1816 – The Year with no Summer

At a recent meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario’s board, Laureen Harder-Gissing, the archivist at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, reminded us that 2016 was the 200th anniversary of the “Year with no Summer.” It was a good reminder.

Mount Tambora

Aerial view of the caldera of Mt Tambora at the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, formed during the colossal 1815 eruption. Photo by Jialiang Gao (peace-on-earth.org) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia tells us that the unusual weather patterns in 1816 resulted from “severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.” The article goes on to say that “evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.”

The Mennonite settlement in what became the Region of Waterloo was still very small.  “Block 2,” which had been purchased by Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania, Mennonites from land developer Richard Beasley, became identified as Waterloo Township in 1816, in honor of the British victory over Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in June, 1815. By some estimates there were less than 60 people living in the township at the time.

Ezra E. Eby

Ezra E. Eby (1850-1901). Source: Waterloo Region Generations

On the bottom of page 45 of Ezra Eby’s Biographical History of Waterloo Township there begins a detailed account of the township in 1816:

The summer of 1816 was what is called the “Cold Summer.” There was frost every month and in June and July there were seven heavy frosts. On the 1st of June it was frozen so hard that men and wagons could cross the mud-puddles on the newly formed ice without breaking through. On the 21st of June quite a lot of snow fell. All kinds of provisions were exceedingly scarce. Wheat was from two to three dollars per bushel. The only hay that the farmers could secure was made from the wild coarse grass which they cut on the banks of the river, in marshes or beaver meadows. Food for both man and beast was at starvation prices. The hardships these early settlers had to endure during this cold and inclement year, are almost indescribable.

In this year Joseph Bowman and family of twelve children, Dilman Ziegler and family, Samuel Eby and family, Joseph Clemmer and wife, who settled to the west of J.Y. Shantz’s sawmill dam, John Brubacher and his mother, and Henry Weber came from Pennsylvania to Canada. The Bowmans had 2 four-horse teams and 1 two-horse team. The Zieglers had 1 four-horse team. Joseph Shantz and his mother, old Barbara Shantz, returned to Canada with this company. They were to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on a visit. In all there were thirty-three individuals in the company, and the number of horses brought with them was twenty-eight.

1816 was also the year that Abraham Erb, founder of the city of Waterloo, built a grist mill to accompany his saw mill.

The corduroy  road that has been discovered under King Street in Waterloo during the construction of the Light Rail Transit system in Kitchener-Waterloo, likely was built prior to this time. But it reminds us we’re not that far removed from the settlers who transformed this land purchased from the Crown supposedly on behalf of the Six Nations.

To learn more about early life in Waterloo Region, read In Search of Promised Lands.

The Old Colony Mennonite School System in Ontario

My blogs will begin to appear somewhat less frequently than in the past, as I try to give more time to some other projects.

This past week I read an interesting article by Rosabel Fast in the 2015 issue of Preservings: a Journal of the D.F. Plett Research Foundation. It was entitled “All in God’s time: the Establishment of Old Colony Private Schools in Southern Ontario.” It includes some updated information on Old Colony Mennonite Schools in Ontario that I thought worthy of note.

An earlier blog discussed the growth of the Old Colony or Low German Mennonite community in Ontario.

New Reinland Fellowship Mennonite Church

An early Old Colony church near Aylmer, Ontario. When the Old Colony church split, the New Reinland Fellowship kept this building. It has since been replaced with a new building. Photo by Abe Harms.

Although Low German Mennonites began to arrive in Ontario in 1952, they did not begin their own schools until 1989. Prior to that time a few attended Old Order Amish or Old Order Mennonite private schools, but most attended the public school system at least sporadically. Their experience was mixed — some public schools tried very hard to make a safe place for the Low Germans,  who often suffered discrimination and ridicule from fellow students. But some students came to dread school because they were picked on, and were expected to take part in activities like gym classes that were uncomfortable and unfamiliar to them.

Even with the more positive experiences, however, parents were concerned about having their children turned into English speaking, secular thinking Canadians.  An Inter-Mennonite Parents Association, that included Low German Mennonites, did some effective work with the public system.

In one case, in the Dresden area, a Peter Dyck family began home schooling in 1988 using materials produced by Pathway Publishers, an Old Order Amish publisher in Aylmer. As more families from Mexico moved to the area they joined the Dyck children in the upstairs of their home.  This formed the core of a school that was eventually established in 1990.

Earlier efforts to start an Old Colony private school failed, but efforts late in the 1980s succeeded. Minister Peter Dyck of Wheatley was involved in meeting with Education Department officials who were already familiar with, and respected, existing Old Order Mennonite and Amish private schools. Dyck and others visited some of these schools in Waterloo Region, and believed they could operate something similar.

Several Low German leaders from Manitoba encouraged the Ontario Old Colony Mennonites to use the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program. ACE had a strong fundamentalist edge to it, however, and did not teach about some of the boundaries of separation from secular society that were important to the Old Colony.

Consequently, the Ontario Old Colony Mennonites elected to use the Christian Light Education (CLE) curriculum produced by conservative Mennonites in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Part of the planning included taking a short course with a CLE director named Peter Peters in Michigan.

Schools in Wheatley and Aylmer opened in 1989, followed by two more in Dresden and Glen Myer in 1990.  Particularly in the Wheatley school, the assistance of Peter Sawatsky, a retired teacher from the public system, was particularly helpful. By 2015 the Wheatley school had grown and was being held in a former public school purchased in 2000.

The Dresden school purchased an old Jehovah’s Witness church building for its school.  Henry Dueck, who had pastored in Paraguay, Leamington (the Leamington United Mennonite Church), and Mexico, taught at the Dresden school for three years as it was becoming established. He was a mentor for the early Low German leaders in the school.

Old Colony Christian Academy at Cottam.

