A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


Today, there are over 128,600 members of the Mennonite churches in Canada. They are spread across the country. Winnipeg remains the headquarters for the Mennonite church of Canada. There is a small minority of Mennonite communities which continue to cling on to the old order ways, living in houses without electricity, using horses as their mode of transportation. Known as "Old Order Mennonites," one of the larger communities is in the Kitchener/Waterloo area of Ontario.
When Jacob Penner arrived in Canada in 1902, he was struck by the economic inequality that existed in western Canada. Rose, perhaps to counter her own brutally sad childhood, concentrated on the well-being of her and Jacob's children.

Despite having a secure job with a Winnipeg florist that depended upon the business of Winnipeg's wealthiest families, Jacob campaigned against the social inequalities that he saw around him. He became one of the organizers of the Winnipeg General Strike. He was an early socialist and one of the first members of the Communist Party. Despite having a new family, he was willing to lose his job for his beliefs.

In 1933, on his third attempt and even though he was a well known communist, Jacob won a seat on Winnipeg City Council as a Municipal Alderman. It was from this vantage point that he campaigned for better conditions for the poor. He was particularly interested in providing young people with something to do, and put forward that part of the police budget should be used to build a pool for the young of Winnipeg. His argument was that if the children were in the swimming pool, they would not be committing crimes.

In 1933 Winnipeg was, like the rest of the country, in the depths of the depression. Young men were "riding the rods" in search of work. Jacob Penner advocated a minimum wage for workers, plus unemployment insurance. During the depression there was a system called "relief" in which an inspector went through the houses checking for anything that was new. Toys for the children, a new coat. Anything that might show that you didn't deserve "relief." Not only did people face the indignity of having to apply for relief, they lost their pride with the inspection facing public humiliation.

Jacob Penner wanted to take the humiliation out of relief. He felt that there should be a minimum standard of living for everybody. Throughout the 1930's, he was often the lone voice on the Winnipeg council for social change. The idea of working for the good of the community is a theme that runs through the Mennonite faith. Today, the Mennonite church remains active working towards social causes, youth programs and choirs. Mennonite Central Committee is one of the hardest working, most progressive NGOs (non government organizations) working for social justice in The Third World.

The Russian Mennonites who forged their community out of the Prairie wilderness, brought with them a strong sense of community social causes. Many of the safety nets that we take for granted today, were first advocated by people like Jacob and Rose Penner, who fought through the strength of their conviction, for the weakest in our society. By doing so, they added greatly to the tapestry we call Canada.14

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