A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


The first Russian Mennonite immigrants to Canada worked out an agreement with Canada that in exchange for moving en masse to Canada's prairies, they would retain political and educational autonomy, and would not have to serve in the military. The Canadian government agreed and in the 1870's through the 1880's, 17,000 Mennonites relocated to Canada from Southern Russia.10

They recreated their block communities on the Canadian prairies. Anxious to establish settlement, the Manitoba Government allowed the Mennonite to build their self-contained communities.

The Mennonites faced the main hardships of the pioneer life - clearing the land, working the plow and taking in the first harvest. In Russia, the Mennonite community was financially independent. The members contributed to the operation of the church and schools, however, it was soon realized that the newly established Mennonite community in Canada would not be able to support itself. The Manitoba Mennonites gratefully accepted a loan from their co-religionists in Ontario and from the Government of Manitoba. There was concern that to accept financial help from the Government left the community open to political interference.11 One of the main areas of controversy following the loan was the schooling of Mennonite children. The provincial government wanted the children to be taught in the public schools, while the Mennonites wanted to have them taught within the community. This controversy caused ill will between the Government and the Mennonites.

In the 1890's, more Mennonite settlers arrived from Prussia, Russia, and the United States. They were joined by settlers from Manitoba and collectively established two more Mennonite communities in Saskatchewan. During the course of World War I, the Mennonites exercised their right not to participate in military service.
The refusal to fight for King and country, to acknowledge the Government of Canada or to respect the flag and other institutions of the country, resulted in much resentment of the Mennonite communities. In 1919, an Order-in-Council was passed which prevented any further Mennonites from immigrating to Canada. The Order accused the Mennonites of being "enemy aliens."

The Mennonite communities of the prairies and of Ontario worked together to have this Order rescinded. This marked a new era in cooperation between the various Mennonite communities and the Government of Canada. On June 22, 1922, the Order was lifted. The result was a further 20,000 Mennonites escaping from the political unrest and the economic melt down which had followed the Russian revolution. These Mennonites, like those who proceeded them, settled on the Canadian prairies.12

In 1929, the Stock Market crashed, sending the economy of much of the industrialized world into a tail spinning economic depression that would last ten years. During this period, there was tremendous suffering on the prairies. The economic downturn was compounded by the weather, dust storms and locusts. The rich prairie topsoil was blown away with the hot winds of those terrible summers. Canada closed the doors to immigration for the next sixteen years until the end of World War II. Following the war, Canada once again opened her doors to new immigrants. Thousands fled the destruction of the War. Thousands more fled from Eastern Europe, fearing that the Soviet Union was going to annex them.

A further 12,000 Mennonites designated as "displaced persons" immigrated to Canada following WWII. But as the Soviet grip upon the newly acquired territories tightened, immigration of Russian Mennonites was reduced to a trickle.13

The Mennonites had to fight to preserve their unique way of life and their separate Christian identity. Today, Old Order Mennonites continue to try and preserve their way of life and culture against the encroachment of the modern age.

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