Moses H. Roth–Mild-mannered Dissenter

Moses H. Roth was one of the founders of the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario. This group resulted from a division in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1959 when a small group of ordained leaders believed the conference had become too lax in enforcing visible symbols of separation from the world. This included “innovations” like church weddings with flowers and veils, the wearing of wedding rings, women cutting their hair, and the wearing of less modest clothing.

Moses Roth was a more outgoing personality than his friend, Curtis Cressman, and had a more pastoral approach in personal relationships. He was founder of the congregation that became one of the largest conservative Mennonite congregations in Ontario–Countryside Mennonite Fellowship.

An interesting fact from the article reproduced below is that Moses Roth witnessed the last hanging in Stratford in 1954.

This article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online by Howard Bean was written in 2013, and can be seen there complete with bibliography.


Barbara & Moses Roth, early 1960s. Family photo

Moses H. Roth: bishop and farmer; born 1 February 1898 in Oxford County, Ontario, Canada to Rudolph “Rudy” Roth (10 December 1868-1 March 1943) and Lavina (Hostetler) Roth (7 August 1873-24 April 1927). He was the fourth child in a family of four boys and two girls. On 7 February 1923 he married Barbara Martin (3 April 1901-1 May 1991). They had one daughter, Gladys. Moses died on 24 December 1978, in New Hamburg, Ontario.

Moses farmed near New Hamburg, and was reasonably prosperous. It is said that Milo Shantz, prominent Waterloo County entrepreneur, got his first loan from his uncle, Moses.

Prior to his ordination, Moses Roth served regularly as Sunday school superintendent at Biehn Mennonite Church (now Nith Valley) near New Hamburg. In 1931 he was ordained minister to assist Ozias Cressman, at Geiger Mennonite Church (now Wilmot Mennonite Church). He was ordained bishop in the Mennonite Conference of Ontario in 1937 serving primarily at Geiger Mennonite Church but also in such places as Poole, Ontario (1949-1959) and Clarence Center, New York.

Moses believed strongly in missions. He planted the seed for the beginning of the London Rescue Mission and Nairn Mennonite Church through his teaching at a winter Bible school in Wellesley, Ontario. He was a long-time summer Bible school superintendent at the Baden mission. He gave supervision to such mission outposts as Markstay and Minden.

In the mid to late 1950s Moses became increasingly alarmed by what he saw as apostasy in the Ontario conference with the acceptance of the wedding ring, sisters in the church cutting their hair, and a weakening of dress restrictions. In 1959, Moses, along with Curtis Cressman (bishop), preachers Elmer Grove and Moses Baer, and deacons Andrew Axt and Clarence Huber withdrew from Ontario Conference and organized the New Hamburg Conservative Mennonite Church. This was the beginning of what became the Conservative Mennonite Church of Ontario and Midwest Mennonite Fellowship, together having approximately 2000 members (2013).

By the end of 1960, Moses began a second congregation in Heidelburg, the location of which changed in 1983 to Hawkesville and was renamed Countryside Mennonite Fellowship. Moses served as bishop at Heidelburg until 1968 when he withdrew his oversight due to difficulties in the congregation. Prior to his death in 1978, he made peace with the congregation and preached for them again at least once. From 1968 to 1978, Moses pastored a small independent Mennonite congregation at Crosshill for a year or so, and then a second congregation at Ethel.

In his ministry, Moses Roth earned a reputation for having the gift of healing as he prayed for the sick and anointed them with oil.

Moses was present on 16 February 1954 at the last hanging at the Stratford jail. Moses visited Reuben Norman, who was convicted of murder, in prison and led him to repentance.

Valentine Kratz–First Mennonite Minister in Canada

Although the first people who identified themselves as Mennonite came to what became Ontario by 1786, there was not an organized Mennonite Church for 15 years. Where did those early settlers worship? Some of them became Baptists, some of them joined the Brethren in Christ (Tunkers), some of them likely worshiped with the “high” churches like the Anglicans and Presbyterians, though this meant a switch in language to English as well as worship style.

Finally after a robust couple of years of immigration, recent settlers around “The Twenty” (Vineland) wrote back to Pennsylvania asking for a bishop to come and ordain a leader for the community. The bishops in Franconia, after also consulting with leaders in Lancaster County, wrote back and said no one could come, but encouraged the folks at The Twenty to ordain someone from among their midst as the preacher.

The person they ordained was Valentine Kratz. Valentine is a bit of mystery to us. He was a farmer, like his fellow church members, and faithfully served until his death. But we really don’t know much about him. His son-in-law, Daniel Hoch, became much better known in Ontario Mennonite history.

