A walk through history to Waterloo

Descendants of John E. Brubacher walked 700 kilometres from Pennsylvania to Waterloo to trace Mennonite roots


Photo by Jessica Dik
Photo by Jessica Dik

In July, cousins Erin Brubacher and Christine Brubaker, direct descendants of John E. Brubacher, decided to travel on foot from Pennsylvania to Waterloo on a journey that would pay tribute to their ancestors as well as become a personal achievement.

The Brubacher household, built in 1850 by John E. Brubacher, sits on the University of Waterloo campus and serves as a symbol for the Pennsylvania/German heritage that was cultivated on those lands during the late 1800s.

The house itself was purchased by the University of Waterloo in 1965 and since has been restored and converted into a museum. The Brubacher family played a crucial role in the migration of the Mennonite community to Waterloo.

The idea came from a story of one of their ancestors who had walked the Pennsylvania/Waterloo route many times. Both women have a background in the arts and were looking for inspiration.

Having met each other only two and a half years prior, a fresh opportunity for artistic possibilities was obvious.

The pair found many similarities between themselves. Not only are they both artistic, they were also both excited by the idea of this new experience.

“Taking time to walk this distance spoke to our sense of things — and our desires to interrupt or disrupt our day-to-day ways,” said Erin Brubacher in an email.

The journey itself brought immense fulfillment to both women full of moments and accomplishments. “There was one day, walking into East Aurora [New York], when I felt really physically accomplished. Christine and I had split up that day, because my hips were hurting and I needed to keep going and her feet were hurting and she needed to stop, and I arrived a couple of hours ahead of her. I walked for 9.5 hours with only a 10-minute break. When I sat down in a little bakery/bar on arrival I felt so satisfied and proud,” Erin said.

On August 6, one day after their expected arrival, the Brubacher descendants reached their final destination. After walking around 700 kilometres over a span of just under a month, the house in Waterloo was a welcoming sight.

“The ending, looking at the John E. Brubacher house and the crowd of people gathered there felt quite profound.  We had arrived at our end point,” said Brubaker.

“I’m not sure what my journey can teach others, but I do hope that there is an inclination to slow down — literally our pace, step out of our cars, connect with our environment.”

The pair is looking to collaborate again in the near future on a project that stems from the experience they had on their walk.

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