Old Colony Christian Academy at Cottam. Source: Wikimapia

In 2015 there were 11 Old Colony Mennonite private schools in Ontario. The largest, at Wheatley, had 275 students. Three other schools also had over 200 students. They all used CLE curriculum. Rev. Abram Dyck and Rev. Jacob Neudorf provided administrative to the “East Side” and “West Side” school districts. These districts correspond to the two Ältester or bishop districts of the Old Colony Mennonite Church of Ontario. The larger schools offer a full high school program.

Old Colony Christian Acadmey Kingsville

Old Colony Christian Academy, Kingsville. Photo by Sam Steiner

The “East side” included Aylmer, Walsingham, Glen Myer, Tilsonburg, Brussels and Virgil. The “West side” included Wheatley, Kingsville, Cottam, Dresden and Charing Cross.

To learn more about Old Colony Mennonites in Ontario, read In Search of Promised Lands.




Peter Wall and Mennonites on the Niagara Peninsula

Last week I made a presentation to the Toronto Mennonite Heritage Club. After that meeting I had a fascinating conversation with Nicholas Dick about Peter Wall, a Mennonite entrepreneur in the Virgil area of the Niagara Peninsula. Nicholas had done an extensive interview with Peter Wall’s son, Alex. I also had recently received a nine-page typescript from Randy Klaassen on Peter Wall, written by the late Russian history scholar, Bob Augustine. It seemed time to write a bit about this Peter Wall.

Peter Wall (February 19, 1894–March 26, 1968) was the oldest son of Jacob P. Wall and Maria Albrecht Wall. Jacob and a brother had actually come to the United States as single young men to homestead in Nebraska in 1889, but they returned to Russia in 1890 because of lingering troubles between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. Jacob Wall then became a very wealthy estate owner near the Molotschna settlement, owning ten thousand acres adjacent to the even larger Wintergreen estate. He owned glass, flour, and paper mills, and he was an investor in and president of the Tokmak Railroad in 1910.

Peter Wall in Russia in 1914. Mennonite Heritage Centre photo

Peter Wall in Russia in 1914. Mennonite Heritage Centre photo

Son Peter, a member of the Kirchliche church (in Ontario they became United Mennonites), but not a pacifist, served six and a half years in the Russian Army through World War I and served in the White Army during the Russian Revolution where he reached the rank of colonel. Several times Wall family members were imprisoned, and twice Peter was almost executed. The Jacob Wall family lost its property in the chaos of the revolution and its aftermath. Jacob P. Wall died in March 1922. Peter and his brother, John, escaped Russia under false identity. The family, including Jacob’s widow, Maria, came to Ontario in 1924 but within five months moved to Ste. Anne, Manitoba, where Maria died in 1925.

In Canada Peter suffered from tuberculosis and while living in Manitoba was almost deported because of his illness. After their mother’s death and three crop failures, Peter and his brothers moved to Ontario in December 1927. After working for several years, the four brothers were able to purchase a foreclosed farm in Vineland in 1930 for a down payment of one dollar. The brothers farmed peaches, cherries and grapes, which initiated Peter to the possibilities in local agriculture. Peter gradually became involved in land development and helped many Mennonite families to get started in fruit farming. He began by helping a few farmers get land in the Vineland area.

Peter worked closely with the Toronto-based real estate firm Home Smith Company, purchasing foreclosed agricultural properties suitable for growing fruit and subdividing them into smaller 10-15 acre plots. He started his development in 1933 when he bought a 110 acre wheat farm on the outskirts of Virgil. He sold not only to Mennonites, but also to other immigrants settling in the area. By 1937 fifty families had purchased land in the Virgil area, many from Peter Wall, and begun to plant fruit orchards and vegetable crops.

A Mennonite Brethren minister, John F. Dick, arrived in the Virgil area in 1936. Another Mennonite Brethren minister and a United Mennonite minister came in 1937; this allowed the formation of two congregations that became influential in their respective conferences. By 1938 at least 350 Mennonites lived in the Virgil area, most of them fruit farmers. By 1937 the Mennonite farmers had formed the Niagara Township Fruit Cooperative to handle their produce, and at the end of the decade Peter Wall began the Niagara Canning Company owned by local shareholders, most of whom were also members of the cooperative.

The United Mennonites began construction of a building in 1937 and formally organized as a congregation in early 1938 under the leadership of Peter Kroeker, who had recently moved to the area from Hespeler. The Niagara Canning Company operated only eight years before going bankrupt in 1948 when markets in Great Britain for Canadian canned fruit suddenly collapsed. The bankruptcy had the effect of estranging the Wall family from the Mennonite community, although Peter Wall remained a member of the Niagara United Mennonite Church until his death. Peter Wall himself lost $70,000 in the canning factory failure. In 1949 Peter Wall and his sons formed a real estate company in St. Catharines.

Niagara Canning Company Limited

The staff and employees of the Niagara Canning Company Limited, 1945. Courtesy of the Niagara Historical Society & Museum

The most detailed account of Peter Wall is found in Bob Augustine, “The story of Peter Wall.” It is hoped this will sometime be published with other Augustine writings.

The Urbanization of Ontario Mennonites

Although some Mennonites had moved to cities like Toronto prior to World War II, either to study at places like Toronto Bible College, or to work at one of the city missions, this was not common. Generally Mennonites still viewed cities as somewhat “foreign” and dangerous. But after the war things changed.

The urbanization of Mennonites in Canada from the 1940s to 1970 was dramatic. This was especially pronounced in western Canada in places like Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Vancouver, but the trend was also occurring in Ontario.

