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Peace Research at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario: 1914-1922

Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Conrad Grebel University College
140 Westmount Rd N
Waterloo, ON  N2L 3G6

519-885-0220 x24238

Laureen Harder-Gissing MA MISt

8:30-4:30 Monday to Friday
Making an appointment is recommended

Archives is on the third floor of Conrad Grebel University College, within the Milton Good Library.

The Mennonite Archives of Ontario collects and preserves archival materials that reflect the Mennonite experience in Ontario and makes them available to anyone with a legitimate research interest.

Materials in many formats documenting predominantly local and provincial activities. Some materials also have national and international significance.

More information

From the Archives

Joseph Smith letter

First page of a letter from Joseph Smith to his preacher, Thomas Reesor, August 1918. Smith was a Mennonite from the Markham area  assigned to basic training due to an administrative error. Reesor advises him to remain at the training camp while they sort out his exemption. HM 1.220/3. Click image to enlarge.

Full Text:

Sunday Aug 11 1918

Dear Friend: -
I thought I would write you a few lines this afternoon. I did hardly think I would be here this long when I come. The Major called me in one day and asked me what they were doing with me. And he said he had not heard yet about my case but said he would call me in again as soon as he heard. They have me training with the rest of the soldiers most of the time and I don’t care much about the job. But they told me to do whatever they told me and it would be better for me, and I have done it yet so far. Do you think I will get off alright. There were ten Court Martials yesterday and one this morning before church read out to us and they all got ten years in prison, most of them were men that would not put the uniform on. I was to church this forenoon, they only preached about ten minutes. Well I guess this is all for this time I am well hoping you are the same
Yours Truly
3235665 Pte. Joseph Smith
Niagara on the Lake
If it should happen that I don’t get off what do you think I should do.

Copyright Information

All information on this guide is ©2013 by the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Permission is granted to include URL references to this information for noncommercial purposes, provided that proper attribution is given.

Photographs on this website cannot be reproduced without permission.

Citation example (Chicago style):

Harder-Gissing, Laureen. 'Introduction." Peace Research at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, Mennonite Archives of Ontario. Accessed 17 Oct 2013.

Historical Orientation: First World War and its Aftermath, 1914-1922

Newspaper headline announces the progress of the Military Services Act of 1917

Mennonites in Canada found themselves largely unprepared for the changes in public opinion and government direction during the First World War. Without a coordinating body, Mennonite leaders in Ontario and western Canada struggled to communicate their nonresistant position.

Anti-German sentiment led to the renaming of Berlin as Kitchener in 1916. Berlin Mennonite Church chose to be renamed First Mennonite, as to not take the name of a "warlord." On a national level, wartime press censorship affected the distribution of Mennonite publications in German.

The Military Services Act brought in conscription in August 1917. Following soon after, the Wartime Elections Act disenfranchised conscientious objectors. This was new legislative territory for both the government and Mennonites, and confusion about the implications of these Acts was the result. An Ontario Mennonite delegation to Ottawa sought to clarify their exempt status, and Mennonite and Brethren in Christ leaders resolved to raise funds for the relief of war suffering as a gesture of appreciation. In January 1918, they formally organized the Non-Resistant Relief Organization (NRRO); by war's end, the NRRO raised $80,000 from Ontario Mennonites towards the relief of war suffering. Meanwhile, under pressure to produce conscripts, local tribunals began refusing exempt status to young Mennonite men. The NRRO found itself in the role of intervener in individual cases.

The formation of the NRRO marked an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination among Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in Ontario. Mennonite women's sewing circles also resolved to work together, meeting in 1917 to form an "Ontario district" to contribute clothing and funds towards needs at home and overseas. In 1920, Mennonites in the United States formed Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to assist Russian Mennonites in distress due to famine and civil war. In 1921, the NRRO organized an appeal on behalf of MCC for Russian Mennonite relief. These organizations would grow to play major roles in Mennonite peace and service efforts in the coming decades.

The aftermath of the war brought a hardening of opinion on the part of some vocal Canadians against Mennonite military exemption and immigration, and in 1919 the government responded with an Order-in-Council prohibiting Mennonite, Hutterite and Doukhobor entry into Canada. After lobbying from Mennonites of western Canada and Bishop S. F. Coffman of Ontario, the Order was rescinded in 1922. Mennonites in Canada were now able to assist Mennonites in the Soviet Union who wished to immigrate.  Bibliography


Click on linked titles to view archival finding aids.Some files are available in digital form, as noted below.

