About Schneider Haus

While Schneider Haus National Historic Site has previously focused on one year of the history of the site we are currently working on a long process of researching and working with community members to expand the narrative and accurately reflect the history of our site and its many untold stories. We welcome feedback from community members. If you have anything to share please contact us at schneiderhaus@regionofwaterloo.ca

The Haus

Take a 360 tour of the Schneider Haus kitchen.

History comes to life at Schneider Haus National Historic Site! Nestled right in the heart of the downtown, Schneider Haus is the oldest house in Kitchener. Experience connections between today’s world and the families of the past who lived there. The site features hands-on activities, changing exhibits, interactive tours, special events and more! Schneider Haus National Historic Site. Old Haus, New Stories.

A local landmark and Kitchener's oldest dwelling, the 1816 homestead was restored and furnished, then opened as a living history museum in 1981. The heart of the complex is a fine Georgian-frame farmhouse that was built by and was home to the area's earliest non-Indigenous settlers, Joseph and wife Barbara Schneider, Pennsylvania-German Mennonites.

Schneider Haus was restored and opened as a living history museum in 1981. Costumed interpreters represent life in 1856, which was when the second generation of Schneiders occupied the homestead.

Typical of a traditional Pennsylvania-German farmstead in Waterloo County were domestic outbuildings, where seasonal tasks such as wool processing, butchering, pickling, and preserving took place. Carefully researched and recreated at the Schneider Haus are the wash house, springhouse, bake/schnitz house, wood shed, and privy. 

Today, history comes to life as staff demonstrate traditional tasks in concert with the seasons. The modern interpretation wing hosts gallery exhibits, workshops, and lectures. Come for a visit and enjoy hands-on activities, special events, and more!

The House

Costumed interpreters in the garden

Our Gardens

The recreated kitchen garden at Schneider Haus National Historic Site represents a traditional Pennsylvania-German settler's garden of the mid 1800's in Ontario. It contains some of the most typically grown vegetables, herbs, and medicinal plants of the time and is set out in the four square plan favoured by Mennonites.

The four beds allowed crops to be rotated which helped to control pests. The raised soil beds ensured fast spring warming and early planting, extending the productivity of the garden by allowing additional planting as the season progressed. The size of the garden varied with the size of the family. The Schneider Haus garden is somewhat smaller than the average size of 55 to 66 square feet.

The garden contained vegetables, culinary herbs, flowers, and medicinal herbs, the produce of which the family depended heavily upon throughout the entire year.

The interior beds of the garden were planted with vegetables, while herbs were generally planted along the borders just inside the garden gate. A picket fence enclosed the garden, principally to keep the barnyard animals out. The fence was whitewashed every spring, generally a child's chore, with a mixture of unslaked lime mixed with water to a thickness so that it could be applied with a brush.

Once the men in the family had worked the spring manure into the garden, they took no further part in its upkeep. They were more concerned with the Schtick later called the truck patch, an area dug beyond the fence for larger crops such as corn and potatoes. Today, a small Schtick is located on the other side of Queen Street.

The women tended the garden assisted by the children. The children knew not to leave footmarks on the freshly turned earth of the beds so they walked between the rows of vegetables on a board provided for the purpose and spent hours keeping the paths free of weeds. On Sunday, no work was done, but visitors were taken outside to admire the progress of the garden.

Self-sufficiency was of paramount importance to early settlers and the garden played a major role in providing food for the long winter months. Drying and pickling were two methods used to preserve garden produce. The fermentation of cabbage to make sauerkraut was another. Large quantities of cabbage were grown for this purpose. Cabbage seedlings were started in the Grautkutch, a type of coldframe raised high off the ground to guard against insects and frost, and later transplanted to the garden. Other plants were started in standard cold frames or in clay pots in the house.

Planting was often ruled by astrological signs. Plants such as beans and cucumbers which grew above the ground were planted in the sign of Gemini (the twins) during the ascent of the moon, but seeds for plants below the ground were put in the soil during the sign of Libra (the scales), when the moon was in descent. Certain days were favoured for planting specific plants, for example in Pennsylvania, St. Gertrauts' Day on March 17, was considered as suitable for cabbage. Failure to follow these values, it was believed, would result in bug-infested plants.

Dialect names were given to the plants in the garden, names which often reflected the plant's primary use. Savory was called Bohnegreidel (bean plant) because it was a favoured seasoning for green beans. Sweet basil was called Fersomlingshaus Graut because its spicy fragrance could freshen the air and bunches were taken by the women to the Meeting House during the summer weather.

Folklore often dictated where in the garden a plant should be grown. Two medicinal plants Alder Mon (Old Man) and Aldy Frau (Old Woman) were traditionally placed well apart on either side of the gate, otherwise "Der Ald Mon macht die Aldy Fraut doet" - the old man would kill the old woman.

Many of the vegetable seeds planted at Schneider Haus are the result of careful research of 1800s vegetables conducted by groups such as Seeds of Diversity Canada, and the heirloom Seed Project at Landis Valley, Pennsylvania. These specimens approximate the varieties the Schneiders had, resembling them closely in growth, taste, genetic make-up and, in some cases, lack of quality and resistance to disease. Seeds from the garden are saved annually to be replanted the following growing season, a practice the family also followed. Small linen bags were used to store seeds.

Throughout the year the museum's interpretation includes the four-square garden. In the spring our Getting Ready for Spring theme weekend is when staff clean their tools, turning over the soil, starting seeds and more. In the summer months, staff are in the garden caring for the plants, and on fall weekends they focus on the drying and preserving of the harvest.


Schneiders In the Garden

Schneiders In the Garden

OutbuildingsThe Outbuildings

There is no English expression that adequately describes the phenomenon of the German farm Hof. This is a collection of outbuildings generally containing a spring house for refrigeration and dairying, a bake house, a smoke house, a woodshed, a privy, and a summer house/kitchen or wash house. The kitchen garden frequently defined one side of the yard where a water source was nearby. The Schneider Haus Hof has been researched and faithfully recreated. Special events and daily interpretation reflect the seasonal chores that would have taken place in these domestic outbuildings.


Wash House

Wash HouseUsed seasonally, the wash house would sit dormant once butchering was done in December/January and would come to life in the spring when wool was spun into yarn. This second kitchen was used for many tasks including pickling and preserving, washing laundry, boiling maple sap, processing meat, and much more. Cooking and eating also took place in the wash house during the warmer months, eliminating heat, and odours from the main farmhouse. Construction began on this early wash house in the fall of 2010, the foundations of which had been unearthed during a 1984 archaeological investigation.

Spring House

spring houseBuilt over springs, these structures would protect water against contamination, particularly useful since livestock roamed free on early farms. The earliest spring houses in Pennsylvania and likely in Waterloo County were constructed of log but larger more durable stone structures, were also common. In addition to keeping water sources clean, spring houses were used for refrigeration - milk and milk products were stored in crocks and set down into trenches that directed a flow of water through the building, keeping milk and cream cool on hot summer days.


The Bake/Smoke/Dry House

bake houseThis combination outbuilding was one of the most important. Rye bread was a staple of local Mennonites' diets in the 1850s and smoking was one of the few ways that large quantities of meat could be preserved. Drying or dehydration was also a standard way the women preserved fruits and vegetables in the years before vacuum sealing. Even in the late 1850s, when glass canning jars came on the market, the drying house continued to be preferred for the drying of apple pieces, still used in the local cuisine today and known as apple Schnitz. Our building was rescued from an Elmira area Martin family farm, dismantled and reconstructed on site in the summer of 1998.