Montreal River Alternative Service Work Camp – Part 2

Last week was the first of two parts on the Montreal River Alternative Work Camp in Northern Ontario during World War II.

Once launched in July 1941, there were often 150-200 men in the Montreal River camp. They worked six days a week with an eight-hour day, with an hour for lunch. The meals were basic starch-filled farm food—potatoes, beef, and beans, with homemade bread. Breakfast included porridge, sometimes a bit of beef. Sunday evenings featured pie for dessert. It was said that at least one CO gained 40 pounds during his time at Montreal River.

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Christmas dinner at the Montreal River Alternative Service Camp, December, 1941. J. Harold Sherk, front right; C.E. Tench, the engineer and camp boss sits across from Sherk. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo

The men cleared rocks, trees, and brush for extending the Trans-Canada Highway farther north. They also worked in gravel pits and did carpentry work and some surveying. Evenings were spent in letter writing, reading, singing, and sports or games.

Montreal River ASW Camp

J. Harold Sherk (light suit) leading Sunday school at Montreal River ASW Camp. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Sunday school, along with Sunday morning and evening church services, usually took place in the recreation hall. Since the Old Order Mennonites were not accustomed to Sunday school, they sought the advice of their ministers. The ministers advised them to attend Sunday school, but not to participate in the discussion. When a religious director was not present, one of the men would lead. Old Order Mennonite Noah W. Bearinger recalled a one-week visit by Bloomingdale pastor Howard Stevanus, who held a service every evening, with pre-announced topics. Talks on “peace and war” and “prophecy” got good attendance, but when he talked “in simple plain language” about “pure courtship [practices]” the hall was packed with the conscientious objectors (COs), along with some of the non-CO staff.

It soon became apparent to the COs that the government was not serious about building a highway, since most of the work was done by hand. Many men came to feel the work location mostly kept the conscientious objectors from the scrutiny of patriotic Canadians farther south. Wilson Hunsberger was part of the first group to go to Montreal River. He recalled Montreal River as a “make work” project that was just accepted as something one did for four months instead of taking military training. Years later it became clear to those who had served that much of the road work they did at Montreal River did not become part of the eventual Trans-Canada Highway, as the route was slightly altered.

Despite the questionable value of the work, the alternative service work camps had a profound impact on most men who served. Although Mennonites formed the vast majority of the COs, other denominations were also present. The diversity had a broadening impact as Mennonite campers rubbed shoulders with Christadelphians, Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists, Pentecostals, members of the Salvation Army, and pacifists from mainline denominations like the United Church of Canada. The range of denominations did sometimes hinder shared spiritual fellowship within the camp; while the Mennonite groups were able to fellowship together, the Seventh Day Adventists and Plymouth Brethren generally declined participation in public worship and in the small fellowship groups organized by the campers. The camps shaped friendships and mutual respect between Amish, Pennsylvania German Mennonites, and Mennonite immigrants from the Soviet Union. The adjustment to camp life was probably most difficult for young men from the Old Order groups. Old Order Mennonite Noah W. Bearinger noted that in early 1943, out of 215 men in the Montreal River camp, 30 were Old Order Mennonite. Years later he lamented that only 11 of those 30 men remained Old Order.

To learn more about Mennonites and World War II, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Montreal River Alternative Service Work Camp

This coming Saturday (June 17), the Theatre of the Beat will be putting on the play, “Yellow Bellies,” at Floradale Mennonite Church at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. It’s a fundraiser, sponsored by the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario, for placing a heritage plaque at the location of the Montreal River Alternative Service Work Camp north of Sault Ste. Marie. The play is an historical drama with live music, highlighting the experiences and public response to Mennonite conscientious objectors during World War II. Get more information on the play at http://mhso.org/content/yellow-bellies.

It’s cause to review the context for this ASW camp. Canada entered World War II in 1939, but initially operated only with volunteers. But by mid-1940, preparations for a possible draft of young men was underway.

The National Resources Mobilization Act in June 1940 forced Mennonite young men to make a decision. Previously they simply kept their heads down to avoid the war hysteria that began in the spring of 1940. Very few Mennonites volunteered for active military service prior to July 1940. But once the Canadian government called for registration, hard decisions were required. The Committee on Military Problems (CMP), a subcommittee of the Conference of Historic Peace Churches, served as a mediator between Amish and Mennonite young men and government officials.

In the first months of registration the CMP had to resist the temptation of many Mennonites in farming communities to simply seek agricultural exemptions. If a young man applied for and received this exemption without first registering as a conscientious objector, he was no longer eligible to apply for conscientious objector status if the agricultural exemption was lost.

The Conference of Historic Peace Churches coordinated conscientious objector registration in Ontario. This reduced the problem of confrontational and potentially confusing interrogations of young men by military officials, something that happened regularly in Western Canada. Many of these young Mennonite men had only a grade eight education.

Only rarely did a registered young man have to face the mobilization board. Each congregation submitted a list of names to the CHPC certifying a young man’s status as a conscientious objector. The secretary of the Committee on Military Problems added his signature and sent the list on to the district registrar. The CMP secretary also determined which young men would be sent to the alternative service work camp and which would be granted a postponements as farmers. Noah M. Bearinger, the CMP secretary, held this powerful role; he would ultimately have conflicts with some families since it allowed him to decide which young men were forced to leave home to serve and which could remain at home.

Jesse B. and Naomi Martin

Jesse B. and Naomi Martin, ca. 1950. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

On July 3, 1941, Jesse B. Martin, chair of the Committee on Military Problems, explained to the CHPC the work camp arrangements that had been negotiated:

The present arrangement is to open a Civilian Work Camp. On June 24 we (Swalm, Sherk, Martin) met with Justice T. C. Davies, Deputy War Minister at Ottawa. He told us the camp would be at Michipicoten and that it would be under the direction of Mr. J. N. Wardle…. Since, the location has been changed to Camp Montreal eighty miles [130 kilometers] north of Sault Ste. Marie on the Trans-Canada Highway. Mr. Wardle told us that the work will be in charge of the following personnel—a camp Superintendent who will have general oversight; a highway engineer; a number of foremen; a first aid director. It is the plan that the Historic Peace Churches will appoint a Religious Director…. The work will consist of highway building and first aid training. They will work eight hours a day. The period will be for four months and in the future it will depend on the war situation. The boys will be provided with housing, board and fifty cents per day. Medical and sickness will be taken care of by the government. The boys will be under the compensation law while working. Clothing has to be provided by the young men…. It is a beautiful location. Any one that loves God’s world with lakes, woods, rocks, etc. will say this is a fine location. The camp consists of a kitchen, dining hall, bunk rooms, wash room, recreation hall, staff hall, stable, etc.