The article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online summarizes what we do know at present.


Valentine Kratz memorial in The First Mennonite Church cemetery, Vineland, Ontario. Photo by Carol Penner

Valentine Kratz: minister and farmer: born about 1760 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the son of John and Anna (Clemens) Kratz. He married a woman with the surname Lederach at an unknown date. They had eight daughters and two sons. The four youngest children were born in Canada. Valentine Kratz died about 1824.

Valentine Kratz immigrated to Canada in 1799 from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as did many others, in search of greater financial opportunity and possibly because of greater comfort with British government. He settled in the Jordan Station area of the Niagara Peninsula. By vocation he was a farmer. The family’s first home was a log house with one room upstairs and one downstairs, with the only access to the upstairs by a ladder.  He was remembered as a strict disciplinarian by  his children.

In the first years in Canada, Mennonites did not hold worship services, but would hold occasional informal meetings. Finally the group asked the Mennonites in Pennsylvania to send leaders  who could ordain ministers and deacons from the small group in Canada. In September 1801 six ministers replied that after discussion at the local conference of Skippack (Franconia) ministers and deacons, as well as on the basis of correspondence with leaders in Conestoga (Lancaster), that none of the local bishops felt “armed with courage and strength” to venture to Canada for such a process. They encouraged the small group to proceed prayerfully with nominations, followed by the casting of lots, to select ministers and deacons. Valentine Kratz was ordained as a minister based on this procedure. He was the first Mennonite minister ordained in Canada and this ordination allowed the formation of the first Mennonite congregation in Canada at Vineland — the Moyer congregation, later known as The First Mennonite Church.

Little is known of Valentine Kratz’s ministry. Jacob Moyer, who was ordained the following year and subsequently became the local bishop, had a higher profile and a reputation as a strong leader. Nonetheless, Valentine Kratz willingly undertook a leadership role in shaping the earliest Mennonite community in Canada.

— Sam Steiner, 2002

Nicholas N. Fransen–Farmer Preacher

Nicholas N. Fransen came to Canada from the Soviet Union as a teenager. His father, also named Nicholas, had died of typhus in 1922 at the age of 42. His mother, with her eight children aged 5 to 20 came to Canada in 1926, coming first to Kitchener, Ontario, but then settling in Vineland.

When he was only 22 years old he was elected as a lay minister in the Vineland United Mennonite Church. For Nicholas, or “N. N.” as he was known in church circles, the rest of his life combined farming and service to the church in the Vineland community. This was typical of Mennonite leaders of that era. Many of Nicholas’ children also became prominent lay leaders, and one, Jake, also became a lay minister. Their professions ranged from farming to teaching to medicine.

This article, by his son Jake Fransen, can be seen with bibliography at,_Nicholas_N._(1907-2000).


Tina and Nicholas Fransen

Nicholas Fransen: churchman and farmer; born 5 September 1907 in Mariawohl, Molotschna Colony, Ukraine to Nicholai and Maria (Wichert) Fransen. Nicholas was the second child in a family of three sons and five daughters. He was baptized 1 June 1925 by Ältester David Nickel and became a member of the Rudnerweide Church. In 1928 he married Tina Klassen. They had two daughters and five sons. Following the death of his first wife Tina in 1970 he married Tina Martens who died in 1995. Nicholas died 12 November 2000 in Vineland, Ontario.

In 1926 Nicholas Fransen moved to Canada with his mother and siblings. They made Vineland, Ontario their home. It was at the Vineland United Mennonite church that he met Tina Klassen. At first he worked as a day laborer in Kitchener and Vineland. In 1933 they bought a small acreage at Jordan Harbour and added a second more productive farm near St. Catherines in 1947.

When he was 22 years old, the Vineland United Mennonite Church elected Nicholas to be one of its ministers. Five years later, in 1934, he was ordained there by Ältester D. H. Koop. From this point on his life included: being a husband and father of a growing family, farming, which he loved, and church and conference involvement which gave him much satisfaction.

In his church involvements Nicholas served at various times in different capacities in the conferences. Twice he was moderator of the Conference of United Mennonite Churches of Ontario. He was a founding board member of the United Mennonite Educational Institute. He also served on different committees in the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. The committee on which he served longest was the board of the Canadian Mennonite Bible College where he was also a member of the first board. For several years he spent the winter months visiting constituency churches in Canada, promoting the college and soliciting funds for the on-going program of the college. Nicholas also attended a number of sessions of the General Conference Mennonite Church and served on different committees of the conference. Following his retirement from farming Nicholas spent two years with his second wife as a worker in Mexico under the auspices of the General Conference Mennonite Church.