Urbanization during this time was by no means confined to Mennonites. By 1961 three-fourths of Ontario’s population lived in centers of 1,000 or more, and only 9 percent lived on farms. Sociologist Leo Driedger has described the 1970s as the “watershed” when Mennonites shifted from being primarily rural to a majority living and working in an urban context. He described the 1940s and 1950s as a time of “incubation” for the pronounced urban shift that began in the 1960s and went into the 1970s.

The move to the cities, especially in western Canada, was stimulated by the Depression, which drove rural job seekers to urban centers. The postwar Mennonite immigrants settled largely in urban centers. Driedger also suggested that World War II’s turmoil and the displacement of many Mennonite young men either in alternative or military service made a return to their previous farm community less attractive.

Urbanization did not mean Ontario Mennonite conferences quickly provided churches for their members in major centers. In Ontario, at least initially, many Mennonites moving to the cities for work or study attended and often joined other denominations. With the exception of Kitchener-Waterloo, prior to the 1940s the primary reason Ontario Mennonite conferences established churches in larger cities was for mission outreach to the unchurched, often immigrants and the poor.

In the 1890s the Mennonite Brethren in Christ started two mission churches in Toronto and in the smaller cities of Woodstock, St. Thomas, Owen Sound, and St. Catharines. They also started a church in Stratford in 1906. The Mennonite Conference of Ontario followed with a mission in Toronto in the first decade of the twentieth century. The large urban areas of Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor, London, and Kingston had minimal Mennonite populations and no Mennonite churches or mission outposts before 1940.

The twin towns of Kitchener-Waterloo differed from other Ontario urban centers because of their peculiar history, rooted in Mennonite-owned farmland. These towns, which later became cities, continued for decades to be surrounded by a significant Mennonite rural population who visited the cities for business, hospital care, and jobs. Mennonite churches, including First Mennonite Church and the Waterloo Mennonite Church (now Erb St. Mennonite), were originally located outside the early towns. The former became swallowed up by the expanding city, while the Waterloo church moved two kilometers (one mile) to the edge of town in 1902.

When the 1920s immigrants arrived in Waterloo County, they also chose, within a short time, to meet in either Waterloo or Kitchener because the transportation options in these central locations were advantageous.

By the 1940s both the United Mennonites and the Mennonite Brethren recognized that many of their members were moving into St. Catharines, a small city of over 30,000, both from surrounding rural areas and from Canada’s west, to live and to work in industries like the General Motors automobile plant. During the war, with gas rationing, some Mennonite city-dwellers had trouble traveling to their rural churches. Wilhelm Schellenberg first gathered United Mennonites in the city for a worship service in July 1942. Regular Sunday worship began the following year in a rented hall. In September 1945 they completed a church building on Carlton Street and the following month established an independent congregation.

Similarly, Gerhard Epp moved to St. Catharines from Manitoba and began a Bible study for Mennonite Brethren families. In October 1943 the group rented a hall for weekly evening fellowship. In September 1945 it established a congregation in a larger hall at 36 James Street, independent from the Mennonite Brethren  congregations in Vineland and Virgil.

Scott Street MB Church

Scott Street Mennonite Brethren Church, St. Catharines. Ontario’s Places of Worship photo

Both of these churches, ultimately to become St. Catharines United Mennonite and Scott Street Mennonite Brethren, respectively, debated which language to use for worship in the urban context. In some ways the Mennonite growth in St. Catharines paralleled the Kitchener-Waterloo pattern: a nearby urban center with jobs attracted those Mennonites who could not take advantage of rural job alternatives.

Scattered 1920s immigrants lived in Toronto during the 1930s. They occasionally held worship services in homes with the assistance of visiting ministers from the Niagara Peninsula or Waterloo County. But they were too thinly spread to form a congregation, and it would be the next decade before meaningful steps were taken to serve them.

The 1940s and 1950s provided two additional impulses for planting Mennonite churches in large urban areas. The first was to provide support for Mennonite students attending universities and for professionals working in the large centers. The second was a vision for mission churches deliberately linked to rescue mission work and complementary social service programs. Bishop Jacob H. Janzen, employed for years by General Conference Mennonite Church Home Missions, was charged with visiting scattered United Mennonites. In 1941 the General Conference discussed a possible mission in Toronto.

Partly as a result, Mennonite evangelist John J. Esau, then based in Bluffton, Ohio, visited Ontario in 1942, and was the first Mennonite minister to attract to a meeting a broad spectrum of United Mennonites living in the Toronto area. From this beginning Jacob H. Janzen arranged for regular Sunday English-language services. For a year these services were held in homes with visiting ministers from outside the city. With overcrowding, services shifted to a Lutheran church. In September 1943 Arnold Fast of South Dakota became the first resident minister.

Toronto United Mennonite Church

Toronto United Mennonite Church, 1956. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

In 1945 a residence was purchased at 140 Victor Avenue, and in 1948 the Toronto United Mennonite Mission formally organized with eleven members. Despite its name, the mission served mainly those of United Mennonite background living in the city. In 1956 various United Mennonite leaders helped the local chapter of the Association of Mennonite University Students facilitate the creation of a Menno House in Toronto where young Mennonite men attending university could live together in a community environment. This endeavor continued until at least 1962

Jean and Winfred Soong

Jean Soong, Winfred Soong, and Raymond Ho of the Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church. Mennonite Heritage Centre, Winnipeg

The move into other cities took longer, but in the 1950s congregations were established in Hamilton, London and Ottawa. But the real flourishing took place in the 1970s and 1980s when Mennonite churches using languages other than English began to proliferate in all large Ontario urban centers.

To learn more about Mennonites and Ontario cities read In Search of Promised Lands.

Ontario Mennonites and Toronto Bible College

Toronto Bible College

Toronto Bible College when located on College Street in 1920. Toronto Public Library photo.

The Toronto Bible Training School was founded in 1894, modeled on Dwight L. Moody’s Bible school in Chicago that was started in 1889. This school, after Moody’s death, was known as Moody Bible Institute. The first North American Bible school was the Missionary Training Institute established in New York City in 1882 by A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.

