the crab apple blossoms, May 2021.

Bleeding hearts with North Campus buildings in the background, June 2007.

Oran Enns with the forget-me-nots in bloom, May 2021.

“We had several Easter egg hunts with our young niece and family members during our years there. One time, on a tour, a guest pulled a chocolate egg out from a dish in the pantry in October... oops, guess we missed an egg!”


Foxgloves by the shed, 2001.

“We ordered a load of compost from the University to spread on the flowerbeds. Arlyn & Judith came for a visit that summer and were shocked at how big all the flowers were. At the same time we doubled the size of the garden, and added some heritage vegetables and flowers.”

The Gimbels’ flowers: geraniums and impatiens, 1993.

Hot air balloon landing on the soccer field in front of Brubacher House, summer 2001.

“One memorable summer evening there was a sudden loud roaring sound coming from outside, along with a lot of suddenly excited voices. We ran to the windows just in time to watch two hot air balloons come gliding low across Columbia Lake, skim the treetops, and touch down in the soccer fields which, moments before, had been filled with players. The roaring we heard was the burner in the balloons. The winds had shifted unexpectedly and the operators were stuck over the city looking for a place big enough to put down. It was fascinating watching the process of landing, deflating the giant balloons, seeing the passengers exiting the baskets, and the operators packing everything into the (comparatively) small trailers.”

Bethany and Brandon hosted a large family gathering to celebrate the birth of their niece, August 2006.


View of Columbia Lake, 1982.

"Our first Halloween at BHouse, I thought maybe people would stop by in the evening for candy, so I dressed up as a Chef (the front door of BHouse opens into a kitchen, after all).”

Leis pumpkin carving, 2006.
Brubacher House silo, fall 2005.
Oran Enns plays in the Autumn leaves by Columbia Lake, October 2020.
A simple shot of fall colours.
Autumn painted windows, 1995.

In late October 2016, Karl and I used our canoe on Columbia Lake one last time. We canoed to the little island on the lake and planted a small tree, knowing we’d be moving out of BHouse over the winter.


Winter quiet, December 1996.
Howard Gimbel with his new Buick outside the Brubacher House, winter 1992.
Tobogganing on the hill near Brubacher House, winter 2001.
Nancy Maitland with her dog, February 1981.

Tobogganing, January 2000.

Dorothy came home from her travels to find her home deep in snow, January 1985.

Surprise snowfall, March 2019.

Snowy walk down to the lake, 2005.

Building snowmen, winter 2001.

“A nighttime walk on a particularly snowy evening, I brought my camera to take a photo of BHouse in evening snowy glow - and we snapped this shadow selfie of us too, lit by the streetlight on the driveway.” Winter 2015.


Joshua and Laura Enns cross-country skiing at Columbia Lake, March 2019.

Christmastime at Brubacher House

The Enns’ Covid-19 Christmas tree. This tree was later planted down by Columbia Lake in honour of Oran’s first birthday, December 2020.

Steingart/Burkhardt’s gingerbread house, a replica of Brubacher House, and their Christmas tree, December 2005.

While at BHouse, all of our Christmas trees were “window sized”. This one was from Christmas 2014, in the living room south facing window.

Our first Christmas at Brubacher House, December 2006.

Howard and Carol Gimbel at their New Year’s Eve gathering, December 1992. Left to right: Joe Weber, Bill Yoder, Carol Gimbel, Jean Fitzgerald, Howard Gimbel, Bob Fitzgerald.
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!”
Ida Habermehl and Dorothy Bean

Ida Habermehl and Dorothy Bean began their retirement as the first “live-in custodian-hostesses” of Brubacher House. In a letter from Brubacher House committee member Lorna Bergey, these two women were asked whether they were planning to retire immediately into rocking chairs with their knitting or could they be interested in becoming involved with an interesting project for the next few years?

In a letter to Nelson Scheifele, Dorothy and Ida stated: “We have an active interest in our roots and in the preservation of Mennonite history. Our memories go back to grandparents who lived in the 19th century, building homes, rearing families in that century and giving us a ‘goodly heritage’….To be involved in meeting individuals who are interested in this era and interpreting this life to tourists is exciting and a real challenge for us.”

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Howard and Carol Gimbel

Howard and Carol Gimbel were approached by the Brubacher House Committee to consider hosting at Brubacher House. The Gimbels were interested in the idea and thought that Brubacher House fit in with their desire to do voluntary service. Howard was adventuresome and liked people and was more involved in providing the tours. The couple completed two terms at Brubacher House while renting out their home on Bridge Street.

The photo above shows Howard and Carol Gimbel at the Brubacher House display for Heritage Week 1991, at Conestoga Mall.

Nancy and Ted Maitland

Nancy Saunders lived at Brubacher House as the first staff person on site. Her initial role was as live-in custodian and consultant/curator of the Mennonite Farmhouse. Nancy lived there before the museum was established in 1979. With a low-operating budget for this museum project, Conrad Grebel College altered her role to custodian responsibilities, in exchange for free rent at Brubacher House. The tours were conducted primarily by Lorna Bergey as well as other volunteers from the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario. In 1980, Nancy married and lived with her husband Ted Maitland in the apartment until 1982.