Old Order Mennonite and Amish families are very large in comparison with the rest of the population. These groups also place high value on rural and agriculturally-related vocations for the health of their communities.
This has meant that growing settlements frequently need to identify new locations for daughter settlements as land in the mother settlement becomes scarcer and more expensive. This especially happens when towns and cities encroach on existing communities. This has happened to Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish in the Region of Waterloo and surrounding counties.
A second reason for seeking new settlements can sometimes be economic failure of a community. A small settlement may discover it doesn’t have the economic strength to maintain itself, or a series of poor crops may persuade families they need to make a fresh start. David Luthy, an Amish historian from Aylmer, Ontario, has written a large book, with a series of supplements, on Amish “settlements that failed” for a variety of reasons. Some of these have been in Ontario.
Another pressure can be theological differences within a community. A segment of a community that places greater emphasis on separation from the world may chose to move to a more isolated geographic location. This can reduce the number of temptations for young people, and provide a safe distance from theological conflicts they have found to be debilitating. This tactic helped the Orthodox Mennonites in Ontario to flourish when they moved away from Waterloo County.
Regardless of the reasons for founding a new settlement, the exploration phase is a taxing, yet exciting venture for those willing to try something new. Sometimes when momentum for a geographic move builds it is called “fever.”
For example, a “Kansas fever” in the 1870s attracted Mennonites of various backgrounds and locations who were seeking a fresh start. A “California fever” also seized a variety of Mennonites in the early 20th century.
Until now, most daughter settlements of Old Order Mennonites and Amish in Ontario have remained in the province — looking northward or eastward from the traditional settlements. This is still the case for most of the new settlements, but some adventurous families have begun looking much further afield.
There is presently a small scale “Prince Edward Island fever” among both Old Order Amish and Mennonite groups in Ontario. This is not the first time these groups have considered Prince Edward Island as a destination because of its rural nature and relative isolation. In the late 1960s members of the Aylmer Amish community considered moving there in the wake of some of their conflicts with government officials. In the end a few went to Honduras, and the rest stayed in Ontario.
Today the primary motivation for these explorations seems to be good, cheap agricultural land. At least 10 families from the Milverton and Mount Elgin (near Woodstock) Amish communities have bought or contracted for farms in Kings County, eastern PEI near the town of Montague, according to an article in The Guardian (a Charlottetown newspaper). According to a local realtor, conversations with the Amish began in 2013. The Guardian editorialized in favor of welcoming the Amish already in October 2014. The cost per acre in PEI is 10-15% of the cost per acre in their part of Ontario. (See also a recent article in the Toronto Star.)
There is also real interest from Old Order Mennonites from Woolwich Township, Region of Waterloo, and from the Mount Forest Old Order Mennonite community. Another article in The Guardian suggests this exploration is not as far along, though two groups of over 20 persons have visited PEI to look at farms in Queens County and southern Kings County. More visits are planned for this spring.
Won’t it be fun to combine a visit to Anne of Green Gables country with end-of-lane shopping for produce, baking or quilts? The Amish move is to begin this spring.
To learn more about Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish read In Search of Promised Lands.