Assimilated Ontario Mennonites began attending each of these schools early in their existence, as more Mennonites engaged the “great awakening” of the evangelical movement and began to aggressively introduce evangelical theology to local Mennonite congregations.

Toronto Bible College (TBS), as the Bible Training School became known in 1912, had a profound impact on Ontario Mennonites, beginning already in the 1890s. It was a non-denominational school that promoted the following vision:

The great design of the School is the training of consecrated men and women as Sunday School Workers, as pastor’s Assistants, and as City, Home, and Foreign Missionaries. It is intended for those who believe they have been called of God to Christian service, and who, from age or other reasons, cannot pursue a full collegiate and theological course of study. Special provision is also made for Sunday School Teachers and others who desire a better knowledge of God’s Word.

Toronto Bible College did not require a high school diploma of its students, making it even more attractive to Mennonites, since most Mennonites did not attend high school in the early 20th century. The then principal of Toronto Bible College, William Stewart, encouraged the new Mennonite Brethren in Christ mission in Toronto in 1897, saying, “We need your testimony in Toronto.”

This may have encouraged Mennonite mission workers to explore the new school. In any event, some Mennonite Brethren in Christ members began to attend TBS as early as 1899. One of these was Ada Moyer, of the Vineland area. She worked as a “ministering sister” in Toronto in 1897 and helped start the Grace Chapel in Toronto in 1899.

M. Elizabeth Brown

M. Elizabeth Brown, TBS grad and Toronto Mennonite Mission worker, 1920. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Mennonite Conference of Ontario laypersons probably began attending Toronto Bible College in 1908. John S. Musselman of Pennsylvania, who had come to work at the conference’s new Toronto Mennonite Mission, was a student at the college beginning that fall.

In 1909–10 Mennonites made up over 10 percent of the daytime student body. The new students included Bernice Devitt and M. Elizabeth Brown, who were also working at the Toronto mission. Both Devitt and Brown received their diplomas in 1911. Mennonites (including both Mennonite Brethren in Christ and Mennonite Conference of Ontario) hovered around 10 percent of the full-time student body until 1919–20.

Vera Hallman and Selena Gamber

Vera Hallman (standing) and Selena Gamber, TBS graduates and missionaries to Argentina, 1920s. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo.

In the postwar environment, Toronto Bible College enrollment surged, though the number of Mennonites remained constant. Nonetheless, Mennonites still made an impact in the 1920s. Vera Hallman’s departure for Argentina was pictured in TBC’s publication, Recorder, in 1923, and Edna Bowman Weber’s graduation address on “Redeeming Love” was published in the Recorder in 1925.

A fascinating sidelight is the role that Mennonites played in Toronto Bible College’s early music program. No music courses were offered until 1911, when John I. Byler, superintendent of the Toronto Mennonite Mission, began to offer an optional course in “Vocal Music” (probably a sight-reading course). By 1913–14 he was offering two courses: “Music Sight-Reading” and “Conduct of the Gospel Song.” When Byler left the mission, the music courses were then offered by S. M. Kanagy (beginning in fall 1914), who later became superintendent of the Toronto Mennonite Mission. Kanagy continued in this role until he left to teach at Hesston College in 1920. Toronto Bible College’s music program then passed into non-Mennonite hands.

Today, after several mergers, the Toronto Bible School is known as Tyndale University College and Seminary, and is no longer located in downtown Toronto, but is at 3377 Bayview Avenue in Toronto.

The Mennonite Conference of Ontario started its own Bible school in 1907. The Ontario Mennonite Bible School (OMBS) too was modeled on the Moody Bible Institute and Toronto Bible College model, since its founder and principal was S. F. Coffman, who had studied several years at Moody Bible Institute.

OMBS became quite popular in Ontario Mennonite circles, and did much to introduce fundamentalist theology to Ontario Mennonites, since all the faculty members were strongly inclined to that theology. Of course it also taught Mennonite distinctives, like uniform dress, nonresistance, and non-swearing of oaths, which helped to preserve those values in the church.

The Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now known as the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) did not start their own Bible college until 1940. This meant most of its theological training prior to World War II came from outside the denomination, and contributed to the loss of Mennonite “values”  in that denomination.

To learn more about Mennonites and Bible schools, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Elsie Kolb: a Shy Ontario-Born Mennonite Matriarch

Elsie Kolb (1875-1949) was born on an Ontario Mennonite farm near Breslau, Ontario to Joseph and Nancy (Stauffer) Kolb. She was the eldest daughter in a family of two sons and two daughters. Her childhood was probably unremarkable, with a basic elementary school education. She has been described as shy and retiring. As a teenager she began to work away from home as a maid. When she was 18, she worked for a time with newly-married Eli S. and Melinda Hallman who were partners in a dry goods store in Berlin (now Kitchener).

George Lewis Bender (1867-1921) was born in Maryland in the middle of a large Amish family. He didn’t want to farm, so went to normal school to become a teacher, first in Maryland, then in Iowa. In 1890 he was invited to come to Elkhart, Indiana to work for John F. Funk’s Mennonite Publishing Company. Because of his ability to speak German, George did a lot of traveling for Funk’s company to Canada and the western United States.

George Bender and Elsie Kolb

George Bender and Elsie Kolb (seated) wedding, 1896. Courtesy George and Elsie Kolb Bender Photographs. Box 1, Folder 4. HM4-043. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.

When visiting Berlin, George sometimes stayed with Eli and Melinda Hallman, and it was here that he met Elsie Kolb. Much of their courtship was by correspondence, but George made several visits a year, and in October 1896 they were married in Elkhart, Indiana. None of Elsie’s family could attend the wedding because of limited finances, and because George was teaching school, he could not come to Ontario.

