Why would I do that? (Attending the MMHS AGM.)

Why would I attend this AGM? I care about history. I care about local Mennonite history. Because I’m selfish — my own story is embedded in these very stories.

Now, I don’t know if you feel this way too, but I’ve been writing about Annual General Meetings a lot lately. First the one in Randolph, then in my last post I referred to the one in Neubergthal. And right now I’m going to write about it.

So, on April 29th, Andrew and I set out on a little bit of a road trip. Our objective was to attend the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society AGM. And, I’ll be honest, the fact that it was being held in Neubergthal was a major draw for me. (You know the village is a National Historic Site of Canada, right? I’m sure you do. Just had to say it again, for fun.)

First, a second about AGMs. Now, I’m no expert on planning these things, but it seems to me that by incorporating other elements to the event such as entertainment or an interesting talk, and maybe by holding the AGM in an interesting place, you get a larger turnout. Both the Neufeld Garage AGM and MMHS AGM were very well attended. I cannot say the same for other AGMs I have shown up at.

We care about the Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society, so right there was a reason this event was on our radar. But then the fact it was going to be in the Commons Barn, plus Conrad Stoesz was going to share about the Bergthaler/Sommerfelder split in the 1890s West Reserve — this also factored in. Then also, there would be a showing of the film Conform, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Andrew Wall. Plus, delicious Mennonite snacks available for a donation.

PLUS this all meant we’d be in the West Reserve and would have time to do a little exploring before heading back to Steinbach.

So, we agreed, we were definitely going to show up very randomly (and, as it turns out, a little late) to this AGM.

The place was packed! After we sat down at the periphery, and realized still more people were coming in, we noticed seats available further into the room, and moved to make room for the new arrivals. (Isn’t it funny how everyone crowds around at the back, leaving room in the front? This is how I always end up late, yet in the front, at many events.)

Archivist Conrad Stoesz gives us a fascinating glimpse into the factors affecting major change on the West Reserve, in the late 1800s.

Did you notice the feature photo? It felt really meta to me, to be sitting behind Senior Curator from the MHV, Andrea Klassen… while seeing her appearing in the film Conform as we ¬†were watching it. I had to sneak a picture. (And then plaster it all over Mennotoba. I’m pretty uncouth like that.)

I regret not taking pictures of any of the snacks. I think I remember having a very delicious platz. But, the event was April 29 and my memory is terrifyingly poor, so I always question if I’m making stuff up. But I do remember ensuring we made a donation so that we could enjoy the treats and coffee. (And also support the MMHS, obviously.)

My view walking out of the Commons. Facing the restored Altbergthal School.

I took a few notes while Conrad spoke… but my notes are fairly cryptic by now. I’ll share them here:

  • “The more educated, the more mixed up.”
  • Dissatisfaction.
  • “Charisma can upset the apple cart.”
  • Changing allegiances.
  • “We’re not home in this world so it doesn’t matter where we live.”

Wow. My notes are terrible!

But it was very interesting to listen as Conrad described the push and pull of influences and considerations as the Mennonite culture of the West Reserve changed and shifted significantly within a short amount of time, impacting educational facilities and denominations; giving rise to new ones. The stories he shared contained the beginnings of many institutions and organizations that we know today. Ways that people organize themselves; label themselves. This is how I interpreted it. (I worry I’m getting it wrong… hey, this is a process.)

We stayed so long our car was the last left in the parking field.

See the housebarn in the distance? They are the jewels of Neubergthal. The village has many! The most remaining housebarns of any Mennonite village on the Canadian prairies!

Now, I had an agenda of my own — we had two stops to make before heading home. But first, a picture of the village street as it looked that beautifully stormy day in April: