Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) in Steinbach is looking forward to seeing folks from across Southern Manitoba this Summer as it hosts a very special exhibit titled Leaving Canada: The Mennonite Migration to Mexico. 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of that migration, and the exhibit has striking and thought provoking materials throughout.
"We're looking at three questions," explained Senior Curator Andrea Klassen during Wednesday's Morning Show with Chris Sumner. "Why did approximately 8,000 Mennonites leave Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 1922 in the first place? What pushed them to leave? What was life like, particularly in Mexico, because that's the anniversary we're marking, and then why does this history matter to us today?"
Klassen hopes, by addressing those three thoughts in the exhibit, it will provoke additional questions in those who visit.
"What are some of the questions we can ask ourselves about this migration, about the Mennonite world in in Mexico and Latin America, but also about the Mennonite community in Canada," she said. " What did it matter to the community that was left here that these more traditionalist groups left?"
The biggest component of the exhibit is a 1920s replica classroom built on a raised stage in the middle of the gallery.
"So, student desks, textbooks, a teachers desk, and then we have some symbols in the classroom that point us toward what the public school system was in the 1920s, and what the government of Manitoba and Saskatchewan were wanting them to be, which is what pushed Mennonites to leave in the first place."
The most attention grabbing part of the replica classroom is a large chalkboard hanging over the display which features a quote from a 1908 edition of Maclean’s magazine.
"One of the great problems confronting Canada is assimilation. How to take the crude material constantly flowing into the country and make loyal, self-helping, self-respecting citizens out of them."
"This idea that the schools were meant to assimilate immigrant children, and so we have that kind of message coming from the chalkboard, because that was the big social message of the time in Canada," explained Klassen.
Leaving Canada: The Mennonite Migration to Mexico is on at MHV through November 30th.
You can listen to the entire conversation between Chris and Andrea below.