A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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FOR THE LOVE OF GOD: The Mennonites & Benjamin Eby
Immigration History

The first Mennonites came to Canada from the United States as a small group of pioneers in the late eighteenth and early-nineteenth century. Among them was a family named Eby. Benjamin Eby was one of a few Mennonite scouts who left their home in Pennsylvania during the American War of Independence, a war which the Mennonites felt threatened their pacifist beliefs. From Pennsylvania they ventured north to Upper Canada, feeling safer in territory still loyal to the British Crown. They crossed the Niagara River on rafts and followed the Grand and Conestoga rivers, reaching Canadian soil by horseback in the summer of 1806.

This first Mennonite migration into Canada brought about 2,000 Swiss Mennonites. They acquired land from private owners in the Niagara Peninsula and in York and Waterloo counties(1). Nearby, Benjamin Eby and his wife Maria were among a handful of families who pooled their resources and collected over 10,000 American dollars to purchase 40,000 acres of land. They had sewn their savings into quilts and buried them at the bottom of flour barrels, hidden away from any thieves the Mennonites might encounter on their migration.

From 1825 to the mid-1870's about 750 Mennonites settled on land in the Waterloo region. In the 1870's the Russification policies of the Russian government pushed 18,000 Dutch Mennonites to leave for North America. The promises of land, cultural and educational freedom, and guaranteed exemption form military service attracted about 7,000 of them to southern Manitoba. The opening up of homestead lands in the North-West Territories attracted Mennonites from Prussia, Russia and the USA between 1890 and WWI(2).

American conscription in 1917 brought another wave of Mennonites to the Canadian Prairies. The largest migration occurred in the 1920's, when 20,000 Mennonites fled the Bolshevik Revolution. WWII brought over 12,000 Mennonites from the USSR and Germany. Most of them settled in urban areas. The most rapidly growing urban Mennonite community was Winnipeg.

In recent decades Mennonite immigration to Canada has mainly been from USA, Mexico and Paraguay(3). In 1992 the Mennonite community in Canada numbered 200,000(4). There are many Canadian Mennonites of French, Chinese, Indian and Anglo-Saxon extraction, and increasing percentages of Mennonite marriages are mixed(5).

Endnotes

1,2,3,5 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

4 - When Cultures Clash
by John W. Friesen(Detselig Enterprises Ltd, Calgary, 1993).

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