Seeds from the steppe: Mennonites, horticulture, and the construction of landscapes on Manitoba's West Reserve, 1870-1950
In this study, I offer a new research direction on the history of the Canadian prairie West with a joint focus on emotional history, life stories, and horticulture among the Mennonite immigrants from imperial Russia, who first assembled villages on Manitoba’s West Reserve in the 1870s. In this study, I trace oral culture, expressions of emotion, and the inter-generational transfer and preservation of botanical materials and traditions, in order to help us understand how individuals within a distinct ethno-religious group and in a colonial setting, experienced immigration and resettlement, and constructed landscapes accordingly. In the processes of their encounter, construction, and remembering, landscapes in history entail intricate myths and emotional attachments, whether they are explicitly known or implicitly understood. I argue that traditions of horticulture and homemaking, and the myths and memories surrounding prairie settlement, are creative acts through which West Reserve Mennonites at once reinforce settler-colonial agendas of success in the Canadian prairie West, and tie themselves emotionally to both a real and imagined history as a quiet, self-sufficient, agrarian people. Memoirs, diaries, newspapers, material artefacts, and oral histories connected to people on the West Reserve demonstrate that late nineteenth century Mennonite immigrants placed significant emotional value on the plant materials they carried with them in the hopes of reestablishing their sectarian, agrarian communities on the Canadian prairie. Emotional ties to the seeds, trees, flowers, and landscapes associated with this migratory moment, despite their roots in imperial Russia, have a lasting impact on the way the prairie is imagined as an ethnic and religious home among Mennonites living on the West Reserve.