by Andrea Klassen
On March 8, 1922, the first train carrying Mennonites arrived in San Antonio de las Arenales (later Cuauhtémoc), Chihuahua from Canada, a country these immigrants felt had betrayed them. Throughout the 1920s, a total of nearly 8,000 Mennonites from Old Colony, Sommerfelder, Chortitzer, Bergthaler, and Kleine Gemeinde communities would leave Manitoba and Saskatchewan for northern Mexico, beginning in 1922, and for Paraguay four years later.
In 2022, Mennonite Heritage Village, in partnership with the Plett Foundation and the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, will be marking the hundredth anniversary of this milestone event with an exhibit focusing on this story of Mennonite emigration from Canada to Mexico. The planned exhibit will be displayed in the Gerhard Ens Gallery at Mennonite Heritage Village from May to November 2022. After this initial display of the full exhibit, a smaller version will be available to travel to host organizations across Canada, with a focus on locations that are important to this history of “Kanadier” Mennonites leaving Canada for Mexico and the return of many of their descendants throughout Canada, but especially from Ontario west to British Columbia.
The exhibit will focus on three main themes. “Leaving Canada” will highlight the factors that led to the Mennonite emigration from Canada, with special focus on the Mennonite resistance against the changes to public school legislation in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 1916 and 1917. “Life in Mexico” will explore the early years of life in Mexico, which were difficult for the migrants. And the third theme, “Legacy,” will look at the profound effect that the exit of the most traditional Mennonite communities from Canada had on Mennonite life and identity in this country, the dispersion of Mennonites throughout Latin America, and the return of the “Kanadier” Mennonite descendants to Canada in the later twentieth century and continuing today.
Do you have an object with a story to tell about this Mennonite migration to Mexico? We need your help! Mennonite Heritage Village, together with its partners in this project, are currently seeking artefacts for inclusion in this exhibit. Mennonite Heritage Archives (Winnipeg, MB) is looking for archival materials that tell this story including oral interviews, photos, correspondence, diaries, and journals. Mennonite Heritage Village (Steinbach, MB) is looking for artefacts, which could include clothing, items relating to farm and home life, travel items, toys, or any other item with a story to tell that relates to the emigration of Mennonites from Canada to Mexico. If you have materials that you would like us to consider for inclusion in the exhibit, contact Conrad Stoesz, archivist at Mennonite Heritage Archives (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Andrea Klassen, senior curator at Mennonite Heritage Village (email@example.com).
- MHV gift shop and galleries are now open Tuesday to Saturday. The grounds are available for strolling (but heritage buildings are closed), come and see the geese at the pond as they start their migration!
- Mennonites at War Speaker Series, October 19th. Join us for our final installment of the ‘Mennonites at War’ online series. Guest speaker Bruxy Cavey is the senior pastor of a multi-site Anabaptist congregation in Ontario called ‘The Meeting House’ and best-selling author. Register for free on our website today!