Noah Bearinger–Old Order Mennonite Maverick

One of the most interesting Old Order Mennonites of the 20th century was Noah Martin Bearinger, a businessman in Elmira, Ontario whose religious affiliations took him from the Old Order Mennonite Church to the Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Church to the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and back to the Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Church.

As a young Old Order Mennonite man in his early 20s, Bearinger attended business college, extremely unusual for a Mennonite of that branch, especially for the grandson of Bishop Abraham Martin, the founder of the Old Order Mennonites in Ontario.

Bearinger was also tuned into national politics. In 1917 he wrote to his Member of Parliament suggesting that Mennonites should give a gift to the government for war relief,  in gratitude for the government’s recognition of Mennonite nonresistance.

When the inter-Mennonite Non-Resistant Relief Organization (NRRO) was formally organized in early 1918, Noah was there as an interested observer. In World War II, Noah represented his group on the NRRO, the Conference of Historic Peace Churches, and was secretary of the Committee on Military Problems that interacted directly with Canadian military officials on the conscientious objector claims of individual Ontario Mennonites from all the Mennonite groups.

A prickly and sensitive personality, Noah Bearinger had his critics, and eventually he resigned from all his positions during World War II.

Barb Draper tells the fascinating story of Noah Bearinger in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Noah Bearinger. Family photo

Noah M. Bearinger: a strong supporter of the Non-Resistant Relief Organization (NRRO), and a key leader of the Conference of Historic Peace Churches (CHPC) during World War II, was born 19 July 1891 near Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, the fifth son of Noah H. Bearinger (4 December 1858-5 February 1914) and Anna Martin Bearinger (27 February 1858-28 March 1933). On 26 December 1917, he married Annie Weber (10 October 1895-31 July 1955), the daughter of Enoch M. Weber (1869-1944) and Lydia (Gingrich) Weber (1874-1969). They had two children, Irene, married to Oscar Martin and Edwin (Eddie) Bearinger. Noah was a widower for 15 years after his wife died; he died 11 May 1970.

Noah Bearinger was the grandson of Abraham Martin, the first bishop of the Old Order Mennonite Church in the Waterloo area. Noah was baptized in that church in 1912 at the age of 21. He attended business college for six months in 1913 and then began working in a planing mill in Elmira. This was a very unusual step for someone in the Old Order Mennonite Church where almost everyone lived on a farm and higher education was regarded with suspicion. Noah’s connection to the Old Order church was not an easy one, but he played an important role in connecting the Old Order Mennonites with what other Mennonites in Ontario were doing in the areas of relief and conscientious objection.

Living in the town of Elmira, Noah Bearinger must have been aware of the rising hostility toward Mennonites who refused to fight in World War I and whose everyday language was a dialect of German. On 23 May 1917 he wrote a letter to his Member of Parliament, William Weichel, suggesting that Mennonites might make “a memorial gift for war relief” as a gesture of goodwill.

Bearinger was present at the organizational meeting for the Non-Resistant Relief Organization held 17 January 1918, but there were others who were official representatives of the Old Order Mennonites. He was a strong supporter of the work of the NRRO but did not serve in an official capacity in the early years.

By the 1920s, Bearinger owned a lumber business and built a house beside it on Duke Street in Elmira. When he bought a car in 1926 he was no longer a member in good standing in the Old Order church. For some years he attended Elmira Mennonite Church, but sometime in the 1930s he joined the Old Order Mennonites of the Markham area who allowed cars. The Bearinger family was part of the Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference after it organized in 1939.

Bearinger served as treasurer of the Non-Resistant Relief Organization from 1939 to 1944. He also played an important role during the war years as secretary of the Conference of Historic Peace Churches and as secretary of the Committee on Military Problems. In this role he corresponded with various church conferences, keeping them informed of recommendations of how young men should apply for conscientious status. As secretary of the Committee on Military Problems he also had the responsibility of deciding which young men could receive agricultural postponements rather than serving in alternative service camps. He received significant criticism for some of his decisions and in June, 1943 he resigned fairly suddenly both as secretary of the Committee on Military Problems and from the Conference of Historic Peace Churches.

Noah Bearinger passionately believed in the need to be a witness for peace during times of war and that conscientious objectors should be active rather than be regarded as freeloaders who just avoid military service. He was deeply hurt by church members who criticized his work and his relationship with his church was never properly restored.