Elsie and George were both highly committed to the Mennonite Church. George was ordained as a deacon in the Elkhart Mennonite Church in 1907. This church, later known as Prairie Street Mennonite Church, was more assimilated than most Mennonite churches, borrowing many ideas from neighboring revivalist churches. It had begun an “evangelizing committee” already in 1882.

In 1894 George became treasurer of this “evangelizing” venture that eventually, through various mergers, became the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, the primary mission agency of the binational Mennonite Church. Much of his work was volunteer work, particularly related to fundraising for mission projects. George went back to teaching in 1896 to earn a better income, and in 1906 he became a postal clerk in Elkhart. It was only in 1915 that he became a fulltime employee of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities.

George and Elsie Bender family

The George and Elsie Kolb Bender family of Elkhart, Indiana in 1913. From the left: Florence, Wilbur, Elsie, Robert (on lap), Harold (H.S.),John, Violet, George, Cecil. Courtesy George and Elsie Kolb Bender Photographs. Box 1, Folder 4. HM4-043. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.

Elsie and George had eight children, though their youngest child, George, Jr., died within a few days of birth in 1915.   But the other seven children went on to achieve surprising careers for a humble Mennonite family.

As the children were growing up Elsie often took them back to Ontario during the summers, where they enjoyed the rural life.

Unfortunately, in 1918 George began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease, and he died in 1921 at the age of 53, when the youngest surviving child was eight years old. During the last year he was mentally unstable, putting great stress on Elsie as she tried to manage a household with six children still at home amidst severely limited finances.

Historian Al Keim has described George and Elsie Bender as part of the new “urban Mennonite middle class.”  They emphasized good manners, doing well in school, and learning foreign languages. As dress regulations in the Mennonite Church became more strict in the early 20th century, George supported the conservative shift. Elsie was more lenient, not believing in keeping young people “too tightly reined in, because knowing human nature, when they get out where they are their own dictators, there is a reaction.”

After George’s death in 1921, Elsie stayed in Elkhart with the remaining children for another three plus years. At the end of 1924 she moved to Goshen to live with her eldest son, who returned to Goshen to teach at Goshen College.

Most Mennonites know of this oldest child, Harold Stauffer “H. S.” Bender. He was born in 1897, almost nine months to the day after their marriage, and went on to become one of the dominant Mennonite leaders of the 20th century. As a theologian and historian he taught at Goshen College, was a leader in the formation and growth of Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite World Conference, and wrote “The Anabaptist Vision,” which helped Mennonites shift from a fundamentalist theology, and rethink their place in church history. Harold died in 1962.

The remaining children were also quite remarkable in their individual ways.

The second child, and oldest daughter, was Florence Elizabeth Bender, born in December 1899. Like her older brother, she attended and graduated from Goshen College. She went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Home Economics at Purdue University.  During the 1930s she had a position with the state of Indiana under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) providing oversight to nursery schools. She later taught as an assistant professor at Bowling Green State University from 1944-1952. Florence, who never married, died in 1987.

The third child, Violet Esther Bender, was born in November 1901. She contracted polio when she was three years old, which would have increased the family management burden for Elsie. Violet attended Goshen College, but it closed in 1923 for a year, so she graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio. From 1927 to 1930, she headed the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon. In the 1930s she married J. Sheldon Turner, a diplomat for the U.S. Foreign Service. She accompanied him on assignments to Iraq and Thailand, and was a radio and television news editor for the U.S. Information Agency while in Thailand. She was also a published poet, with her work appearing in Poetry Magazine, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She died in 1990.

The fourth child, Wilbur Joseph Bender, was born in October 1903. He began his post-secondary studies at Goshen College, but after it closed in 1923, completed his undergraduate work at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he graduated in 1927. He went on to an M.A. degree at Harvard in 1930. In the early 1930s as assistant dean at Harvard, Bender helped organize the Harvard National Scholarship program. He left Harvard in 1933 to teach at Phillips Andover Academy. Wilbur then served in the Navy in World War II. He returned to Harvard and was dean of Harvard College from 1947 to 1952, and dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard from 1952 to 1960 when he retired. He died suddenly in 1965.

The fifth child, Cecil Kolb Bender, was born in December 1906. He obtained his B.A. at Goshen College, and went on to earn an M.D. at Northwestern University in 1934. He became a physician and surgeon in Goshen, Indiana where he died of a heart attack in 1960.

The sixth child, John Ellsworth Bender, was born in July 1909. He also received a B.A. from Goshen College. His obituary said he went on to obtain a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania, though I wasn’t otherwise able to confirm this. He was teaching in a high school in Pennsylvania in 1940 when he was dismissed because he was a conscientious objector. He went into Civilian Public Service, part of which included writing a book on Paraguay and the Mennonite colonies for Mennonite Central Committee. The book, to be titled Paraguay Calling, was never completed. John married, but the marriage ended in divorce. He taught in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, school system for many years. At his death in 1993 his passions were said to be teaching Shakespeare, playing chess and making puns.

The seventh child, Robert Leighton Bender, was born in March 1912. He also graduated from Goshen College – in 1932. He went on to study medicine at Harvard Medical School, and obtained an M.D. in 1937. He considered going into practice with his brother, but finally established his own practice in Elkhart. My research did not reveal how long he practiced in Elkhart; later in life he and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Southern California where she died in 1980 and he died in 1999.

Although Elsie did not have a high profile, her spirit of leniency surely affected the multiplicity of skilled vocations her children pursued. Most did not remain in the Mennonite Church, but their contributions were significant. Elsie Kolb Bender was indeed a shy matriarch.

Much background information comes from Albert N. Keim, Harold S. Bender, 1897-1962. Additional information comes from the obituaries to which there are links, as well as the chapter in John S. Umble’s Mennonite Pioneers on George L. Bender.

