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.

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.