“Pure” – the CBC drama – Episode 6

My comments on previous episodes of “Pure”are at Episode 1, Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4 and Episode 5.

In this episode we finally learn the supposed reason for Mennonite drug lord Eli Voss’s rejection of the faith of his community. It was the death of his eight children and wife when he and they were on the way to church one Sunday and a drunk driver hit their wagon and horses killing all of them except for Voss. Because of this, Voss has seen God as a God of terror, not of love and grace. He clearly retains a strong emotional tie to his Mennonite community, but rejects all it believes. He intensely dislikes Pastor Noah Funk’s continuing faith in the goodness of God, and wishes to prove Funk wrong.

The final episode continued to integrate important Mennonite religious symbols into the conclusion of this crime story. One of the images was again gratuitous in my view and did little to advance the story. This was the martyr fire above which Noah Funk was chained.


From CBC’s “Pure” Episode 6

Eli Voss, in a speech to the watching crowd, explicitly refers to 16th century Anabaptist martyrs (forerunners of the Mennonites), and claims Noah Funk wishes to join them. Voss makes somewhat bizarre references to Gelassenheit, the Anabaptist doctrine of yieldedness and humility, and justifies killing Funk because Funk intended to destroy the drug ring and take away the technology and other economic benefits the drug trade has brought to the Low German Mennonite community. At the time of the martyr scene Voss believes that Funk’s family is already dead, as he has ordered his nephew, Gerry Epp, to kill them, perhaps to compensate for the death of his own family.

Back in southern Ontario, Anna Funk, fearing that her husband, Noah, is dead, implies to Joey Epp, Gerry Epp’s younger brother, that she will need a husband to help raise her family. She basically makes seductive overtures to him. Joey takes this to heart and kills Gerry Epp to prevent him from murdering the Funk family. Anna sees this intervention as the hand of God protecting them and refuses to run away with Joey.

Back in Mexico, a gunfight arises when the Mexican police arrive with the discredited DEA agent and  Bronco, the suspended and corrupt policeman from Ontario. To prevent Eli Voss from killing the young surviving witness to the murders that opened Episode 1, Noah Funk kills Eli Voss.

This then leads to the extended second religious symbol — that of a baptismal service, in which Noah and Anna Funk’s son, Isaac, is part of the baptismal class.


From CBC’s “Pure” Episode 6

For me this was a powerful scene, and reflected the struggle between good and evil that has run through this series. Noah, who has returned to Ontario (I guess the Mexican police don’t care that he killed someone) is ultimately unable to enter the meetinghouse to witness the baptism because of his sense of guilt, and Isaac is clearly ambivalent even as he accepts the baptism from Bishop Bergen who finally showed up in the last 10 minutes of the series.

As a crime drama the series worked reasonably well. The acting was at a high level, given the script with which they had to work. The writing and story line, in my view, was less successful, and relied on too many logical jumps in the plot to be convincing.

And the creators, in order to set this drama apart from other crime dramas, felt compelled to keep emphasizing that the characters were highly traditional Mennonites. This led to numerous gratuitous insertions of symbolic practices loosely based on traditional Mennonites, explicitly reflected in the titles of the episodes. These “symbols” were often an inaccurate mashup of the various Mennonite groups that has never been adequately addressed.

[Since first posting this blog, I’ve listened to the interview of Michael Amo, the creator and producer of “Pure” in a Writers Guild of Canada event. It can be heard at In the interview, at about the 9:00 minute mark, he defends the mashup of Old Colony and Old Order Mennonites as a way of not implicating any one group of drug dealing. He called it the “right thing to do ethically.” I’m not sure why this was ethical, since the inspiration for the series was a Fifth Estate program and  a Saturday Night magazine article on the Mennonite Mob in Mexico.]

If one subtracted the “Mennonite” angle, the high level of violence in “Pure”was quite clichéd. A tortured protagonist with the best of intentions ultimately triumphs over evil through “redemptive violence.” Clint Eastwood made a career out of this approach.

The difference, of course, is that the protagonists were pacifist Mennonites who reject violence, and don’t believe that killing a human being can ever be redemptive. The tension of the series arises from Noah Funk’s ongoing internal conflict on this issue, into which the rest of his family is pulled.

