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

Religious persecution and intolerance have forced the Mennonites to migrate repeatedly. The Mennonites initially fled to the United States to escape religious persecution in Europe during the 16th-century Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. The Mennonite doctrine originated from Menno Simons, a priest from Zurich, Switzerland, who broke away from the Catholic Church in 1536. Menno and his Mennonite followers were anabaptists. They rejected infant baptism and believed that only adults could consent and prepare for baptism and communion. These were their only religious ordinances. Gradually, through Menno's prolific writing, preaching and organizational work, the numbers of Mennonites spread throughout the northern German states and the Netherlands(6).

The Church of Rome's reaction was brutal. Heretic priests were suspended in cages outside the church walls. Others were tortured and executed. Only a few Mennonites escape the massacre and scattered to freedom. The Dutch-North German Mennonites went eastward, forming settlements in Poland and eventually Russia. It was mostly the Swiss-South German Mennonites who moved westward to North America(7).

One of the conditions of Mennonite immigration to Canada was the right to operate their own schools where Bible lessons and the German language could be taught. But only a few years later, the Manitoba government reneged on that privilege as well as the exemption from military service. In 1890 the Manitoba Public School Act was passed declaring all public schools state-controlled, tax supported and non-sectarian. English was the only language of instruction and the Union Jack was to be flown over every school. Pleas and petitions for compromise were made by the Mennonite community to no avail. Groups of Mennonites then continued in their history of migration and resettled in Saskatchewan. But the same problem arose. Public schooling or else. The Mennonites moved on, again and again to various regions of northern Alberta, demonstrating their strength of conviction(8).

Endnotes

6,7 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

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

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