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 6

My comments on previous episodes of “Pure”are at Episode 1, Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4 and Episode 5.

In this episode we finally learn the supposed reason for Mennonite drug lord Eli Voss’s rejection of the faith of his community. It was the death of his eight children and wife when he and they were on the way to church one Sunday and a drunk driver hit their wagon and horses killing all of them except for Voss. Because of this, Voss has seen God as a God of terror, not of love and grace. He clearly retains a strong emotional tie to his Mennonite community, but rejects all it believes. He intensely dislikes Pastor Noah Funk’s continuing faith in the goodness of God, and wishes to prove Funk wrong.

The final episode continued to integrate important Mennonite religious symbols into the conclusion of this crime story. One of the images was again gratuitous in my view and did little to advance the story. This was the martyr fire above which Noah Funk was chained.


From CBC’s “Pure” Episode 6

Eli Voss, in a speech to the watching crowd, explicitly refers to 16th century Anabaptist martyrs (forerunners of the Mennonites), and claims Noah Funk wishes to join them. Voss makes somewhat bizarre references to Gelassenheit, the Anabaptist doctrine of yieldedness and humility, and justifies killing Funk because Funk intended to destroy the drug ring and take away the technology and other economic benefits the drug trade has brought to the Low German Mennonite community. At the time of the martyr scene Voss believes that Funk’s family is already dead, as he has ordered his nephew, Gerry Epp, to kill them, perhaps to compensate for the death of his own family.

Back in southern Ontario, Anna Funk, fearing that her husband, Noah, is dead, implies to Joey Epp, Gerry Epp’s younger brother, that she will need a husband to help raise her family. She basically makes seductive overtures to him. Joey takes this to heart and kills Gerry Epp to prevent him from murdering the Funk family. Anna sees this intervention as the hand of God protecting them and refuses to run away with Joey.

Back in Mexico, a gunfight arises when the Mexican police arrive with the discredited DEA agent and  Bronco, the suspended and corrupt policeman from Ontario. To prevent Eli Voss from killing the young surviving witness to the murders that opened Episode 1, Noah Funk kills Eli Voss.

This then leads to the extended second religious symbol — that of a baptismal service, in which Noah and Anna Funk’s son, Isaac, is part of the baptismal class.


From CBC’s “Pure” Episode 6

For me this was a powerful scene, and reflected the struggle between good and evil that has run through this series. Noah, who has returned to Ontario (I guess the Mexican police don’t care that he killed someone) is ultimately unable to enter the meetinghouse to witness the baptism because of his sense of guilt, and Isaac is clearly ambivalent even as he accepts the baptism from Bishop Bergen who finally showed up in the last 10 minutes of the series.

As a crime drama the series worked reasonably well. The acting was at a high level, given the script with which they had to work. The writing and story line, in my view, was less successful, and relied on too many logical jumps in the plot to be convincing.

And the creators, in order to set this drama apart from other crime dramas, felt compelled to keep emphasizing that the characters were highly traditional Mennonites. This led to numerous gratuitous insertions of symbolic practices loosely based on traditional Mennonites, explicitly reflected in the titles of the episodes. These “symbols” were often an inaccurate mashup of the various Mennonite groups that has never been adequately addressed.

[Since first posting this blog, I’ve listened to the interview of Michael Amo, the creator and producer of “Pure” in a Writers Guild of Canada event. It can be heard at In the interview, at about the 9:00 minute mark, he defends the mashup of Old Colony and Old Order Mennonites as a way of not implicating any one group of drug dealing. He called it the “right thing to do ethically.” I’m not sure why this was ethical, since the inspiration for the series was a Fifth Estate program and  a Saturday Night magazine article on the Mennonite Mob in Mexico.]

If one subtracted the “Mennonite” angle, the high level of violence in “Pure”was quite clichéd. A tortured protagonist with the best of intentions ultimately triumphs over evil through “redemptive violence.” Clint Eastwood made a career out of this approach.

