One hundred years ago, the first of 21,000 Mennonites who left the Soviet Union boarded a train in Quebec City for new lives across the country.
On July 6 some of their descendants and others will replicate that journey when they board a train for a trip that will go all the way from Quebec to B.C. as part of “Memories of Migration: Russlaender Tour 100.”
Through the tour, participants will re-enact the historic migration of the thousands of Mennonites who left communities decimated by violence and tragedy in the Soviet Union to come to Canada between 1923 and 1930.
Starting in Quebec City on July 6, the tour will include stops in Montreal, Kitchener, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Rosthern, and Edmonton before ending in Abbotsford, B.C. on July 25.
Organized under the auspices of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, together with Canadian Mennonite scholars and heritage enthusiasts, the tour will celebrate the faith of these newcomers, memorialize the challenges they faced as new settlers in Canada, and acknowledge their impact on Indigenous people.
In addition to the train trip, which will find participants enjoying lectures, presentations and music along the way, the tour will include a gala sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railway in Montreal, tours of Mennonite-related sites in the Kitchener-Waterloo area in Ontario, along with a July 10 public Sängerfest (hymn festival).
In Manitoba, there will be an academic conference featuring award-winning authors in Winnipeg, along with a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. On July 15, a public Sängerfest will take place at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg.
In Saskatchewan, tour participants will spend a day in Rosthern, headquarters for the migration effort, and attend a performance of the Mennonite Piano Concerto. In Alberta they will tour the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village and visit Didsbury for a presentation of Russlaender stories.
In B.C. they will visit Yarrow, Greendale and Arnold, the three earliest Mennonite settlements in the Fraser Valley, tour a Russlaender village and museum, and finish with a public Sängerfest on July 23.
For Aileen Friesen, co-director and associate professor with the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg and part of the organizing committee, a key to the tour’s success are the young people who have been sponsored to be involved.
“For many, this is part of their heritage that they may not be aware of, so it’s important to pass along this history to younger generations,” Friesen said.
About 123 people have signed up for one or all three segments of the tour (Quebec City to Kitchener, Toronto to Saskatoon and Saskatoon to Abbotsford).
John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the tour. Visit canadianmennonite.org/blog for updates.