Rufus Jutzi, the unlikely Pastor

Recently I wrote a short biographical article on Rufus Jutzi (1915-2011) for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO). I knew Rufus very casually in his later years when he was filling some interim pastoral roles.

My look at his early life revealed a man who would not have been expected to rise to leadership roles at a time when pastors were beginning to obtain seminary degrees before entering pastoral ministry.

Rufus can only be described as having been born into a poor family in Wilmot Township, Waterloo County, Ontario. His parents lived on a farm with his grandparents until he was nine years old. After renting grandfather’s farm for two years, Simeon and Leah Jutzi purchased their own farm in 1926. As the oldest child, Rufus graduated from grade 8 at age 13, and passed the exams to qualify for high school, but he was needed on the farm, and had no further education until he became a minister. His father did instill in Rufus a love for reading.

The declining economic environment and  the poor health of Leah Jutzi forced the family to sell its farm in 1932. Rufus began to work out on other farms in the neighborhood, partly to help pay family debts. After he turned 21, Rufus began to work in factories in the city of Kitchener. His first job was with the Gypsum Lime and Alabastine Glue Company in Kitchener. He was working in the Murawsky Furniture Factory when he was called to service during World War II. He elected alternative service, and served for 19 months in British Columbia.

Near the end of this service, in October 1943, he married Ruth Good, who had grown up in the Evangelical Church. Rufus had often attended a nearby Evangelical Church Sunday school when growing up, so their views were compatible. During their four years of dating, they often attended First Mennonite Church in Kitchener in order to hear Clayton F. Derstine, the flamboyant bishop of that church.

After marriage Rufus worked on a poultry farm for two years to complete his Alternative Service obligation, then returned to the furniture factory.  He wanted something better, and in 1947 took a job with Shirk and Snider, Ltd. in Bridgeport.  They soon asked him to transfer to Elmira to work at Klinck Company, Ltd., a farm equipment firm owned by Shirk and Snider. There Rufus sold and serviced farm equipment. This provided some business experience, which would prove helpful.

Rufus and Ruth purchased a home in Elmira, but post-war restrictions kept them from evicting the tenants living there. So in 1947 they rented a farm house next to the Floradale Mennonite Church  and lived there two years, before moving to Elmira. However this was long enough to build a strong link to the Floradale congregation.

Between March 1950 and January 1951 both the deacon, Henry Bauman, and the pastor, Reuben Dettwiler, passed away unexpectedly. After Dettwiler’s death, Rufus suddenly had an inkling that he would become a minister.

As was still customary, the lot (see GAMEO for a description) was held in March 1951 to select a deacon. Only two men were in the lot — Rufus Jutzi and Ivan Gingrich. Ivan was selected as deacon. Three weeks later, on April 1, the congregation ordained Rufus to be the minister, without using the lot.

Rufus recognized his limited education, so enrolled in the Ontario Mennonite Bible Institute and was part of its first graduating class in 1954. The Institute was more advanced training offered at First Mennonite Church in conjunction with the Ontario Mennonite Bible School which I described earlier.

Preston Church Council

Preston Mennonite Church Council, 1967. L-r: Rev. Rufus Jutzi, Mearl Steckley, Ralph Shantz, Orval Shantz, Gerald Steinman, Stewart Witmer, Donald Buschert, Milo Shantz, David Bechtel. David Hunsberger photo. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Rufus and Ruth Jutzi remained at Floradale for 13 years, and then served at Preston Mennonite Church for a further 10 years. Following that, Rufus became the first staff person hired by the new Mennonite Foundation of Canada. He was the Ontario regional director for two years, and then national director for another five years. After “retiring”  in 1981 he continued in a series of interim pastoral leadership assignments.

Rufus Jutzi was short of stature, exuding  a high level of energy that frequently resulted in him taking on leadership roles both in the local Mennonite Conference of Ontario and in the larger Mennonite Church. In the eulogy at his father’s funeral, son David said Rufus was the “go to guy.”  He had the answer to any question, and was not afraid to take a position on a controversial topic. However he was happy to raise children who were able to develop their own strong opinions.

Rufus Jutzi might not have become a pastor in a more urban setting where churches were beginning to hire preachers with training, and no longer used the lot to select an untrained leader from within the congregation.

Most of this information derives from Rufus Jutzi’s short unpublished memoir, and from David Jutzi’s eulogy at Rufus Jutzi’s funeral.

A Brief History of Shalom Counselling Services (Ontario)

I recently wrote a short biographical article on Delphine Martin for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO). She was the first executive director of the Waterloo office of Shalom Counselling  in Ontario. This led me to explore a bit more the history of this inter-Mennonite counselling enterprise.

Bill Dick

William W. “Bill” Dick.

Two men gave leadership to the emergence of Shalom Counselling. One was William W.  (“Bill”) Dick (1926-2002), who had served as a pastor at the Ottawa Mennonite Church and the Toronto United Mennonite Church, and then served for many years as the Director of Counselling Services at the University of Waterloo.

The second was Ralph Lebold, pastor, conference minister, and in the early 1980s the President of Conrad Grebel College. As a young pastor in the early 1960s, a young Mennonite man who had boarded in his home committed suicide. Lebold felt his training from seminary did not adequately prepare him to deal with this crisis. He went on to do  graduate studies at Crozer Theological Seminary in pastoral counselling.

In 1981 these two men gathered a group of 13 persons to discuss the possibility of establishing counselling centers across Ontario under an inter-Mennonite sponsorship. Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, at its annual meeting in late 1981, agreed to be the sponsor. Bill Dick agreed to serve as the first board chair. Counselling centers were envisioned for the Niagara area, the Region of Waterloo, Toronto, the Aylmer area and Essex County. Ralph Lebold also  served on the Ontario board for many years.

