John Longhurst

Tour like a pilgrimage for young adult

Emily Friesen. (Photo by John Longhurst)

For Emily Friesen, the Memories of Migration: Russlaender 100 Tour was like a  pilgrimage.

“As I travelled on the tour, I kept thinking about what it meant for our ancestors to make this journey,” said Friesen, 28, a textile artist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

She had read about her great-grandfather’s travels from the Soviet Union to Canada in 1927 before going on the tour.

But actually replicating the journey “helped me learn about it in a way that I hadn’t before,” she said of participating in the second leg as a sponsored young person, travelling from Toronto to Saskatoon.

“My learning was wrapped up in that experience,” she said of the travel by train and the times spent talking with other tour members.

Friesen grew up in Pennsylvania because her grandfather, who was born in Alberta, met her grandmother—who was from that state—at a Bible school in Ontario and then moved there when they married. The tour was a way for her to connect to both her Russlaender and Canadian roots.

As for the idea of pilgrimage and the tour itself, Friesen said she is drawn to the idea of somatic, or experiential knowledge—knowledge that involves the senses.

The tour, she said, was a “sensory experience” as they physically moved from place to place. “It gave me a fuller sense of what their experience was like so long ago,” she noted.

She was especially moved by the auditory experience of the sängerfest in Winnipeg. “Each person there carried so many people from the past in their hearts,” she said of the 2,300 people in the audience plus the 200 or so in the choir. “It was like a cloud of witnesses.”

After she returns home, Friesen thinks she may make some art based on the tour, something that combines the memories of travel, the sharing of stories and the singing.

“It could give me a way to share what I experienced on the tour,” she said.

John Longhurst is a Winnipeg freelance writer who is blogging about the tour.

Jews and Mennonites in the Soviet Union 100 years ago

Daniel Dekel-Chen. (Photo courtesy of John Longhurst)

One thing participants in the Memories of Migration: Russlaender 100 Tour have been reminded during the trip is that the experiences facing their ancestors in the Soviet Union were not unique. Other groups also faced hardship and crisis there at the same time.

This was a point underscored by Jonathan Dekel-Chen of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem at “The Russlaender Mennonites: War, Dislocation, And New Beginnings(link is external),” a July 14-15 conference at the University of Winnipeg.

In his presentation, titled “Mirror Images? Russlaender Mennonites and their Jewish Farming Neighbors,” Dekel-Chen described interactions between Jews and Mennonites in Ukraine and Crimea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Like Nataliya Venger, the Ukrainian scholar who discovered Mennonites while researching her country’s past, Dekel-Chen “bumped into” Mennonites while doing studies about Jews in that part of the world.

In his case, it was research into Jewish agricultural settlements in Ukraine(link is external). Through that research, he learned that Russian authorities sent Mennonites to Jewish settlements to serve as teachers and mentors to help them become better farmers.

The Jewish settlements, which experienced difficulty being established, “needed help from someone who knew what they were doing” when it came to agriculture, he said.

“It’s not a huge story,” he said of how Mennonites and Jews interacted back then, but he finds it an interesting one. “To a degree, both groups had similar experiences there,” he said, noting that “Jewish colonies looked like Mennonite colonies,” with both being better off than their Ukrainian neighbours.

As well, both groups divided over differences of belief and opinions and both also received help from abroad—Jews from American and French philanthropic organizations, the Mennonites from Mennonite Central Committee.

As well, both faced decisions about “whether to stay or leave” and both were “targets of violence, the Jews first,” the attacks being “fueled by ethnic and class-based hatred.”

From his research, he could find “no animosity” between Mennonites and Jews at that time, only “mutual respect.”

“They didn’t do anything bad to each other,” he said, although the “the 600-pound gorilla” of Mennonite and Jewish relations during the Holocaust can’t be ignored.

Things would end badly for both communities, he noted, with Mennonites in Ukraine emigrating or being exiled in the 1920s and 1930s while Ukraine’s 200,000 Jews fell victim to the Nazis in the early 1940s.

Dekel-Chen thinks more study could be done about the experiences of Jews and Mennonites in the Soviet Union. There are “tantalizing comparisons” between the two groups, he said.

Sponsored by the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, the conference was part of Memories of Migration: Russlaender 100 Tour.

