Conscientious Objector Cairn to be Unveiled at MHV

   At 11:00 a.m. on November 12 a cairn honouring Mennonite Conscientious Objectors (COs) during World War II will be unveiled at the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV).

   This cairn is a welcome addition to the grounds of MHV. Over the years, the museum has done a good job of telling the story of Russian Mennonites migrating to Manitoba and settling here, including the articulation of the spiritual and ethical impulses involved. This new cairn will enhance the telling of that story to all visitors to the MHV grounds by focusing attention on the more than 3000 Manitoba Mennonite COs who paid the price of their convictions in the 1940s.

   The impetus for this new project came from the Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship Manitoba Inc. (EAF), an organization dedicated to preserving a peace stance within Mennonite churches in this province. Before this project came to fruition here in Steinbach, EAF had already initiated the erection of CO cairns in Altona and Winkler.

   A long-time member of EAF, Harvey Plett, was joined by other local persons interested in erecting this cairn in Steinbach, including Lawrence Klippenstein, Abe Warkentin, Evelyn Friesen, Al Hamm, Elbert Toews and Jack Heppner. Together, and with the cooperation of the MHV Board, they have seen this project through to completion.

   The present location of the monument on the main street of the village near the saw mill may be temporary. Its permanent location will be determined over the next few years as part of an overall site plan the MHV Board is presently developing.

   The Peace Position has historically been one of the defining characteristics of Mennonite identity. When it emerged in the 16th century, Mennonites were convinced that if the scriptures are read through the lens of Christ it becomes clear that the way of peace is the way for all Christ followers. “Love in all relationships” became their motto and it informed all areas of life, including personal and public.

   Throughout their 500-year history, Mennonites have at some critical points struggled to maintain this peace position. Sometimes intense persecution served to limit their resolve. At other times Mennonites began to question whether the way of peace was in fact central to living out the gospel of Christ. And, from time to time, certain Mennonite communities have dropped the peace emphasis entirely.

   It is interesting to note that in the 21st century many thoughtful Christians in non-Mennonite faith traditions are beginning to discover and embrace a biblical understanding of peace similar to that of the historical Mennonite position.

By erecting this peace cairn honouring COs during World War II, the Steinbach Peace Committee is hoping to raise awareness of the centrality of the peace position in the Mennonite church of the past. As well, that it will help to strengthen the peace emphasis of Mennonite churches in the 21st century. And it would be a bonus if this cairn would encourage non-Mennonite believers who are currently embracing the way of peace.

   Come and take part in the unveiling of this CO cairn at 11:00 a.m. on November 12th. Use the south entrance to access the Mennonite Heritage Village for this event. Admission to the grounds is free. See you there!

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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