The pilot project was established in St. Catharines, Ontario in November 1982. Rudy Bartel, pastor of the Virgil Mennonite Brethren Church, chaired the local board. A part time receptionist dealt with requests, and matched callers to Mennonite or Brethren in Christ counselors suited to their needs. Funding came from the local region.

Delphine Martin

Delphine Martin, 1978. Courtesy Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

The second center to open was in Waterloo, Ontario in the facilities of the Erb Street Mennonite Church in December 1983. Delpine Martin, who had  an MA in Psychology and Counselling certification in Marriage and Family Therapy, served as the first Executive Director. As the office expanded, she became the clinical director in 1989 when Glenn Brubacher became the half-time  Executive Director. He was followed in 1997 by Wanda Wagler Martin.

The third, and last, office, in Windsor/Leamington, did not open until 1993. Marian Wiens established this office, and served as director until she and her husband, Erwin, accepted an assignment with Mennonite Church Canada Witness in South Korea in 2002.

In 1993 Shalom Counselling Services left the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario structure and incorporated as a non-profit charity.

Each of the centers related to a local board under the auspices of an Ontario board. Initially the St. Catharines center provided counselling services that included marriage and family issues, financial management, career changes and conflict resolution. That location did not initially place emphasis on specific credentials for counselors, and indeed some early counselors were volunteers.  At all the centers this changed over the years, and credentialed counselors became essential when efforts were made to obtain some government funding. With qualified counselors, services included emotional and mental health issues.

Shalom did not see itself as supplanting the counseling provided by pastors to their congregants, but rather as supplying additional resources over a longer term than was realistic in a pastoral context.

All the centers tried to provide services even to clients who could not afford regular fees. This made fund-raising an important part of their organizational life. This was often done through breakfasts or dinners with well-known speakers.

The Niagara and Windsor/Leamington centers did not survive over the long term. For various reasons the office in St. Catharines closed in 1996, and the Leamington office closed in 2009.

The Waterloo center has continued to thrive. In 2002 it moved out of the Erb Street Mennonite Church building to a stand-alone house also owned by the church. In 2015 an addition costing over $1,000,000 was built for the staff of ten persons, plus three evening receptionists. Its 2014 operating budget was just under $500,000.  The top three reasons for clients seeking counseling were 1) Mental health concerns (depression, anxiety, etc.) 30%; 2) Relationship challenges 22% and 3) Family and parenting concerns 13%.

The closing of the Leamington office led to a restructuring of the Shalom organization. The former Ontario-wide board was disbanded, and the Waterloo Regional Board became the board of directors for Shalom Counselling Services, now based only in the Region of Waterloo.

The mission of Shalom Counselling Services as stated in 2016 is “Helping People Grow Toward Peace and Wholeness” through the provision of therapeutic counselling, consultation, and educational programs that integrate emotional, relational and spiritual dimensions. It regards itself as a faith-based agency that respects the diversity of persons, backgrounds and beliefs within our community. Professional staff are Christians who are accredited with a minimum of a master’s level counselling education.

For more information visit the Shalom Counselling Services website.

Information for this article have come from issues of Shalom’s  newsletter, Seedlings, and from various issues of the Gospel Herald and Mennonite Brethren Herald. I hope to do further research into MCC Ontario annual reports.

Prince Edward Island Fever

Old Order Mennonite and Amish families are very large in comparison with the rest of the population. These groups also place high value on rural and agriculturally-related vocations  for the health of their communities.

This has meant that growing settlements frequently need to identify new locations for daughter settlements as land in the mother settlement becomes scarcer and more expensive. This especially happens when towns and cities encroach on existing communities. This has happened to Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish in the Region of Waterloo and surrounding counties.

A second reason for seeking new settlements can sometimes be economic failure of a community. A small settlement may discover it doesn’t have the economic strength to maintain itself, or a series of poor crops may persuade families they need to make a fresh start. David Luthy, an Amish historian from Aylmer, Ontario, has written a large book, with a series of supplements, on Amish “settlements that failed” for a variety of reasons. Some of these have been in Ontario.

Another pressure can be theological differences within a community. A segment of a community that places greater emphasis on separation from the world may chose to move to a more isolated geographic location. This can reduce the number of temptations for young people, and provide a safe distance from theological conflicts they have found to be debilitating. This tactic helped the Orthodox Mennonites in Ontario to flourish when they moved away from Waterloo County.

Regardless of the reasons for founding a new settlement, the exploration phase is a taxing, yet exciting venture for those willing to try something new. Sometimes when momentum for a geographic move builds it is called “fever.”

For example, a “Kansas fever” in the 1870s attracted  Mennonites of various backgrounds and locations who were seeking a fresh start.  A “California fever” also seized a variety of Mennonites in the early 20th century.

Until now, most daughter settlements of Old Order Mennonites and Amish in Ontario have remained in the province — looking northward or eastward from the traditional settlements. This is still the case for most of the new settlements, but some adventurous families have begun looking much further afield.

There is presently a small scale “Prince Edward Island fever” among both Old Order Amish and Mennonite groups in Ontario. This is not the first time these groups have considered Prince Edward Island as a destination because of its rural nature and relative isolation. In the late 1960s members of the Aylmer Amish community considered moving there in the wake of some of their conflicts with government officials. In the end a few went to Honduras, and the rest stayed in Ontario.

Today the primary motivation for these explorations seems to be good, cheap agricultural land. At least 10 families from the Milverton and Mount Elgin (near Woodstock) Amish communities have bought or contracted for farms in Kings County, eastern PEI near the town of Montague, according to an article in The Guardian (a Charlottetown newspaper). According to a local realtor, conversations with the Amish began in 2013. The Guardian editorialized in favor of welcoming the Amish already in October 2014. The cost per acre in PEI is 10-15% of the cost per acre in their part of Ontario. (See also a recent article in the Toronto Star.)