The difference, of course, is that the protagonists were pacifist Mennonites who reject violence, and don’t believe that killing a human being can ever be redemptive. The tension of the series arises from Noah Funk’s ongoing internal conflict on this issue, into which the rest of his family is pulled.

The sad, and most objectionable, part about this series is that the creators presented a distorted Mennonite theology, and pasted it on to a traditional Old Order Mennonite community that has no hint of this kind of crime or violence in its 125 year history. There are something over 10,000 people in Canada that might be described as Old Order Mennonite and use horses and buggies for transportation. This feels like extremely unwarranted exploitation.

This is not to claim that crime in unknown in traditional Mennonite communities — both Old Order Mennonite and Low German Mennonite have “marred images” in their histories. These have included child abuse and drug trafficking. But neither of these communities would ever condone what was portrayed in this series.

The creators of “Pure” did not reflect any understanding of how accountability or submission to the shared Ordnung (rules) in traditional Mennonite faith communities function. A minister like Noah Funk would not have made the decisions he did in isolation; he would have felt internally compelled to consult more widely with other leaders. And no Mennonite community has only one leader, as seemed the case for these “Edenthalers.” The individualism of modern society does not function in the same way in these communities.

Let us hope that season 1 of “Pure” is the final season.

To better understand the complexity and reality of Ontario Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.


“Pure” – the CBC drama – Episode 5

My comments on previous episodes of “Pure”are at Episode 1, Episode 2Episode 3,  Episode 4 and Episode 6.

Sometime in the last week, someone at the CBC as decided Pure’s “Edenthaler Colony” in Southern Ontario is an Old Order Mennonite group (thanks to Sherri Klassen for alerting me to this change). Previously CBC’s references had been generically “Mennonite,” though the story line, geography, and language have consistently been Low German Mennonite, if not specifically Old Colony Mennonite.

Perhaps this change was done to justify the horses and buggies and the appearances of the women. This new, narrower description makes even more of the depictions in “Pure” incorrect — the family names are not Old Order Mennonite, no Old Order church members in good standing use cars, the meetinghouse (church) is designed incorrectly, the women still look more Amish than Old Order Mennonite, the cemetery seen in the last episode had incorrect tombstones, the location of the colony (near Chatham) is some distance from Old Order Mennonites who are further east or north. The list of inaccuracies goes on.


From CBC’s “Pure” Episode 5

Today’s episode was again mostly about plot, though there were some gratuitous religious references, including a “communion service” at the drug lab in Mexico, after Noah Funk “turned the other cheek” twice by being slapped by drug lord Eli Voss, before Funk agreed to serve communion to excommunicated Old Colony Mennonites. (The folks pictured in Mexico did look like Low German Mennonites.)

Communion is only served by bishops, and the “congregation” at the drug lab would have known the service had no legitimacy (as Funk did observe in the episode). The only point for including this in the story line seemed to be to display a bit of “Mennonite” content otherwise not needed for the plot.

There were many plot lines that didn’t make sense in this episode. Why did the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have suspended cop Bronco Novack travel to Texas and then order him not to do anything? Why did the crooked DEA agent (who was subsequently killed) think her kidnapping of a child who had nothing to do with the drug business think her actions would go undetected by law enforcement? Why was Tina (Noah Funk’s daughter) not able to escape from a cheap motel room with a window?

The show has generally upped the level of violence in the last couple of episodes.

Many of my Mennonite friends stopped watching “Pure” after the first episode. To me it will be a shame if “Pure” actually gets a second season. The show is now suggesting its drama is based on true events about a Mennonite group that will not defend itself in public and has nothing in its history to justify such a portrayal.

To better understand the complexity and reality of Ontario Mennonites, read In Search of Promised Lands: a Religious History of Mennonites in Ontario.






Peter Shirk–Old Order Mennonite Local Politician

Peter Shirk, a draft dodger from the U.S. Civil War, came to Canada in 1862 and became a successful business person, owning two significant flour mills that shipped widely, especially into the Maritimes.