Nicholas was a strong member and promoter of faith in Jesus Christ and also of the projects of his denomination as well as of the Mennonite people as a whole. He firmly believed that young people should have opportunities to be educated in the Christian faith. His faith extended to a strong belief in the confession as enunciated by the Mennonite Church. On the other hand, Nicholas was also interested in the welfare of the Mennonite people and spent several terms as a member of the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization. He is remembered for his “down to earth” sermons. Nicholas was often invited to speak in churches away from his home.

Nicholas died in Vineland after a long life, with the assurance that Jesus Christ was his only hope.

Harvey Taves — a Entrepreneur of Service

Last week looked at the life of Iva Sherk Taves, an early female Mennonite medical doctor, who spent years as the pathologist at the public hospital in Kitchener-Waterloo. Iva had deep “Swiss Mennonite” roots, with a prominent Mennonite Brethren in Christ minister for a father.

Today we look at her husband, Harvey Taves, who came from a very different “Russian Mennonite” Kanadier background. Harvey was born in Steinbach, Manitoba to a family descended from 1870s immigrants; he father was a teacher.

Although he came from a theologically conservative background, Harvey showed himself as a creative thinker dedicated to Christian service. He became director of Mennonite Central Committee’s Canadian office in 1953 at age 27, and worked for MCC until his premature death in 1965.

In those 12 years he established homes for delinquent boys, placed school teachers in the outports of Newfoundland, and was a key proponent and organizer in the creation of Conrad Grebel University College.

This article by Lucille Marr on Harvey Taves was written for the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online in 2009. See the link for the full bibliography.


Harvey and Iva Toews with their two daughters, ca. 1960. Family photo

Harvey W. Taves: churchman; born 22 March 1926 in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada to Julius G. Toews and Helen (Buhr) Toews. He was the eighth child in a family of six sons and two daughters. In June 1951 he married Iva Sherk, daughter of J. Harold (20 December 1903-28 February 1974) and Mila Senor Sherk (3 December 1900-13 January 1983) at the Bethany United Missionary Church, Kitchener, Ontario. Iva’s father J. Harold Sherk officiated. Harvey W. and Iva Sherk Taves had two daughters, Mila and Mary. Harvey died 11 May 1965, in Kitchener, Ontario when the children were eight and six years old.

Harvey was baptized as a teenager in the Steinbach Bergthaler Mennonite Church. He started High School in Steinbach, and at the age of 16 moved with his parents to Altona, Manitoba. After completing his secondary education he taught at Norway House Indian residential school for one year, then spent most of a year in charge of a United Church mission pastorate at Island Lake, Manitoba. There, he had a church base but visited his native Indian congregation using a canoe in summer and dog team in winter. The destruction of the church building, by fire, ended that phase of his ministry. It was followed by a period of teaching in the Mennonite community of Halbstadt, Manitoba.

In 1948, Harvey completed a year at Grace Bible Institute (later Grace University, Omaha, Nebraska). That summer, as one member in a three man Peace Team he met Iva at the first reunion of Canadian World War II conscientious objectors, held in Kitchener, Ontario. The reunion and peace rally had been arranged by J. Harold Sherk, and Iva had been assigned to help her father in the book tent.

In fall 1948 Harvey transferred to Goshen College, Indiana, where in early 1951 he completed his bachelor’s degree in History. Harvey worked in accounting in Toronto, Ontario from the spring of 1951 to the end of summer 1952. He and Iva, a medical student at the University of Toronto, married 2 June 1951. In fall 1952 Harvey entered Goshen Biblical Seminary while Iva undertook her internship in Toronto.

Harvey’s seminary plans were interrupted at the invitation of Orie Miller, Executive Secretary of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Orie arranged for Harvey to manage the MCC’s Canadian office (then located in Waterloo and later in Kitchener). This assignment was taken up in February 1953.

Harvey’s church affiliation changed with his location and assignments. In Ontario he first joined Iva’s church (Bethany). Later, when he was asked to conduct Sunday evening services in German at Preston Mennonite Church (for the benefit of recent immigrants), he and Iva joined that congregation. When these services were no longer required Harvey and Iva joined the newly established Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener, fall 1960.

Harvey W. Taves would serve as director of Mennonite Central Committee’s Canadian office from 1953 to 1964, and director of MCC Ontario from 1964 to his death in 1965. Challenging older leaders who cautioned against taking risks, Taves moved ahead with enthusiasm. In his role on the executive of the Conference of Historic Peace Churches, for instance, he was able to convince them that establishing Ailsa Craig Boys’ Farm for juvenile delinquents was one way Mennonites could express their gratitude for the conscientious objector privileges granted them during World War II.

Harvey’s passion and vision for peace and service manifested itself as well in various innovations. These included Mennonite Disaster Service and Voluntary Service units, placing teachers and nurses in outport areas of Newfoundland, Canada. He also played a significant role in the creation of Conrad Grebel (University) College, established in 1963 on the campus of the University of Waterloo.

Harvey’s health became an increasing concern. In fall 1951, at age 25, he had his first asthmatic attack. In the early 1960s the attacks became more frequent and severe. During the last year of his life, trips to the hospital were frequent. His death at age 39 at the Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital on 11 May 1965 was caused by pneumonic complications in his asthmatic condition.

In the last year of his life, Harvey served as Executive Director of MCC Ontario, now a regional office of MCC Canada. Although the change which placed the Canadian head office in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was difficult for him to accept, he did so with grace. Agreeing to stay on as part-time director of the new MCC Ontario, Harvey also worked on a graduate degree in sociology at the University of New York at Buffalo (New York).

During this transition period, Harvey W. Taves wrote to a fellow administrator in the MCC: “It is wonderful to have been, and still to be, a part of the MCC program. It is my belief that this program is the most exciting part of the Mennonite witness.” The memorial plaque placed at the MCC Ontario headquarters articulates well Harvey W. Taves’ passion and his mission: “As one of Christ’s men, he devoted his life in the service of the church to the ministry of alleviating human suffering.”

See also Taves, Iva Ruth (1928-2011)

— Lucille Marr, 2009

Iva Taves — Pioneer Pathologist

Iva Sherk was a person who spoke her mind plainly and without adornment. Perhaps she got this from her father, J. Harold Sherk, a Mennonite Brethren in Christ preacher, and a life-long advocate for peace theology within his denomination and the larger Mennonite world.

She lost her husband, Harvey Taves, when she was only 37, with two daughters still at home. Harvey had been another visionary leader within Mennonite Central Committee Ontario who launched many new service initiatives.

Iva’s life took another direction–the service profession of medicine at a time when women still made up only a small percentage of students in medical schools.

This article can be seen with bibliography in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)


Harvey and Iva Toews with their daughters, ca. 1960. Family photo

Iva Ruth Sherk: physician and pathologist, was born 6 May 1928 in rural Maryborough Township, Wellington County, Ontario to J. Harold Sherk (20 December 1903-28 February 1974) and Mila (Senor) Sherk (3 December 1900-13 January 1983). Iva was the oldest child in a family of two daughters and two sons. On 2 June 1951 she married Harvey Taves (22 March 1926-11 May 1965). They had two daughters, Mila and Mary. On 16 November 1991 she married John W. Snyder (20 September 1925-2 October 2012). Iva died 29 March 2011 at the Freeport Health Centre in Kitchener, Ontario. She is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Kitchener.

Iva was born in the home of a young Mennonite Brethren in Christ pastor serving in his first congregation, though her mother was of Wesleyan Methodist background. Because of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ polity that required pastors to change pastorates every three to five years, the family moved frequently prior to World War II. Iva was an excellent student, attending mostly rural public schools and graduating from high school at Kitchener Collegiate Institute in 1946. Following an goal held since childhood, Iva Sherk applied to the University of Toronto Medical School in 1946, and was accepted one week before classes began in the fall. Of the almost 200 students in the entering class, the nine female students all received their acceptances at the last minute. The attitude remained strong in those immediate post-war years that women students were “taking a man’s place.” Although money was short, Iva was able to complete her medical degree in six years, which included two years of pre-med and four years of medical school.

Harvey Taves and Iva Sherk met in June 1948 when Harvey was touring Ontario as part of a Goshen College peace team whose Canadian itinerary was directed by Iva’s father. After their 1951 marriage, Harvey worked in Toronto during Iva’s last year of medical school. Iva graduated in 1952, one of seven women in a class of 107. When she undertook her junior internship the following year, this essentially meant living at the hospital. Harvey returned to Indiana to study at Goshen Biblical Seminary. In early 1953 at the request of Orie Miller, Harvey returned from his studies to become the director of the Canadian office of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) located in Kitchener, Ontario. Iva went on to undertake a specialty in pathology, a profession she believed would provide more regular hours for a young family. Initially Harvey and Iva were members at the Bethany United Missionary Church, but then joined Preston Mennonite Church. In 1960 they became early members of the new Rockway Mennonite Church in Kitchener.

