Earlier this week was the premier of the season finale of “Still Speaking” with archivist Conrad Stoesz. For the last 13 weeks we’ve been sharing stories around the theme of the 100th anniversary of the start of the migration of Mennonites from the Soviet Union to Canada, the Russlaender.
"That was the theme we were working on, this migration of moving to Canada," explained Stoesz to Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner. "What did it take to move? Why did they move? What did it leave behind? What was it like establishing themselves in Canada and those who didn't move?"
With the season finale here, we wanted to connect with creator Conrad Stoesz about season two, the experience of putting it together and whether there could be a season three.
"I was working on season 2, generally, and I didn't have an organizing theme," he reflected. "I was still trying to figure out how to fit that into the larger theme of archives in society. Then I got encouraged to do something around this Russlaender themes, so then that kind of took off."
Stoesz noted, when it all came together, he didn't have a lot of time to research and write the episodes, so he turned to some of his volunteers (Hans Werner, Eleanor Chornoboy, Dan Dyck and Graeme Unrau) for help, and also engaged Darryl Neustaedter Barg for his sound engineering expertise.
"So, then we quickly put things together for another season, and it's amazing the stories," he remarked. "They are varied, the stories are different. There's a lot of difficult stories and heartache in these stories, but they're fascinating."
"I love my job, because it's about stories, and this is about stories," he shared. "I got to look at materials I hadn't seen for a while, and you were there and delving into those stories again, trying to condense it all down into a small package."
Stoesz points to two episodes that he would consider his favourites from the season.
"My favorite episodes are Episode 2 with Gerhard Ens," he said. "I grew up with Gerard Ens listening to his Low German broadcasts on the radio, so it was really neat to to hear him again and to delve into that story. And Episode 9, "The Power of Song", that was my other favorite. I had done 12 episodes. I thought I was done for this season, and then I came across this story of Elizabeth Petkau singing herself to heaven after being mortally wounded, and I figured I got to tell this story. I crafted the story, and I called Darryl at the recording studio, so Darryl gotta do one more."
And what is Stoesz hoping we will take away from the second season of "Still Speaking".
"I'm hoping people take away that history is interesting, that history is shaping, that commemorating is important," he said. "It builds community, it builds identity, tells us who we are. We don't have to be like the people we were in the past, but we can learn from them. We all learn from the past. We all have memories, and the archives is a memory institution and helps us move forward. It's not about staying in one place, it's about moving forward. I hope people will learn about the role of archives, and the role archives have in society. It's not just a bunch of dusty papers, but it's a living place of fascinating stories that impact us, and that can guide us for the future."
And the question we know we're going to get with the final episode of Still Speaking having aired... will there be a Season 3?
"If you take all the paper in our archives (Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg), and you stack it on top of each other, it's over 600 meters," said Stoesz. "It's higher than the CN Tower, so there are more stories to be told, absolutely. Next year, 2024, is the 150th anniversary of Mennonites in Manitoba, so that could serve as a unifying theme around some stories to tell. We'll see what I come up with."
You can listen to Chris Sumner's conversation with Conrad Stoesz, below.
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