In January 2016 Abbotsford British Columbia’s very own Mennonite Heritage Museum opened its doors and I have been meaning to visit ever since.
New Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford
I drive past it most days, admiring it from a distance (well, from the raspberry roundabout). But when Tourism Abbotsford assigned me the story I could put it off no longer.
Although I’ve done museum and gallery features before I wasn’t sure what to expect. There wasn’t too much written on the place yet and although I know a bit about Mennonite history my knowledge is a bit thin.
Since I already knew where it was directions weren’t a problem. However, since it’s open from 10 to 4 weekdays it did mean I had to visit on my lunch break. Oh well, made parking easier.
Inside the Mennonite Heritage Museum
Entering into the huge lobby I visited with the volunteer receptionist for a while before venturing to the upstairs offices where I interviewed the executive director Richard Thiessen about the Mennonite Heritage Museum’s story, reason for existence, and hope for the future. You can read about it in the article.
Much of the Abbotsford we know today stems from the hard work of the Mennonite settlers who arrived here after fleeing persecution in Russia, Ukraine, and other Eastern European countries in the 1930s. They came with nothing and settled in a land containing stumps as far as the eyes could see. The impoverished immigrants set to clearing the land and finding a productive crop.
The Museum Houses This Story and Much More
As I wandered the exhibit I drew parallels between these refugees and the current Syrian refugees seeking a new beginning here in Canada. What they must be feeling I can’t begin to guess, but I bet the Mennonite settlers can.
One of the more interesting things I learned from my interview was the land the museum is built on used to be known, in the 30s and 40s, as “Poverty Flats,” because of how destitute the settlers were.
Looking at the beautiful museum housing a pristine exhibit and the surrounding area filled with raspberry farms and mansions I realized the snapshot I see, one filled with success and wealth, is only part of the story. How they got here is nothing short of miraculous. I’m glad there’s a Mennonite Heritage Museum to tell us their story and to remind us of those who didn’t make it to safety. Because looking at their legacy, it’s easy to forget how they got here.
Just goes to show what you see is only a small piece of a much larger painting—and everything can change in a moment.
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