Personal Collections

Beatrice Bender fonds
Beatrice writes about the exeriences of her father Daniel Brenneman who was apprehended in East Zorra, Ontario and detained by the military during the First World War.

Moses S. Bowman fonds
Military exemption papers, 1917-1918.

Stanley C. Brubacher fonds
Military exemption papers, 1916-1918.

Lewis J. Burkholder fonds
Correspondence of the Non-Resistant Relief Organization.These records are available here as digital files.

S. F. Coffman family fonds
Non-Resistant Relief Organization correspondence.These records are available here as digital files.

Gordon C. Eby fonds
Gordon C. Eby, a man of Mennonite background from Berlin, Ontario, enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. His wartime experiences are documented in letters and diaries.

Christian Gascho fonds
Minutes and correspondence of the Non-Resistant Relief Organization.These records are available here as digital files.

Jesse B. Martin fonds
Military registration and exemption papers, 1918.

Simeon Reesor fonds
Correspondence regarding his conscription, 1917-1919

Thomas Reesor fonds
Papers and correspondence related to the Non-Resistant Relief Organization.These records are available here as digital files.

Joseph Smith fonds
Correspondence regarding his conscription, 1918.

Daniel Steckle, in Ontario Mennonite Congregations microfilm collection
Military exemption papers, 1917.

Enoch Weber fonds
Enoch Weber's exemption certificate, 1918.

Twentieth Century Russian Mennonite Memoirs of War and Immigration
The following fonds, located in Personal Collections, contain personal accounts, correspondence, photographs and other primary sources created by Russian Mennonites describing life before, during and after the Russian Revolution and civil war,  immigration to Canada in the 1920s,  life in the Soviet Union in the inter-war period,  experiences of the Second World War in the Soviet Union and Germany, and post-war immigration to Canada and South America from the 1940s to 1960s:  Abram Barg, Lucy Braun, Jacob P. Dick, Mary G. and Anna Dick, Otto Dirks, Katharina Duerksen, Jacob J. Dyck, Katharine Dyck, Abram Flaming, Johann J. Friesen, Sarah Harder, Johanna (Fehderau) Jenn, Peter Kroeker, Tina Matthies, Katharina (Klassen) Penner, Abraham P. and Margarethe (Kroeger) Regier, Jacob J. Rempel, Erna (Wiens) Stern, Franz and Anna (Toews) Tiessen, Elizabeth Wiebe Unger, Heinrich Unrau, Gerhard Wiebe, Jakob Wiebe.

Organizations and Institutions

Mennonite Peace and Arbitration Association fonds
A Mennonite association for "advancing the cause of non-resistance," 1906-1922.

Non-Resistant Relief Organization fonds
A cooperative effort by Mennonite and Brethren in Christ in Ontario formed in 1917 to raise funds for the relief of war suffering. The NRRO also intervened in individual cases of Mennonite men facing exemption challenges. Some NRRO records are also found in personal collections (see above). These records are available here as digital files.

Conference Collections

Markham-Waterloo Mennonite Conference fonds
Correspondence relating to the Non-Resistant Relief Organization and World War I exemption.These records are available here as digital files.

Women's Missionary and Service Commission fonds (WMSC) fonds
Formed in 1917, these Sewing Circles provided for the needy at home as well as providing clothing for the relief of war sufferers. Women from both Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Ontario Amish Mennonite Conference congregations participated.The records from 1918 are available here as digital files.

Congregational Collections

First Mennonite Church (Kitchener) fonds
World War I research file.

Oral History Projects

Russian Mennonite Immigrants oral history project
Interviews of 82 Russian Mennonites recalling life in Russia before, during and after the Russian Revolution and Civil War.

Microfilm Collections

[Peace and social concerns statements by the Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in Canada, 1787-1982] microfilm collection
A print guide, entited Where we stand : an index of peace and social concerns statements by the Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in Canada, 1787-1982, is located in the Milton Good Library: CGCref Z7845.M4F75 1986. The microfilm collection is also located in the library, with the call number G MIC A292.

World War I Courts-Martial transcripts (United States)
These are microfilmed transcripts of 131 religious conscientious objectors court-martialed in the United States; most of Mennonite or other "peace church" background.

Government Records in the Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Mennonites in Canada microfilm collection
These films, obtained from the Public Archives of Canada (now Library Archives Canada) and the National Archives of the United States, contain records relating to Mennonite exemption during the First World War and Mennonite immigration.

Mennonites in Canada vertical files - Public Archives of Canada
Photocopies of correspondence and other documents relating to Mennonites from the records of the government of Canada, obtained from the Public Archives of Canada.