Topics included in the conference were Neighbours, Revolution, and Civil War; Exodus and Accommodation; The Soviet Promise; Immigration, Deportation, and Encounters; and An Immigrant Culture. About 200 people attended the conference in person, with about joining 150 online.

John Longhurst is a Winnipeg freelance writer who is blogging about the tour.

Author Sarah Klassen shares about her book The Russian Daughter

Author Sarah Klassen (right). (Photo by John Longhurst)

“I think of my novel as a migration narrative.”

That’s what author Sarah Klassen said about her new book, The Russian Daughter, at “The Russlaender Mennonites: War, Dislocation, And New Beginnings,” a July 14-15 conference at the University of Winnipeg.

Klassen, the award-winning author of 12 books, was interviewed by Canadian Mennonite University English professor Sue Sorensen.

“There’s a connection between my novel and the anniversary,” she said, noting how the main characters “have to face a question our ancestors faced in 1920s: To leave or to stay?”

By leaving, they left behind “a country most of them loved very much,” Klassen said. “It was not an easy decision.”

Thinking about the migration, there are “many stories of rifts in families as some stayed, some left, siblings and parents were divided,” she said. “My characters have to face that decision.”

And the same kinds of decisions are still being made by people today, Klassen noted. “We still have refugees coming from that area, this time not by train, though.”

The book itself owes its creation to stories told by her mother, Klassen said.

“I am greatly indebted to her as a storyteller,” she said. “She wanted to share those stories and I was her audience.”

As a child, Klassen admitted to not being particularly interested in the stories. “But I eventually got smarter and realized these stories are my heritage,” she said.

One of those stories, which her mother shared only once, was about a childless Mennonite couple in the Soviet Union who wanted to adopt a child.

“I remember she told it to me on a dark winter night,” Klassen said. “It was about a couple in a Mennonite village who were prosperous farmers, but had no children. The woman desperately wanted children. They adopted two girls. Both adoptions ended badly.”

She thought it would be easy to write the book, but it turned out to be hard. “When I started writing, things changed,” she said. “I couldn’t maintain the story the way I had expected.”

The story itself is fiction, as is the village and people in it, Klassen said.

“I made no effort to locate the village in a specific place anyone could identify,” she said, noting that was “partly as protection for myself” in case she got distances and locations wrong.

But that hasn’t stopped some readers from trying to identify where it is, or who it is about. “I’ve had to contend with some readers who complain about accuracy,” she said.

Klassen credited people like Gerhard Lohrenz, who was her teacher at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute (MBCI) in Winnipeg—“a knowledge keeper among our people,” she said—along with authors like Sarah Birdsell, Rudy Wiebe, Peter Epp who inspired her as an author.

When asked why she thought there was so much Mennonite writing today, Klassen suggested it might be because “Mennonites have reached a stage of prosperity, time to pay attention to arts and literature.”

Plus, she added, “we have many stories to tell.”

Of her novels, Klassen said “I don’t consider myself a historical fiction writer,” saying she has been surprised to be thought of that way.

In her mind, historical fiction should have a major historical figure in it, along with major historical events. She writes about “ordinary people,” she said.

Sponsored by the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, the conference was part of Memories of Migration: Russlaender 100 Tour.

Topics included in the conference were Neighbours, Revolution, and Civil War; Exodus and Accommodation; The Soviet Promise; Immigration, Deportation, and Encounters; and An Immigrant Culture.

About 200 people attended the conference in person, with about 150 joining online.

John Longhurst is a Winnipeg freelance writer who is blogging about the tour.

Sängerfest in Winnipeg celebrates migration

Sangerfest at the sold out Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall on July 15. (Photo by John Longhurst)

“Tonight, we give thanks for those who made the journey.”

That’s what master of ceremonies Eric Friesen said at the start of the July 15 sängerfest in Winnipeg about those Mennonites who came to Canada from the Soviet Union—including his own ancestors.

“And how better to express that thanks than to celebrate with singing?” he then asked the over 2,300 people in the filled-to-capacity Centennial Concert Hall.

Friesen went on to note the tradition of the sängerfest goes back to the late 19th century in Ukraine. It was, he said, “an expression of faith, a social gathering and a way to bring the community together.”