Although Iva and Harvey originally envisioned overseas service, Harvey’s increasing health concerns made this dream impossible. The Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital (later Grand River Hospital), within blocks of her home in the MCC house on Union Street, engaged Iva as a pathologist in 1956. As a  pathologist she worked especially closely with surgeons, a medical profession then completely dominated by male colleagues. Her self-confidence and high professional standards allowed her to survive in a work environment that would have challenged many. In 1964 she became the head of laboratory services at the hospital, utilizing her considerable administrative skills. She was respected for being very well organized and for her firm style of leadership.

In 1967 Iva Taves became the first female member of the Hamilton Society of Pathologists after some resistance. The group held its meetings in the Royal Hamilton Military Institute, which had previously allowed no female guests. In 1972/73 Iva became the first female president of the Ontario Association of Pathologists. She also served on Hospital Laboratory Accreditation Committees. During her 37 years of service at the hospital she saw many medical advancements and development of new techniques in her field. She retired in 1993.

With high energy and a plain-spoken manner, Iva Taves combined her profession with raising her two young daughters after Harvey’s early death in 1965. She enjoyed camping with her daughters and listening to classical music. She lamented the loss of the latter in later years as she suffered significant hearing loss. She was grateful for her second marriage of almost 20 years; Harvey and Iva had been longtime friends of John Snyder and his first wife, Lois. Her no-nonsense manner continued even in her last days, as she dismissed any heroic treatment for the cancer she had learned of only weeks before. She said she had a good life but the time had come to go.

Iva Taves was a pioneer in a medical profession that brought her great satisfaction. She faced with determination the numerous challenges in life that altered her plans. Having grown up in a pastoral family with limited financial resources, she became a generous contributor to her church and to charities that aided the less fortunate. She is remembered with respect.

— Sam Steiner

Joseph B. Hagey–Benjamin Eby’s Successor

Joseph Bergey Hagey had the misfortune of following Benjamin Eby, the charismatic, prosperous farmer, bishop, author who served as the Mennonite bishop in Waterloo County, Ontario for over 40 years, beginning in 1812. Hagey came from a poor family that had experienced bankruptcy in Pennsylvania. He became a farmer on his father-in-law’s land.

He was ordained as a minister at age 29, but does not seem to have been a strong leader. He waffled when faced with conflict, and was inclined to inaction as a response. He was bishop during a difficult period in Ontario Mennonite history, and may have died prematurely as a result of the pressures he faced.

Joseph Hagey has been fairly invisible in Mennonite history, though he great grandson is credited with founding the University of Waterloo.

See the full article and bibliography on the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Joseph Hagey’s tombstone in the Breslau Mennonite Cemetery. Photo by Scott Buschlen

Joseph B. Hagey: bishop and farmer; born 11 June 1810 in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to Daniel and Elizabeth (Bergey) Hagey. He and his twin brother, Daniel, had an older brother, and a younger brother and sister. In 1832 he married Sophia Bricker (20 December 1810-4 November 1895). She was the daughter of Sam Bricker, famous for his role in raising funds in Pennsylvania to buy the German Company Tract (much of Waterloo Township) from Richard Beasley. Joseph and Sophia Hagey had six sons and five daughters. Joseph died 31 December 1876 and was buried in the Breslau Mennonite cemetery. It was said that three hundred carriages were part of the funeral procession, with one thousand persons in attendance at the service.


In 1822 Joseph Hagey came with his family from Pennsylvania after his father went bankrupt in business there. They lived on a farm just north of Cambridge (Preston). After their marriage, Joseph and Sophia lived on the farm owned by her father; they became the owners in 1837.

On 10 February 1839 Joseph Hagey was ordained as a minister, probably by Benjamin Eby, and on 31 May 1851 he was ordained as a bishop to assist the aging Eby. He served in the Hagey congregation as a pastor, but as a bishop carried responsibility for all the congregations in Waterloo Township. His years of service followed those of a very charismatic bishop, and Hagey never received the acclaim of his predecessor. In his later years he was faced with division within the Ontario Mennonite Conference. The division was sparked by a revival in Solomon Eby’s congregation in Port Elgin, Ontario in 1870, and a similar revival within Waterloo County. These Methodist-style prayer/revival meetings were often held in homes, and were not yet generally accepted within the Mennonite community.  Initially Hagey responded positively and baptized converts from the Port Elgin revival. However he then declined to baptize the Waterloo converts because of objections that arose within the conference leadership. Although another bishop finally baptized this group in 1871, the controversy festered and finally resulted in the division that created the Reforming Mennonites (later part of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ).

