Life Upstairs

Stories from Brubacher House's live-in hosts


Over 40 years of stories

After living at a museum, the live-in hosts have many fond memories of their time at Brubacher House.

Paul and Edna Hunsberger holding the Brubacher family tea set, April 1990.

Photo credit: University of Waterloo Archives. Central Photographic negative collection.

“We felt honoured that the BH committee, led by Lorna Bergey and Lorraine Roth, trusted us with the curator role - given our young age (the first university students to take the role) and our non-Swiss Mennonite background. It was our privilege to get to know them better as they took us on country-side tours, shared some of their research, etc.”

“We loved to bring sledders hot chocolate and meet people out on the winter hill, encouraging them to come visit us again in warmer days.”

“We hosted a few parties in front of the open hearth fire in the basement, including a costumed, NYE murder mystery.”

Oct. 10, 1983: Red blimp blown up in sports field and took off

“Starting plants on the window sills each February. The summer kitchen in the winter was amazing, being able to watch a movie with the fire roaring. Hosting church events - youth group activities, Easter sunrise services down by the lake or tobogganing on the hill let us practice our hosting skills in other unique ways beyond just tours of the museum.”

“Sunsets over the lake visible from the apartment window. Crabapple blossoms and crabapple harvest activities. The excitement of the sold-out “Stories from the Cellar” event. Making the Thirteen Branches zine, writing stories with a group of people in the cozy basement with a fire crackling.”

“We got to host Doors Open Waterloo Region, which was a really exciting day at the house. It was one of our busiest days in our 4 year stay, and we also got to connect with some local history fans who made those tours very memorable and exciting.”

“The opportunity for a young university-student-couple to work in exchange for rent meant we could graduate relatively debt free. This was an incredible gift that we have not forgotten.”

“Enjoying sharing about the Four Square Garden and encouraging people to explore the many different plants and enjoy some raspberries after a museum tour.”

"We loved pulling the bell with guests and watching the reactions of people who were nearby."

"We often had visitors meander on the back porch or peer through the windows. We found living at BH to be both a private and public experience. And having young children present, those distinctions often blurred (children ran downstairs during a tour, children 'claimed' the soccer fields as their own, children rang the bell to startle passers-by, children's flannel diapers hung from the laundry line in sight of the soccer pitch, etc.)."

“Hosting a private concert for friends and family with Laura’s folk/jazz group, ‘Jam and Brie.’ Marking math tests by firelight in the basement.”

“We hosted Christine Brubaker and Erin Brubacher on site as they learned about their shared ancestry (they called themselves '7th Cousins') and started to develop ideas around what art project / drama / 'automythography' could be created in relation to them, the Brubacher family and the home. In the end, the pair walked from Lancaster County, PA to the house over the course of about 30 days, and we held a welcoming ceremony when they arrived. They turned the tale of their walk, the people they met along the way and the discoveries they made about their historical past into an amazing play. Being a small part of that experience with them was really special to us.”

“Connecting with visitors who were engaged by the artifacts and history. 

“Also, when Brandon brought a virtual museum tour to Grebel students when their visit was cancelled due to rain. Our puppet Stanley was their guide through the museum.”

“It was also a privilege for our first two children (ages 4 and 1 when we left) to have the space of the soccer fields, trail around Columbia Lake, other green space (golf course, Laurel Creek) so close at hand. They were also, occasionally, added features to our tours - and our eldest grew to know some of the 'talk'.”

“Living at the Museum was a great way to start our married life together. It was a great way to work on our people skills, giving tours and communicating with others. It was a beautiful place to live, which at times felt public and busy, while at other times secluded and isolated (apart from the hourly drive-by’s by the campus police). Our parents often said that while we were living at the Brubacher house we weren’t in the 'real world' and we really appreciated the fact that we could trade our time for managing the museum and tours in exchange for living rent free. Even today when recalling stories with our family and friends, it seems like a surreal time in our lives to recall the years when we lived in a Museum.”

We absolutely loved the grounds around BHouse and felt very spoiled by so much natural beauty, and the ability to host campfires with friends.

“Sitting on the back porch and enjoying the natural area around the Brubacher House. Watching the stars on the soccer field with friends.”

“We are still certain that the grandfather clock bonged twice one night when it was completely broken and not working. It was creepy.”

Paul and Edna Hunsberger

Paul and Edna Hunsberger had a keen interest in historical matters. Paul grew up on a farm where the University of Waterloo campus is now located. After a visit to Brubacher House in 1983, Paul and Edna felt that it would be a unique setting in which to work. The couple stayed at Brubacher House for five years, even though Edna only needed to live in Canada for one year to qualify for her pension.

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.

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!”
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.

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.”

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!

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.

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!

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.