History

The Mennonites are a group of people who originated in the Netherlands and Switzerland during the 1500s. Due to unrest in Switzerland and the Netherlands in the 1600s and 1700s, many Mennonites moved around between Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.

A world map highlights the countries of Canada, Germany, Russia, United States, Netherlands, Ukraine, Poland, and Switzerland.

Mennonite immigrants traveled from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, or the United States.

Mennonite immigrants arrived in the United States as early as 1683 and settled in Pennsylvania. This group of Mennonites moved from Pennsylvania, across the border, to settle in Canada in the 1770s. This group of Mennonites is referred to as the ‘Swiss-South German Mennonites’.

A map illustration is highlighting the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and Switzerland. This map also shows the surrounding countries of Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Ireland, Finland, Belarus, Austria, Hungary, Romaine, etc.

This map highlights the countries that Mennonites traveled from, and the surrounding countries.

Another group of Mennonites called the ‘Dutch-North German Mennonites’ immigrated from Ukraine, which was being controlled by Russia at the time. These Mennonites who lived in Russia in the 1800s were able to practice their own religion, speak their own language, have their own schools, and live peacefully without having to join the army, as they did not believe in fighting.

A Mennonite couple and their seven children pose for a photo. The boys wear their hair short and combed to the side, and the girls wear their hair long and pulled back.

A Mennonite family in the 1940s.

In the 1870s, Russia began to change and wanted the Mennonites to change their way of life as well. This would mean the Mennonite people could no longer live the way they wanted to. A group was sent to Canada and the United States to see if it was possible to settle there. About 18,000 people chose to move. They settled on the central plains of the United States and Manitoba.

A mother and her six young children are sitting in from of their house on a homestead in the early 1900s.

This Mennonite family built a homestead in Canada.

Settlement

A few years later, many Mennonites from Ontario, Manitoba, and the United States moved to farming areas in Saskatchewan, building settlements between Saskatoon and Prince Albert.

Another group of immigrants (around 24,000) arrived in Canada from Russia in the 1920s. Most of these immigrants settled in Western Canada along recently completed railway lines. Pioneering life on the Canadian Prairies was difficult, especially for those who had been working professionals in Russia (for example, teachers, lawyers, and doctors) and now had to get used to farming.

A Mennonite couple are dressed up and posing for a photo.

This man’s great grandfather was born in Germany and moved to America for a better life. He started a dairy farm, which was passed down to this man, who sold it to buy farmland near Webb, SK.

The first group of Mennonite settlers to come to Canada were mainly farmers. They spoke German, and tried to maintain their traditional ways by staying away from other cultures. The Mennonites who came to Canada after World War II were different, as they mostly settled in towns and cities.

A Mennonite couple are dressed up and posing for a photo.

Mennonite children stand in a farm field while their parents harvest the crop.

Culture

The Mennonite people do extremely well in many areas of the arts as it is an important part of their culture. Many are very good writers and a lot of poets in Canada are from Mennonite backgrounds. Music is an important part of church life, and many have developed skills in this area. Mennonites are often talented in the practical arts as well, like woodworking and sewing. Furniture and quilt making are very popular.

An Illustrated carpenter pulls a board through a wood planer.

Many Mennonites are talented furniture builders. This carpenter is using a planer to flatten boards before they can be used.