A New History of Mennonites in Ontario

Book jacket for the book

Book jacket for In Search of Promised Lands

It was 1935 when Lewis J. Burkholder wrote his classic A Brief History of Mennonites in Ontario. In 1974 Frank H. Epp wrote the first volume (of an eventual three volumes) of Mennonites in Canada, this one covering 1786-1920. Much of this volume was devoted to the Ontario Mennonite history.

Both books, now out of print, are valuable additions to the library of anyone interested in Ontario Mennonites. Burkholder organized by geography, congregations and major Anabaptist groups. His work was sponsored by the Mennonite Conference of Ontario, so it primarily focused on that group. His work is especially valuable for the comprehensive lists of ordained leaders among the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and the Old Order Mennonites until 1935.

Frank Epp brought an historian’s analytic skills to his work. In his first volume the theme was The History of a Separate People. It was a landmark survey history that has been used in classrooms to the present day.

A lot has happened in the Ontario Mennonite world since these works were published. Think of the immigration of Low German Mennonites that exploded in the 1970s and 1980s, or the continuing health and growth of the Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities in Ontario. It was time for a new survey.

I began working as the Archivist in the Mennonite Archives of Ontario at Conrad Grebel College in 1974, and continued in that position until retirement at the end of 2008. The papers and pictures of Mennonite history passed through my hands throughout those years. My colleague at the College, Arnold Snyder, strongly encouraged me to write a new history of Mennonites in Ontario based on all the information I gathered. The Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario agreed to sponsor the project, and lent significant research support, as did the College for two sabbaticals of research.

The result, In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario, will be released by Herald Press (Kitchener, ON & Harrisonburg, Va.) on March 9, 2015. It is an 877-page volume that looks at the migrations and theological diversity of Ontario Mennonites, and their extensive interaction with other Christian streams in Ontario.

In this blog I will reflect on the themes that shaped my writing, surprises I encountered along the way, and interesting actors in the Mennonite story that I met. Other subjects will surely come to mind.

In Search of Promised Lands is available at a pre-publication price from MennoMedia’s website at $62.99 U.S. Canadians can call 1-800-631-6535 and ask for the Canadian pre-publication price of $69.29.

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