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The Montreal River Camp in 1941. Photo by J. Harold Sherk

Martin and J. Harold Sherk had visited the work camp site in late June. J. Harold Sherk was appointed as religious director for the camp by the CHPC on July 3, and he accompanied the first group of young men as they left on July 15, traveling by train to Toronto and then overnight by train to Sudbury. After finally arriving by train in Sault Ste. Marie in the afternoon of July 16th, they were taken 130 kilometers (eighty-one miles) in open trucks on a gravel road to the camp. When they arrived, the men were surprised by the large buildings, not knowing the site’s earlier use during the Depression as a lumber camp.

Next week we’ll discuss life in the Montreal River Camp.

To learn more about Ontario Mennonites in World War II, read In Search of Promised Lands.

The Detweiler Mennonite Meetinghouse

On Sunday, May 28, I participated in a “service of remembrance and cemetery walk” at the Detweiler Mennonite meetinghouse, just outside of Roseville, Ontario.

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The meetinghouse in the 19th century. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo 92-1.30

The Detweiler Mennonite meetinghouse is the only surviving 19th century stone meetinghouse built by Mennonites in Ontario. The building was constructed in 1855, replacing an earlier log schoolhouse/meetinghouse built at this same location about 1830.

Mennonite pioneers began to settle Dumfries Township in 1822. A Mennonite farmer named Jacob Rosenberger is credited for giving his name to the nearby village of Roseville. He, his wife, and two children died in the cholera epidemic of 1834.

Jacob F. Detweiler was already ordained as a minister when he came to the Roseville area in 1822. Jacob H. Detweiler, possibly a third cousin of Jacob F., who was an ordained deacon in Pennsylvania, also came to the Blair area at that time.

These men had both been affiliated with the Christian Funk group in Eastern Pennsylvania that was not in fellowship with the larger Franconia Mennonite Conference. The Funkites, as they were popularly known, had been willing to pay taxes to the new American government at the time of the Revolutionary War in the U.S. in 1776. This led to division with the larger Franconia group. The fact that both Detweilers had come from the minority side of this Pennsylvania division may account for the fact that the Detweiler congregation was not listed in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario’s Calendar of Appointments until sometime after 1837.

In 1830 Samuel Snyder conveyed an acre of his land to three trustees for the Mennonite congregation for a church, school and cemetery, and a log building would have been erected here about this time.

The present meetinghouse was built in 1855, and was dedicated on December 2 of that year. As was the custom of the time, services were not held in the meetinghouse every Sunday. On “off” Sundays local families would either travel to a nearby meetinghouse where services were being held – such as Blenheim, or would use the day for visiting friends and relatives.

Roseville always remained a small congregation. In addition to suffering from internal dissension from time to time, its location on the edges of the larger Mennonite community inhibited its potential for growth. Although families were large, the congregation’s children needed to move some distance away to find affordable farms or employment in the larger settlements. The congregation also suffered losses to the New Mennonites about the time this meetinghouse was built. The New Mennonites met at the Blenheim Union Meetinghouse about 3 km southwest of Roseville.

At the time of the John S. Coffman revivals in Waterloo County in the 1890s, the Detweiler congregation had something of resurgence. Solomon Gehman was minister at the time, and brought a more dynamic style than some of the earlier leaders. Nonetheless, after his death in 1912 decline again set in when no local minister was available.

The Rural Mission Board of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario provided monthly services at Detweiler for a time, with a variety of visiting preachers. This approach was not conducive to growth. However the little congregation of 15 members in 1921 again tried to revive by adding a second Sunday service in each month – this one on Sunday afternoons. They also renovated the building by closing the side entrances and placing a door at the east end of the building. The walls and ceiling were plastered and papered, the pulpit was shortened and moved to the west wall, the benches were cut to a uniform length and provided with a full back. At this time the congregation began to be more popularly known as Roseville Mennonite Church, though the name did not change more formally until the 1960s.

The little congregation undertook another renovation project in 1956. They added an 18 x 20 foot annex to provide Sunday school rooms, an oil-fired furnace was installed, along with a new ceiling, electrical wiring, and chemical toilets. They also stuccoed  the exterior walls, covering the stone surfaces. The following year additional painting and new doors were installed. The renovated building was rededicated in November 1956.

After their pastor, Moses Bowman, died suddenly of a heart attack in August 1964, the congregation had to seriously consider its future. In late 1965 seventeen members voted to discontinue services at Roseville, and the last service was held January 9, 1966.

A cemetery board continued to look after the adjoining cemetery, and the Mennonite Conference of Ontario appointed a board to look after the building. Little maintenance was done to the building over the next 20 years and it gradually deteriorated – shingles loosened, window frames rotted and the stucco cracked. Three different groups of Mennonites from Mexico rented the facility for worship services, but none of the groups stayed because of the inadequate facilities.

An Old Colony Mennonite group offered to buy the building in 1979, but on the advice of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario that irreversible changes to the building might be made, the conference decided not to sell. As rumors continued that the building might be demolished, Historical Society member Allan Dettweiler began a campaign to preserve the building. He urged the North Dumfries Township Council to purchase the building a museum. Eventually in November 1987 the conference agreed to transfer ownership of the building to a non-profit organization with the stipulation that the property remain intact and unsevered. The formal transfer to the new Detweiler Meetinghouse Incorporated board took place on March 30, 1992.

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The restored meetinghouse. Photo by Sam Steiner

Detweiler-InteriorThe new board aimed to restore the meetinghouse as it appeared in 1855 – this meant “undoing” all the exterior and interior renovations that had taken place beginning in 1921. Stucco was removed, and the stone cleaned and repointed. The addition of 1956 was removed and the entry doors returned to their former location. Windows were replaced, and the chimneys restored. A “wood shed” was added to include modern washrooms to serve the meetinghouse and cemetery. Tiered benches following the design of the original benches were installed over a refurbished floor, and a ventilation system to reduce future damage was included. The restored meetinghouse was dedicated September 26, 1999, including a worship service following a mid-nineteenth century style.

