Mennonites from the Soviet Union in a train car en route to Canada in 1923. Credit: MAID CA MHC 744-2
Between 1923 and 1930, some 21,000 Mennonites migrated from the Soviet Union to Canada. They left behind a land decimated by the violence of war and revolution, famine, and epidemic, but also a land that had been their cherished home, where many of their family and friends would remain. They were fortunate to find shelter in far-off Canada, where government, church communities, and private businesses rallied to their cause. These migrants, popularly known as the Russlaender Mennonites, made Canada their new home, where they came to flourish as a community.
To mark the centenary of the beginning of this great migration, events have been planned across the country this summer. The Russlaender Centenary Committee (RCC) of MHSC has organized a cross-country train tour, Memories of Migration: Russlaender 100, which will re-enact the initial journey taken by the Russlaender immigrants from Quebec as far as British Columbia. In the provinces along the way, public events have been organized to celebrate the faith of these newcomers, to remember the loss of their former communities, to memorialize the challenges of resettlement, and to acknowledge race and displacement in Canadian history.
Train station at Lichtenau on June 23, 1924, when the Peter J. and Elizabeth Tiessen family left for Canada. The train had 47 cars and held 1,400 people.
Credit: MAID CA MAO Hist.Mss.1.291/12-13
Unique commemorative events have been organized from in every province from Ontario west to British Columbia, coordinated by the provincial Mennonite historical societies in each province.
Monday, July 10, 7:30 p.m. – Waterloo
The Place of Memory: Reflections on the Russlaender Centenary
A program of music, singing, reading, and reflection on the 100th anniversary of the migration of Mennonites from the former Soviet Union. Featuring the premiere of “The Place of Memory” composed by Leonard Enns and performed by DaCapo Chamber Choir. MORE INFORMATION
July 14–15 – University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg
The Russlaender Mennonites: War, Dislocation, and New Beginnings
A scholarly conference presenting papers that explore the development of the Russlaender, from late imperial Russia, through war, revolution, and upheaval in the early Soviet Union, to their relocation to Canada. It will also feature conversations with noted authors of fiction about the Russlaender experience. MORE INFORMATION
July 15, 7:00 p.m. – Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg
Singing Our Journey: Sängerfest 2023
A traditional Mennonite songfest, featuring choirs and soloists presenting songs from the church choir repertoire throughout the past 100 years. TICKETS AND MORE INFORMATION
July 16, 10:00 a.m. – Mennonite Heritage Village, Steinbach
A worship service will be held in the Peter Barkman Summer Pavilion at 10:00 a.m. (museum doors open at 9:30). This will be a time to give thanks for God’s faithfulness to our forebears and in our own lives. The service will incorporate congregational singing in both English and German. After, take in the special exhibit “The Russländer” and take a tour of the outdoor village. Regular museum admission rates apply.
July 16, 3:00 p.m. – Mennonite Heritage Village, Steinbach
Two one-act plays presented by Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre
Enjoy performances of two original plays dealing with Mennonite immigration and refugee experiences: “Wherever You May Be,” by Monica Reis, and “Refugees 1948,” by Sarah Ens and Waldy Ens Regular museum admission rates apply. MORE INFORMATION
July 17 and 18, 7:00 pm – Quance Theatre, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon
Mennonite Centenary Concert
Each concert will feature in its first half the Sine Nomine Quartet and a choir led by Duff Warkentin that will sing the Kernlieder. In the second half, Godwin Friesen and Jerry Hu will play, on two grand pianos, Victor Davies’s Mennonite Piano Concerto. Quance Theatre is located in the Education Building at the University of Saskatchewan. Parking is available in lot 4. Free admission.
July 1 – September 30 – Station Arts Centre, Rosthern
Faith, Loss, Renewal: The Russlaender Mennonites
This exhibition of historical photographs tells the story of the turmoil experienced by Russian Mennonites in the 1910s and 1920s and the migration many chose to make.
July 1 – September 30 – Rosthern Museum and Mennonite Interpretive Centre, Rosthern
David Toews Exhibit
This exhibition of historical photographs tells the story of Bishop David Toews, the Canadian Mennonite leader who was instrumental in organizing the Russlaender migration.
July 21, 11:00 a.m. – Bergthal Mennonite Church, Didsbury
Migration History Event
See and hear stories of Russlaender immigration and sponsorship, and enjoying heritage piano selections. Pre-registration is required by email to Dave Toews.
July 21, 4:00 p.m. – Bergthal Mennonite Church, Didsbury
Barbecue supper and entertainment at the C. C. Toews (Evergreen) Farm, Linden, Alberta. Pre-registration is required by email to Dave Toews.
July 23, 7:00 p.m. – South Abbotsford MB Church, Abbotsford
Music Along the Journey: Memories of Migration: Russlaender Centennial Concert
The concert, produced by well-known Abbotsord musician Calvin Dyck, will feature music from the “old country” -and from the new lands settled by Mennonites emigrating from the Soviet Union beginning in 1923 (Canada, Mexico, Paraguay, and Brazil). Free admission.
Russlaender Remembrance Fund
As part of this commemoration, the RCC has established the Russlaender Remembrance Fund through Mennonite Central Committee Canada. As MCC was formed to help Soviet Mennonites in 1920, this fund has a historical connection to MCC’s beginnings. Donations can be made to the general Remembrance Fund, or directed to one of three projects: MCC’s Indigenous Neighbours program, acknowledging the legacy of Indigenous displacement in Canadian history; MCC’s Ukraine program, focusing on education, peacebuilding, trauma healing, and relief, in the land that was once home to many Russlaender; or MCC’s International Refugee Settlement program, which supports churches and other sponsorship groups welcoming refugees and helping them with the challenges of resettlement in our time.
Credit: Private collection