Sängerfests were held in churches, barns, machine sheds and other places, he said, adding “Tonight we declare this place to be the house of the Lord.”

The event, part of the Memories of Migration: Russlaender 100 cross-country tour, featured an adult choir of 229 singers directed by Henry Engbrecht, a youth choir directed by Kristel Peters and a children’s choir directed by Millie Hildebrand.

Songs ranged from traditional hymns, in German and English, to special compositions by pianist Mike Janzen and composer Leonard Enns. A number of times, the audience—or would that be a congregation?—was invited to join in.

One highlight of the evening was when Engbrecht was honoured for his contributions to Mennonite choral singing in Canada. Said Eric Friesen: “Thank-you for keeping the flame of choral singing alive.”

That evening’s sängerfest, he added, “would not have happened without Henry’s passionate leadership.”

Writing about the event on her blog(link is external), author Dora Dueck said the sängerfest was “a most wonderful way” to commemorate the migration of Mennonites to Canada 100 years ago. It also reflected the hard decision people had to make about whether to stay in the Soviet Union or leave.

The songs “of lament and faith and hope” reached back “to connect both the stayers and the leavers, that sustained those who suffered through the challenges of their decisions,” she said.

The songs also connected her to “my heritage and into my own childhood and youth, that brought me to tears.”

One song that especially moved her was Bach’s “Befiehl du deine Wege” (Entrust Thy Ways), where the choir begin each line together and then sang it individually, slowly or quickly, and then at Engbrecht’s signal ended in harmony on the final note.

“It was the strangest and most astonishing cacophony of sound and then resolution, a perfect demonstration of the hundreds of individual stories we each set against the backdrop of historical events but drawing together as community then, as we hear one another, in harmony,” said Dueck.

In addition to the Winnipeg sängerfest, other musical events as part of the tour included the premiere of The Place of Memory in Waterloo, Ont. on July 10, the performance of Victor Davies’ Mennonite Piano Concerto in Saskatoon at the Quance Theatre on July 18, and another sängerfest in Abbotsford on July 24.

John Longhurst is a Winnipeg freelance writer who is blogging about the Memories of Migration tour.

Remembering and honouring the past

Ruth and Henry Dyck. (Photo by John Longhurst)

Ruth Dyck is on “Memories of Migration: Russaender Tour 100” because of her parents and grandparents, who came to Canada from the Soviet Union in 1924.

“They were well to do in Ukraine, living on an estate,” she said. They arrived in Canada with little, making a new life in a new land as farmers.

Ruth, a math and computer science teacher at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate in Winnipeg, is travelling with her husband, Henry, a retired microbiologist, whose roots go back to the 1870s migration to Canada.

Those were hard times, Ruth remembers, but her parents paid off their travel debt (“Reiseschuld”) to the Canadian Pacific Railway—her father farmed and her mother worked as a maid and a cook.

Ruth is on the tour as “a way to remember my parents and grandparents, and to honour them for what they went through to come to Canada,” she said.

The Dycks, who are members at Charleswood Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, are two of 60 people on the first leg of the tour that starts in Quebec City, where the immigrants landed 100 years ago, and includes stops in Montreal and Kitchener, Ont.

Thursday featured walking tours of the old city and the classic Chateau Frontenac hotel, along with a dinner together where participants had a chance to introduce themselves and share their reasons for joining the tour.

Common themes included remembering the past and learning more about the experiences of their ancestors, along with a chance to meet new people and make new friends.

John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the first and third legs of the tour.

Participant asks about immigrant women

Carl Neustaedter. (Photo by John Longhurst)

What about the women? That’s what Carl Neustaedter wondered as he thought about the migration of Mennonites from the Soviet Union to Canada 100 years ago.

In Neustaeder’s family, that meant four great aunts on his mother’s side who made the journey to Canada in 1925: Agnes Unruh, Frieda Unruh, Margaret (Gredel) Unruh and Elizabeth (Liese) Unruh.

Back, left to right: Agnes Unruh, Frieda Unruh, Margaret (Gredel) Unruh. Seated: Elizabeth (Liese) Unruh Riesen. 