For a detailed history of this meetinghouse see Reg Good. Detweiler: Detweiler’s Meetinghouse: a history of Mennonites near Roseville, Ontario. Roseville, Ont.: Detweiler Meetinghouse, Inc., 1999.

To learn more about 19th century Mennonites in Ontario, read In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

The title of this post comes from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” back in my younger years. For some reason I associate it with sports pundit Howard Cosell, but Google tells me it was Jim McKay who intoned this every week.

Today is a personal experience reflection about the New Hamburg Mennonite Relief Sale this year–the 51st annual sale held this past Friday evening and Saturday.

Relief-Sale-CoverMy wife, Sue Clemmer Steiner, and I decided we wanted to buy a wall hanging to complement some of the other quilted wall hangings we’ve purchased over the years. We set ourselves a budget and drove out to the sale on Friday night to look at the quilts, get our bidding card and reserve two seats not too far from the front so that we would have a good view of the bidding.

After walking through all the quilts on display, and seeing and talking with many folks we hadn’t seen in a while, we decided on three possibilities.

By far our first choice was a wall hanging pieced and hand quilted by two of Sue’s retired female minister friends. It had a fall theme and colors that would go well in our living room.

Plan B was a wall hanging with a fairly traditional pattern that was machine quilted, but was quite attractive.

There was another interesting wall hanging with striking colors, but it was earlier on the auction list than our first choice, so we decided we’d not bit on it.

After all this careful analysis we stopped for homemade ice cream at one of the food booths before heading home.

The first wall hanging that interested us was about 75th or so on the list, so we didn’t bother to arrive at the relief sale until about 9:30 Saturday morning. We found our seats and settled to watch and wait. The first quilts seemed to be going for lower prices than we remembered in some years, but then things warmed up.

Three spots before the “striking colors” wall hanging came up, a full-sized bed quilt made by women at the Floradale Mennonite Church went for $6250. That seemed to wake the bidders up. Our “striking colors” wall hanging shot past our budget limit quickly, so we congratulated ourselves on our wisdom.

Finally our wall hanging came up. I waved our bidding card when the bidding started at $100. I kept pace until we suddenly were sitting on our maximum bid. But the other bidder kept going to the next level. So we were the disappointed underbidder.

The only consolation was that after the auction’s “feature quilt” sold, twelve lots after the agony of our defeat, the whole crowd stopped to sing “Praise God From Whom All Blessing Flow.”

Then we waited another 18 lots for our “Plan B.” Again I took our bid up to the budget limit, or maybe even one beyond, but again we were outbid.

Wall-HangingSo what to do. Sue went back to look through the items remaining for auction, and found a lap quilt that would help us remember the many cats that had shared our lives for 40 years.

After we had both eaten baked potato lunches carried in from a nearby food booth, we waited for item #168, “Cat Nap” by Dianne Robertson. Finally our lot came up, and our winning bid did not need to approach our budget limit. So we were thrilled.

Before heading home, we stopped and each had a fruit pie with ice cream to celebrate.

We got home in time to hear that the Toronto Blue Jays were winning their fifth straight game.

It was a good relief sale.

How does it compare with your relief sale experience?

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)

Last Friday and Saturday the Management Board for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online met in Goshen, Indiana. Some significant decisions were made, but I’ll wait to comment on them until after a press release is distributed. Rather, I thought I’d reproduce a blog article on GAMEO I first published in January 2016, since GAMEO has significant roots in Ontario.

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Mennonite Encyclopedia celebration

Celebration of the Mennonite Encyclopedia, 4th Volume, August 11, 1959: Left to right: Cornelius Krahn, Harold S. Bender, Melvin Gingerich.
Source: H.S. Bender Photographs. HM4-083. Mennonite Church USA Archives – Goshen. Goshen, Indiana.

GAMEO (pronounced găm-e-o) descends from two earlier projects. The first is well-known–the five-volume Mennonite Encyclopedia that was published from 1955 to 1959, with a supplementary fifth volume in 1990. It began as the brainchild of Prof. C. Henry Smith, who suggested in 1945 that an inter-Mennonite group of American Mennonite scholars translate and expand the earlier volumes of the Mennonitisches Lexikon published by European Mennonites. Even though Smith died in 1948, Harold Bender and Cornelius Krahn brought the vision to fruition. Cornelius J. Dyck and Dennis Martin brought the supplemental volume to completion in 1990.

The second project related to the three-volume Mennonites in Canada history series sponsored by the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada (MHSC) from 1968 to 1996.

Marlene Epp

Marlene Epp in 2015. Courtesy Conrad Grebel University College.

In the mid-1980s, Marlene Epp, presently a Professor of History at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, was a research associate for her father, Frank H. Epp. He was then preparing to write a third volume in the series. Both Frank and Marlene were based at Conrad Grebel.

Frank Epp died in early 1986 while awaiting a heart transplant. This suspended the writing project until Ted D. Regehr of the University of Saskatchewan was identified as the author for the third volume. Marlene Epp continued as research associate for the project, and spent much of her time developing databases of information on Canadian Mennonites — on congregations, institutions, conferences, businesses, periodicals and biographies. By far the largest of these databases was the one on congregations. It included basic information on 1200 Canadian Mennonite congregations, some of which no longer existed.

In 1987 the MHSC created a database committee to consider how best to utilize this wealth of material. The committee members were archivists at three Mennonite historical centers in Canada (Bert Friesen, chair; Sam Steiner, Lawrence Klippenstein, Ken Reddig) plus Ted Regehr, the vol. 3 author and Marlene Epp. Already in early 1988 Marlene Epp mentioned the possibility of a Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia.

Since the World Wide Web was not yet available, discussion within the committee focused primarily on how to make this electronic data available at the various Mennonite historical research centers in Canada.

Finally in 1995 the MHSC authorized a committee to study the feasibility of loading the database onto the Web. In 1996, with the assistance of the University of Waterloo Library, Sam Steiner, then the librarian-archivist at Conrad Grebel College,  loaded a prototype Canadian Mennonite Encyclopedia utilizing the congregational database onto an MHSC website hosted by the university library. At the end of 1996 it contained 550 brief congregational articles.

