For centuries, as people from all over the globe emigrated to North America, many chose to settle on the prairies. Today, Manitoba is known throughout the world as the place with one of the highest number of individual nationalities represented.
A shining example of this mosaic was recently celebrated by many of Mennonite faith in Manitoba, who trace their family roots to East Ukraine.
Before emigrating to Ukraine, Mennonites of Dutch, Flemish and German descent lived under Polish rule for about ten generations. The partitioning of Poland in 1772 placed the majority of Mennonites under Prussian jurisdiction.
A seminar in Winnipeg, and celebrations in Steinbach, marked the 225th anniversary of the first migration of Mennonites to New Russia (now East Ukraine) from Prussia, in 1788-1789.
Guest speakers at the events held Nov. 15 and 16, shared historical research on the political, religious and economic forces that led to the migration of Dutch, Flemish and German Mennonites to New Russia.
The first wave of migration started with Mennonites in Prussia selecting two men, Jacob Hoeppner and Johann Bartsch, to investigate settlement possibilities in New Russia.
People at the seminar heard about the challenges Hoeppner and Bartsch faced during their land scouting travels through letters written by Bartsch to his wife, Susanna, and to a church leader, David Epp.
The letters, read by Winnipeg historians Lawrence Klippenstein and Edwin Hoeppner, are part of a 109-page collection of documents that were passed down through the generations to Henry Epp of Calgary, a descendant of David Epp’s family “I believe I hold an important piece of Mennonite heritage in my hands and I like to share it with people,” said Epp. “I feel this information belongs to the people.”
Klippenstein has been following the collection as it passed from one family member to the next for over 30 years.
The collection, now being translated from Gothic German script at MHCA, contains items thought to be long lost and destroyed. They are not original documents but legible, handwritten copies of the originals that are believed to be part of the collection known as the Hildebrand Nachlass (Hildebrand papers).
“This is an amazing find,” said Korey Dyck, MHCA director. “Having access to these letters fills an historical gap when researching Mennonite History.”
The Mennonite Heritage Centre is a ministry of Mennonite Church Canada. It serves as the national church repository for the historical preservation of important congregational records.
Read the full story, including fascinating excerpts from these historical letters, by clicking here.