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.)

The Amish on Prince Edward Island

In early 2016 I wrote about Ontario Old Order Mennonites and Amish who were considering establishing daughter settlements on Prince Edward Island. I quote some of it below:

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.

Summer-SausageThis exploration became a reality later in 2016. Several weeks ago, my wife Sue and I had the opportunity to find two Old Order Amish settlements on PEI during a vacation there. We knew only general locations based on newspaper articles. We searched back roads north and east of Bridgetown, and had about given up that part of the search, when Sue spotted from Highway 4, just west of Bridgetown, a clothesline full of Amish-colored clothing. There was no mailbox, but a hand-painted sign advertised Summer Sausage and Maple Syrup. As I took a picture of the sign a horse and buggy turned in the lane, and across the road a young Amish lad was dealing with the truck delivering feed.

Harness-ShopThe next farm, identified as a Kuepfer family, advertised a harness shop and “free-range brown eggs.” This settlement, seemingly the smaller of the two on PEI, was composed of Amish from the Milverton area of Ontario.

We then explored between Montague and Summerville. On a sideroad west of Montague we found the first of many Miller families, again alerted by a clothesline of colorful wash.

BakeryWe soon found, east of Summerville on Highway 3, more Miller families, including a Miller bakery that unfortunately was not open on the day of our exploration. We did not linger to take more pictures, since a young Amish girl in a dark green dress was walking towards us on the side of the road, and we didn’t want to cause alarm, or invade their privacy by taking their picture.

This settlement appeared to be larger than the “Milverton Amish” settlement at Bridgetown. There was much evidence of new buildings being erected in this settlement, and it seemed relatively compact, which speaks well for its long term prospects. Besides the multiple Miller families, we also saw Byler and Troyer family names. The roots of this settlement are the Old Order Amish community around Norwich, Ontario. These Amish are somewhat more conservative than the Milverton Amish.

SignThe CBC in Prince Edward Island provided an “Amish 101” article in 2016 that is quite helpful in distinguishing the two groups. The PEI government has also begun to erect road signs near the Amish communities on the larger roads, though “evidence” of horses was not as easily spotted as on some Region of Waterloo roads!

After our return to Ontario, we learned that five Old Order Mennonite families have also moved to Prince Edward Island this summer (2017). They are located near Hunter River, where they have purchased an old church for their worship.

Many thanks to Sue for writing down clear details on names and images as we explored these settlements. Her own blog, A Nourished Spirit, will share more about our Maine/PEI vacation in coming weeks.

To learn more about the Ontario Old Order Amish and Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands.

“Pure” — the CBC Drama – Episode 2

Last week I commented after the first episode of “Pure.”

I said it succeeded as a crime drama, though I had a number of issues with the presentation in terms of Mennonites.

cbc_pure_season_01_s01e02-v2-11603281

Source: CBC TV

This morning I watched episode 2. I’m much less certain about the quality of drama. Too many things don’t make sense — why would you make the Ontario drug “boss” someone as highly visible and slow moving as a farmer-preacher with no criminal experience? It boggles the mind.

The visual portrayal of the group is closer to Amish this week, though the women’s dresses do look somewhat “Old Colony.” The bonnets are definitely Amish. The Saturday night “sing” had an Amish feel.

Most Old Order Mennonites and even Old Order Amish use cell phones at time. They are not as ignorant about technology as Noah Funk was. Old Orders draw the line at smart phones, but have used cell phones for business for many years. Low German Mennonites also have no issues with cell phones.

Women do not say “amen” at the end of family prayer before a meal. That’s the role of the head of the family, who is male. Certainly if he is sitting there, the prayer does not end until he says so.

Noah Funk’s “sermon” was wrong on many levels. It must always be tied to scripture, even if trying to make the point about God living within us that he did.

The women working in the drug distribution shop (or whatever it was) is not possible. Married women don’t work away from home. They might operate a business from home, but that scene was strictly for looks.

The young peoples’ singing was nice, and seemed to follow the Amish pattern.