In March 1998, MHSC obtained permission from Herald Press (Scottdale, Pennsylvania) and the Institute of Mennonite Studies (Elkhart, Indiana) to digitize the print Mennonite Encyclopedia. The project also received a significant Canadian government grant that year to facilitate the work. In the initial year Sam Steiner selected Canadian-related articles from the print encyclopedia for copying and adding to the website. Because of his technical work on the website, Steiner became identified as the managing editor.

Finally, in 2004 it occurred to the encyclopedia’s editorial board (still composed of representatives from various Canadian Mennonite archives) that this could become a larger project that was worldwide in scope.

In 2005 the name changed to Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Volunteers from Mennonite archives throughout North America began to scan and proofread sections of the print Encyclopedia. They forwarded the articles to Waterloo for loading onto the site, hosted after 1998 on Conrad Grebel College’s own server. By the end of 2005 there were 2,700 articles on GAMEO. In 2008 web hosting moved from the College to Peaceworks Computer Consulting (now Peaceworks Technology Solutions), a firm that has provided software support to GAMEO from the late 1990s.

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GAMEO Management Board meeting, May 2017. L-R: Sam Steiner, Jason Kauffman, Jon Isaak, Richard Thiessen, Eric Kurtz, John D. Roth, Bert Friesen

In 2005 two partners — the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission and the Mennonite Church USA Historical Committee — joined the project. Mennonite Central Committee joined the partnership in early 2006, Mennonite World Conference joined in January 2007 and the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism (Goshen, Indiana) in October 2011.

GAMEO was invaluable in the research for In Search of Promised Lands. Visit GAMEO if you have not already done so.

The Diversity of Mennonites in Ontario

In my presentations on May 5 and 8 to the “Annual Networking Conference for Service Providers to Low German Speaking Families” in Leamington and Aylmer, Ontario. I talked about the diversity of Mennonites in Ontario. I said there were over 30 different Mennonite groups in Ontario, and tried to explain it in 25 minutes.

David Martin Mennonites working the fields

David Martin Mennonites working the fields. Photo by Mark Burr

Since the audience was half or more non-Mennonite, I first gave a little historical background, and talked about four Mennonite characteristics upon which almost all Mennonites in Ontario agree: 1) Adult baptism; 2) Rejection of participating in war; 3) Refusing to swear oaths; and 4) A call to live a Christian life consistent with the teachings of Jesus that sometimes means a simpler lifestyle. The last characteristic has led some groups to embrace visible symbols of separation from the world in dress, technology, education and vocation.

I then said that most Ontario Mennonites descend from one of six migrations to Canada, though there have been new voices added to the Mennonite mix over the years, from intermarriage,  from conversion, and most recently from incorporation of refugee groups into the Mennonite community. These migrations explained some of the Mennonite diversity; division on theological issues within the individual migrations has also contributed to the diversity.

The six migrations I reviewed were:

  1. Pennsylvania Mennonites from 1786 to the 1830s, primarily in search of cheaper land, and encompassing some 2,000 people over the years.
  2. Amish Mennonites from Europe (with a few from Pennsylvania) beginning in the 1820s, in order to escape the economic problems of post-Napoleonic Europe and to find cheaper land. These folks numbered less than 1,000.
  3. Mennonites from Russia in the 1870s who feared the loss of their privileges of self-government, freedom from military service, and control of the education of their youth. Seven thousand of these Mennonites came to Manitoba, with the assistance of the Ontario Mennonites, who provided loans, guaranteed a government loan, and housed over winter those who arrived in the fall. Some of these Mennonites left for Mexico and Paraguay in the 1920s when the Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments tried to force acculturation through the public school system. Some of these folks returned as part of migration 6 below.
  4. Twenty thousand Mennonites from the Soviet Union came to Canada in the 1920s in
    Refugees walking up Erb Street.

    Mennonite immigrants from the Soviet Union approaching Erb Street Mennonite Church, July, 1924. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo.

    the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the beginning of communist domination. Fifteen percent of these folks settled in Ontario, and brought different customs, different foods, different names, and a very different history to the Ontario Mennonite world. They had little to do with the descendants of migrations 1 & 2 until World War II.

  5. The fifth immigration included Mennonites from the Soviet Union who had been displaced by the World War II, and had retreated with the German army when it left the Soviet Union.  There were only 12,000 out of 100,000 Mennonites remaining in the Soviet Union who were able to leave for Canada or to South America. About 1300 of these people came to Ontario between 1947 and 1952.
  6. The sixth migration was that of Low German Mennonites from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, beginning in the 1950s. The largest group among them were the Old Colony Mennonites. These \were the descendants of the Mennonites who moved from Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Mexico and Paraguay in the 1920s. This was the largest Mennonite migration to Ontario that has ever occurred. Canada became an attractive alternative to economic difficulties in Latin America, because many Low German Mennonites still had Canadian citizenship, or were able to reclaim citizenship because their parents or grandparents were Canadian citizens.By the mid-1990s the Low German Mennonite population in Ontario was between 25,000 and 30,000. By 2011, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario was using a number of “over 40,000.”  There has been no Mennonite immigration to Ontario quite like it. In 2012 Low German Mennonites made up at least 25 percent of the Mennonite population in Ontario.

I then talked about the theological variants among the Mennonites that I used in my book, In Search of Promised Lands: 1) Assimilated; 2) Separatist Conservatives; 3) Evangelical Conservatives; and 4) Old Order Amish and Mennonites. That’s a complex discussion I’m not sure worked very well in the presentation, or would work in a short blog.

If I do this kind of presentation again, I would likely add a seventh migration: the non-English economic and refugee migrant groups that have joined the assimilated Mennonite world since the late 1970s. Probably 15-20 languages are used in assimilated Ontario Mennonite churches on Sunday mornings.

To learn more, read In Search of Promised Lands.

The Old Colony Mennonites move to Mexico in the 1920s

On May 5 and 8, I spoke to the “Annual Networking Conference for Service Providers on Low German Speaking Families” in Leamington and Aylmer, Ontario. I gave presentations on the diversity of Mennonites in Ontario. The experience led me to focus today’s blog on a piece of the Low German Mennonite story — the departure of these Low German Mennonites from Canada in the 1920s.

