Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970

Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970: Volume 3: A People Transformed

T. D. REGEHR
Copyright Date: 1996
https://doi.org/10.3138/9781442677227
Pages: 600
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442677227
  • Book Info
    Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970
    Book Description:

    When war broke out in 1939 Canadian Mennonites were overwhelmingly a rural people. By 1970 they had largely completed one of the greatest `migrations' in their history - the transformation from a rural to an urban community. In this third and final volume of Mennonite history in Canada, T.D. Regehr shows how the Second World War challenged the pacifist views of Mennonites and created a population more aware of events, problems, and opportunities for Christian service and personal advancement in the world beyond their traditional rural communities. Regehr describes how the war also initiated the urbanization process and brought in its wake a new wave of Mennonite immigrants, with different traditions and values, from Europe.

    Regehr traces as well the less cataclysmic and more far-reaching influences of urbanization on Mennonite identity. He demonstrates how the specialization, rationalism, and individualism that typically accompany the shift from a rural to an urban society produced new vocations, including a large business and professional class; created new values that were often at odds with traditional ones; and profoundly affected community and church life. Regehr balances a detailed institutional analysis with numerous insights into the lives of ordinary people, stressing the role and problems of women in what has been essentially a patriarchal society. Though, as he shows, the Mennonites were `a people transformed,' they were not assimilated. They retained a separate identity and preserved the distinctiveness of their faith and culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7722-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. A Personal Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    All historians struggle with the problem of objectivity. The factual information they include in their work, and the stories they tell, comprise only an infinitesimally small part of all that happened. Even the archives and libraries housing millions of books and documents provide only a distillation of what others believed was worthy of recording and preserving on paper. Personal recollections, newspaper accounts, pictures, maps, films, and, alas, ‘machine readable archives’ provide much more information than any historian of our modern times can ever use. And yet they too comprise only a fraction of all that people experienced. There is, inevitably,...

  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  7. Introduction: A People Transformed
    (pp. 1-4)

    Canadian Mennonites in 1939 were overwhelmingly rural and agricultural people living in relatively isolated communities. The 1941 Canadian census reported that 86.9 per cent of Canada’s 111,380 Mennonites lived on farms or in small rural towns and villages.¹

    J. Winfield Fretz, an American Mennonite sociologist who visited Canadian Mennonite communities in the early years of the war, believed that their churches and communities survived best in ‘agricultural areas where the pull of the church in a community tends to draw its members into community and by degrees drive out by processes of competition, invasion and succession, the non-Mennonite populations.’ He...

  8. Part One: The Setting

    • 1 Canadian Mennonites in 1939
      (pp. 7-32)

      Wars have been likened to a crucible or a blast furnace within which peoples and nations are subjected to intense heat and from which none emerges unaltered.¹ Historians have suggested that Canada, perhaps more than the nations devastated by war, became a different country in the 1940s. They say that most of the pieces were still the same, but they had been changed and rearranged so that ‘the effect of the picture is quite different.’²

      Canadian Mennonites were one of the pieces that was altered and rearranged by the war. Their place in Canadian society and in the Canadian economy,...

  9. Part Two: The Crucible of War

    • 2 Wartime Alternative and Military Service
      (pp. 35-59)

      The Canadian census of 1941 reported that there were 16,913 Mennonite males between the ages of 15 and 35 living in Canada.¹ During the war approximately 4,500 Mennonite men enlisted for active military service,² while 7,543 were drafted for alternative service.³ Thus more than 70 per cent of Canadian Mennonite men of military age rendered either alternative or active military service during the Second World War. An unknown but significant number obtained wartime work in Canadian towns and cities; still others provided voluntary service at home and abroad. Most expected to return to their cherished rural communities when peace came,...

    • 3 Voluntary Service
      (pp. 60-78)

      The disasters of the Great Depression had for a time turned Canadians in on themselves. They blamed governments, business leaders, bankers, capitalists, speculators, and one another for their troubles.¹ Mennonites, while somewhat removed from the most controversial conflicts of the 1930s, had been engaged in their own desperate struggles for survival, both in Canada and in the Soviet Union.² In 1939 most Canadian Mennonites wanted to live in peace and quiet in their cherished rural enclaves. They wanted to be ‘in the world, but not of it.’³

      The war forced Canadians, including Mennonites, to broaden their perceptions of the world....