The sad, and most objectionable, part about this series is that the creators presented a distorted Mennonite theology, and pasted it on to a traditional Old Order Mennonite community that has no hint of this kind of crime or violence in its 125 year history. There are something over 10,000 people in Canada that might be described as Old Order Mennonite and use horses and buggies for transportation. This feels like extremely unwarranted exploitation.

This is not to claim that crime in unknown in traditional Mennonite communities — both Old Order Mennonite and Low German Mennonite have “marred images” in their histories. These have included child abuse and drug trafficking. But neither of these communities would ever condone what was portrayed in this series.

The creators of “Pure” did not reflect any understanding of how accountability or submission to the shared Ordnung (rules) in traditional Mennonite faith communities function. A minister like Noah Funk would not have made the decisions he did in isolation; he would have felt internally compelled to consult more widely with other leaders. And no Mennonite community has only one leader, as seemed the case for these “Edenthalers.” The individualism of modern society does not function in the same way in these communities.

Let us hope that season 1 of “Pure” is the final season.

To better understand the complexity and reality of Ontario Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.


Valentin Sawatzky–Poet

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so it seemed appropriate to feature a Ontario Mennonite poet whose name was Valentin.

Valentin Sawatzky had the unusual experience of immigrating to Canada from Russia as a boy in the 1920s with his family. However his family made the unusual decision to return to Russia/Soviet Union in 1928 because they believed Lenin’s New Economic Policy and its promises of freedom. Valentin’s father died in prison and his mother eventually died in Siberia. Valentin finally returned to Canada in 1948 as a refugee. He and his wife had left the Soviet Union when the German Army retreated in the 1940s, and were assisted by C. F. Klassen to get to Canada.

Valentin published seven books of poetry in the German language. His story is told in more detail in the article by Erica Jantzen in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Valentin & Anna Sawatzky. Photo courtesy of Karl Dick

Valentin Sawatzky: poet; born 2 September 1914 in Chortitza, Rosental, Ukraine to Abram (1890-1940) and Anna (von Kampen d. 1962) Sawatzky. He had a younger sister, Anna (1922-2006) and a younger brother, Herman (b. 23 June 1929).

In the 1920s, Sawatzky’s family came to Canada, but returned to Chortitza in 1928 because the New Economic Policy promised freedom and hope in the newly established Communist regime. However, in 1936 Sawatzky’s father was accused of being a traitor, was arrested and died in custody in 1940. Sawatzky’s mother was arrested in 1937 and remained in prison 5 years. She died in Siberia in 1962. Her sisters took care of the two younger children while Valentin escaped to Zaporizhia (Zaporozhe) where he  studied to become an engineer.

On 5 June 1940, Valentin Sawatzky married Anna Pries, daughter of Gerhard (b. 1864) and Aganetha (Andres) Pries (9 April 1915–20 November 1996) of Rosental. They had two sons, Ernest (6 June 1942–28 October 1993) and Peter (b. 2 March 1952). When the German army retreated from the Ukraine, Valentin and his family fled to Germany. By the end of World War II they were in Oldenburg, northwest Germany. Contact with C. F. Klassen and other Mennonites led them to Leer, Ostfriesland in The Netherlands where refugees gathered in the Mennonite church still in existence there. Here Valentin and 40 others were baptized by elder H. H. Winter on 19 June 1947. After joining the church, Valentin and Anna asked Rev. Peter Klassen to solemnize and bless their marriage.

In 1948 Valentin and his family arrived as refugees in Vancouver, British Columbia. When he found a job at MacKinnons, now the General Motors Plant in St. Catharines, Ontario, the family moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Later after he got a job in Toronto in 1961 they moved to Waterloo and Valentin commuted from there. The family joined the Waterloo-Kitchener United Mennonite Church.

Valentin Sawatzky loved poetry and art and was a prolific writer of poems. His seven German collections were published during 1958-1983 in both Canada and Austria:

Lindenblätter,  Ausgewählte Gedichte (Virgil, 1958, 1962); Heimatglocken, Lyrik und Balladen (Virgil, 1958, 1962); Friedensklaenge, Gedichte (Waterloo, 1971); Abendlicht, Gedichte und Märchen (Waterloo, 1977); Eichenlaub, Gedichte und Märchen (Waterloo, 1981); Glockenlaeuten, Gedichte (Waterloo, 1983); Einkehr, Gedichte und Märchen (Steinbach. 1983). His themes were nature, homeland, childhood, youth, love and God. His deep religious faith is evident in poems like, “Zuversicht,” “Verirrt” and “Preis der Gnade” despite an inclination to periods of depression.