Although Hagey was not successful in maintaining peace in the Ontario Mennonite community, he was a peacemaker in spirit. He assisted several attempts to help settle a church conflict in Indiana as a participant and served as the nominal leader (as bishop) of an Ontario delegation that attempted to mediate the conflict. Joseph B. Hagey was a longtime leader in the largest Mennonite settlement in Ontario during troubled times; his failure to preserve unity does not diminish the magnitude of his service to the church. — Sam Steiner

Isaac R. Horst — Old Order Mennonite Historian

Isaac R. Horst was a struggling Old Order Mennonite farmer who discovered his true vocation after he retired. He became an interpreter of Old Order Mennonite life and thought to the “English” through his writings and public presentations. He also assisted in translating many obscure letters, diaries and documents from hand-written Gothic German to English, greatly assisted by his knowledge of Mennonite religious language.

He came numerous times to the Mennonite Archives of Ontario during my years there, both to sell his books and to do research on his many projects.

He had a folksy, somewhat undisciplined writing style that communicated well. He was a popular speaker to Elderhostel groups.

The article reproduded below from the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) was written within the past month. Click on the link to see the article, along with a bibliography of his writings.


Isaac Horst’s first book, 1979

Isaac Reist Horst: Old Order Mennonite farmer, teacher, translator and author, was born 28 May 1918 in Woolwich Township, Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada to John B. Horst (10 April 1875-November 1960) and Anna “Nancy” Reist (5 July 1878-17 February 1942). Isaac was the sixth son, and youngest child in a family of eight children. On 26 October 1943 he married Selina M. Bauman (22 July 1920-9 December 2014); they had nine daughters and four sons. One son died in infancy. Isaac R. Horst died 18 November 2008; he and Selina were buried in the Cedarview Mennonite cemetery near Mount Forest, Ontario.

Isaac Horst grew up on a farm, and attended the public school system in his Mennonite community until the age of 14. He enjoyed reading from early in his school years. He was not physically strong, and was unable to perform some of the heavier manual labor on the family farm. After his 1943 marriage to Selina, Isaac took up market gardening on a small property purchased from his grandfather, though with limited success. For the following 25 years Isaac alternated between jobs at Snyder Flour Milling in St. Jacobs, Ontario, further attempts at farming, odd jobs off the farm, and two years of teaching at the Balsam Grove school within the Old Order Mennonite parochial school system that began in the 1960s.

In the mid 1960s Isaac and Selina Horst, with several other families, purchased farms in the Mount Forest, Ontario area, though for various reasons they did not move there until 1968. This was the first successful effort among the Ontario Old Order Mennonites to establish a daughter community geographically separate from the Waterloo County community. By 2002 there were 180 Old Order families in the Mount Forest settlement.

After retirement from farming, Isaac worked 10 years wrecking buildings for salvage; a business that was more remunerative than any of his earlier vocations. He also pursued his love of reading by taking correspondence courses in English literature.

Isaac then began a new vocation in translating texts from German to English, and in writing about Ontario Old Order Mennonite life and history. All of his early works were self-published, some of them issued as mimeographed sheets in three-hole binders.

His first substantial work was Up the Conestogo, self-published in 1979. It was a 450-page story of Old Order Mennonites in Ontario, combining family history and creative non-fiction enactments of events based on diaries, news accounts and oral history. It is illustrated with maps and pictures, many of them by Horst himself. It is not “history,” but rather is a variety of accounts of Old Order families and places.

Horst’s most useful historical text was Close Ups of the Great Awakening (1985), a detailed historical account of divisions within the Ontario Mennonite community in the 19th century, based on letters, diaries and official documents of the era. Especially useful are lengthy quotes from translations of German-language sources otherwise virtually unavailable, and Horst’s interpretation from an Old Order perspective of the impact of 19th century Pietism and revivalism on the Ontario Mennonite community.

Over the years Isaac Horst became comfortable speaking to outsiders wanting to learn more about Old Order Mennonites. He often spoke to Mennonite Studies classes at the University of Waterloo, and to Elderhostel groups. He wrote a column, “Old Order Voice,” in the Mennonite Reporter from 1989-1997 as well as a number of articles for Mennogespräch, the historical bulletin of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario.

