Old Order Amish districts in Ontario

I have added a second layer to my map of Mennonite churches and meetinghouses in Ontario. This layer (which you may see better if you click on the map legend symbol  on the upper left of the map, and unclick the “churches” layer) locates Old Order Amish districts in Ontario. The token of a farm building indicates one Amish district. A district is defined by being led by one bishop. It will include up to 25-30 families. If it gets larger than that size, it will be split into additional districts. The size limitation is set by the ability to hold the entire population of a district in an Amish home for Sunday worship.

There are six types of Old Order Amish in Ontario. The oldest and largest settlement is the one around Milverton, Ontario. It originates from the Amish who came to Canada from Europe in the 1820s. The “Old Order” part of the Amish in Ontario began in the 1880s when a majority of the community decided to build meetinghouses like their Mennonite neighbors. Those who did not build meetinghouses were thought of as “House Amish,” but gradually picked up the term “Old Order” that was used in the United States. They are “moderate” Old Orders in the technology permitted.

The Aylmer Amish are unique in that they have included a major publishing enterprise as part of their small three-district community. Pathway Publishers publishes many periodicals and books for the Old Order Amish community. Many homeschoolers have picked up their materials for use. There was also a major historical library at Aylmer, though this has recently been moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Aylmer Amish moved to Canada from the U.S. in the early 1950s.

The second largest Amish settlement is the one around Norfolk, Ontario. These Amish also came from the U.S., and are “Troyer” Amish, a fairly conservative Old Order group that is more restrictive in the level of technology used in the community.

The most conservative Amish group is the Swartzentruber Amish located south of Owen Sound, and at Iron Bridge, Ontario. They came from the U.S. and shun the most technology, and are cautious in their interactions with other Amish.

The Lakeside and Mount Elgin Amish are smaller groups that also originated in the U.S.

The map tokens are approximations. There are not obvious “centers” in each district. In some cases I used the locations of schoolhouses to place the tokens, in other cases I used the address of a leader if I knew it. However, in other cases I only had a “rural route” number and had to make a guess. Districts can be spread over multiple roads in various directions.

In 2018 there were five Amish districts in Canada outside of Ontario — two on Prince Edward Island (Amish from Ontario), two in New Brunswick (Amish from Maine), and one beginning in Manitoba (Amish from Ontario).

As with the church and meetinghouse map, I would be most happy for corrections and additions to the map.

My sources for the map are:

Lichti, Fred. “Old Order Amish in Canada — 45 Districts.” Ontario Mennonite History 35, no. 1 (June 2017): 4.

New American Almanac 49 (2018): 98-99. (This Old Order Amish publication from Ohio lists all Amish districts in North America.)

European Amish come to Canada in the 1820s

Although Mennonites had not yet filled Woolwich Township, north of Waterloo Township, by 1819 they were looking for more land to develop to the west, particularly the Crown Reserve that became Wilmot Township. As they became aware that more townships were being surveyed by the government in preparation for settlement, in April 1819 they petitioned the Executive Council of Upper Canada to set aside a township, or part thereof, for Mennonites.

The Mennonites received a quick refusal since some government leaders, including Anglican priest (later bishop) and educator John Strachan, believed (correctly) that the pacifists in Upper Canada had financially benefited from the War of 1812.

The council also believed the pacifist sects had not made an appropriate sacrifice in the war effort, and had actually obstructed that effort. While the petitioners wanted a block settlement similar to their experience in Waterloo and Woolwich Townships, they likely also wanted to profit from land development as Mennonites continued to arrive from Pennsylvania.

The government changed its mind about providing land to pacifist groups in 1821, when it tried to develop the “Crown Reserve for the County of Lincoln” (roughly the present Township of Wilmot) in order to defray the expenses it had incurred in purchasing other lands from the First Nations. British immigrants, who would have been preferred by the government, were less able to contend with the pioneer world in the vast rural areas of Upper Canada.

So the government was forced to look elsewhere. The most interested settlers were Mennonites. News of the government offer in November 1821 to reserve a township for Mennonites reached Pennsylvania just about the time an Amish pioneer seeking economic opportunity for himself and his Amish countrymen arrived in North America. Christian Nafziger set out from near Munich in Bavaria in late 1821, and arrived in New Orleans in January 1822. He visited an Amish settlement in western Ohio, and made his way to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by May. There his hosts advised him to seek land in Upper Canada, probably because of the recently reported Canadian government’s offer. Nafziger soon followed the suggestion.

The Amish in Bavaria were looking for alternative economic opportunities, at least partly because of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. The imposition of military conscription became widespread during the Napoleonic Wars, even though the option of paying for substitutes was available in Bavaria and elsewhere. These policies, which created difficulties for Amish and Mennonites, encouraged widespread consideration of emigration.

Christian Nafziger did not come to North America promoting a mass migration of Amish. Rather, he was searching on behalf of 70 or 80 Amish families from his region of Bavaria. In early September 1822 Nafziger and two or three Mennonites from Waterloo Township traveled to Niagara to meet Lieutenant Governor Peregrine Maitland. Nafziger asked for assurance that land would be granted if the Amish settlers came. Maitland’s civil secretary, George Hillier, reported such a guarantee was not possible. However, the discussion did confirm the parameters of the land grants that would become available—fifty acres, with an adjoining 150 acres that could be leased.

The role of Waterloo Township Mennonite land developers is puzzling. In many ways Jacob Erb and others seemed to use Nafziger’s petition to strengthen their own desire for more land at favorable prices. Jacob Erb’s February 4, 1824, petition said “a great number of Persons [are] ready to settle on said [proposed] Roads.” One suspects most of the “great number” were Mennonites from neighboring Waterloo Township looking for a good land deal.

Nafziger returned to Bavaria, stopping in England on the way. There he conferred with Prince Frederick, Duke of York and younger brother of King George IV. Prince Frederick provided further assurances about land grants. Nafziger successfully encouraged some Amish families from Europe to settle in Upper Canada, but not many.


Wilmot Township settlers in 1830. Ontario Mennonite History 14, no. 2 (September 1996).

In addition, two families he encountered in Pennsylvania came to Upper Canada in October 1823: the Jacob Kropf and John Brenneman families. The Michael Schwartzentruber family, newly arrived in Pennsylvania from Hesse, Germany, and perhaps a few others, also came along to Canada with the Kropfs and Brennemans. They arrived even before the location of the government’s land grant had been confirmed.

Another young couple who came to Upper Canada in 1824 from Alsace was Joseph Goldsmith and his seventeen-year-old bride, Elizabeth Schwartzentruber. At the same time or a bit later in the year, Amish bishop John Stoltzfus visited the emerging Amish settlement, perhaps to see property that his father, Christian, had purchased in Woolwich Township many years before. Stoltzfus ordained two ministers and a deacon for the Amish community while there: John Brenneman and Joseph Goldsmith (ministers) and Jacob Kropf (deacon).

The arrival of the Amish continued until controversy arose from the 1828 decision of the Upper Canada government to transfer ownership of the recently surveyed Crown Reserve west of Waterloo to the new Anglican-controlled King’s College (later University of Toronto). This transfer introduced complications for the Amish settlers. It raised the prospect that their land costs would become much higher than they had assumed from Christian Nafziger’s 1822 conversation with Lieutenant Governor Maitland. Indeed, concerns raised by this controversy led to the early departure of some Amish families for the United States.

For more information on Amish and Mennonites in Upper Canada, read In Search of Promised Lands.