The Memories of Migration Russlaender train tour officially wrapped up Monday night (July 25th) in Abbotsford, B.C. after nearly three weeks of riding the rails across the country, beginning in Quebec City earlier this month. The three leg excursion was part of the 100th anniversary events happening throughout July recognizing the start of the migration in 1923 of more than 21,000 Russian Mennonites from the Soviet Union to Canada.
Steinbach’s Erin Unger joined the tour for Leg two when it got to Winnipeg July 13th, and also participated in Leg three from Saskatoon to Abbotsford. We chatted with her last week at the start of her adventure, and Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner caught up with her Tuesday afternoon, as she was still reflecting on the events taken in and history rediscovered.
"Like massive appreciation," said Unger when asked to think about her time with the group. "There's been so much information, and also so much connection, intergenerational connection, so much historical context that we were given from the professors. So much connection amongst ourselves, watching as people's are discovering their stories, and these are unfolding."
The participants were from a wide age range, and from varied backgrounds from across the country, with that intergenerational mix something Unger noted early on as having a positive impact on the experience.
"It was fantastic to see some of the the youngest people sitting and listening and learning from the people that are in their 80s, and the wide eyes and the the learning, and having it like sink in," she said. "When you're there in real time, it just sinks in different than if you're maybe just reading it in a in a book, or somethin,g if you're not like on the ground experiencing. It was very experiential, just that we were all doing this all together so many of us. Somehow it just makes the whole learning process that much more cohesive, and there were a lot of surprising moments too, where we all felt surprised."
And that comment piqued Sumner's interest, so he asked Unger to extrapolate further on what specifically surprised her.
"Music Along The Journey, which was the final concert of this journey," she pointed to immediately, the final concert which happened last weekend in Abbotsford, B.C.. About 900 people attended the event. "That was music from the countries the Mennonites have gone to. It was incredible. They had, like, this big mariachi band come out as the finale, and I don't know if that church has ever seen anything like that."
The other moment she highlighted was the group’s time at Sumas First Nation in B.C., right at the end of the tour. The significance of that stop is tied to a lake that was drained when Russlaender migrants arrived in that region of B.C., and how that allowed them to have farmland, but had a devastating impact on the indigenous peoples of Sumas First Nation.
"it was very monumental," she shared. "We thought, okay, this will be however long it is and it ended up being four hours, but it didn't feel like four hours. It was incredible. They fed us, and then they shared stories with us, and then there was acts of reconciliation. It was fantastic."
Unger learned the lake wasn't specifically drained for the Russlaender, but they benefitted tremendously from it.
"There was impact, there was apologies just acknowledging this has impacted the First Nation tremendously," noted Unger. "The act of the draining the lake, which negatively impacted Sumas First Nation, positively impacted the Russlaender, who were able to move in and did well."
Wrapping up the conversation, Unger shared she has gained a great appreciation for the Russlaender's history, and the struggles the faced getting to Canada and settling here.
You can listen to Chris's conversation with Erin, below.