by Gary Dyck
These days society’s accepted views on historical figures go viral and change so quickly. For me, it confirms our need for a more communal understanding of history. Too often, our history classes and books focus on ‘heroic’ individuals and we can miss that it is usually the small bands of people and society en masse that create change. Or how the individuals with their shortcomings are really part of something that is more systemic and found throughout the community at that time. History does not belong to the individual; it belongs to the community.
At the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) we do talk about individuals, but they are placed within the context of their community and wider society. There is so much more at play in history than the personal life of individuals. We all live in a cultural milieu, a social kind of village that influences our lives in subtle and yet deep ways. Most movements are spurred on by individuals, but like the Protestant or Anabaptist reformations, there already was societal disenfranchisement with the current establishment and people were ready to start a movement. History is not changed by an individual; history is changed by a movement of people.
On July 4, 2020 the Ottawa based National Trust of Canada released a new study on Canadians and Heritage Places. It revealed that nine in ten Canadians feel its important to preserve heritage sites and historic places. Their first insight was that “people feel the overall purpose of preservation is to ensure Canada’s story continues to be told, experienced and learned.” The majority also believed that these places help tell our country’s collective story and that these stories are compelling reasons for Canadians and international tourists to visit them.
From the beginning, Mennonites have valued community and doing life together. That the Mennonite story is also a valued part of Canada’s story makes us smile. Our first villages that were built with the houses close together, our churches, our support of humanitarian causes and each other have contributed a lot of good to Canada. The Heritage study also found that “people celebrate their localized places of interest as badges of pride, and they serve as important attractions and attributes of where they live for others to see.”
There is a heritage movement of people who are making sure our communal story is there for future generations. You support it every time you visit a museum or historic site, when you eat at their restaurant or buy something at their gift shop. You support it when you discuss current issues with friends and recall something from your heritage to enlighten the conversation. A special thanks to our Mennonite heritage movement – history belongs to you! Here’s to our dedicated sponsors, staff, donors and volunteers! Together we are keeping this story going so that it can continue to have its impact in our world today.