There is also real interest from Old Order Mennonites from Woolwich Township, Region of Waterloo, and from the Mount Forest Old Order Mennonite community. Another article in The Guardian suggests this exploration is not as far along, though two groups of over 20 persons have visited PEI to look at farms in Queens County and southern Kings County. More visits are planned for this spring.

Won’t it be fun to combine a visit to Anne of Green Gables country with end-of-lane shopping for produce, baking or quilts? The Amish move is to begin this spring.

To learn more about Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish read In Search of Promised Lands.

Eden Christian College: from Mennonite School to Alternative School

I mentioned Eden Christian College very briefly in an earlier post. Today I want to look more closely at its history.

In 1938 the still small Mennonite Brethren community around Virgil, Ontario began an evening Bible school. In 1944 the local society running the school expanded to include members from other Mennonite Brethren churches; it also purchased a nine-acre property called Locust Grove near Virgil.

First Eden students

First students in 1945. Henry Tiessen at right. Courtesy of Paul Tiessen

In the fall of 1945 the society decided to add a high school department to the program, and it invited Henry B. Tiessen, a public school teacher from Kitchener, to establish the program. Tiessen had come alone to Canada from Ukraine in 1926, and had attended teacher’s college in Stratford, Ontario, earning a first class teaching certificate that allowed him to teach up to grades nine and ten. He taught in various public schools for a number of years, and in 1945 was invited  to teach high school courses at the new Virgil school. Appropriately, the school began with grades nine and ten.

There were 36 students in attendance the first fall. Rapid growth the second year saw the addition of teachers Abram H. Redekop, Anne Wiebe, and David Boschman. Grade eleven was added in the second year and grade twelve in the third year. The school received provincial accreditation in late 1946. In 1948 twelve students formed the first graduating class. A number of the original faculty members, including Tiessen, resigned in 1950, just as the school began a period of enormous growth; enrollment grew from 87 students in 1950 to 183 in 1955.

Like most new faith ventures, the school struggled financially. The Virgil Society, with the encouragement of the Ontario Mennonite Brethren conference, began a building project in November 1946 to create additional space. Money was short, and large debts were incurred. In 1948 the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches agreed to take over the school as well as financial responsibility. The debt was liquidated by the end of 1950.

In 1955 the high school became known as Eden Christian College. Additional facilities were built in the mid-1950s, including an auditorium and more classrooms. During all these years some students stayed in campus dormitories—usually between twenty and thirty per year.

Eden’s enrollment ranged from 140 to 190 in the 1960s, though there was a bulge to 280 in 1972. The peak of 329 students came in 1975. During these years many United Mennonite (General Conference Mennonite) teenagers from the Niagara Peninsula also attended Eden, even though there was a United Mennonite high school in Leamington. Close proximity and a generally compatible cultural ethos with the Mennonite Brethren proved more attractive than the expense of boarding their children at a distance. The sudden enrollment bulge in the early 1970s led to construction of a new gym alongside the old gym and auditorium.

Eden Christian College dominated discussions at the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in the 1970s and 1980s because its finances consumed at least two-thirds of the conference’s budget. Some conference leaders preferred greater spending on home missions and argued that Eden increasingly served primarily the Mennonite Brethren churches located on the Niagara Peninsula. About half the students at Eden were Mennonite Brethren.

In the mid-1980s the dorm facilities were closed, since few Mennonite students from outside the Niagara Peninsula still attended. The Mennonite Brethren considered switching to an association model similar to those in place for Rockway Mennonite School (Kitchener) and United Mennonite Educational Institute (Leamington), but this idea was not accepted. Finally the conference explored cooperation with the public Lincoln County Board of Education.

Rudy Bartel, 1996

Rudy Bartel, 1996. Courtesy Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Winnipeg)

This conversation was successful, and in September 1988 Eden Christian College became an “alternative school” under the public board on a trial basis. The response in the larger community to Eden’s changed status was immediate. Enrollment jumped from 170 in 1987 to 365 in 1991, partly because tuition costs were eliminated. Eden was administratively led through these dramatic changes by Rudy Bartel, who became principal in 1986. Bartel resigned the post in 1990 and retired as a teacher in 1994.

It soon became clear that government regulations sharply delineated what public taxes would pay for in an alternative school and what they would not. It also became clear that the original Eden campus near Virgil was not suitable for the rapidly expanding school. For a time the public board had no vacant properties to offer as an alternative, but in 1994, when student enrollment exceeded 440, the former Scottlea Senior Elementary School in St. Catharines became available, and Eden High School (the “Christian” was dropped by the public board in April 1992) moved to the site in 1995.

By this time about one-third of the student body was Mennonite. The conference sold the old property for $1.25 million in 1998. Even the Scottlea facility soon proved too small, so in 2000 Eden High School moved again to the Lakeport Secondary School, also in St. Catharines, where the public high school and the alternative high school shared facilities. Lakeport Secondary School was in decline and closed in summer 2011, and Eden took over the whole facility. By that time it had over 800 students.

Eden High School operated as a regular public school, but chapel and religion classes were held before and after regular school hours. An active Spiritual Life Center continued to receive some funding from the Ontario Mennonite Brethren conference ($7500 in 2015).

Eden High School

Eden High School today. From their website. See also the Spiritual Life Center website

After 2000, with the much more limited financial obligation from the Ontario Mennonite Brethren conference, Eden had less visibility in the larger Mennonite Brethren community, though Niagara Peninsula Mennonite Brethren were still involved in the spiritual life center and its programs. Not everyone was happy with the change. By 2015, with 850 students, the school seems to be more of an “alternative” school than a Christian school.

To learn more about Eden Christian College, read In Search of Promised Lands.