Although aggressive in business, Peter was traditional in his theology, and was concerned about the changes he saw happening the Mennonite Church. In letters preserved that he wrote to a friend in Pennsylvania, Shirk expressed concerns about worldly worship services, preachers taking too much pride their sermons, the conduct of singing schools in church buildings, erecting church buildings in the style of Protestant churches, and overemphasis on abstinence from use of alcohol and tobacco. He would have seen the temperance movement as an outside influence on Mennonites coming from groups like the Methodists.

Surprisingly, however, he served on the local high school board for 26 years, even though his children did not attend high school. He was also treasurer of Waterloo Township for two decades. These were very unusual positions for an Old Order Mennonite to hold.

The article and bibliography about Peter Shirk can be seen in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online.


Peter Shirk, 1912. Source: Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Peter Shirk: Old Order Mennonite businessman and local politician, was born 11 November 1839 near Churchtown, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA to Christian Shirk (9 August 1796-19 May 1870) and Elizabeth Hoffman Shirk (25 November 1807-3 August 1862). Peter was the youngest child in a family of three girls and three boys. On 5 June 1866 he married Magdalena Martin (2 March 1845-7 November 1895); they had 13 children. After Magdalena’s death, he married a widow, Judith Weber Krempien (4 July 1855-9 April 1942); they had one daughter in addition to the five children from her first marriage. Peter Shirk died 1 October 1919 in Bridgeport, Ontario, Canada; he and Magdalena are buried at First Mennonite Church in Kitchener.

Peter grew up on the family farm in Lancaster County, and apprenticed as a miller. In 1862 while the Civil War was raging, Peter and a sister, Barbara, moved to Waterloo County, Ontario, making Peter a draft dodger from the war. He worked a brief time for his uncle, Jacob Hoffman, who had a furniture factory and sawmill in Berlin (now Kitchener). Because of his experience in milling, Peter soon took a position at the Union Mills in Waterloo where he worked until 1866.

Peter Shirk had an entreprenuerial spirit and soon began operating his own mills. In 1866 he purchased the mill at Blair, Ontario, thoughhe sold it in 1869. In 1870, in partnership with Samuel S. Snider, he purchased the Lancaster Mills in Bridgeport. A sawmill and cooperage also operated near the mill. After Samuel Snider retired in 1887, Shirk continued as the sole proprietor. He then purchased the Baden Mills from James Livingstone in 1887. Shirk operated both mills until his death, after which they continued operation within the extended family until sold to the Waterloo County Co-operative in 1949. The Baden Mill was lost in a fire in 1942, and the Lancaster Mill burned in 1970. In its last years, the Lancaster Mill was operated as a feed mill for local farmers.

Although Peter held conservative theological views, he was an innovator in business practices. He had telegraph service installed at the Lancaster Mill at an early date, followed by installation of the first telephone in the town of Bridgeport.

In 1878 Peter Shirk was elected to the Berlin High School Board, and served on the board for 26 years, though none of his children attended high school. For 20 years (1892-1912) Peter Shirk also served as treasurer for the Township of Waterloo. His son, George, followed him in that position.

It appears that Peter and Magdalena Shirk were members until the 1890s at what became First Mennonite Church. However, three of their daughters were baptized in 1896 by Magdalena’s brother, Abraham Martin, the founder of the Old Order Mennonites in Waterloo County. Peter strongly believed that Mennonites should remain separate from world. This was reflected in a series of letters he wrote between 1893 and 1908 to Jacob Mensch, a conservative leader in Pennsylvania. Shirk expressed concerns in those letters about worldly worship services, preachers taking too much pride their sermons, the conduct of singing schools in church buildings, erecting church buildings in the style of Protestant churches, and overemphasis on abstinence from use of alcohol and tobacco.

