Train trip to mark 100th anniversary of Mennonites coming to Canada from Soviet Union

June 29, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 13
Memories of Migration release, with files from CM Staff |
The Fairmont Château Frontenac, first stop on the “Russlaender 100.” (Photo by Billy Wilson, Flickr)

One hundred years ago, the first of 21,000 Mennonites who left the former Soviet Union boarded a train in Quebec City for new lives across Canada. On July 6, some of their descendants, along with others, will replicate that journey. Over 120 people have signed up for all or parts of, “Memories of Migration: Russlaender Tour 100,” a three-stage train trip from Quebec City to Abbotsford, B.C.

The tour is the brainchild of Winnipegger Ingrid Riesen Moehlmann. She came up with the idea when her father made a last request to her before he died. “He asked me to organize an event to commemorate the Mennonite migration to Canada from Russia,” she said. “That story was an all-consuming passion for him. He was afraid it was being lost and forgotten.”

The cross-Canada train tour is the result. Through it, participants will retrace the historic migration of the thousands of Mennonites who left communities decimated by violence and tragedy in the former Soviet Union between 1923 and 1930.

The tour will include stops in Montreal—for a gala, sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railway—Kitchener, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Rosthern and Edmonton, before ending in Abbotsford 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 and acknowledge their impact on Indigenous people.

For Katie Harder, chair of the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, the tour is a chance to show “thankfulness and gratitude for the fortitude and the faith of our forebears, the things they accomplished, their efforts and sacrifice.”

The tour will include visits to Mennonite-related sites in the Kitchener-Waterloo area and a public hymn festival on July 10. In Manitoba, there will be an academic conference and another Sängerfest hymn festival on July 15.

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.

Tour participants will also have opportunities to learn about interactions between the Mennonite immigrants and Indigenous people, including the impact of their migration on Indigenous communities in western Canada.

“Canada saved these Mennonite families from the horrors of Stalinism, but also made them part of the settler colonialism system,” says Aileen Friesen, co-director of the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg and part of the organizing committee. “This element of the story can’t be ignored.”

For Friesen, a key to the tour’s success are the young people who have been sponsored to participate. “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,” she says.

The tour will cost between $11,800 and $15,500 (plus airfare) per person, depending on accommodation, for all three stages.

Canadian Mennonite will be posting daily reports from the trip by John Longhurst at

The Fairmont Château Frontenac, first stop on the “Russlaender 100.” (Photo by Billy Wilson, Flickr)

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