Early Mennonite Immigration to Canada

The Mennonites, like many other people, came to Canada because they were looking for a better life. The first Mennonite to come to Canada came from Pennsylvania in the 1780s. These Mennonites had came to the United States during the 1600s and 1700s. Before that, they had lived in Switzerland. These settlers moved what is now the Kitchener-Waterloo area in Ontario. It is still a major Canadian centre for Mennonites.

old Certificate card with embossed seal
David Stoesz military exemption card 1918. Mennonite Heritage Centre vol. 1561 file 43.

The next large migration began in the 1870s. The Mennonites in south Russia had prospered, but the Russian government passed a law that removed the Mennonites' total exemption from military service. If they stayed in Russia, they thought they might have to serve in the military, something they did not believe was right. Instead of risking this, they looked for land in North America. One of the best places they found was in southern Manitoba, in Canada.

In Manitoba, the Mennonites received a large amount of land and the Canadian government promised them that they could have freedom of worship and would not have to do any military service.

Why would the Canadian government do this for the Mennonites?

The reason is that Canada was looking for good settlers and farmers to farm on the Prairies. Mennonites had earned a reputation for being hard-working, honest, and successful farmers. This deal was good for both sides. Canada got useful citizens and the Mennonites got land and did not have to perform military service. In fact, Canada's laws dealing with the peace churches go back to the early 1800s.