A unique leather banner is at Mennonite Heritage Village right now, telling the story of the Mennonite migration to Paraguay in the 1920s. 

“This leather banner depicts the Mennonites arrival in Paraguay in 1926 and their journey to their final destination, the Chaco, in 1928,” says Senior Curator Andrea Klassen. “While most Mennonites who left Canada in the 1920s went to Mexico, about 1,700 chose to go to Paraguay instead. The first group began their journey to Paraguay by train, leaving the station in Niverville, Manitoba on November 24, 1926.” 

It was a hard journey and the images on the leather banner reflect some of the challenges. 

“In December 1926, the migrants arrived in Puerto Casado, an outpost on the Paraguay River about two hundred kilometers from the land they had purchased in the Chaco,” Klassen says. “They were delayed for two years at this location, as their land was not yet surveyed for settlement. The unexpected wait cost the migrants dearly, most particularly through the outbreaks of diseases like malaria and typhoid that broke out in the poorly equipped tent villages they lived in during this time. In total, 171 people died in Puerto Casado.”

The first image on the leather banner, which appears to be burned into the material, is of a gravestone with a woman whose head is buried in her hands. The next image shows people walking away from the grave and continuing their journey. 

“By 1928, when Mennonites were finally able to access their land in the Chaco, 323 people had also returned to Canada,” says Klassen. “The 1,249 who remained established Menno Colony.”

Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach is hosting a very special exhibit titled Leaving Canada: The Mennonite Migration to Mexico. 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of that migration, and the exhibit has striking and thought-provoking materials throughout. This exhibit runs until November 30th, 2022.

The leather banner was intended to be part of this exhibit, but Klassen says it is too large to fit into a showcase.