When they arrived in Canada as teens with their parents and three brothers, they immediately got to work to help the family get established and to pay off the Reiseschuld—the travel debt owed to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

They ended up doing things like working as domestics, in a sewing factory, nursing and dressmaking. One earned her nursing degree at age 29 after the migration interrupted her education. Only one of them married, and then later in life.
Neustaedter, 56, wishes he knew more about what those women—who have all passed away—thought and felt about their journey and arrival in a new country as new immigrants. The “hidden things that don’t get into the official histories,” as he put it.
What he does know about the migration story is mostly about what happened to the men. “The official stories are mostly told from their perspective and about them,” he said. “There is less about what the women experienced.”
His four great aunts grew up to become “strong, independent women,” who “stood on their own,” he said, noting one started her own business and another was in charge of nurses at Concordia Hospital in Winnipeg.
Even though they didn’t have the same high-profile jobs as their brothers, “they had no less influence on the success of the family, and were often its glue,” Neustaedter said. “Their strength and humour continue to inspire the women who came after.”
But of their migration story he knows little, except “they went through a lot to get here, and then had to go to work right away to support the family.”
Aileen Friesen isn’t surprised. “Women’s stories from this time have been neglected,” she said. “What we know is often about the men.”
This needs correcting, she believes.
“We need to listen to their voices, which are present in their diaries and letters,” said Friesen, who is co-director and associate professor with the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg and part of the “Memories of Migration” organizing committee.
“Mennonite women were well educated. They wrote many letters and diaries that are preserved in archives. But those voices are missing in the official narratives,” she said.
For her, it’s time for scholars and researchers to “reframe” the questions they ask about that migration.
“If it is framed differently through the lens of women’s experiences, we can get a whole different perspective,” she shared.
As for Neustaedter, who lives in Ottawa but grew up in Winnipeg, participating in the first leg of the “Memories of Migration” tour prompted him to reach out to relatives to ask for more information about his great aunts’ experiences of coming to Canada almost 100 years ago.
“I’m looking forward to learning more about them,” he said.

John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the first and third legs of the tour.

GRanDMA volunteer connects with others

‘It’s fun to connect people,’ says tour participant Lorna Goertz. (Photo by John Longhurst)

For Lorna Goertz, a retired accountant from Richmond, B.C., the “Memories of Migration” tour is an extension of her archival work.

Goertz, 67, is a volunteer with GRanDMA(link is external), the Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry.

Her job is to go through the 10,300 records from the Mennonite Board of Colonization to make sure all the immigrants from that 1923 to 1930 period are accounted for.

“I’m making sure everyone is there,” she said, noting that people can be found in various unconnected records since members of the same family sometimes came on different ships at different times.

“I’ve got 16 percent of it done after five months,” she said. “There’s more work to do.”

It’s something Goertz enjoys doing. “It’s fun to connect people,” she said.

Of being part of the tour, she noted there’s a personal reason for participating: All of her grandparents were Russlaender.

“They didn’t talk about that part of their life,” she said. “That door was slammed shut.”

She has been able to find out some of the story. One of her grandparents fled in the middle of the night after being warned by a neighbour they were about to be attacked.

Two other relatives were hacked to death during that time, she said.

“They kept those traumas to themselves,” she said. “They left that horror behind.”

Also left behind was the good life they enjoyed in Russia, where they had a farm, house and mill.

Being on the tour gave Goertz a chance to connect with others who were impacted by the migration—beyond the archival records.

“It was good to hear their stories and remember together what happened,” she said.

John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the first and third legs of the tour.

Young people will carry the stories

Kate Moulden of Winnipeg joined the tour to better understand her family. (Photos by John Longhurst)

One of the goals of “Memories of Migration: Russlaender Tour 100” is to find ways to pass the story of that century-old journey to Canada from Russia to a younger generation.

Daniel Christie.

Through generous sponsors, 16 young people have an opportunity to take part in the trip. I spoke with young adult participants who were on the first leg of the tour (from Quebec City to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario).

For Henry Enns Glavina, 20 and a student at Canadian Mennonite University, the tour was a chance to learn more about his Mennonite roots on his mother’s side.

“It was a chance to learn more about Russlaender Mennonite history, to learn more about the stories I heard about my grandfather,” he said.