Valentin Sawatzky died in Waterloo 23 February 1995. His poems were of great significance. J. J. Thiessen expressed amazement at his God-given talent that allowed him to express his thoughts and feelings so beautifully. He belongs to the group of writers in the Mennonite-German tradition of early Canadian-Mennonite poets who set the stage for the surge of writers to follow.

“Pure” – the CBC drama – Episode 5

My comments on previous episodes of “Pure”are at Episode 1, Episode 2Episode 3,  Episode 4 and Episode 6.

Sometime in the last week, someone at the CBC as decided Pure’s “Edenthaler Colony” in Southern Ontario is an Old Order Mennonite group (thanks to Sherri Klassen for alerting me to this change). Previously CBC’s references had been generically “Mennonite,” though the story line, geography, and language have consistently been Low German Mennonite, if not specifically Old Colony Mennonite.

Perhaps this change was done to justify the horses and buggies and the appearances of the women. This new, narrower description makes even more of the depictions in “Pure” incorrect — the family names are not Old Order Mennonite, no Old Order church members in good standing use cars, the meetinghouse (church) is designed incorrectly, the women still look more Amish than Old Order Mennonite, the cemetery seen in the last episode had incorrect tombstones, the location of the colony (near Chatham) is some distance from Old Order Mennonites who are further east or north. The list of inaccuracies goes on.


From CBC’s “Pure” Episode 5

Today’s episode was again mostly about plot, though there were some gratuitous religious references, including a “communion service” at the drug lab in Mexico, after Noah Funk “turned the other cheek” twice by being slapped by drug lord Eli Voss, before Funk agreed to serve communion to excommunicated Old Colony Mennonites. (The folks pictured in Mexico did look like Low German Mennonites.)

Communion is only served by bishops, and the “congregation” at the drug lab would have known the service had no legitimacy (as Funk did observe in the episode). The only point for including this in the story line seemed to be to display a bit of “Mennonite” content otherwise not needed for the plot.

There were many plot lines that didn’t make sense in this episode. Why did the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have suspended cop Bronco Novack travel to Texas and then order him not to do anything? Why did the crooked DEA agent (who was subsequently killed) think her kidnapping of a child who had nothing to do with the drug business think her actions would go undetected by law enforcement? Why was Tina (Noah Funk’s daughter) not able to escape from a cheap motel room with a window?

The show has generally upped the level of violence in the last couple of episodes.

Many of my Mennonite friends stopped watching “Pure” after the first episode. To me it will be a shame if “Pure” actually gets a second season. The show is now suggesting its drama is based on true events about a Mennonite group that will not defend itself in public and has nothing in its history to justify such a portrayal.

To better understand the complexity and reality of Ontario Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.






It can happen in Canada–Immigration by Mennonites prohibited

The current dismay over President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily stop the entry of refugees into the United States reminded me that xenophobia (the fear of people who are “foreign” to us) in not limited to time and place. It has also affected Mennonites in Canada.

At the end of World War I, over 1,000 Mennonites and Hutterites from the United States began to immigrate to Canada, partially in response to the harsh treatment some of them experienced during the war, including imprisonment and the death of several Hutterites. Initially Canada welcomed them as good agricultural settlers, but this welcome changed almost overnight.

Charges were made that Hutterites and Mennonites from the United States were getting the best land, and that veterans of World War I were unable to get similar prime land. Popular media like the Ottawa Citizen claimed they were draft dodgers “on a wholesale scale.” The Calgary Eye-Opener said in alarm that 2 million Mennonites were headed to Canada, buying up blocks of land. (We are only approaching that number of Mennonites in the world today.)

Rumblings of discontent from conservative Mennonites in Manitoba contributed to the reaction against Mennonites. Some of these Mennonites were discussing the possibility of leaving Canada for another location because western provinces were trying to force their children into English-language public schools. Many of these Mennonites did leave for Mexico in the 1920s, and became of the ancestors of the Low German Mennonites who have returned to Canada, including Southern Ontario, beginning in the 1950s.

edwardsSoon even Members of Parliament called for restrictions on Mennonites as they prepared to amend the Immigration Act in 1919. John W. Edwards, a Conservative M.P. from the Frontenac riding in eastern Ontario referred to Mennonites and Hutterites as “cattle” during a debate on immigration on April 30, 1919.

