If you’ve driven past Clearbrook road eastbound on Highway 1, you may have noticed a beautiful white building with a black roof. This is Abbotsford’s Mennonite Heritage Museum, charged with preserving and exhibiting the Mennonite story from the 16th century to their settlement in the Fraser Valley.
Executive director Richard Thiessen said there are many modern-day themes visitors can draw from the Mennonite story—fleeing religious persecution, being nameless and homeless, becoming refugees, depending on the good will of strangers, and starting over in an unknown land.
Housed on what was once nicknamed Poverty Flats, the museum is a testament to the creativity, ingenuity, and hard work of the settlers.
The families who immigrated to Canada in the mid-1930s first landed in the Prairies but heard of the fertile land in Yarrow, BC and ventured west. Land in Yarrow was $150 an acre so they continued on to Abbotsford where land was available for $10 per acre.
Abbotsford land was considered relative wasteland. It had been clear-cut and the entire Clearbrook area was covered in stumps. The settling families worked as a community and practiced agriculture. After much trial and error they discovered the magic crop: raspberries. Once their land was productive they worked together to build churches, schools, and became founders of the community.
The Mennonite story is one of an enduring Christian faith through a tumultuous history. Settlement in the Fraser Valley has allowed their story to take root and flourish.
Thiessen said there are thousands of stories that need to be told—those who escaped Russia and Ukraine owe it to those who didn’t to tell their stories, because they don’t have a voice.
Open since January 22, 2016, the goals of the museum are to engage present and future generations with the Mennonite story through a variety of media, including permanent and temporary exhibits, film, and interactive digital displays.
Make sure to allow three hours in order to enjoy the entire museum. However, there are many ways to explore the exhibits in smaller chunks. If you focus on the outside walls you’ll have a chronological historical timeline of the Mennonite story. If you focus on the inside displays you’ll explore the various themes found in the timeline. And three to four times per year come to see the seasonal exhibits, which highlight various aspects of Mennonite history and faith. There will be a particular focus on how Mennonites have interacted with agriculture over the centuries.
As education is an important component of Mennonite faith, the museum also has digital yearbooks from every Mennonite school in British Columbia. Take a look through the interactive exhibit and find your parents or grandparents high school photo!
Address: 1818 Clearbook Road
Hours: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Cost: Admission by donation
Robyn Roste lives and works in Abbotsford. She loves telling stories and learning more about her city.