For now let’s change our assessment to an over-the-top crime drama, with limited relationship to any previous “true story.”

See also my comments after Episode 1,  Episode 3,  Episode 4,  Episode 5 and Episode 6.

Prince Edward Island Fever

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.

Old Order Amish Immigration to Ontario

Until 1953 the only Old Order Amish in Canada were in Wellesley and Mornington Townships of Waterloo and Perth counties, respectively. They were descendants from the 1820s Amish migration to Canada. However, many people don’t know that between 1953 and 1970 at least ten small groups of Old Order Amish chose to immigrate to Ontario from the United States.

Dennis Thomson, a political scientist who examined Canadian government relations with the Old Order Amish, has identified at least four reasons for their attraction to Canada in those years: (1) cheaper and better land was available in Ontario than in desirable parts of the United States; (2) Canada did not have conscription in the post–World War II years, while the U.S. continued its mandatory conscription; (3) the U.S. was extending compulsory social security to self-employed persons, including the Amish; and (4) in Canada, fewer Canadian government agricultural subsidy programs threatened the Amish. Although Canada had its family allowance program, this was obtained voluntarily and thus was not an issue. Additionally, Ontario had not progressed as far in school consolidation as in some places in the United States. These combined factors made Ontario a more “promising land” than the alternatives in the United States as the Amish sought an undisturbed setting for their communities.

Pathway Publishing

Pathway Publishing building near Aylmer, Ontario in 1969. Mennonite Archives of Ontario photo.

In August 1952 a small Old Order Amish settlement in Pike County, Ohio, found itself located within eight kilometers (five miles) of a proposed site for a gaseous diffusion plant that would produce weapons-grade uranium for the Atomic Energy Commission. The Amish immediately listed their farms for sale and looked for alternative locations. Four family heads explored southern Ontario in September 1952, and by December they had purchased farms near Aylmer. Seven families moved to Aylmer in spring 1953. This settlement was destined to hold a prominent position in the North American Amish world. In 1957 Joseph Stoll, a twenty-two-year-old Amish schoolteacher, began publishing Blackboard Bulletin as a mimeographed monthly paper for Amish schoolteachers. David Wagler opened a small bookstore several years later. Next, four men formed a nonprofit Amish publishing company in late 1963. The Pathway Publishing Corporation was initially composed of David Wagler, Jacob Eicher, and Joseph Stoll of Aylmer, and Levi J. Lambright of LaGrange, Indiana.

Joseph Stoll later referred to the Aylmer settlement as a “renewal movement” among the Amish, probably because of its clear stand against things like tobacco use and rumspringa. Some leaders in the community, however, became restless and disillusioned after fifteen years in Ontario. They did not like the compulsory Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the seizing of their milk checks to pay the CPP taxes in the late 1960s. They also disliked agricultural programs that tried to manage what farmers planted because of grain surpluses. They again looked for alternative settlement locations, some within Canada and some outside. Eventually in 1969 a number of families left for Honduras, including Joseph and Laura Stoll and family; his parents, Stephen Stoll and family; and Laura Stoll’s sister and family. The Honduras settlement did not succeed and the Stoll families returned to Aylmer in the late 1970s.

An important convert to the Amish joined the Aylmer settlement in the late 1960s. David Luthy was raised as a Catholic and had almost earned a master’s  degree in English. While selling real estate in Northern Indiana one summer he encountered the Old Order Amish and eventually joined them after studying Anabaptist and Mennonite history briefly at Goshen College. He soon joined the Aylmer settlement and their publishing business, and became a significant editor for them. He also started the Heritage Historical Library, which eventually became a magnet for scholars doing research on the contemporary Amish experience. Luthy has also authored numerous books on the Amish, especially in his analysis of Amish settlements that have not survived.

Swartzentruber-Amish-Schoolhouse

Swartzentruber Amish schoolhouse near Chatsworth, Ontario. Photo by Sam Steiner.