The Mennonites from Russia who immigrated to Manitoba in the 1870s successfully sought assured exemption from compulsory military service from the Canadian government. They also welcomed the Canadian government’s promise that Mennonites could maintain and control their own educational system “without any molestation or restriction whatever.”

The fact that education in Canada was under provincial, not federal, control unsurprisingly escaped the attention of the new immigrants. This oversight led to major problems for these Mennonites fifty years later.

During and after World War I the provincial governments in Manitoba, and later Saskatchewan, began to supervise more strictly their public educational systems, in which many Mennonites participated.

As long as Mennonite-background school inspectors like Henry H. Ewert in Manitoba did the supervision this worked well. But in the first quarter of the twentieth century provincial educational priorities changed. World War I prompted governments to emphasize patriotism and to anglicize the school curriculum. As a result, more conservative parts of the Mennonite community began private schools for their children.

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Old Colony Mennonite couple leaving for Bolivia, 1968. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo, 92-14-3973

A clear majority of the 1870s immigrants in Manitoba and Saskatchewan still preferred a separatist response to the surrounding culture. Conservative Mennonite groups, including the Reinländer (popularly called “Old Colony”), Chortitzer, and Sommerfelder, comprised 80 percent of the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Mennonite population in 1901.

During World War I both Manitoba and Saskatchewan eliminated the bilingual public schools that had helped Mennonites to retain their German language. In 1918, as some Mennonite communities were shifting to private schools, the provinces began to impose public schools on the Mennonite communities. They arbitrarily reopened public schools in Mennonite areas that had utilized only private schools for years, and they built new school buildings and hired teachers over the objections of the local community. The provinces also demanded that the private schools use provincially recognized teachers and textbooks, and that instruction be in English.

The boards of Mennonite private schools that did not meet these new standards could be prosecuted. The postwar anti-German sentiment also fueled these provincial initiatives. The Mennonites pursued legal appeals, but ultimately the Privy Council in England in 1920 refused to hear them.

As provincial enforcement of the stringent new laws increased, the more separated groups planned for emigration, even as their French and Ukrainian neighbors, and many of the more assimilated Mennonites, accommodated themselves to the new educational policies. The large Reinländer church explored Argentina, Mississippi, and even the province of Quebec as settlement options before ultimately focusing on Mexico. They signed a Privilegium (a document outlining any special privileges accorded the immigrants) with the Mexican authorities in early 1921 and began purchasing land in the state of Chihuahua. Emigration started in March 1922.

Front-Cover

Leaving Canada by Rosabel Fast, a Plett Foundation publication for use in Low German Mennonite schools.

By 1926 almost two-thirds of the Manitoba Reinländer, almost 6,000, had emigrated. Additionally, and for similar reasons, about 1,800 Chortitzer and Sommerfelder Mennonites went to Paraguay and formed Menno Colony.

Life was not easy in Mexico, and the Old Colony Mennonites’ determination to retain separation through language created tensions with the indigenous Mexican population. Political unrest and the unfamiliar climate, combined with different soils and crops, also impeded their settlement. Full Mexican citizenship did not appear to be an option even if desired.

Nonetheless, some Mennonites prospered in Mexico, while others remained on the economic margins. Internal unrest led some to migrate to other Latin American countries like Honduras and Bolivia while others wanted to return to Canada.

Further unrest resulted from the arrival of evangelical Mennonite missionaries by the 1940s. The missionaries sought to improve local educational, medical, and spiritual life. The latter goal especially offended Old Colony leaders, and they excommunicated an increasing number of persons who identified with evangelical Mennonite groups. As the population grew it became more difficult to purchase land, especially for those with limited financial means. By 1975 the Mennonite population in Mexico was estimated to be 40,000, about a third of whom did not own property.

Old Colony theology contained some similarities to that of Old Order groups among the North American Amish and Mennonites, in part because their theology did not include 19th- and 20th-century evangelical theology. David Schroeder, a Canadian Mennonite theologian who grew up in a conservative Sommerfelder family, described the Old Colony and Sommerfelder view of salvation as future oriented: “I trust I will be saved,” while the view of evangelical Mennonites was past tense: “I have been saved.”

The demand for assurance of salvation and a particular conversion experience led many evangelical Christians (including many Mennonites) to intensely criticize the salvation understanding of these pre-evangelical Mennonite groups. The Old Colony and Sommerfelder Mennonites, like their Old Order religious cousins, emphasized Christian “formation” rather than conversion or education. According to Schroeder, formation meant induction into the Old Colony world.

A high level of separation from the surrounding culture was required for this approach to work successfully. The conservative groups emphasized character formation through teaching the catechism and through the telling of stories of both exemplary behavior and human folly. The church defined the boundaries of the community of faith and determined the lifestyle of its members as well as their economic, educational, and social standards. According to Schroeder, the conservative groups usually maintained the use of Low German to separate them from the surrounding culture.

The story of the Old Colony has continued to the present, with many returning to Canada (including Ontario) in the second half of the 20th century.

To learn more about the Old Colony Mennonites and other Low German Mennonite groups, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Mennonite Church Eastern Canada–a Synopsis of its History

This past weekend (April 28-29, 2017), Mennonite Church Eastern Canada held its 30th annual meeting. It seemed appropriate to reflect on the history of this assimilated Mennonite regional body affiliated with Mennonite Church Canada. I reflected earlier on how this conference differed from its counterparts in the United States.

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The moderators and secretaries signing the merger documents, 1987. Seated (L-R): Robert Snyder (lawyer); Roy Scheerer (WOMC secretary), Ed Epp (UMC secretary), David Kroeker (MCOQ secretary); Standing (L-R): Gerald Good (WOMC moderator), John Cornies (UMC moderator), Lester Kehl, MCOQ moderator). Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo 1992-1-42.

In 1988 three assimilated conferences (Western Ontario Mennonite Conference (WOMC), United Mennonite Churches in Ontario (UMC), and Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec (MCOQ)) merged to form the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (later Mennonite Church Eastern Canada). At one level this was a logical progression, as the three largest assimilated Mennonite groups in Ontario overlapped geographically and each had lost its distinctive symbols of separation from the larger Canadian society. The boundaries between the Ontario Amish Mennonites and the Mennonites who originated in Pennsylvania had always been porous, even in the 19th century, as they shared many religious and cultural values, cooperated in petitioning government on matters of joint concern, and frequently intermarried. The Mennonites who immigrated in the 1920s had been hosted by these earlier groups for varying periods of time when they arrived in Canada, but their variant historical and cultural experience led them to soon establish their own churches and social communities.