Interestingly, Peter Shirk’s funeral was held at First Mennonite Church, led by two ministers from the more assimilated Mennonite Conference of Ontario and one Old Order Mennonite minister. Shirk’s ambivalent relationship to the modern world impacted the Old Order Mennonite community from the beginning, as the Ontario Old Order Mennonites always allowed telephones in places of business because of Peter Shirk’s telephone in the Lancaster Mill in Bridgeport.

— Sam Steiner


“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.


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.

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

Founder of the Ontario Old Order Mennonites


Martin Mennonite Meetinghouse (1993) in Waterloo, Ontario, where Abraham Martin was bishop. Photo by Sam Steiner

Many issues helped to create the group called Old Order Mennonites in Ontario. The same issues had affected other parts of the Mennonite Church in North America, especially in Indiana and Pennsylvania. Indeed by the time the Old Order Mennonites identified as such in 1889  in Ontario, there had already been a division in Indiana, and one would soon follow in Pennsylvania.


Abraham W. Martin, the Mennonite bishop in the northern part of Waterloo County, could be identified as the spiritual leader of the Old Order Mennonites in Ontario. His leadership in resisting certain kinds of change, and his refusal to baptize converts who had experienced their change of life in emotional evening meetings, drew the line that separated the groups.

The article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO) can be seen with bibliography at,_Abraham_W._(1834-1902)

Abraham Weber Martin: bishop and farmer; b. 27 April 1834 near St. Jacobs in Waterloo County, Ontario to John and Anna (Weber) Martin. He was the second son and third child in a family of three sons and nine daughters. On 17 March 1857 he married Elizabeth Bauman (1838-1902). Soon after their marriage they took possession of the farm on which Abraham was born and they lived there the rest of their lives. Abraham and Anna had three sons and seven daughters. Abraham died 8 February 1902. Elizabeth died 30 April of the same year.

Little is known of Abraham Martin’s education, although it was certainly limited to the primary schools of the day. He was said to be of “medium height, well proportioned and rather fleshy,” with a “pleasing countenance” and an easy and dignified bearing.

On 1 September 1861 Joseph Hagey ordained Abraham Martin as the minister for the congregations in the Woolwich Township area north of the village of Waterloo. On 17 September 1867 Hagey ordained Martin as the bishop for these congregations—one of three bishops in the Waterloo County Mennonite community.

Abraham Martin can be considered the father of the Old Order Mennonite movement in Ontario. He corresponded frequently with leaders of the earlier conservative movement in the United States, and he took traditional positions on most of the contentious issues. In the 1870s he called a meeting of ministers and deacons at his home to discuss disputed issues within the Mennonite Conference of Ontario. The conservatives indicated that they would drop their objections to protracted evening meetings and English-language preaching only if Sunday schools were not continued in the conference. Their objections to Sunday schools included the following: 1) Sunday schools promoted associations with other churches that were not nonresistant; 2) teaching was often done from books or materials other than the Bible, and 3) Sunday schools usurped the parental role of teaching their children. This effort at reconciliation ceased, and conservative opposition on all these issues continued. Evening meetings and English preaching also encouraged relationships beyond the Mennonite community, and the emerging Old Order group ultimately rejected these innovations as well.

In 1885 preachers Noah Stauffer and Solomon Gehmen held evening meetings in Woolwich Township, the geographic area in which Abraham Martin was bishop. Thirty persons requested baptism because of their experience in the meetings, but Martin refused to give them instruction or to baptize them because of the nature of these meetings. Bishop Elias Weber later baptized the group, but this quickly led to a more formal schism in 1889 when the two factions within the Mennonite Conference of Ontario held separate annual meetings with their ordained leaders.

Despite his conservative theology, Martin was not as rigid as other conservative leaders. In 1885 he decried the “inflexible” discipline of the Stauffer Mennonites in Pennsylvania.

As bishop of the largest group of Old Order Mennonites in Ontario, Abraham Martin had enormous influence on the first years of the group’s development. He was not a flamboyant, charismatic leader, but he represented the theological views of a high percentage of those in congregations for which he was responsible.

— Sam Steiner

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.

