History and immigration of Mennonites into Canada

Canada has been home to Mennonites since 1786. The first Canadian Mennonites came from Pennsylvania. They were drawn by the promises and economic opportunities of a new agricultural frontier. A few were pushed to Canada by hostility arising from their pacifism and neutrality during the American Revolution. Approximately 2,000 Mennonites went from Pennsylvania to Ontario between 1786 and 1825. A division in the 1870s saw the formation of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ (now Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.) A division in the 1880s saw the formation of the Old Order Mennonites.

A second major migration involved Amish coming from Europe in the 1820s following the Napoleonic Wars. They came because of economic difficulties and the high cost of avoiding military service. They settled near the Mennonites located in Waterloo County, Ontario. In the 1880s they divided into “church Amish” and “house Amish,” later known as Old Order Amish.

A third major migration of Mennonites to Canada occurred in the 1870s when thousands of Mennonites living in Russia sought new homes on North American prairie frontiers. About 7,000 Russian Mennonites migrated to Manitoba in the 1870s. Two large land reserves were set aside for the Mennonites in the 1870s and two more in Saskatchewan in the 1890s. None of these reserves were ever completely filled with Mennonites so later non-Mennonites also settled there. Many of the Mennonites chose to take up individual homesteads rather than to live on the reserve.

The fourth major migration came as a result of the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Approximately 22,000 Russian Mennonites emigrated to Canada between 1923 and 1929. The immigrants of the 1920s made no attempt to achieve a geographical separation from the rest of Canadian society and sought no exclusive land grants or reserves.

The fifth migration took place following World War II. These were Mennonite war refugees and displaced persons from eastern Europe, of whom about 7,000 came to Canada in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Few of these persons took up farming. Instead they pursued other economic opportunities.  They played a key role in the urbanization and integration of Canadian Mennonites into Canadian economic, social, cultural, and educational life.

There are many groups of Canadian Mennonites. Until 1999, the three largest groups were the Mennonite Church, The General Conference of Mennonites and the Mennonite Brethren. Those who were part of the Mennonite Church were mainly from Swiss and South German areas and had migrated from Pennsylvania and Europe. The General Conference of Mennonites were people who had migrated from Russia and northern Germany after 1870, in the 1920s and after World War II. The third group is the Mennonite Brethren who were also from Russia and had organized their conference (in Russia) in the 1860s. They came in the same migrations as the General Conference Mennonites. In 1999, the General Conference Mennonites and the Mennonite Church integrated and formed Mennonite Church Canada.  There are also many more conservative Mennonite groups from Ontario to British Columbia, and Old Order Amish groups in Ontario.