The next day the government issued an Order-in-Council prohibiting Mennonites, Hutterites and Doukhobors from entering Canada because they were:

…undesirable, owing to their peculiar customs, habits, modes of living, and methods of holding property, and because of their probable inability to become readily assimilated to assume the duties and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship within a reasonable time after entry.

This order-in-council affected not only immigrants. For a time it also made it difficult for American Mennonite ministers to visit Canada for revival meetings, or American Mennonites who wanted to come and work at places like the Toronto Mennonite Mission.


S. F. Coffman

In July 1921 Bishop S. F. Coffman from Vineland, Ontario, joined a Russian Mennonite group seeking to meet with the new Canadian Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen, whom Coffman had previously met. However, Meighen was out of town, as was deputy prime minister George Foster. They finally met with opposition leader Mackenzie King, who promised that if he formed the next government, the restriction on Mennonite immigration would be lifted. The following afternoon the delegation was finally able to meet George Foster, who pointed out the irony of some Mennonites seeking to leave Canada while others petitioned to immigrate.

In February 1922 S. F. Coffman wrote to the new prime minister, Mackenzie King, about lifting the ban against Mennonite immigration and allowing Mennonites from Russia to come to Canada. After further meetings between Coffman, western Canadian Mennonite leaders and the government,  the restriction on Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukobor immigration was finally lifted on June 6, 1922 and officially announced on June 22, 1922.

Mennonites in Canada felt a sense of urgency in getting this ban lifted because of the plight of Mennonites in Russia after World War I and the Russian Revolution. The large Mennonite immigration to Canada from Russia began already in 1923.

So we see that Canadians have not been free of fear of the “other” in their history. Even more grievous accounts from Canadian history could be given about African-Canadians, Chinese, Jews and Japanese. And most recently we have seen expressions of fear and violence against another minority faith group — the Muslims.

I am indebted to Frank H. Epp, Mennonites in Canada, 1786-1920: the history of a separate people. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1974 for some of this information.

The John W. Edwards quote comes from Official report of the debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, Second Session-Thirteenth Parliament, p. 1929.

For this and many other historical items of Mennonite interest, read my In Search of Promised Lands: a religious history of Mennonites in Ontario.

“Pure” – the CBC drama – Episode 4

My comments on previous episodes of “Pure”are at Episode 1, Episode 2 and Episode 3. I have also commented on Episode 5 and Episode 6.

Most of episode 4 relates to the crime drama and introduces little new about the life and culture of the Low German Mennonites. The plot continues with its plausibility shortcomings, and introduces an additional layer of corrupt police detectives. One plausibility concern is why Noah Funk is ordering Low German Mennonite caskets for the two bikers killed by other bikers. These are two Ausländer (non-Low German Mennonites) with their own families and community. How are these deaths to be kept secret?


From Episode 4 of CBC’s “Pure”

The funeral scene for the two Low German Mennonite men who died in the plane transporting the drugs is the one new Low German Mennonite cultural scene. Of course the burials were illegal since no permits were received.

There was no church funeral service, but I suppose that is excused by the necessary secrecy for these particular burials. The theology expressed by Preacher Noah Funk in his brief remarks does not reflect theology of Old Order Mennonites or Amish or any traditional Low German Mennonite theology. His comments seemed to imply there was still hope for the men who had died; this would not be the case for traditional Mennonites. None of these groups would ask a  layperson to lead in prayer at the graveside. Closing the graveside service with the Doxology (“Praise God from Whom all blessings flow”) seems unusual. Some Mennonites use this hymn to close regular Sunday worship services, but it is not generally associated with funerals. And they sang it way too fast for a traditional Mennonite group.

The cemetery itself looks most like an Old Order Amish cemetery, but could pass for an Old Colony Mennonite cemetery which also feature simple markers.

The most objectionable part of this series continues to be the mashing of Low German Mennonite, Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite culture. No Low German Mennonites in Canada use horses and buggies and lack electricity in their homes.

To better understand the complexity and reality of Ontario Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.