St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in the Ontario Mennonite world

Yesterday I spoke to a Sunday school class at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, located in St. Jacobs, Ontario. They are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their congregation’s presence in the village of St. Jacobs.

Prior to that they were known as the Conestogo (for the river) congregation located several km. west of the village at “Three Bridges,” where their cemetery is still located. There was a meetinghouse at Three Bridges beginning in the early 1850s, and the congregation had met earlier in a schoolhouse at the same location.

My assignment was to talk about how this congregation fit into the larger Ontario Mennonite world.  I’ll mention four points out of the larger number given in the presentation.

  1. E.W.B. Snider

    E.W.B. Snider. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

    The Mennonites of St. Jacobs were always in an ambiguous relationship with other local churches, especially the Evangelical Association (now part of the United Church of Canada). The Evangelicals “missionized” the Ontario Mennonites beginning in the 1830s, and attracted a significant number to their denomination, including the parents of longtime Mennonite of Parliament Isaac E. Bowman, and Mennonite “preacher’s kid” E.W.B. Snider of Ontario Hydro fame. They also welcomed Mennonites who felt called to serve in the military, or attracted to levels of secular business life that were uncomfortable within the Mennonite environment. In contrast, the years since World War II have been marked by cooperation– in things like community Vacation Bible Schools and occasional joint worship services.

  2. St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, 1915

    St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, 1915. Mennonite Archives of Ontario.

    Like many other Ontario Mennonite congregations, when the Conestogo congregation moved into town, it built a church, not a meetinghouse. As with First Mennonite Church (Kitchener) and Erb Street Mennonite Church (Waterloo), new Mennonite places of worship in the early 20th century followed the Protestant style of rows of pews facing a raised pulpit at one end, with a basement built for children’s Sunday school. The “Protestantization” of the Mennonite Conference of Ontario came quickly after the 1889 division that saw the non-evangelical portion of the Mennonites establish the Old Order Mennonite Church.  This Protestant shift followed the Mennonite pattern in other parts of North America.

  3. Jesse and Rebecca Bauman

    Jesse and Rebecca Bauman, 1960s.

    The St. Jacobs Mennonite congregation benefited from crises in the Old Order Mennonite community from the 1920s to 1940s. A significant part of the congregation’s growth in those years came from a steady stream of Old Order Mennonites deciding to move to a conference church. These were years of crisis in the Old Order community. One bishop, Jesse Bauman, tried to introduce evangelical fundamentalist theology to the Old Order community until he was finally silenced by the other ministers. Both the Plymouth Brethren and the Mennonite Brethren (especially MB leader Henry H. Janzen), also preached to Old Order listeners who were seeking a more emotionally satisfying faith. Other members of the Old Order church desired greater freedom to adopt technologies such as the automobile or telephones in the home. These conflicts helped St. Jacobs’ membership grew from 149 in 1925 to 364 in 1950.

  4. Rockway Mennonite graduates, 1948

    First Rockway Mennonite School graduating class, 1948. Ellen Martin of St. Jacobs (Dr. Ellen Moyer) to right of speaker. Mennonite Archives of Ontario

    The St. Jacobs congregation has always given much of itself to the larger activities of the Ontario Mennonite community. Since World War I congregational leaders, both ordained leaders and lay leaders, have given leadership to Ontario Mennonite programs like the Ontario Mennonite Bible School, the creation of Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, and provided significant service to the Mennonite Mission Board of Ontario and other conference commissions and committees. This began in 1918 with minister, then bishop, Moses M. Brubacher, and continued through almost all the subsequent leaders. In addition, since the end of World War II more than 20 pastors who have served in other Mennonite congregations grew up or were nurtured within the St. Jacobs congregation.

Although there have been times of crisis in its history, the St. Jacobs Mennonite Church has been a healthy contributor to the larger Ontario Mennonite community. It was a very pleasant contrast to some congregational anniversaries that seem to be near the end of a life cycle.

To learn more about the Ontario Mennonite community, read In Search of Promised Lands.

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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