Aylmer was only one of the new Amish hubs. In 1954, Swartzentruber Amish from Ethridge, Tennessee, part of the most conservative branch of the Old Order Amish, moved to the Chesley, Ontario, area. In the early 1960s others from the large Amish community in the Holmes County area of Ohio joined them. Their land was not as good as some other settlements, but the settlement thrived. The Norwich settlement (between Tillsonburg and Woodstock) also began in late 1954. The Norwich families also came from Holmes County, Ohio, with a few families from Conewango Valley, New York.

Smaller settlements began near St. Mary’s (1959), Tavistock (1960), Gorrie (1960), Wallacetown (1962), Mount Elgin (1962), Belleville (1967), Teeswater (1967), and Lucknow (1969). A least five of these settlements had failed by 1980, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the failure stemmed from lack of ordained leaders to form a congregation. Sometimes the surrounding non-Amish community resisted the settlement. Sometimes Canadian immigration policy kept families from joining new small settlements. The latter happened in the mid-1960s when some prospective Amish immigrants were arbitrarily asked to sign a document that stated they would become Canadian citizens, vote in elections, and send their children to high school. This policy prevented potential immigrants from joining the Wallacetown settlement, which ended within two years. The final straw for the Tavistock and Gorrie communities was the requirement in 1977 by the Ontario Milk Marketing Board to discontinue use of milk cans in favor of cooled bulk tanks.

Daughter settlements of these immigrant Amish have also sprouted in other parts of Ontario, though large-scale immigration to Ontario by Old Order Amish from the United States has ended.

To learn more about the Old Order Amish in Ontario read In Search of Promised Lands.

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William G. Davis helps the Old Order Mennonites and Amish to prosper

The 1960s brought dramatic changes to public elementary education in Ontario. In February 1964 Minister of Education William G. Davis (later Premier), in the words of one historian, “turned to the century-old problem of the rural elementary schools.” Although a lot of amalgamation had already taken place to unite the old one- or two-room schools into larger centralized schools, 1500 rural school boards still operated in 1964. These included areas with large populations of Old Order Mennonites and Old Order Amish. These groups were comfortable with the traditional one-room school and willingly sat on the local boards that ran these schools. They could maintain a level of control that ensured that the school’s culture remained largely in harmony with the church’s teachings. However, the government thought the education in these schools did not compare to that available in larger schools because of inadequate buildings and limited teaching tools. Some teachers also felt limited in their personal freedom by being under the microscope of the local community. Thus the  legislation made geographic townships the basis for the school areas and mandated centralized schools.

The Old Order Mennonites were quick to raise questions about the legislation. Already in April 1964 Old Order minister Ervin Shantz wrote to Minister Davis, asking if the small schools could remain open and whether fourteen-year-old children were required by law to stay in school until age sixteen and thus have to attend high school. In June Davis replied saying the small schools could remain open if the new township school board agreed. He also confirmed that “a child will still be excused from attendance at school if he has attained the age of fourteen years and his parent or guardian requires his services on the farm operated by the parent or guardian.”

Old Order Mennonite school, 1968

Students approaching an Old Order Mennonite school in 1968. Courtesy Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

By September 1966 nine parochial schools in Waterloo and Wellington Counties were serving Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites (including the Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference), Orthodox Mennonites, and Beachy Amish. The David Martin Mennonites did not participate in these schools. By 2001–02 there were 61 such schools in Waterloo, Wellington and Perth counties.

The provincial rules changed in 1968 by requiring students to attend school until age sixteen. The Old Orders continued to leave school at age fourteen with the Ministry of Education’s permission. For ages fourteen and fifteen the children were regarded as apprentices on their home or neighboring farm. They could not earn wages during this period, but that requirement was not a hardship in the Old Order culture.

The creation of these private elementary schools, with teachers from within the Old Order communities, have increased the retention rates of the young people in Old Order communities. This only makes sense since children were more completely nurtured within the Old Order culture with fewer distractions than they would have encountered in the public system.

So it can genuinely be said that Bill Davis and the Ontario Ministry of Education played a vital role in the ongoing health and growth of the Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish communities in Ontario.

To learn more about Ontario’s Old Order Mennonites and education read In Search of Promised Lands.

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