World War II had brought a measure of cooperation among all the Ontario Mennonite groups through the Non-Resistant Relief Organization and the Conference of Historic Peace Churches. Certainly this experience served as a bridge to the cooperation that followed. Four other factors brought these three assimilated groups together. One was the increasing urbanization that sprinkled Mennonites into urban settings that were often disconnected from their traditional communities. Mennonite communities in Kitchener-Waterloo and St. Catharines were still compact enough for members to locate their particular group there. But Mennonites living in Toronto, Hamilton, London, or other urban areas had to commute long distances to find faith compatriots.

The second factor was the emergence of Conrad Grebel University College. The decision of the Mennonite Brethren and the Brethren in Christ to opt out of this project in 1962 left the three conferences that would eventually merge working together on a highly visible and symbolic cooperative project.

The third and most important factor was the renewed emphasis on urban missions. The Valleyview Mennonite congregation in London, Ontario, emerged from cooperation between the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. By 1963 the mission boards of these two conferences had worked out a “policy on cooperative church extension” that also included the United Mennonites. It emphasized mutual respect and acceptance in cases where practice or doctrinal details differed. In 1965 they established an inter-Mennonite mission committee that in 1967 became the Mennonite Mission and Service Board, which had already sponsored a joint service project in Sudbury.

A fourth factor was Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener. This congregation had emerged out of the 1924 division at First Mennonite Church. It joined the U.S.-based Eastern District of the binational General Conference Mennonite Church in 1946. By the late 1960s it seemed more appropriate to nurture Mennonite connections closer to home. It became an early dual-conference congregation by joining both the United Mennonites and the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1969. Perhaps as much as anything, this initiative stirred discussion on the possible union of some of the Mennonite conferences.

By 1974 an Inter-Mennonite Executive Council (IEC) formed, composed of the three conference moderators and secretaries, the Conrad Grebel College board chair, the chair of the (by then named) Inter-Mennonite Mission and Service Board, and chairs of the joint education committees. Although this group never had independent authority, it attempted to become a clearinghouse for inter-Mennonite activity, sometimes including the Mennonite Brethren.

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Newton Gingrich (standing right), talks with Jesse B. Martin, at the time that Gingrich became moderator of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1961. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo 1984-1-229

The individual working hardest for this cooperation was Newton Gingrich, who was moderator of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario from 1961 to 1970 even while he pastored a congregation in the Western Ontario Mennonite Conference beginning in 1966. Despite limited education (he left school at age 13, but eventually completed junior college-level studies at Eastern Mennonite College), he had enormous organizational skills. He chaired the Inter-Mennonite Mission and Service Board beginning in 1970, which put him on the Inter-Mennonite Executive Council. At the time of his sudden death in 1979 he was the strongest advocate for formally merging the three conferences, and he chaired a committee exploring that possibility. His death slowed the merger process since most other conference leaders were more cautious and preferred what came to be called “organic growth” in cooperation.

The path to merger was not smooth. The Western Ontario Mennonite Conference and the Mennonite Conference of Ontario began to share staff positions (conference minister and office staff) and began to hold their annual meetings at the same time and place. This distanced them from the United Mennonite Conference, which had less shared history and was seen by the other two conferences as more independent in its polity and more aggressive in asserting its positions.

This ambivalent state continued until the United Mennonite Conference’s moderator, Ed Janzen, prepared a study paper called “Blowing of the Wind,” which suggested that new urban congregations be permitted to join the joint (unincorporated) Inter-Mennonite Conference (Ontario), which formed in 1974, without having to join one of the three existing conferences. The paper caused a stir among the conference leadership with its suggestion of a fourth super conference, but its recommendations were ultimately dropped.

This seeming retreat from merger outraged the church planting leaders of the three conferences, who felt they were left with unwieldy structures that forced new Mennonites to make unnecessary choices between three similar conferences. In 1984 the three conference executives agreed to take another look, and at a meeting on December 19, 1984, they agreed to move toward an integrated conference that would be launched in 1987.

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The first Executive Secretary and first Conference Minister for MCEC were Peter H. Janzen (left) and Herb Schultz (right). Sam Steiner photo.

Delegates from all three conferences overwhelmingly approved an integration proposal in March 1986. A formal structure was approved in fall 1987, and the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (MCEC) came into formal existence in February 1988. Congregations were given a six-year period of associate membership in the North American denominations in which they were not already a member, whether the Mennonite Church, the General Conference Mennonite Church, or the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. It was understood they would become full members of the denominations after the associate period. Thus MCEC became the first “dual-conference” regional conference, as discussions began on merging and realigning the denominations, which would take place a little over a decade later.

There were glitches and tensions in the early years of the merger as historical polity differences generated concerns and reactions. The former smaller Western Ontario Mennonite Conference sometimes felt its voice was lost in the larger conference and that its family ethos had been taken away. United Mennonites sometimes believed their congregational autonomy emphasis was threatened by a top-down administrative structure. Also, individual leaders from the United Mennonite background sometimes articulated their views in confrontational language, which was not the style of communication among most of those of Mennonite Church background. A large $6.3 million fund drive for building expansions at Rockway Mennonite Collegiate and Conrad Grebel University College, and for the missions program, fell well short of its goal. But despite these limitations, pastors began serving in congregations without regard to the denominational “lineage” of the pastor or of the congregation. This cultivated a sense of comfort in the new structure.

As Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (as it became known in October 2001) exists in 2017, it has maintained relative health, albeit with a reduced number of program staff and tightening budgetary concerns. Some new congregations emerged, especially in urban settings and non-English contexts. Some church plants provided alternatives to traditional congregational styles, usually without the Mennonite name.

To learn more about Ontario’s 30-plus Mennonite denominations, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Lewis J. Burkholder–Mennonite historian

Today I am reproducing a reflection on the life of Lewis Josephus Burkholder, a Mennonite minister in Markham, Ontario, who wrote A Brief History of the Mennonites in Ontario in 1935. It was a remarkable work, containing biographical snippets about every Mennonite minister he could identify in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario, the Old Order Mennonites, Reformed Mennonites and Amish Mennonites, as well as historical sketches of each congregation and each settlement. It revealed remarkable and deep original research, and remains a valuable resource today.

