For Rebekah Smoot-Enns, being five months pregnant while taking part in the third leg of the cross-country “Memories of Migration” tour helped her gain a new appreciation for her great-grandmother.
“She was pregnant, too, during her journey,” said Smoot-Enns, 32, of how her great-grandmother left the Soviet Union a century ago for a new home in Canada.
“I think of her when I am feeling tired and uncomfortable,” she said, adding that unlike her great-grandmother, Anna Loewen Enns, she is travelling by choice and with modern comforts.
“And I don’t have to make my own food!” she added while sitting in the dining car of VIA Rail’s the Canadian as it made its way from Edmonton to Vancouver.
Being on the tour was also a way for Smoot-Enns, who lives in Kitchener, Ontario, to honour her great-grandmother, who lost two children to typhus in the Soviet Union.
“There’s not a lot written about her and the other women who made that journey,” she said. “I don’t know enough about what it was like for them. I’m sure they were busy looking after children and thinking about the homes they had left behind.”
When they arrived in Canada, in places like Saskatchewan where her great-grandmother made her new home, she would have lived on homestead farms far from other people—unlike the close knit villages she left in the Soviet Union.
“She might have felt lonely and isolated,” Smoot-Enns said, noting it would have been hard to meet neighbours to talk about what was needed to “build a new life and a home.”
Participating in the tour has also sparked a new interest in her family history—and the need to pass it on.
“Now that I am expecting, the next thing for me to think about is what to tell my child about their past, what stories I can share, what this experience was like when I was pregnant,” she said.
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: Sängerfest ‘extraordinary’ for conductor
MoM 100: Tommy Douglas and Mennonite mutual aid
MoM 100: Using technology to bring Mennonite history to life
MoM 100: Tour like a pilgrimage for young adult
MoM 100: Jews and Mennonites in the Soviet Union 100 years ago