Each side had its own prejudices. Some people didn't like the Mennonites because they spoke German and refused to fight for Canada. Austin Cross wrote a series of travel reports for the Ottawa Citizen. His report on Saskatchewan was called “Heiling Hitler on Saskatchewan Relief.” The title referred to his claim that most Mennonites needed assistance from the government and yet were loyal to the German dictator Adolf Hitler, not Canada. (Read full article)
For example, Cross wrote that “These Mennonites are just about all for Hitler” and that the Mennonites fit into Canadian democracy “about as well as ostriches mate with oysters.” The rest of the article was on the same theme.
“This spring the Mennonite children came to school boasting about Hitler, and the one or two English kiddies had to hear these grubby Mennonites – mostly on relief -- gloat when Denmark, Holland or Belgium were invaded. Openly in the school yard, they told how good that was. Canada's turn would come, they announced gleefully. I can get people who will supply the names of the individuals who boasted that when Hitler got to Canada, he would soon put the old Canadian settlers where they belong. And you gathered that the Mennonites felt the Canadians belonged behind barbed wire.”
“I heard other more sinister stories, harder to confirm, about conditions up there. The funny part about it is, that most of this anti-British faction is as yellow as the Italian navy. A littler bit of action on the part of the authorities, and these people would be the most abjectly craven and crawling. Too, they would respect Canada a great deal more.”
“I saw by the papers that a teacher had recently been put in jail in Saskatchewan for making the same sort of speeches to his pupils the Mennonites have been making. Perhaps this not only proves that I am giving you facts and not fancies, but that the authorities out there have become belatedly alive to the anti-British elements out West.”
If you read this article and didn't know anything about Mennonites, you might conclude that they were the worst sort of people.
If, however, you read the response of some of the readers of the article, you would get a much different impression. Dorise Nielsen, a Member of Parliament from Saskatchewan criticized Cross's generalizations. (Read full article)
“Such a statement, so sweeping and so wide, is calculated to influence our minds against these minority groups and is, in my opinion, grossly unfair and without foundation, and evidence enough for me that Mr. Cross is a most unreliable reporter and certainly not fit to send in contributions to a paper such as the Ottawa Citizen.”
“Many of [the Mennonites], weighed down under a cloud of suspicion as they are, are unable to defend themselves, and so I take this opportunity to speak for them and to assure the readers of the Citizen that great numbers of these people are as loyal Canadians as any to be found. I cannot condemn severely enough articles of this nature and sincerely hope the Citizen discontinues them.”
F. Jennings, another reader, agreed with Nielsen. (Read full article).
“The attack upon the Mennonites that appeared in a recent Citizen seems to me to be unworthy of your paper. I don't know the author of the article, but I do know that today there are malicious busybodies styled as patriots quite ready to report a few careless spoken and harmlessly intentioned words that are enough to place peaceful people in a concentration camp with no means of defence or trial."
“Now it seems to me that the article slanders the Mennonites. I have never lived amongst them in Saskatchewan, but I do know the Mennonites of York county. I have lived beside them, worked beside them, begged from them, and traded amongst them, and I have yet to find a better type of people. To say they are chisellers is untrue. Their ancestors from Pennsylvania bought and paid for every acre they possess. They got no free grants.”
“The morals of the great majority of them are high, and most of them are intensely religious; and what's better, they are Christian-hearted and generous, and fair-minded and tolerant. To say they are unpatriotic and pro-German is not true of the Mennonites I know. Some of the strongest condemnations of Hitler and Stalin I've heard have come from the lips of Mennonites.”
Some people saw the Mennonites as hard-working, peace-loving people, while others saw them as friends of the enemy. It was tension like this that led to the incident at Drake. Mennonite leaders were very concerned about public perception. Bishop David Toews and Minister Jacob Gerbrandt corresponded about this issue. (read letters to and from Toews and Gerbrandt). Both men were personally threatened. Government officials also wrote to Bishop Toews about this incident, expressing concern. (Read a letter and Toews' response).