    • 4 Refugee Immigrants
      (pp. 79-100)

      Canadian Mennonites experienced significant disruptions during the war, but theirs were far less painful and difficult than those of Mennonites in the Soviet Union, Poland, the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk), and Prussia. Almost all the Mennonites living in eastern Europe, including the European part of the Soviet Union, in September 1939 were forcibly relocated, evicted, or expelled from their homes during the war. Many of those from the European part of the Soviet Union were exiled to far eastern and northern labour and concentration camps, while most of those expelled from Danzig and Prussia eventually emigrated to South...

    • 5 Wartime Changes in Agriculture
      (pp. 101-122)

      The Mennonite young men who left home during the war for military, alternative, or voluntary service were expected to return to their rural communities and agricultural pursuits. There was also an expectation that land and work would be found in rural Mennonite communities for postwar refugee immigrants.

      Some Mennonite leaders, however, realized that all was not well in the existing communities. There was not enough land to accommodate many of the younger families. Small satellite communities of the landless had sprung up on the fringes of the larger towns in Mennonite districts. New colonization schemes were urgently needed if these...

  10. Part Three: Years of Prosperity

    • 6 The Continuing Agricultural Base
      (pp. 125-147)

      In the decades following the Second World War Canadian Mennonites became a prosperous people. Not many achieved great wealth, but the struggle for survival that they had waged in Canada, in the Soviet Union, and in postwar Europe was over. They emerged from the crucible of war stronger and more flexible. Their increased strength was based on greater confidence in their ability to participate productively in Canadian society. Flexibility was achieved because of their changing perceptions of Canadian society and government.

      The early years of wartime alternative service had been difficult, in part because the conscientious objectors (COs) were treated...

    • 7 New Economic Opportunities
      (pp. 148-168)

      Reuben Musselman of rural Waterloo county in Ontario was typical of many Mennonites who were unable to establish their own farms but who discovered other possibilities after the Second World War. Reuben was a member of the second group of Mennonite conscientious objectors sent to the Montreal River camp, about eighty miles northwest of Sault Ste Marie.

      The men were placed in a former lumber camp and put to work building a portion of the highway along the north shore of Lake Superior, which was expected to become part of a proposed trans-Canada highway. Few preparations had been made for...

    • 8 Lure of the Cities
      (pp. 169-194)

      In 1956 American sociologist J. Winfield Fretz warned: ‘Where Mennonites have gone to the cities, the solidarity of the communities has been shattered ... Mennonites moving to the cities have in large numbers lost their identity as Mennonites.’¹ In the 1960s, however, Fretz became founding president of Conrad Grabel College, a Mennonite liberal arts college affiliated with the University of Waterloo. He had discovered that Canadian Mennonites moving to the cities had not lost their identity and that the urban Mennonite experience in Canada differed significantly from that in the United States.² Some aspects of traditional life were lost, but...

  11. Part Four: Preparing the Next Generation

    • 9 Nurture and Training of Youth
      (pp. 197-222)

      The years of economic prosperity after 1945 made it possible for Canadian Mennonites to devote substantial thought, energy, and resources to the nurture, training, and education of their children and young people. The rapidly changing circumstances of many Mennonites, particularly new city dwellers, led to changed attitudes, new church and conference programs, and much stronger support for a variety of educational institutions. Child-rearing practices, methods used to bring young people to a mature religious commitment, and attitudes toward human sexuality all changed significantly, while the number of Mennonite young people attending secondary and post-secondary educational institutions increased dramatically. As a...

    • 10 Church and Community Schools
      (pp. 223-244)

      Mennonites in Canada have always attached much importance to the education that their children received in private, secular, or church schools.¹ They believed that schools had a responsibility to prepare children for a productive life as adults and also to preserve and perpetuate the religious and cultural values of their communities and congregations. Canadian Mennonites have not, however, always agreed on the occupation or productive work that their children should do as adults, particularly as members moved to cities. As a result, ideas about schooling also diverged.

      In 1939 Canadian Mennonite schools, except for two private high schools, were local...

    • 11 High Schools and Colleges
      (pp. 245-271)

      In 1947 Rosthern Junior College and the Rosthern Bible School shared a campus and some teachers. But the two institutions seemed to be moving in opposite directions. H.T. Klaassen, chairman of board at Rosthern Junior College and a teacher at the Bible school, explained the situation: ‘Many of the young people attending the Bible schools become very intolerant. They will allow nothing except their own position to stand ... Personally I believe the Bible schools are in danger of going too far to the right and of losing their biblicalNuechternheit(common sense). The high schools, on the other hand,...

