The largest Mennonite migration to Ontario has been that of the Old Colony, or more generally, the Low German Mennonites from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Although this has gone on for over 50 years, it has been hard to pin down numbers because of the elastic nature of this migration.
According to some sources the first Old Colony Mennonites to permanently settle in Ontario came to Tillsonburg in 1952. It was over a decade until a first church building was purchased near Aylmer for the Old Colony Mennonite congregation. Gradually the Low German settlement expanded, especially westward into Kent and Essex counties.
Some of these Low German Mennonites joined newly forming Old Colony churches, or other churches with a Low German background, like the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, the Evangelical Mennonite Conference, the Sommerfelder, etc. But the largest percentage of those who came from the 1950s to the 1970s chose not to affiliate with any church. In 2004 one historian suggested that 60 per cent of Low German immigrants to Canada chose to have no religious affiliation. Despite this, the Old Colony Mennonite Church in Ontario is the second largest Mennonite denomination in Ontario, following only Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. This means they exceed the Old Order Mennonites, the Old Order Amish, and all the other more “visible” Mennonite groups in Ontario.
Early on Mennonite Central Committee Ontario set up programs to assist the Low German newcomers with immigration and language issues, and to serve as a link between the newcomers and the public school systems and governmental social service agencies. George Rempel directed this program in Aylmer beginning in the late 1970s.
By the mid-1990s the Low German Mennonite population in Ontario was between 25,000 and 30,000. By 2011, Mennonite Central Committee was using a number of “over 40,000.” Some years up to 250 families came to settle in Ontario from Mexico, Bolivia, Belize, Paraguay and elsewhere. There has been no Mennonite immigration to Ontario quite like it. In 2012 Low German Mennonites made up at least 25% of the Mennonite population in Ontario.
To learn more about Ontario’s Old Colony and Low German Mennonites read In Search of Promised Lands.
If you would like to comment on this article, click on the “leave a comment” button above.