By Andrea Klassen
Exactly one hundred years and two days ago, the first train load of Mennonites gathered in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to leave Canada for new homes in northern Mexico. In the first eleven days of the migration alone, six chartered trains left Canada. In total, 5,800 traditionalist Mennonites, mostly of Old Colony (Reinländer) and Sommerfelder descent, would charter thirty-six trains, at a cost of about $30,000 for each train. They would travel by train for eight days over the entire length of the United States, across the Mexican border, through the formidable Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, and, eventually, arrive in a tiny town in Chihuahua, a region that had very recently been at the very centre of the Mexican Revolution. Why?
Commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the largest mass emigration in Canada’s history, Mennonite Heritage Village’s (MHV) upcoming exhibit, entitled “Leaving Canada: The Mennonite Migration to Mexico” seeks to answer this question. The exhibit, which is planned to open in late May 2022, will explore this topic from three points of view: in the section “Parting Ways” we look at the reasons why these Mennonites felt they had no choice but to leave Canada, a country they felt had betrayed them with assimilationist education policies and a drive toward militarism during the First World War. In “Life in Mexico,” we highlight what life was like for Mennonite colonists in the early years in Mexico. And in “Legacy” we ask what the effects of this massive migration have been in Canada, Mexico, and around Latin America, especially Paraguay, to explore why this history is so important today.
Do you or your family have an artefact or photograph with a link to this unique chapter in Mennonite history? If so, MHV needs your help! While MHV will be relying on artefacts in its own collection to help tell this story, we are also looking for partners from the community who are willing to share their stories in the exhibit. We are looking for objects related to any of the following topics: the migration to Mexico and Paraguay in the 1920s; connections maintained between Mennonites who left Canada and those who remained behind in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; the return migration of Mennonites from Mexico to various locations in Canada, including Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, beginning in the late twentieth century.
If you have an object with a story to tell and would like MHV to consider it for inclusion in the exhibit, either as a donation or as a loan, you can contact Andrea Klassen, Senior Curator at MHV, at 204-326-9661 (ext. 226) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Leaving Canada” is an exhibit produced in partnership by MHV, the Plett Foundation, and the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada.
Photo caption: Mennonites gather at the station in Plum Coulee, Manitoba on March 1, 1922, waiting for the chartered train that would take them to northern Mexico. Scenes of departure like this were repeated in many towns in Manitoba and Saskatchewan throughout the 1920s as traditionalist Mennonites left Canada.(Photo credit: Mennonite Heritage Archives, CA MHC 107-1.0)
Upcoming Events: MHV’s galleries and Village Books & Gifts are open Tuesday to Saturday, 9am – 5pm. Our award-winning ‘Mennonites at War’ exhibit is open for another 4 weeks only. Make plans to see it before it’s gone!
Winter Carnival, This Saturday March 5, 9am – 5pm. The Winter Carnival is back on. Come and Play! Admission is a ‘tin for the bin’ supporting Helping Hands Food Bank and vaccination verification is not required. Outdoor activities include: ice rink, sledding, trail walking, scavenger hunt bingo, snow carving, bonfire and sleigh rides (10:30-3:30). Indoor activities include: crokinole tournament (sign up before 10am), kids activity centre, guessing game, hot lunch (11:30-2:30), kids show ‘Sleepy the Clown’ at 12:30pm, storytelling adventures with Dr Sprocket at 1:30 and live music at 3pm. Masks are required indoors.
Free Skating Saturdays, 9am – 5pm. Come skate on the rink next to the General Store. Use of the rink is free, provided you bring a tin-for-the-bin to support Southeast Helping Hands. We have a spacious warm-up building to put your skates on. The buildings and trees provide shelter from the wind. To take part in museum programming you still need to show proof of vaccination to skate.