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FOR THE LOVE OF GOD: The Mennonites & Benjamin Eby
Immigration History

Benjamin Eby's legacy is his lasting contributions to the Mennonite community. He was not the first settler but he was first in many other things. Eby was the first Mennonite bishop in inland Upper Canada. He built what became the first Mennonite Meeting house, and the first school house where he taught. He brought in a printing press and, in 1814, started a Mennonite newspaper. Eby also wrote many letters home to Europe, inviting families and merchants to join him in a thriving new community, soon to be known as Eby Town.

You might think that a man like Benjamin Eby, with his many contributions and leadership skills, would be the mayor of Eby Town. But for Benjamin, and most Mennonites of the old order, government and state politics went against their religion(9). Participation in the political world, with its inclination toward the use of force and violence to maintain the order of the state, was discouraged by Mennonites(10).

Over the years, however, more modern groups of Mennonites have become involved in government and do vote. A number serve in elected office and many more are active as civil servants and in occupations such as public school teachers(11).

Mennonites of today, however, confront the constant challenge of preserving their beliefs in the face of wordly progress. Most of Ontario's 20,000 Mennonites do not cling to the horse and buggy era. Some drive cars, some only black cars. Others leave their farms to train and work as mechanics and engineers. There are nearly 50 different groups of Mennonites today, divided by their levels of acceptance of modern life. Some believe that strict lives of discipleship, totally separated from the world around them, is the essence of their existence. Others insist that their adaptation and involvement in the world is crucial to their being able to carry out their Christian mandate.

The descendants of Benjamin Eby demonstrate this division within one family. Phares Eby still drives the horse and buggy and lives almost exactly as his great-great-great grandfather Benjamin did, generations ago. Phares Eby is part of the old order group of Mennonites, preserving the tradition of living a simple life off the land. The old order Mennonites also live by strict social rules in order to ensure that the time-honoured traditions survive with each new generation. Women defer to men. They take care of the hearth and home and are not permitted to have a bank account in their name. Such a liberty is considered unnecessary since divorce is also strictly forbidden. Children attend a parochial school only until grade 8 and then begin work on the family farm. If anyone chooses to leave the Mennonite fold they lose everything: their family, their farm, their community.

But not all of Benjamin Eby's descendants followed the same path. Phares' cousin, Dwight Eby, considers himself a modern Mennonite, of the new order. He and his family attend the First Mennonite Church in downtown Kitchener. They believe that their ancestors would have welcomed modern technology. "We drive automobiles today, we have our computers at home, we're hooked up to the Internet," says Dwight Eby. "There's no doubt in my mind that if Benjamin were alive today he would be using these things to communicate."

With the exception of the conservative minorities, Mennonites today are undergoing rapid change as they integrate, selectively, into the aspects of Canadian society that they feel further their faith. But among all Mennonites, a strong emphasis remains on the values of the family and the role of religion in minimizing the losses to the larger, secular community(12).


10,11 - The 1998 Canadian & World Encyclopedia
(Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998).

9 - Mennonite Life
by John A. Hostetler(Herald Press, Kitchener, 1983).

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