Daniel Christie, 34, lived for 14 years in New Zealand before coming to Canada; his Kiwi accent could be heard on the tour.

His father, a New Zealander, met his mother, a Mennonite, when she went to Bible school in that country.

Her grandfather was Russlaender, leaving Ukraine in 1925 and arriving in Canada in 1926.

Now living in Calgary, Christie came on the tour because he has developed an interest in his Mennonite roots.

“I didn’t grow up in Mennonite culture,” he said, noting the tour was a chance to learn more about that part of his family’s history.

Lydia Peloquin-Epp.

Callum Rempel, 22, is from Kitchener-Waterloo. “I’m interested in Mennonite history,” he said, noting the trip was a chance to hear stories about that migration and meet people from across the country.

He especially appreciated the visit to Grosse Isle, Quebec. “That was a story I didn’t know much about,” he said of how immigrants were checked there for communicable diseases.

Going on the tour was a natural thing for Winnipegger Andrew Brown to do—he’s the archivist and records manager at Mennonite Central Committee Canada.

Brown, 30, has roots in England through his father and a Mennonite mother. He’s interested in history.

Growing up on the prairies, he had one view of the Mennonite experience. The tour “gave me a wider view of the Mennonite story,” the graduate of Canadian Mennonite University said.

Lydia Peloquin-Epp, 26, didn’t learn much about Mennonite history while growing up.

Going on the tour gave the Winnipegger a chance to learn “more about the bigger story, and also about the Russlaender story,” she said.

What she enjoyed was hearing stories from older tour members. “I like how the tour gave them space to tell their stories,” she said.

People she talked to were also “grateful when I asked them to share their stories with me,” she said, adding hearing those stories helped bring history to life for her.

Jennifer Bergen.

Jennifer Bergen, 34, works as an educator at the Mennonite Historical Society of B.C. in Abbotsford.

Her family came to Canada after the Second World War. “I wanted to go on the tour to learn more about the earlier immigration,” she said.

Winnipegger Kate Moulden, 23, came on the tour “to understand more about my family, to know about their trauma.”

That history “became more real to me because of the tour,” she said, adding she “enjoyed talking to older people and hearing their stories. It made it more real, not just a set of historical facts.”

For Aileen Friesen, co-director and associate professor with the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg, having young people on the tour was a key goal for tour organizers.

Many of the Russlaender wrote down their stories “so that future generations would remember them and what they experienced through those painful times of civil war, hunger and migration,” she said. “They wanted people to remember what happened to them.”

Having young people on the tour “is a way to do that, for them to hear those stories,” Friesen said. “They are the ones who will carry their stories forward.”

A group of young adults compare notes on the ‘Memories of Migration’ tour.

John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the first and third legs of the tour.

Tour’s first leg comes to an end

Ingrid Riesen Moehlmann of Winnipeg (left) and Jennifer Bergen of Abbotsford take time to swing behind an Old Order Mennonite school house in southern Ontario. (Photos by John Longhurst)

And that’s it: The first leg of “Memories of Migration: Russlaender Tour 100” is over.

From July 6-11, 60 people travelled by train and bus from Quebec City to Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, getting to know each other, sharing stories and learning more about the journeys taken by their ancestors 100 years ago.

Laureen Harder-Gissing points to old books and Bibles at Conrad Grebel University College.

The first leg ended with two days in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, where tour members learned about the migration of Russlaender immigrants to that area, and also about the Swiss Mennonites—people who had arrived in the area in the 19th century.

Those earlier immigrants from the U.S. and Europe welcomed the new arrivals, in some cases hosting them in their homes for weeks, months or even a year or more.

Tour participants had the opportunity to visit “Mennonite country” and the Niagara area.

They also stopped at Conrad Grebel University College where they toured the archives and saw an exhibit of paintings by Russlaenders Woldemar Neufeld and Henry Pauls about life in Ukraine before leaving for Canada.

They visited Brubacher House, a restored 1850s Pennsylvania German Mennonite farmhouse.

During a final gathering before the group split up, with some heading home and others making their way to Toronto for the second leg of the tour, participants shared what the experience meant to them.

