The ancestors of the Russian Mennonites who settled the Canadian prairies were raised in the lowlands of Europe: Holland, Belgium, Flanders and Friesland.
In the late 18th century Catherine the Great invited them to settle in South Russia. She offered them military exemption and religious freedom. Thousands migrated to Russia, establishing self-supporting colonies there.
By the mid-1800s, Russia was in the grip of a wave of nationalism. Russian became the only acceptable language in schools; military exemptions were cancelled; and pressure was placed on groups like the Mennonites to assimilate.
In response, many Mennonites sought asylum in North America with 18000 emigrating to Southern Manitoba in the 1870s.
Mennonites are known for their distinctive artistic style. Functional items from cradles to clothing are decorated using traditional motifs such as painted medallions and carvings.
- Dominant colours are yellow and black
- Functional pieces like dry-sinks are painted with traditional designs
- Cabinets are built to rest on a wooden frame with 3 legs in front and 2 in the back.
- Specific pieces of furniture are designed for each room: the parlour corner cabinet, the bedroom wardrobe, or the kitchen dry sink and cupboard