The Russlaender 100 Tour goes to Abbotsford!

(Haha I had to feature the sole picture I took of the audience at the Abbotsford concert, which Derek photobombed. But hey, he was on the tour too, so I’m featuring it!)

Continued from this post.

I hadn’t been to Abbotsford since the year 2001 or something like that. Now on July 23, 2023, I had finally returned. My camera roll tells me that by 11:37am we were singing in the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford.

The name “Mennonite Heritage Museum” always gives me a double take because its name is quite similar to the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. But they are different. The Abbotsford museum is not a village, and “village” is not part of its name. But I can still see how this could be confusing to those who may not pay as much attention to these things as I do, at least initially. ANYWAY. At last, I had arrived at the museum I’d heard so much about! (Andrew has visited this museum without me. He told me all about it. 🙂

It’s a very beautiful new facility! And here we are singing. We really wasted no time in getting out our hymnbooks. After all, Henry Engbrecht was there to conduct, and Jeremy Wiebe brought his violin!

I feel like the above photo captures the chaos I was feeling at this moment. I was still swaying from the overnight journey on the train and was waiting for the ground to feel still under my feet again. I’d hauled my luggage off the bus because I expected my cousin to fetch me at some point but had not settled into a hotel yet, and my luggage was totally in the way. I had fully realized my plans were half-baked and ill-advised. I wanted to do all the things simultaneously. Also there was Covid everywhere. (I never ended up getting it! At least, not that I was aware of. And I certainly have been aware of it when I’ve had it in the past, so…) And I suppose if this footage that Kenji was capturing ever sees the light of day you’ll see me front and centre with all my nervous energy. Also all our phones were immediately plugged in. Every plug had many cords extending from it. We were getting recharged, too. The soup and fresh blueberries we were fed were incredibly nourishing. They grow blueberries at the Mennonite Heritage Museum! And they are truly the best I’ve ever had. I don’t want to admit it but it’s true. (Competitive, much? Ha.) And look at all the beautiful quilts lining the main hall! So cozy and welcoming.

I figured I needed to take a picture of these two legends that I was lucky enough to travel with: Director Henry Engbrecht and Author Armin Wiebe…

Then we split into groups to start touring the museum! I was excited to venture out to see the hausbarn that Andrew had told me about:

Path to the hausbarn in Abbotsford.

I think it is Abbotsford’s first housebarn. This housebarn is a museum, not an artifact like the housebarns at the MHV in Steinbach. The reason for this housebarn is to reflect on the early life of many Mennonites before they arrived in British Columbia.

On this tour, museum educator Jenny Bergen (who had been on Leg One of the Russlaender 100 Tour) took us through the hausbarn.

Then I hurried back to the main building to see what other tours I could jump into.

My back is to the hausbarn and I am facing the back of the main building.

I managed to leap into a tour that visited the archives in the basement of the main building. Here Linda Klassen is telling us, “The archives is where the story lives.”

She showed us a book with a bullet in it. “These are the kinds of mysteries we come across.”

Here is something especially remarkable: Jacob Doerksen’s revelation.

“This is a picture of what was understood at the time.” The time being the 1930s or 40s, I think.

And then suddenly my second cousin Jennel arrived and whisked me away. We had a very quick little meal and then as a surprise she brought me to see her mom and my aunt!

I told them about the concert I would be seeing that night. I had taken a picture of the poster and read it out loud to them: “Music Along the Journey, featuring music from Paraguay, Brazil, Mexico, Ukraine, Germany, and Canada — produced by Calvin Dyck.”

“Oh wow, Calvin Dyck, he is very good!” they said. And then they said they might try to attend the concert too.

Speaking of which, I had to get myself to the concert. I looked at the time and place of the concert and realized this was going to be tricky and I had put myself in a fine mess. My aunt drove me to my hotel where I got settled and then walked across the highway back to the museum and found my fellow Russlaender 100 tourists. From here we got back on the buses and made our way to the South Abbotsford MB Church. There were so many cars in the parking lot! I felt very special as we were directed to reserved Russlaender 100 Tour seating at the front. And the crowds just kept pouring in! Apparently they had expected around 300 people, but over 900 showed up before they finally started turning people away. They added rows to the front, they added seating ON the stage, and many people just stood through the whole thing.

And it was a fantastic concert, as everyone clearly expected:

Calvin Dyck

Bossa nova music from Brazil! (My favourite!)

Martha Penner and the Mariachi Los Dorados!

So, this was the last concert of the tour. And they had all been phenomenal. Admission to each concert was entirely free, and included an opportunity to donate to the Russlaender Remembrance Fund, which supports three MCC programs: Indigenous Neighbours, Ukraine, and International Refugee Settlement. I think the fund itself may have ended but donations to these programs are welcomed at any time (just click those links) as the need continues.

Upon our return to our Abbotsford hotel, Rebecca and I attempted to go to the attached restaurant for a bit, but found they were closing. So, we just went to our own rooms and fell asleep instead, which was probably a good thing, because the next day — our final day on the tour — was going to be a BIG one.