The reflection was written by Oscar Burkholder in 1950, shortly after Burkholder’s death in 1949. Burkholder was a prominent minister in Breslau, Ontario. The article was published in Mennonite Yearbook and Directory 41 (1950): 25-26.


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L. J. Burkholder. GAMEO photo

 

L. J. Burkholder, as he was best known to his brethren in the Ontario Mennonite Con­ference, was born June 15, 1875, about two miles east of the village of Markham, in the County of York, some twenty miles northeast of the city of Toronto. He was born on the farm where he spent his entire life. He was the eldest son of his father’s second marriage. His father, Abraham G., was married the second time to Elizabeth Reesor thus bringing together two of the pioneer families of the district. There were eleven children in the two families. The first family was composed of six children as follows : Elizabeth, Mrs. David Steckley ; Elsie, Mrs. Enos Nighswander; Adeline, Mrs. Isaac Boadway; Maria, Mrs. David Brownsberger ; Barbara, Mrs. Ozias Snyder ; and Aaron. The second family, of which Lewis was the oldest, was as follows: Phares ; Ada, Mrs. Noah Weber ; Amos ; and Norman.

 

On May 11, 1904, he was married to Lucetta High, of Vineland, Ontario, who passed away June 4, 1923. To this union was born one daughter, Luella, Mrs. Alvin Reesor. In May, 1925, he was married to Emma Meyer, of Mark­ham, who passed away April 14, 1944. To this union was born one son, Paul. “L. J.” passed away at his home on September 28, 1949 at the age of 74 years, 3 months, 13 days. During the last ten years of his life, he was not able to preach. At the beginning of this period he suffered a slight stroke, which later developed into blindness and gradual bodily weakness. These ten years were in great contrast to his intense activity in preaching and making his living. But he remained true to his faith, and we have every reason to believe he left for his heavenly home in triumph.

Brother Burkholder was ordained to the Christian ministry for the Cedar Grove congre­gation, Cedar Grove, Ont., on January 12, 1896, by Bishop Elias Weber of Breslau, Ontario, five months before he reached his twenty-first birth­day. This was quite an historical event, for it was not customary in the Mennonite Church at this time to ordain men so young in years. But he had been converted under the ministry of J. S. Coffman about four years previous and was baptized on May 18, 1892, thus revealing the splendid type of evangelism that Brother Coff­man rendered in those beginning years of evan­gelism in the Mennonite Church. And it was this same conviction and service that marked Brother Burkholder’s entire ministry.

For “L. J.” was much used by the church both at home and in the United States. But it must be mentioned here that a servant of the Lord, in order to be so much used, must live a steady life of great activity and corresponding sacrifice, and that such a program is shared by the family as well. Such is the record of this godly man and his family through his years of service.

In a number of instances he was a pioneer. After his ordination he decided not to be a farmer, but purchased several acres of land from his father near .the place of his birth. Here he erected his home, and from here he carried out his entire ministry. In 1906 he was one of the strong supporters of the Bible school movement when the Ontario Mennonite Bible School was organized by the conference. He was one of the first teachers, with S. F. Coffman, in 1907. He was one of the first officers of the Nonresist­ant Relief Organization formed in 1917 and which has played such an important role in the relief work of the Mennonite Church in Ontario in the years since. He was one of the first ministers in the church to see the great good in the summer Bible school movement and gave it his hearty support. He was strongly missionary-minded and was among the brethren who organized the Rural Mission Board in Ontario and served as president and in various other capacities. It was while he was officially responsible for the outreach of this Board that he discovered the Ammon Mast family east of Clarence Center, New York, and began the revival of the Mennonite Church in this area.

Besides these beginnings he was a faithful and tireless supporter of the established work of the church. He served as moderator of the Ontario Conference longer than any other man before or since. He was assistant moderator of Mennonite General Conference for a term of two years. He was a faithful evangelist for a number of years and led many souls into the kingdom. He was a searcher for workers for the kingdom, and was the instrument in the Lord’s hand to lead the writer into the ministry. He was acting bishop for the York County district for a number of years, when the problems were delicate and difficult of solution. He preached 2,836 sermons, the last one on December 31, 1939, at Cedar Grove on the text, Psalm 90:12. He was then only 65 years of age but had been preaching 44 years.

It is appropriate to ask, How could one per­son get so much done under such limited cir­cumstances? For Brother Burkholder was truly a very versatile man. He was an excellent car­penter and cabinetmaker Besides he was a very good repairer of clocks and watches. Added to this he was a good gardener, and a splendid apiarist. Then, too, he was a weaver of no mean ability. He wove the first rug for the floor of the Cedar Grove Church. He often used his various skills as illustrations in his sermons. He was intensely interested in old things in many lines and made a very valuable collection in his life time.

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Source: AbeBooks.com

Naturally, then, he was also historically minded, and served as conference historian for many years. His crowning work in this field is his book, Mennonites in Ontario, which repre­sents some of his most patient and painstaking work. He deserved a far greater reward for his effort than was given him.

Finally, Brother Burkholder is a shining example of “Little is much when God is in it.” He had very few educational advantages. There was no high school, let alone college, in his youth program. He attended one year at the Elkhart Institute where he made some life­long friends and received his initiation into the general program of the Mennonite Church, From there on it was, “prepare while you work and work while you prepare.” “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich,” was his constant experience. He could truly say while he lived and served, and we say in his memory, “But by the grace of  God I am what I am … yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

I am grateful for the privilege of writing this tribute to the life and work of my uncle, who has been a great inspiration to me to do my best under all kinds of circumstances.

— Oscar Burkholder


See also the article in GAMEO on L. J. Burkholder.

Ontario Mennonites who fought in World War I

The recent coverage in the national and local press about centennial anniversaries of great battles during World World I (Vimy Ridge, Hill 70), has led me to reflect more about Ontario Mennonites in relationship to the “Great War.”

The war was before the Mennonites from the Soviet Union arrived in the 1920s, so virtually all the Ontario Mennonites were descended from Mennonite immigrants from Pennsylvania, or Amish immigrants from Europe or the United States. The Mennonite Brethren in Christ had attracted a number of converts from a variety of other cultural backgrounds.

