When Allissa Reimer’s uncle died, she worried the family history had died with him.
“He was the historian in the family, the keeper of the stories,” she said of her uncle, Jake Braun, who died at age 90.
Allissa, who lives in Saskatoon where she drives a school bus, interviewed him twice before he died.
“I wanted to keep the stories alive,” she said.
One way she decided to do that was by going on the “Memories of Migration” tour with her grandmother, Myrna Braun, 80, and her mother, Ronda Thompson, 56.
The three, all from Saskatchewan, took in the third leg of the tour, from Saskatoon to Vancouver.
It was Allissa’s idea to go on the tour. “I saw it as a way to explore our family’s history,” she said, noting her grandfather’s parents came to Canada from the Soviet Union in 1925.
Her grandfather—Cornelius—was Myrna’s husband. He passed away 18 years ago. “His parents arrived in Herbert in the dead of winter,” said Myrna.
The tour, the three agree, was a good way to learn more about the migration.
“I had read stories about the migration, but being on the tour has enabled me to hear the stories from others,” said Ronda, a retired nurse.
Now that she’s older, Ronda wishes she had asked her grandparents and father more questions. Through the tour, she was able to “realize what was going on in my grandparent’s lives.”
Myrna felt the same way, noting her husband’s parents were reluctant to talk about the experience in the Soviet Union.
“There was a time when his father had to hide for several months,” she said.
One way Allissa intends to keep the stories alive for her family is by making an animated video about her great-grandparents’ experiences.
The video will use dogs and cats as the main characters. “Animals are a way to make the situation more relatable,” she said, citing movies like An American Tail.
The video will show how Mennonites like her grandparents once lived a safe and privileged life until “things fell apart.”
The tour gave her additional information and context for the video, she said, noting she hopes to release the first episode in December 2024—the 100th anniversary of when her great-grandparents left the Soviet Union.
One thing Myrna really enjoyed about the tour was the singing. “Sometimes the songs made me tear up,” she said.
Of her granddaughter’s video project, she said, “It’s a way to share the stories with younger people.”
After reporting on the first leg of the tour (from Quebec City to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.), Winnipeg freelance writer John Longhurst blogged about the third and final leg (from Saskatoon, Sask. to Abbotsford, B.C.).
Read John's previous posts about the tour:
MoM 100: Other voices from apology to Semá:th First Nation
MoM 100: Witnessing history in Abbotsford
MoM 100: Young adults learn about their heritage on tour
MoM 100: Southeast Asian refugee migration remembered
MoM 100: B.C. concert explores ‘Music Along the Journey’