The Pre-History of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario – Part III

In Part I and Part II of this topic, we reviewed  inter-Mennonite cooperative efforts in the years before Mennonite Central Committee Ontario was formed in the early 1960s. These included the Russian Aid Committee of the 1870s, cooperation in communicating with government during World War I, formation of the Non-Resistant Relief Organization, and cooperation in settling Mennonite refugees from the Soviet Union in the 1920s.

In this last post of the series we’ll look at two projects related to World War II.

Conference of Historic Peace Churches

World War II was when Ontario inter-Mennonite cooperation really blossomed. In 1939 the  Non-Resistant Relief Organization (NRRO), which had been founded in 1917, was satisfied to stick with raising funds for relief, and hesitated to push discussions with the government about possibilities for alternative service in the event of war. The NRRO’s leadership was the same as it had been in World War I, and thus was well-respected, but quite elderly.

Jesse B. and Naomi Martin

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

This passive approach did not suit younger leaders who were still in their 30s and 40s. These included J. Harold Sherk of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, E. J. Swalm of the Brethren in Christ, and Jesse B. Martin of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. They established a new organization called the Conference of Historic Peace Churches, which included all the Anabaptist groups as well as the Quakers.

After significant struggles they successfully negotiated, in cooperation with Mennonites in western Canada, the establishment of  alternative service work camps that were not under military administration.

The first camp in Ontario was at Montreal River in northern Ontario. The alternative service camps brought lay members of the various Mennonite groups together in a shared experience, and introduced them to a wide variety of non-Mennonite groups who had an aversion to war. Later, many Ontario men served in British Columbia as fire fighters and groomers of ski trails.

Montreal River ASW Camp

J. Harold Sherk (light suit), Religious Director for the Montreal River camp, leading Sunday school. Mennonite Archives of Ontario.


Material Aid in World War II

Cora Cressman, Marguerite Rempel and Clara Nafzigerworking in material aid at First Mennonite Church. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Meanwhile, back in Ontario, the women were producing material aid to be sent as relief to England, and later to the European continent. This was initiated by sewing circles, but became part of the larger relief effort organized by the U.S.-based Mennonite Central Committee. This effort included women from various of the Mennonite groups.

Mennonite Central Committee’s Canadian Office

Orie Miller, the executive director for the U.S.-based organization that began in 1920, decided at the end of 1943 that Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) needed a bi-lingual (English and German) Canadian office to handle material goods intended for relief,  do publicity and handle donations, serve as a clearance center for Canadian volunteer applications,  and serve as a liaison with the Canadian government. Office space was rented from a controversial doctor, who was also a spiritualist who held séances next to the MCC offices.

Cornelius J. Rempel

Cornelius J. Rempel, first director of MCC’s Canadian office. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Cornelius and Marguerite Rempel (Marguerite was pictured on the picture above) became the couple in charge of the office. Rempel was a banker by profession, and well suited to the role. Support staff came from both Ontario and western Canada, and many of the young women who served in this role went on to overseas service after the war.

Alice Snyder and Harvey Taves

Alice Snyder and Harvey Taves, 1963. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

The Rempels resigned in 1950, and after a couple years of interim leadership, a new young leader for the office from Manitoba was identified. This was Harvey Taves, who brought a vision for voluntary service and an expanded peace witness to the role. He initiated VS programs in Newfoundland, and in a number of Ontario psychiatric facilities. He also initiated the Ailsa Craig Boy’s Farm in 1955.

Harvey Taves shepherded the transition from Kitchener being MCC’s Canadian office to the formation of MCC Ontario, and the construction of the original building at 50 Kent Avenue in Kitchener in late 1963. He died two years later at the early age of 39.

For more information on Mennonite Central Committee, read In Search of Promised Lands.

Read Part I

Read Part II


2 thoughts on “The Pre-History of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario – Part III

  1. Pingback: The Pre-History of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario – Part II | In Search of Promised Lands

  2. Pingback: The Pre-History of Mennonite Central Committee Ontario – Part I | In Search of Promised Lands

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