Lorna L. Bergey–Business Woman and Historical Mentor

Last week we looked at Peter Shirk, an Old Order Mennonite businessman in Bridgeport, Ontario. This week we look at one of his granddaughters — Lorna Lucille Shantz Bergey.

Lorna’s parents were Walter and Selina Shantz. Selina was the daughter of Peter Shirk and his second wife, Judith. Because Lorna’s husband, David, was incapacitated by a serious farm accident in 1954, the family was forced to begin its own commercial business. This was a cheese business that they operated from multiple farmers’ markets and two cheese shops in Southern Ontario.

Although a successful business woman, Lorna was likely better known for her historical research and writing, and her assistance to many historians who wanted to research and write about the Ontario Mennonite story. Lorna’s own historical writings have been collected in  Lorna (Shantz) Bergey: Her Literary Legacy, published by the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society of Ontario in 2011.

See the article and bibliography about Lorna, who taught me much about Ontario Mennonite history in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Lorna Bergey, 1999. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

Lorna Lucille Bergey: businesswoman and community historian; born 29 May 1921 in Wilmot Township, Waterloo County, Ontario to Walter C. Shantz (13 April 1894-10 December 1987) and Selina (Shirk) Shantz (21 May 1898-14 June 1979). She was the oldest child in a family of three sons and five daughters. On 29 May 1940 she married David D. Bergey (1916-1980). They had two sons, Edward and Robert. Lorna died 22 March 2009, and is buried in the Blenheim Mennonite cemetery.

Lorna grew up on the family farm, and attended the local public school through grade eight. She was only 12 years of age at this time. She passed her high school entrance exams, but following the custom within much of the the Mennonite community her education ended at that time, and she worked at home helping to raise her younger siblings. Nonetheless she developed a lifelong interest in reading; and she recalled reading about church news in the Gospel Herald stored in her parent’s home. She was a member of the Blenheim Mennonite Church until it closed, and later was a member at the Nith Valley Mennonite Church and First Mennonite Church in Kitchener after she moved to the city during retirement.

After marriage to David Bergey on her 19th birthday, she lived on the Bergey family farm west of New Dundee, Ontario where they farmed and operated a cheese stand at the Galt Farmers Market. In 1954 David suffered serious injury in a 14 meter fall from a silo, and Lorna was forced to become the major financial support for the family. David and Lorna gave up farming and developed the Bergey Cheese business that also expanded to farmer’s markets in Waterdown, Hamilton, Burlington and Milton, Ontario. When David was sufficiently recovered from his injuries, two cheese/deli shops were opened in Toronto and Hamilton. After David’s death in 1980, she scaled back the business, and retired in 1988.

In the 1950s Lorna became passionately interested in local history and the history of her Pennsylvania German Mennonite forebears. She joined the Waterloo Historical Society, and later the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society (secretary 1980-2005). She served as President of the Waterloo Historical Society in 1969. She was a founding member of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, and served as its secretary from 1968-2000. She also served on the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada (treasurer, 1980-1985), Mennonite Bicentennial Commission (1983-1993), and the Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church (1969-1979). She was historian for the Mennonite Conference of Ontario (1971-1988) and served on the Historical Committee of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (1988-1994). She was also active with Doon Pioneer Village, and was central to establishing the Brubacher House Museum on the University of Waterloo campus and the restoration of the Detweiler Meetinghouse near Roseville, Ontario. She was acting archivist at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario from 1967-1974. In the business world she served on the credit committee of the Mennonite Savings & Credit Union and was secretary of the Eastwood Mennonite Community where she lived in retirement.

Lorna’s frequent role as committee secretary was characteristic. She held organizational positions that got the work done. Her minutes were meticulous, and her reports detailed. She was the Society member who would do the mailings, sit at the display table in malls, seek out the donation of artifacts for the Brubacher House Museum, and speak to elementary school classes. A special gift Lorna had was developing tours of various Mennonite communities in Ontario. Lorna “put feet” under the projects that others thought up.

