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Mennonites, Part One

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Among the many German-speaking people to settle in Alberta, were those known as Mennonites.

According to historian David Leonard, like the Hutterites, the Mennonites were also persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Their leader was Menno Simons, who apparently founded the sect as early as 1536, in Salicia. Now, they were not readily accepted to the people in Salicia, who were predominantly Lutheran, and so they were encouraged to spread out. Some went to Holland, and others went to Russia - in the 18th century, where, under the policies of Catherine the Great, there was some tolerance allowed for ethnic groups and also religious minorities.

This changed in the 1870s, when the new Russian Czar attempted a policy of Russification to assimilate the Mennonites and other minorities into Russian society. And they, like the Hutterites, emigrated to North America.

However, an earlier group of Mennonites had already made the trip more than a century before.

Earlier on, in the 17th century, actually, a number of Mennonites had gone straight from Salicia, Germany to America, primarily to Pennsylvania, where the tolerant polices of William Penn and his successors favoured different dissenting religious groups. And in a place called German Town, the Amish, as well as the Mennonites, grew in great numbers and established their way of life, which tended to encourage close family ties, adherence to traditional values, and a noticed disinclination not to advance as society advanced technology - and they became to be recognized for their outmoded way of dress and their outmoded manners of speaking.

As pacifists, the Mennonites did not wish to fight. So when the American Revolution broke out in the 1770s, a number of Mennonites fled to the Niagara Peninsula.

Many United Empire Loyalists were Mennonites, who wanted to remain loyal to the British Crown, which was proven to be fairly tolerant. And in Canada, they spread out in Ontario, establishing different congregations, and with the opening of the Canadian west in the 1880s, after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, they began to settle in the western prairies, and in the foothills.

The first Mennonite colony in Alberta was established in High River in 1889.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.