Perhaps Isaac R. Horst’s most lasting contribution was through his translations from German to English of handwritten letters and documents, many of them in the gothic script. His familiarity with Mennonite religious terminology, and his encyclopedic knowledge of Mennonite family relationships in Ontario gave him insights that translators external to the community would not have had. His translations included 1600 letters from the Jacob Mensch collection–letters written to a conservative Mennonite leader in Pennsylvania in the 19th century. He also translated 300 or more hymns for Wilmer Swope, and worked on various “Pennsylvania Dutch” dictionary projects. His translation work combined the need for a small source of income with a love for delving deeply into his Mennonite heritage.

Isaac Horst had a self-effacing wit, an engaging extroverted personality, and a desire to better understand the people and world around him. For a time he may have been the best-known, and most read, Old Order Mennonite in North America.

— Sam Steiner

Ada Moyer Barker, Early Missionary from Ontario

This week’s GAMEO article tells the story of a Ontario Mennonite missionary to Turkey at the very end of the 19th century. She grew up in the Vineland, Ontario area, and is descended from the earliest settlers. Her great-grandparents, Dilman and Barbara Moyer had arrived in 1799. Her parents, Allen and Dinah Moyer, were among the charter members (in 1881) of what became the Vineland Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.

I’ve been saddened that most of the early women leaders in the Mennonite Brethren in Christ movement (now Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) have been virtually forgotten.

This article was written by Clare Fuller, a historian for the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada. See the article, with bibliography, at,_Ada_Moyer_(1875-1982)

Ada (Moyer) Barker was a city mission preacher and missionary of the Canada/Ontario Conference of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church.

Ada Moyer was born 8 August 1875 at Jordan Station, Ontario, Canada to Allen Gehman Moyer (28 April 1848-4 October 1893) and his first wife, Dinah Rittenhouse (23 May 1848-19 May 1883). Ada was the third child (of five), the oldest daughter of at least three girls. She was married in Smyrna, Turkey, to Thomas Ford Barker on 2 June 1901. Ada and Ford had four daughters and one son. One child with deafness was admitted to a school run by Alexander Graham Bell in Maryland, USA.

Ada Moyer’s husband, T. Ford Barker, from New Brunswick, Canada, was born 14 November 1874 at Gibson, York County. His farming family descended from Loyalists. He was the fifth child of at least six (four boys and two girls). His parents were Thomas F. Barker (3 September 1828-26 December 1896) and his first wife Hannah Miles (1838-21 November 1874). The family were Church of England members. Ford was converted at 18 through the Salvation Army in St John, New Brunswick, and became an officer for six years against family opposition before launching out for six months of evangelism on his own. He joined the Mennonite Brethren in Christ at Bright, Ontario, and did two years of evangelistic work before sailing for Turkey in 1901.

On the other hand, Ada Moyer was converted at nine years of age at The Twenty, Ontario, the MBiC charge that became the Vineland MBiC church. She became a member at 16. Feeling God was calling her to missionary work, Ada took assignments with the city mission program of the Canada Conference 1897-1899: at Vineland, the East End Mission (Toronto), and then as a tabernacle (tent) evangelist. Her sister Laura also joined the city mission work in 1898.

Ada Moyer went to Turkey in 1899 to help with orphans surviving the massacres of Armenians of 1894-1895. She joined others in orphanages inherited from the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions. Her work was soon to be organized as the United Orphanage and Missions Board. This independent mission had mainly Mennonite Brethren in Christ personnel. Funding came from Mennonite people in Europe and North America. Ada and a partner, Fredericka Honk, were assigned to the main orphanage at Hadjin and began language learning. Ada’s evangelistic work in other towns and villages were greatly assisted by able Armenian converts such as Esther Haigazion and many young men. In time the mission added career training and arranging marriages to the orphanage work.

Missionaries in Turkey

Summer 1913. Ada Moyer Barker is third from the left in the back row. Her daughter, Evangeline and husband, T. Ford, are beside her. Her children, Ruth and Theo, are the babies in the front row. Photo from website of Ruth Russel on “Hadjin-Missionaries.” See


After two years in the field, Ford Barker was made the superintendent in Turkey, serving until 1914. The family had one extended furlough to Canada in 1908 due to illness. Just after a brutal siege of the Armenian town described by fellow missionary Rose Lambert, they buried one child in Turkey in 1909 shortly after returning. Famine conditions followed, with hundreds starving in the region while Ada and her fellow missionaries did what they could with few resources.

A second orphanage was opened at Everek, Turkey in 1912, and the Barkers transferred to the new city. Unfortunately, just when their mission seemed poised for expansion, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Britain and her allies in October 1914. As most of the missionaries were Canadians (British subjects), they fled, narrowly avoiding detention at the ports.