Lorna’s greatest impact, however, may have been her influence on the academic historical interpretation of Ontario Mennonite history. Lorna was always aware that she attended school fewer years than the people who consulted with her. Although Lorna was modest about her education, academics streamed to her door for direction to sources, counsel on interpretation of the Pennsylvania German Mennonite story, and basic fact-checking on Ontario Swiss Mennonites. She sat on the all the reading committees for the three-volume Mennonites in Canada series written by Frank H. Epp and Ted Regehr, and vigorously championed the place of Pennsylvania German Mennonites in Canadian history. Her contribution is acknowledged in many volumes of Ontario Mennonite history.
— Sam Steiner

“Pure” — the CBC Drama – Episode 3

In the past weeks I have commented on Episode 1 and Episode 2. I also have comments on Episode 4Episode 5 and Episode 6.

For me episode 3 ranged between interesting character scenes (Noah’s son talking about baptism and the daughter and policeman’s son) interspersed with highly unlikely bits of  action.

The German hymn briefly shown in the book in which Noah Funk is keeping his records of the drug operation is authentic, and appears in many German-language Mennonite hymnals.

The age of baptism implied in the son’s conversation with Noah is reasonable. This statement by the son should mean that he will be part of a “class” of baptismal candidates that studies a catechism before they are baptized; we’ll see if that happens in a future episode. Apparently the Edenthaler bishop lives some distance away and needs to be contacted by mail. However usually baptisms take place at a standard time of the year; a special communication would not be necessary.


From Episode 3 of “Pure”- CBC

The scene of 30 men and four horses pulling the crashed plane loaded with drugs and two bodies from the lake was ludicrous in the extreme. Apparently the Mennonites and their horses had more “horsepower” than a high-powered SUV. Bringing Mennonites from the “colony” who are not involved in the drug business into what “Pastor” Noah Funk knows is a crime scene makes no sense. Clearly this was done for visual “Mennonite” impact and was not realistic. Noah then casually lies to the group as if he knew nothing about the drugs on the plane. But if he knew nothing, why hadn’t the Mennonites simply called authorities to deal with an accident? It all makes no sense.

The pastor and his wife show increasingly limited moral agony over the crimes they know they are committing. They have no answer for the “straight” members of the community that chastise them for their involvement that has become widely known. Yet Noah still believes he’s being righteous. He makes no effort to utilize the police for whom he is now presumably a snitch. Perhaps it’s all supposed to reflect Mennonite naiveté.

The shooting scene at the end of the episode makes no sense. Why would the motorcycle gang leader move to murder Noah over price negotiations that haven’t even been discussed with the boss, Eli Voss, yet? I now that TV dramas have to move things along at a brisk pace, but they should make some sense. I guess we find out next week who killed the motorcycle gang leaders.

My previous comments about “Pure” mixing Amish and Old Order and Low German cultures remain.

Some of my reflections were quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press last Saturday.

If you want to learn the truth about Ontario Mennonite history, I invite you read my book, In Search of Promised Lands.

Peter Shirk–Old Order Mennonite Local Politician

Peter Shirk, a draft dodger from the U.S. Civil War, came to Canada in 1862 and became a successful business person, owning two significant flour mills that shipped widely, especially into the Maritimes.

Although aggressive in business, Peter was traditional in his theology, and was concerned about the changes he saw happening the Mennonite Church. In letters preserved that he wrote to a friend in Pennsylvania, Shirk expressed concerns about worldly worship services, preachers taking too much pride their sermons, the conduct of singing schools in church buildings, erecting church buildings in the style of Protestant churches, and overemphasis on abstinence from use of alcohol and tobacco. He would have seen the temperance movement as an outside influence on Mennonites coming from groups like the Methodists.

Surprisingly, however, he served on the local high school board for 26 years, even though his children did not attend high school. He was also treasurer of Waterloo Township for two decades. These were very unusual positions for an Old Order Mennonite to hold.

The article and bibliography about Peter Shirk can be seen in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Peter Shirk, 1912. Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Peter Shirk: Old Order Mennonite businessman and local politician, was born 11 November 1839 near Churchtown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA to Christian Shirk (9 August 1796-19 May 1870) and Elizabeth Hoffman Shirk (25 November 1807-3 August 1862). Peter was the youngest child in a family of three girls and three boys. On 5 June 1866 he married Magdalena Martin (2 March 1845-7 November 1895); they had 13 children. After Magdalena’s death, he married a widow, Judith Weber Krempien (4 July 1855-9 April 1942); they had one daughter in addition to the five children from her first marriage. Peter Shirk died 1 October 1919 in Bridgeport, Ontario, Canada; he and Magdalena are buried at First Mennonite Church in Kitchener.

