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Celebration, collegiality and considerations for the future mark Mennonite Historical Society of Canada meetings

Harry and Gertrude Loewen receive the MHSC Award of Excellence.

Harry and Gertrude Loewen receive the MHSC Award of Excellence.

At the annual Mennonite Historical Society of Canada meetings held at Winnipeg’s Mennonite Heritage Centre on the Canadian Mennonite University campus Jan. 17–18, 2014, celebration and the usual strong sense of collegiality provided a fertile environment for considering further ways of highlighting our history as Canadian Mennonites.

The Award of Excellence is given annually to persons who have made significant contributions to the advancement of Canadian Mennonite history by their research and/or writing. This year, Chair of Mennonite Studies founder Harry Loewen, now of Kelowna, B.C., was chosen as recipient of the MHSC annual Award of Excellence. The Chair (currently held by Royden Loewen), which played a significant role in the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada’s work, marks its 35th anniversary this year.

Serving as teacher, researcher and writer, Dr. Harry Loewen knew how to reach both popular and academic audiences. He has been an inspiration to many young intellectuals over several decades.

Harry Loewen’s publications include a comparison of 16th-century Anabaptism and Lutheranism, an early 20th-century work on Mennonites in the Soviet Union, and his own story of coming to Canada with his widowed mother. He also approached contemporary topics such as Mennonite literature and Mennonite identity, with his collection Why I am a Mennonite.

His legacy includes significant institution-building. As the founding Chair in Mennonite Studies (1978–1995), he inaugurated the idea of teaching Mennonite history in public places; as the original editor of Journal of Mennonite Studies (1983–1995), he conceptualized and created a space where Canadian Mennonite scholars could engage in valuable academic discourse.

The society sponsors a variety of projects including the MHSC Archivist group taskforce created two years ago to explore the possibility of a national Mennonite photo database. Thus far, eight partners have pledged $27,000 for this project.

The genealogy committee reports a new content management system for the website (www.mennonitegenealogy.com) and members continue to write and edit articles for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (www.gameo.org).

New projects include exploring ways of telling the story of Mennonites in Canada after 1970 – where Mennonites in Canada Volume III ends.

This year, new faces extended the table. The society was delighted to invite the Mennonite Heritage Village (Steinbach, Man.) to become a formal member. Further, Mennonite researchers from Brazil, youth representatives from Mennonite Church Canada and the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, and several other guests added a welcome dynamic. (Denominations may send a representative to the annual meeting for every 10,000 members.)

Eugene Letkemann gives MHSC members and guests a tour of Friesen’s Corporation in Altona, Man.

Eugene Letkemann gives MHSC members and guests a tour of Friesen’s Corporation in Altona, Man.

Guests joined the society Friday for the annual learning tour. Prairie snows let up enough to allow three vans to travel an hour and a half south to Altona, Man., for a tour of Friesen’s Corporation. The tour of the impressive book printing company celebrated the Society’s long relationship with Ted Friesen, former co-owner of Friesen’s and one of the society’s founders. Friesen’s adaptation to technological advancement and the high-quality books produced are both instructive and impressive.

Thursday night, a “Celebrating Words” event brought out 65 people to launch society’s vice-president Royden Loewen’s latest book Village Among Nations: Canadian Mennonites in a Transnational World, 1916-2006, and recognize 15 other Manitoba Mennonite authors published in 2013.

Established in 1968 to sponsor the Mennonites in Canada history series by Frank H. Epp and Ted D. Regehr, the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada comprises six provincial Mennonite historical societies, four Mennonite denominational bodies, Mennonite Central Committee Canada and the Chair of Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg.

The 2014 executive is president Lucille Marr (Montreal); vice-president Royden Loewen, (Winnipeg); secretary Alf Redekopp (St. Catherines, Ont.); treasurer Richard Thiessen (Abbotsford, B.C.); and Maurice Martin (New Hamburg, Ont.).

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