Back in Canada, Ada and Ford Barker took pastoral appointments with the Ontario Mennonite Brethren in Christ Conference at Collingwood and Clarksburg (1915-1917) and Squire (Kilsyth) (1917-1918). Ford was not well enough for the Barkers to join the Armenian mission in Turkey which re-opened briefly at the end of the war before further massacres of Armenians made refugees of the remnants. Ford and Ada were encouraged to work among Armenians and newcomers in Toronto and Hamilton when they were well enough (1917-1925). In 1925 they announced they were moving to Cleveland, Ohio, to continue the ministry. Ford maintained his credentials with the Ontario Conference, first, to “labor as the Lord may direct,” but retired fully in 1930 with serious health problems. From 1936 to his death on 22 May 1944, the Barkers lived in Fort Bradenton,Florida.

Ada Barker then lived close to her surviving children in Maryland. Her last years were spent at a Presbyterian Home for the elderly in Fairfax, Virginia, where she died in July 1982 at the age of 106. She too is buried at the Manasota Memorial Park, Bradenton, Florida.


— Clare Fuller

Henry H. Janzen, Unexpected Church Leader

H. H. Janzen altered the course of the Mennonite Brethren church in Ontario in the 1930s, and went on to become a much-loved Bible teacher and leader within the denomination. This was unexpected for a man whose teenage years in Russia had been consumed with rebelling against his Mennonite faith.

Heinrich (Henry) H. Janzen was born in 1901 in the Molotschna Colony in South Russia (Ukraine). His father was the teacher in the local one-room school. Along with most of the others in their village of Münsterberg, Henry’s family participated in the Kirchliche Mennonite Church, the least pietistic of the Mennonite groups in Russia. The smaller Mennonite Brethren group were both more pietistic and more evangelical.

While a teenager Henry attended the Ohrloff Zentralschule (high school) where he rejected the faith of his family. When he was drafted into the Red Army in 1921, he was heavily influenced by communist teachings on religion, and  considered himself to be an agnostic or atheist since he could not see God at work in the disasters that had happened to the Mennonites during and after the Russian Revolution.

His wife, Tina, whom Henry married in 1923, was a devout Christian however, and did not waver in her convictions. After the death of their first child in 1924, Henry reconsidered his views and later that year was converted at a Mennonite Brethren evangelistic meeting, and was baptized into the Kirchliche church. (In Ontario people from the group became known as United Mennonites.)  Henry and Tina, with their second child, came to Canada in 1925 and settled in Kitchener where they participated with a Mennonite Brethren group.

In 1926 Henry was re-baptized by immersion in the Grand River, and became an enthusiastic lay leader in the Kitchener Mennonite Brethren church, soon teaching Sunday school. His communication skills were soon recognized, and he also began to preach on occasion at the invitation of the congregation’s ministers. He was himself ordained as a Mennonite Brethren minister in 1929.

Henry H. Janzen in 1952

Henry H. Janezn in 1952. Courtesy Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies (Winnipeg)

As the leading minister of the largest Mennonite Brethren congregation in Ontario, he initiated formation of the Ontario Mennonite Brethren Conference in 1932, and served as its moderator from 1932-1946. He did much to shape the Ontario Mennonite Brethren conference in those years. This included encouraging regulations that allowed only persons who had been baptized by immersion to be members, in conformity with the position of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. The Ontario MBs had previously been flexible on this issue. This change did cause some members to withdraw.

Henry H. Janzen also wielded influence far beyond the Mennonite Brethren community. He was also sought as a Bible teacher in Russian-language churches and Bible schools, and in the early 1930s he had a great impact in nudging many Old Order Mennonites to a “born-again”conversion experience that is described elsewhere.  He also served at Mennonite Brethren Bible College in Winnipeg, Manitoba for 10 years, eight of them as president. Later in life he taught in a variety of settings in Europe.

To learn more about the Ontario Mennonite Brethren and Henry H. Janzen read In Search of Promised Lands.

Two MennoMedia Releases on In Search of Promised Lands

Book jacket for the book

Book jacket for the book

This week my publisher, MennoMedia, issued two releases related to my book.

  1. A press release on In Search of Promised Lands at
  2. My guest blog  providing more context on my approach to writing the book. Partly extracted from the book’s preface, it begins:

As I waded into a six-year project on writing the history of Mennonites in Ontario, I had to think carefully of how I stood in relation to the subject matter. I knew that no historical writing is objective. Each interpreter of past events is shaped by personal heritage, training, and beliefs, not to mention the resources available when making that interpretation. I decided I should be as transparent as possible in describing my perspective and my place in this history of Ontario Mennonites.

You can read the rest at:

The usual blog will appear on Monday