The MHV is excited to celebrate a huge anniversary: the arrival of 23,000 Mennonites to Canada 100 years ago in 1923.
Andrea Klassen, senior curator at Mennonite Heritage Village, gives a history lesson on the migration that started in 1923 and went until around 1929.
“They left on the heels of the first World War, where the Mennonites were concerned in Russia at that point, they were ethnic Germans and Germany was the enemy and so they bore the brunt of that, then on the heels of the First World War comes the revolution that overturns the monarchy in Russia and creates the Soviet Union eventually, after lots of fighting, lots of civil war.”
She says in what is today Ukraine, Mennonites were on the front lines of that civil war.
“So as the monarchy falls, there's a power vacuum, into that power vacuum come anarchists and there's a war front that's constantly moving through the villages,” she says. “So you have anarchists attacking the village. You have the two fronts of the war, the White Army and the Red Army fighting it out for power in the country, and then you have everything that comes with war.”
She mentions that one of the things that comes with war is disease.
"And actually, more people died of diseases like typhus than they did by violence, which is saying a lot because violence was a huge issue at that point.”
Klassen says it was a very rough time for Mennonites.
“And of course, it got worse as the 20th century marches forward, things get more and more difficult in the Soviet Union. But for those 23,000 Mennonites who made it out in the 1920s, they arrived for the most part in Canada, so that's what we're commemorating this year, the start of that migration 100 years ago.”
She says the museum currently has a doll in one of their exhibits from that time, as they are loaning it from the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg.
“So it's something that gets seen sometimes selectively at the archives, but not on a large scale like this.”
The wooden doll is about a foot tall, is wearing a skirt, a jacket, a straw hat, and has curly brown hair.
“You know, just kind of an average doll, but the story behind the doll is an interesting one.”
Klassen says the doll was used to smuggle American currency out of the Soviet Union in 1927 when Johannes and Renate Dyck were leaving the Soviet Union in the migration with their family.
“So, at that time, you couldn't take a lot out of out of the Soviet Union with you, but they tried to take what they could.”
Johannes, the father, purchased this doll for his four-year-old daughter Rena, and filled the hollow head with bank notes. If the money was found, Johannes would have likely been killed and the family sent to Siberia.
“And so as they go through the customs inspection, all of their luggage is searched several times. The family is actually strip searched, but as this is happening, the little girl leaves her doll on a bench outside the room where they're being searched. They're searched one more time and nothing is found.”
The family was let go, and as the family left the room, Rena picked up the undiscovered doll and the family was able to continue their journey to Canada.
“So it's a complicated story in the doll, and we have that on display in the exhibit to show kind of the direness of the choice to leave the Soviet Union, and also the complication of how we look at this history 100 years later.”
In celebration of the 100 year anniversary, the Mennonite Heritage Village is holding a centennial celebration on Sunday, July 16th.
Klassen says there's a whole weekend of events happening, and MHV is playing a part in that.
“The events are organized by the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, and then each province across the country is organizing their own events.”
The MHV has a church service that will start at 10:00 o'clock in the summer pavilion.
“The whole service is geared around remembering, and what does this history mean for us today, and looking back on our history, and also being a people of faith today as well.”
People are invited to stay for lunch and the rest of the afternoon they will have events at the museum as well.
At both 1:00pm and 3:00pm they will have tours of the Russländer exhibit that’s on display as well as Russländer-themed village tours.
“And then by 3:00 o'clock, we're wrapping up the MHV lead portion, but we do have a group, the Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre Company, who's hosting a performance of original plays on this theme and that finishes the day off at MHV.”
The events on July 16 are open to the public, it is a regular admission day, so admission applies.
“Everybody is invited to come out and help us to celebrate and remember this event.”
With files from Michelle Sawatzky