MoM 100: Using technology to bring Mennonite history to life

July 24, 2023
John Longhurst | Special to Canadian Mennonite

Brent Wiebe with his wife, Gail (l). (Photo by John Longhurst)

Brent Wiebe with his wife, Gail (l). (Photo by John Longhurst)

It’s impossible today to see what the former Mennonite homes, schools, churches and villages in Ukraine looked like in the past—back when they were full of family, farm and business life.

But by using modern technology, Brent Wiebe is giving it a good try. 

Wiebe, a member of the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, is using things like 3D scanning, virtual environments and computer animation to help people in the 21st century see what life was like for Mennonites over 100 years ago.

“It’s a way to preserve and promote history,” Wiebe told participants on the Memories of Migration: Russlaender 100 tour who were visiting the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village about 40 minutes east of Edmonton on July 20. 

The tour had stopped at the Village to learn more about Ukrainian settlement in the province, along with interaction between Mennonites and Ukrainians in Alberta.

Wiebe, who does drafting and surveying for a career, showed tour members how he uses modern technology—like the kind used to create video games—to recreate Mennonite life in 1850s Ukraine. 

“It’s all based on archival drawings and accurate historical maps,” he said of his recreations, which included showing what an earthen dwelling, like the kind the first Mennonite settlers to Ukraine lived in, looked like back then. 

He also showed recreations of barns, houses, orchards, gardens and even animated carts pulled by oxen. 

While it’s impossible to recapture what things looked like back then for real, he said—especially since the war in Ukraine has halted all travel to the region—through technology people today can get a sense of what life looked like back then. 

At the same time, the new technologies could be a way to get younger people involved in historical research as they use new tools that are familiar to them, Wiebe said.

Also hearing Wiebe’s presentation were members of the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, who joined Memories of Migration tour participants on the third leg of the cross-country tour at the Village for the day. 

Wiebe, who lives in Stettler, Alberta, has a website where visitors can see his recreations such as rain and snow on the Molotschna colony, a gallery of photos and maps.

After reporting on the first leg of the tour (from Quebec City to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.), Winnipeg freelance writer John Longhurst is blogging about the third and final leg (from Saskatoon, Sask. to Abbotsford, B.C.).

Read John's previous posts about the tour:

MoM 100: Tour like a pilgrimage for young adult
MoM 100: Jews and Mennonites in the Soviet Union 100 years ago
MoM 100: Author Sarah Klassen shares about her book The Russian Daughter
MoM 100: Sängerfest in Winnipeg celebrates migration
MoM 100: Remembering and honouring the past


Brent Wiebe with his wife, Gail (l). (Photo by John Longhurst)

Author Name: 
John Longhurst
Title / Organization: 
Special to Canadian Mennonite
Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.