Manitoba History: The Mennonite Heritage Centre in Winnipeg
by Lawrence Klippenstein,
Research and writing on Mennonite themes has reached a high point in recent years. This activity has renewed the interest in, and search for, primary and other sources that relate to the Mennonite story.
In the Conference of Mennonites in Canada the question of beginning an archives dates back to the middle thirties or earlier. At that time a Russian Mennonite immigrant school teacher, Bernard J. Schellenberg, agreed to take on archival duties for the Conference. With considerable energy he attempted to create an appreciation for important historical records, and encouraged others to collect and utilize these materials.
After some years Benjamin Ewert, a minister and statistician of the Conference, took over these responsibilities. He was followed by another teacher-minister, Gerhard Lohrenz. With the establishment of a Historical Library at the newly-founded Canadian Mennonite Bible College (1947), Lohrenz found encouragement and assistance from various historical committees set up to undergird this program. The History-Archives Committee of the Conference maintains that function at present.
The celebrations of the Mennonite centennial in 1974 and 1975 brought the history-archives goals of the Conference into better focus, and also created additional resources to pursue these objectives. One result of these activities was the construction of new archives facilities, as well as the provision of staff to guide record care and to provide help for research and publication.
Existing explicitly as religious archives, the CMC holdings now form the largest public Mennonite archival deposit in the country. Built around such collections as the immigration records of the Canadian Mennonite Colonization Board, the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, the Mennonite Central Committee (Canada) and the 25,000 member Conference itself, these files provide a major resource for the study of the religious, social and institutional history of Western Canada.
Materials of special relevance to Manitoba history include a number of church registers and related materials, the Mennonite immigration lists of 1874-1880, a large collection of school registers, trustee meeting minutes, and other material from one-room schools of southern Manitoba, the records of several organizations such as the Conference of Mennonites in Manitoba, the MCC (Manitoba), the Red River Mutual Insurance Co., and the Sommerfelder (also Bergthaler) Waisenamt (Orphan Office), as well as the personal papers of educators such as H. H. Ewert of Gretna, ministers such as Benjamin Ewert of Gretna and then Winnipeg, municipal officers such as Jacob S. Rempel of the Hanover municipality and businessmen such as David W. Friesen of Altona.
Integral to this body of material are several series of German and English newspapers that have been published in the Mennonite community. Der Bote (1924-present), originating in Rosthern, Saskatchewan and now published in Winnipeg, Der Mitarbeiter (1906-1934), the Red River Valley Echo (1941-present), of southern Manitoba, and Mennonitische Rundschau (in Canada from 1923 to the present), represent substantial sources of information on regional and inter-provincial developments.
Special collections from European points of origin of Canadian Mennonites provide further sources for study. Microfilm and other records from West Prussia, including periodicals such as Mennonitische Blaetter and Gemeindeblatt der Mennoniten and church registers and numerous secondary works, form one dimension of this holding. Over a thousand photos, part of a larger 5000-item picture collection, relate to the Mennonite Prusso-Russian past as well. Among Russian Mennonite materials are papers like Unser Blatt, Der Botschafter, and Friedensstime (almost a complete set), several large diaries from the colonies, and miscellaneous related items.
Related closely to the program of Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg, the archives has been a rich source of aid to students of high schools and universities. A growing file of research papers attests to its contribution in historical and other areas.
The erection of a new archives-library building in 1978 offered new opportunities to develop historical and archival work in the Conference. The Mennonite Heritage Centre, as it is known, forms a new and important addition to the campus of the college. It has made it possible to offer improved services in family studies (genealogy), immigration, minority relations in Canada, state-church relations, Mennonite life and thought, and many other fields of research.
More specifically, the large rectangular shaped section of the Centre holds the Canadian Bible College library, the Mennonite Historical Library, and the archives of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, as well as the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference. This area is designed to be fire-proof and temperature controlled, with room for stacks expansion.
The Centre also contains a meeting room and considerable space on two levels for displays. This area is intended to help share the Mennonite heritage with the general public in various visual forms.
Research and visiting hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on week-days, and by special appointment on weekends. Inquiries may be directed to the historian-archivist, Mennonite Heritage Centre, 600 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3P OM4. Interested persons may also subscribe to the Mennonite Historian, an eight-page research bulletin published at the Centre.
Page revised: 27 October 2012