For Barb Wiens of Calgary, the tour showed “no matter what tradition we come from, we are all under the Mennonite umbrella. There are so many unique expressions of Mennonitism. It was all very enriching for me and eye-opening to see how many branches of the tree there are. My prayer is we continue to work towards unity. We made a good start on this trip.”

Winnipegger Art DeFehr’s parents were not part of the Russlaender who came to Canada with help from the Canadian Pacific Railway.

While impressed by what happened through that mass migration, he noted there were “multiple streams” that brought the immigrants to Canada—and those stories also need to be told.

Carl Neustaedter of Ottawa knew the facts of the migration, but the tour provided “the feelings, the emotion” as people told their stories. “That was missing before this,” he said.

He was also impressed by the variety of stories, and also by the way the tour reminded participants those stories are being repeated today by modern-day refugees who are fleeing hunger, disease and war.

Tour participants view Russlaender art.

One thing that impressed Nataliya Venger of Ukraine was the singing. “It’s amazing,” she said, of all the times the group broke into song.

What she also appreciated was the story telling, and how people took time to listen to each other. “When Mennonites get together, they like to tell stories,” she said.

For most, a highlight of the trip was the visit to Grosse Isle, along with the premiere of “The Place of Memory,” a presentation of songs and readings about the Russlaender experience a century ago.

For tour organizer Ingrid Riesen Moehlmann of Winnipeg, the first leg of the tour “was a whirlwind,” but also an “inspiration.”

She was particularly taken by the visit to Grosse Isle, the island in Quebec that all immigrants had to medically pass through to be allowed entry into Canada.

“I can only imagine the anxiety they felt at having to once again pass a medical examination, not knowing if they would be able to continue on,” she said. “Being there in that place really brought it home to me.”

She also appreciated the mixing of people on the tour from across Canada, the U.S., Japan and Ukraine, and the Montreal celebration to thank the Canadian Pacific Railway (now Canadian Pacific Kansas City) for extending credit to enable their ancestors to come to Canada a century ago.

She hoped the tour can “be an inspiration to the entire Canadian Mennonite community, reminding us of what binds us together.”

For the second leg of the tour, participants will travel by train from Toronto to Winnipeg where they will take in a variety of tours, a community Saengerfest (concert) on July 15 and a July 14-15 academic conference titled “Russlaender Mennonites: War, Dislocation, and New Beginnings” at the University of Winnipeg.

John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the tour at He is now taking a one-week break from the tour, but will post additional stories from the first leg in the coming days.

Memory of travel debt lingers for participant

“Memories of Migration” tour participant Victor Hiebert. (Photo by John Longhurst)

When Victor Hiebert was growing up in the 1930s in Waterloo, Ontario, he heard a lot about the Reiseschuldthe travel debt owed to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

His parents and two older sisters had come to Canada from the Soviet Union in 1924, among the 900 or so Mennonites who arrived in Waterloo on July 19 of that year.

Their journey was made possible by credit extended to them by the CPR. Altogether, a total of $1.7 million was loaned to the immigrants by the railway.

The large group disembarked from the train and walked up Erb Street to Erb Street Mennonite Church to meet their new hosts—an experience captured by a photographer 99 years ago.

After getting settled, the main goal for these families was paying back the CPR the money it had loaned them to come to Canada. That included Victor’s parents.

Victor, born in 1931 in Canada, was too young to know what that meant. All he knew was that it got in the way of him getting the things he thought he needed as a young boy to make his life better and more complete.

“I don’t remember what I asked for, but I always remember my mother saying, ‘We can’t afford it. We have to pay off the Reiseschuld,’” said Victor, a participant in “Memories of Migration: Russlaender Tour 100.”

His family paid off the debt in the 1940s, but the experience of leaving their home in the Soviet Union was never forgotten.

“The topic came up often,” he said. “It was traumatic for them.”

Of that iconic photo of the Russlaender walking up Erb Street in 1924, Victor says: “Every time I see it, I look to see if I can find them.”

So far, he hasn’t been able to do so, but memories of the Reiseschuld, and their journey to Canada, have stayed with him forever.

Russlaender Mennonites walk to Erb Street Mennonite Church in 1924 to meet their hosts and start new lives in Canada. (Photo courtesy of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario)

John Longhurst is a freelance writer from Winnipeg who is blogging about the tour.