    • 12 Artistic and Literary Voices
      (pp. 272-298)

      The post-Second World War era saw a remarkable flowering of musical, literary, and artistic talent in Mennonite communities in Canada. Better education undoubtedly contributed to this development, but successful artists must also have a story to tell or a truth to communicate. In the decades following the war, and particularly after 1960, a rapidly growing number of Mennonites became convinced that they did indeed have something to communicate. Music, literature, and to a lesser extent the other fine arts allowed them to reflect on their historic experiences and convictions, respond to the realities and changes in the world around them,...

    • 13 New Leadership
      (pp. 299-324)

      The nurture, training, and education of Mennonite young people in the 1940s and 1950s produced a new generation of Mennonite leaders. The biographer of the four men who dominated (Old) Mennonite church life in Ontario, in part through the Ontario Mennonite Bible School, described a phenomenon that also affected Mennonite communities elsewhere: ‘Their strengths and dominant leadership capabilities were melded together and filtered through study and group experiences at OMBS. The result was simply the creation of layer upon layer of students returning to their home congregations. Ultimately, these layers helped to form a laity with self-recognition, purpose, and creative...

  12. Part Five: Mission and Witness

    • 14 Mission at Home
      (pp. 327-354)

      In his recently published autobiographical reflections J. Lawrence Burkholder describes common pre–Second World War North American Mennonite attitudes and strategies: ‘My impression was that Mennonite strength lay in its commitment to the particular in a rather severe either-or, all or nothing, adherence to Jesus only, especially Matthean discipleship. Accordingly, Mennonites insisted upon a strong but short tether – strong communitarian ties but short when it comes to responsible participation in the larger culture.’¹ Developments after 1945 strained these short but strong tethers. Some groups took extraordinary steps to preserve their nonconformist and sectarian communities and congregations. They defined the...

    • 15 Mission to the World
      (pp. 355-381)

      Canada’s Mennonites experienced much change in the second half of the twentieth century. They tried to resist unfamiliar outside influences and to protect old customs and practices. That, however, did not prevent the majority from supporting aggressive and intrusive missionary activities overseas, the stated intent of which was to change radically the lives of other people. Missionaries were messengers and proponents of Christianity, Western civilization, progress, modern science, and technology, as North Americans and Europeans knew and understood them.

      Conditions and opportunities for missionary work, however, changed radically during and after the Second World War. People who went out before...

    • 16 Peace, Justice, and Social Concerns
      (pp. 382-408)

      The 1960s saw political, social, and religious tumult in North America. In the United States the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, of Robert Kennedy, and of Martin Luther King, Jr, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the disastrous Democratic party convention of 1968 in Chicago were only the most widely publicized disasters that suggested serious flaws in the society that North Americans had created in the prosperous years after 1945. There were, as a result, intense debates regarding peace, justice, and social concerns.

      Canadians, including Mennonites, became deeply involved in those debates. They had sharp differences of opinion,...

  13. Conclusion: Looking Back
    (pp. 409-418)

    Canadian Mennonites experienced much change in the decades following the beginning of the Second World War. It was natural for them to review and assess those changes from time to time. Several events provided unique opportunities for such assessments and shed light on different aspects of the changes that Mennonites had experienced.

    In August 1962 the Seventh Mennonite World Conference was held in Kitchener. It was the first time the Mennonite World Conference met in Canada, and Canadian Mennonites naturally gave much thought to the image that they would present to their world-wide fellow believers. The Kitchener-Waterloo area, where Old...

  14. Appendix A: Mennonite Groups in Canada
    (pp. 419-420)
  15. Appendix B: Conferences / Branches in Canada
    (pp. 421-428)
  16. Appendix C: Membership of Conferences/Branches
    (pp. 429-430)
  17. Appendix D: Census Figures
    (pp. 431-431)
  18. Appendix E: Mennonite Journals and Newspapers
    (pp. 432-434)
  19. Appendix F: Mennonite Rural-Urban Statistics
    (pp. 435-436)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 437-532)
  21. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 533-541)
  22. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 542-542)
  23. Index
    (pp. 543-563)