Peter grew up on the family farm in Lancaster County, and apprenticed as a miller. In 1862 while the Civil War was raging, Peter and a sister, Barbara, moved to Waterloo County, Ontario, making Peter a draft dodger from the war. He worked a brief time for his uncle, Jacob Hoffman, who had a furniture factory and sawmill in Berlin (now Kitchener). Because of his experience in milling, Peter soon took a position at the Union Mills in Waterloo where he worked until 1866.

Peter Shirk had an entreprenuerial spirit and soon began operating his own mills. In 1866 he purchased the mill at Blair, Ontario, thoughhe sold it in 1869. In 1870, in partnership with Samuel S. Snider, he purchased the Lancaster Mills in Bridgeport. A sawmill and cooperage also operated near the mill. After Samuel Snider retired in 1887, Shirk continued as the sole proprietor. He then purchased the Baden Mills from James Livingstone in 1887. Shirk operated both mills until his death, after which they continued operation within the extended family until sold to the Waterloo County Co-operative in 1949. The Baden Mill was lost in a fire in 1942, and the Lancaster Mill burned in 1970. In its last years, the Lancaster Mill was operated as a feed mill for local farmers.

Although Peter held conservative theological views, he was an innovator in business practices. He had telegraph service installed at the Lancaster Mill at an early date, followed by installation of the first telephone in the town of Bridgeport.

In 1878 Peter Shirk was elected to the Berlin High School Board, and served on the board for 26 years, though none of his children attended high school. For 20 years (1892-1912) Peter Shirk also served as treasurer for the Township of Waterloo. His son, George, followed him in that position.

It appears that Peter and Magdalena Shirk were members until the 1890s at what became First Mennonite Church. However, three of their daughters were baptized in 1896 by Magdalena’s brother, Abraham Martin, the founder of the Old Order Mennonites in Waterloo County. Peter strongly believed that Mennonites should remain separate from world. This was reflected in a series of letters he wrote between 1893 and 1908 to Jacob Mensch, a conservative leader in Pennsylvania. Shirk expressed concerns in those letters about worldly worship services, preachers taking too much pride their sermons, the conduct of singing schools in church buildings, erecting church buildings in the style of Protestant churches, and overemphasis on abstinence from use of alcohol and tobacco.

Interestingly, Peter Shirk’s funeral was held at First Mennonite Church, led by two ministers from the more assimilated Mennonite Conference of Ontario and one Old Order Mennonite minister. Shirk’s ambivalent relationship to the modern world impacted the Old Order Mennonite community from the beginning, as the Ontario Old Order Mennonites always allowed telephones in places of business because of Peter Shirk’s telephone in the Lancaster Mill in Bridgeport.

— Sam Steiner


“Pure” — the CBC Drama – Episode 2

Last week I commented after the first episode of “Pure.”

I said it succeeded as a crime drama, though I had a number of issues with the presentation in terms of Mennonites.


Source: CBC TV

This morning I watched episode 2. I’m much less certain about the quality of drama. Too many things don’t make sense — why would you make the Ontario drug “boss” someone as highly visible and slow moving as a farmer-preacher with no criminal experience? It boggles the mind.

The visual portrayal of the group is closer to Amish this week, though the women’s dresses do look somewhat “Old Colony.” The bonnets are definitely Amish. The Saturday night “sing” had an Amish feel.

Most Old Order Mennonites and even Old Order Amish use cell phones at time. They are not as ignorant about technology as Noah Funk was. Old Orders draw the line at smart phones, but have used cell phones for business for many years. Low German Mennonites also have no issues with cell phones.

Women do not say “amen” at the end of family prayer before a meal. That’s the role of the head of the family, who is male. Certainly if he is sitting there, the prayer does not end until he says so.

Noah Funk’s “sermon” was wrong on many levels. It must always be tied to scripture, even if trying to make the point about God living within us that he did.

The women working in the drug distribution shop (or whatever it was) is not possible. Married women don’t work away from home. They might operate a business from home, but that scene was strictly for looks.

The young peoples’ singing was nice, and seemed to follow the Amish pattern.

For now let’s change our assessment to an over-the-top crime drama, with limited relationship to any previous “true story.”

See also my comments after Episode 1,  Episode 3,  Episode 4,  Episode 5 and Episode 6.