The Old Colony Mennonite School System in Ontario

My blogs will begin to appear somewhat less frequently than in the past, as I try to give more time to some other projects.

This past week I read an interesting article by Rosabel Fast in the 2015 issue of Preservings: a Journal of the D.F. Plett Research Foundation. It was entitled “All in God’s time: the Establishment of Old Colony Private Schools in Southern Ontario.” It includes some updated information on Old Colony Mennonite Schools in Ontario that I thought worthy of note.

An earlier blog discussed the growth of the Old Colony or Low German Mennonite community in Ontario.

New Reinland Fellowship Mennonite Church

An early Old Colony church near Aylmer, Ontario. When the Old Colony church split, the New Reinland Fellowship kept this building. It has since been replaced with a new building. Photo by Abe Harms.

Although Low German Mennonites began to arrive in Ontario in 1952, they did not begin their own schools until 1989. Prior to that time a few attended Old Order Amish or Old Order Mennonite private schools, but most attended the public school system at least sporadically. Their experience was mixed — some public schools tried very hard to make a safe place for the Low Germans,  who often suffered discrimination and ridicule from fellow students. But some students came to dread school because they were picked on, and were expected to take part in activities like gym classes that were uncomfortable and unfamiliar to them.

Even with the more positive experiences, however, parents were concerned about having their children turned into English speaking, secular thinking Canadians.  An Inter-Mennonite Parents Association, that included Low German Mennonites, did some effective work with the public system.

In one case, in the Dresden area, a Peter Dyck family began home schooling in 1988 using materials produced by Pathway Publishers, an Old Order Amish publisher in Aylmer. As more families from Mexico moved to the area they joined the Dyck children in the upstairs of their home.  This formed the core of a school that was eventually established in 1990.

Earlier efforts to start an Old Colony private school failed, but efforts late in the 1980s succeeded. Minister Peter Dyck of Wheatley was involved in meeting with Education Department officials who were already familiar with, and respected, existing Old Order Mennonite and Amish private schools. Dyck and others visited some of these schools in Waterloo Region, and believed they could operate something similar.

Several Low German leaders from Manitoba encouraged the Ontario Old Colony Mennonites to use the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) program. ACE had a strong fundamentalist edge to it, however, and did not teach about some of the boundaries of separation from secular society that were important to the Old Colony.

Consequently, the Ontario Old Colony Mennonites elected to use the Christian Light Education (CLE) curriculum produced by conservative Mennonites in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Part of the planning included taking a short course with a CLE director named Peter Peters in Michigan.

Schools in Wheatley and Aylmer opened in 1989, followed by two more in Dresden and Glen Myer in 1990.  Particularly in the Wheatley school, the assistance of Peter Sawatsky, a retired teacher from the public system, was particularly helpful. By 2015 the Wheatley school had grown and was being held in a former public school purchased in 2000.

The Dresden school purchased an old Jehovah’s Witness church building for its school.  Henry Dueck, who had pastored in Paraguay, Leamington (the Leamington United Mennonite Church), and Mexico, taught at the Dresden school for three years as it was becoming established. He was a mentor for the early Low German leaders in the school.

Old Colony Christian Academy at Cottam.

Old Colony Christian Academy at Cottam. Source: Wikimapia

In 2015 there were 11 Old Colony Mennonite private schools in Ontario. The largest, at Wheatley, had 275 students. Three other schools also had over 200 students. They all used CLE curriculum. Rev. Abram Dyck and Rev. Jacob Neudorf provided administrative to the “East Side” and “West Side” school districts. These districts correspond to the two Ältester or bishop districts of the Old Colony Mennonite Church of Ontario. The larger schools offer a full high school program.

Old Colony Christian Acadmey Kingsville

Old Colony Christian Academy, Kingsville. Photo by Sam Steiner

The “East side” included Aylmer, Walsingham, Glen Myer, Tilsonburg, Brussels and Virgil. The “West side” included Wheatley, Kingsville, Cottam, Dresden and Charing Cross.

To learn more about Old Colony Mennonites in Ontario, read In Search of Promised Lands.




2 thoughts on “The Old Colony Mennonite School System in Ontario

  1. Pingback: Pure S01E01 and S01E02: Who are these Edenthaler Mennonites?

  2. Sam, thanks for the many blogs you have sent my way. As a former Ontarioite now living at VMRC in VA. they stir old memories and help create new ones. In my latest book MY LOYALIST ORIGINS I try to speak to the question of the Revolutionary War and the Mennonite response. Herb Swartz.


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