Much has been written, including in my monograph, In Search of Promised Lands, about Mennonite efforts to get the Canadian government to recognize their conscientious objection to war, and their unwillingness to participate in active military service. I alluded to this in an earlier blog post.

Less has been written about the few self-identified Mennonites who went into active military service. I have limited information on this topic, and would welcome input from anyone who can add to the information shared here.

I’ve worked at the topic by using two online data sources. One is the Library and Archives Canada website where one can search the Personnel Records of the First World War, including the attestation (enlistment) records of members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. These records include the religious self-identification of soldiers. The other source was the World War I Soldier Information Cards kept at the Grace Schmidt Room of the Kitchener Public Library. One can also search these records of Waterloo County soldiers for the word “Mennonite.”

This approach has limitations. The self-identification does not say whether the person was a member of the church. The Kitchener Public Library cards do not provide religious information on everyone. Many Mennonites lived outside Waterloo County, and could not be easily searched in this way. Some Mennonites had military personnel records after conscription began in the second half of 1917, even though it was only because they were not immediately exempted from service for a variety of reasons and may have been unwillingly detained at a military base for a period of time.

Daniel Brenneman (1895-1957), William Brenneman (1894-1953) and Henry Roth (1894-?) of the East Zorra Amish Mennonite near Tavistock, and Simon Roth (1890-1918) of the Steinmann Amish Mennonite Church were examples of persons who inadvertently got caught in the military for a number of months in 1918. (Simon Roth died of influenza in October 1918). William Roth (1895-1961), who appears to have been a Reformed Mennonite in New Hamburg, and Alvin Roth (1895-?), from Gadshill, Ontario, likely had similar experiences, though the available records are unclear.

Similar stories took place in the Old Order Mennonite community. Norman Bearinger (1896-1963) of Elmira, was shifted among various units while the military tried to decide what to do with him. Bearinger did not appear to remain a Mennonite after the war. Old Order Mennonite Jeremiah Steckle Bauman (1896-1967) was part of the military for only a month at the end of 1918 before he was discharged. Old Order Mennonites Peter M. Martin and John M. Martin mostly had leaves of absence without pay for the six months in 1918 they were formally part of the army. This allowed them to mostly work at home on their family farm.

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Carl Reesor and Simeon Reesor in military camp in uniform. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo Hist.Mss.1.287.13-3

Joseph Lehman Smith (1897-1993) of Unionville, Ontario, had perhaps the most difficult experience, since he initially willingly put on the military uniform, and did not tell the officers he was a conscientious objector until he refused to participate in bayonet practice. He was detained in camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake almost six months before he was discharged as part of the general demobilization in 1919. Others from the Markham area who were briefly in the Niagara-on-the-Lake military camp were Carl Reesor (1895-1968) and Simeon Reesor (1896-1988).

There were, however, self-identified Mennonites who actively served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. One Mennonite soldier who died during the war was Ira Diefenbacher, who enlisted in September 1915 at the age of 24. He was a single man who was born in Roseville, Ontario, and grew up near Hawkesville. He was a bookkeeper by profession. In the army, Ira was first an infantry soldier, and later a company runner, who carried messages between units. He was killed by a sniper on one of these missions on August 30, 1918 near Arrass, France. His will left everything to Edna Davey of Kitchener, Ontario. On his “casualty report” he is listed as a Methodist, perhaps reflecting the his rejection by the church of his youth.

A second Mennonite soldier who died was Daniel Russell Fretz (1897-1918), who was born in Jordan, Ontario, but later lived in Didsbury, Alberta. He was drafted in May 1918, and got as far as England, where he died of influenza in October 1918.

One Mennonite Brethren in Christ minister, Thomas John Drinkall (1883-?) of Stratford, enlisted in the army medical corps in July 1916. (The Mennonite Brethren in Christ are now known as the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.) Drinkall served as a clerk in the army, and returned to Canada in 1919. He did not appear to serve as a Mennonite minister after his return.

Other self-identified Mennonites who served in the military included:

  • Albert Brubacher (1894-1993) of Elmira, Ontario, who enlisted in April 1918;
  • Gordon Henry Good (1894-1943) of Conestoga, Ontario, who enlisted in May 1917. He was a member of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ denomination;
  • Albert Franklin Thoman (1895-?), originally of Markham, enlisted in April 1917, and was wounded twice;
  • Oscar Gingrich (1897-1957), enlisted in March 1916, and worked primarily in railroad construction. At his death Oscar was an active member of the Erb Street Mennonite Church in Waterloo;
  • Aulton (Alton) Cressman (1892-1966) of Breslau, enlisted in December 1915. He served as a sapper for part of his service;
  • John Joseph Burgetz (1895-1980) of Kitchener, enlisted in January 1918. He appeared to serve in the Forestry Corps. He was later a member of the Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener;
  • Addison Brox (1896-1968) of Elmira, enlisted in May 1918. After the war he lived in Saskatchewan;

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    Gordon Christian Eby in camp. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo Hist. Mss. 1.66.4.1-063

  • Gordon Christian Eby (1890-1965) of Kitchener, enlisted in September 1915. He was a direct descendant of Bishop Benjamin Eby, but probably never joined the Mennonite Church. His diaries and photographs from the war years are located at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario.
  • Milton B. Wismer (1898-1970) of Baden, son of the Shantz Mennonite Church minister, Orphen Wismer, appeared to enlist in 1916, but the remainder of his military records are not yet available online.
  • Franklin Leroy Fretz (1895- ?), a brother of Daniel Fretz mentioned above, enlisted in May 1916. He was likely a member of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ. He served as a private in the infantry for three years.
  • Moses Gascho (1886-1966) of Zurich, Ontario, later of Saskatchewan, enlisted in March 1916. He served overseas, but did not appear to experience combat.

I would be happy to learn of other Ontario Mennonite men who served in the military during World War I, especially from outside Waterloo County. I will update this blog with new information if it becomes available.

If you are interested in the Mennonites of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, who were descended from Mennonite immigrants from Russia, you can see a listing of drafted and enlisted men at http://www.mennonitegenealogy.com/canada/WWI/WWIMennonitesIndexSorted.htm.

To learn more about the Ontario Mennonites response to World War I, read In Search of Promised Lands.