The Mennonites Have Landed!

Andrew and I first began getting curious about Mennonite history last spring. It wasn’t long before his parents packed up the family and we all went off to check out the Mennonite Landing.

I’d certainly heard about the Mennonite Landing. My dad would mention it nearly every time my family drove over the Ste. Agathe bridge. But, you know how it goes… we were always on our way somewhere else… so we didn’t ever stop, and I never realized there was an actual memorial site. I figured people just went under the bridge, took a look at the river from that angle, and called it a day.

But I was wrong!

As my in-laws drove off the highway and parked by the sign declaring “Mennonite Memorial Landing Site”, I myself was declaring incredulously, “What? You mean there’s an actual place? Like, we can go down and see the very place the Mennonites first saw, here in Manitoba?”

The above marker reads thusly:

“This is the site of the first landing of Mennonite settlers in western Canada. On 1 August 1874, the “International”, a steam-powered river boat, landed here with the first contingent of 65 families. Between 1874 and 1880, some 7000 Mennonites came to Manitoba from German-speaking colonies in South Russia (Ukraine). The majority arrived at this spot, making their way 6 miles east to the Jacob Shantz reception houses near Niverville. From this base, they established some 54 villages in the East Reserve, present day Rural Municipality of Hanover. Many of the settlers would soon relocate to the West Reserve, across the Red River in the vicinity of present day Winkler and Altona. Others established a third settlement bloc along the Scratching (Morris) River. These Mennonite men and women were among the first Europeans to establish farm communities on open prairie. They also became known for successfully transplanting their nonresistant church-centered ways of life. We gratefully acknowledge their bequeathal of courage and faith in God.”

We stood at the edge of the Red River. A father and his son were fishing nearby. I looked across the river and tried to imagine seeing these shores for the first time, and being told, “Well, here you are. Your new home.” I wonder if the mosquitos were as bad then as they are now.