Welcome! This guide gives greater visibility to historical records of Mennonite encounters with Indigenous peoples found within the holdings of the Mennonite Archives of Ontario. Records will continue to be added as they are identified.
We acknowledge the right of Indigenous peoples to know what has been collected about them, and encourage settler communities to educate themselves on this history. This guide is an invitation to visit the Archives (in person or virtually), engage with these records, and contribute new perspectives to our shared histories and present realities, in the hope of truth and reconciliation.
Questions, corrections and suggestions can be submitted to the Archivist, Laureen Harder-Gissing. We look forward to hearing from you.
Archives are generally organized by creator or collector (individual, family, organization) as opposed to libraries which generally organize non-fiction materials by subject. Finding aids such as this one attempt to virtually draw together archival materials that may be scatted across different collections (often called "fonds.")
This guide provides links to archival descriptions on the Mennonite Archives of Ontario website. Follow the links to view the descriptions in their archival context. The classification numbers (eg. "Hist.Mss.1.26") indicate to Archives' staff the physical location of the items.
All our archival collections can also be searched directly through our search page.
Some published materials located in the library that could be considered archival (eg. newsletters) are linked to their library catalogue entries.
Contact the Archivist to learn more or view materials.
The Mennonite Archives of Ontario collects and preserves archival materials that reflect the religious, cultural and organizational life of Mennonite, Amish and other related groups with roots or branches in Ontario. The Archives strives to be community-oriented by making Mennonite history and culture accessible while also offering the benefits of doing research within a university setting.
Items in this guide were identified by me through a search of the Mennonite Archives of Ontario online inventory lists. Since these lists are not always adequately descriptive of content, several collections were also searched manually. I am grateful for the researchers whose questions prompted the creation of this guide. I am also grateful to colleagues on campus, settler and Indigenous, for providing an initial review and comments.
The Mennonite Archives of Ontario at Conrad Grebel University College is situated on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (Neutral), Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. The College, and the University of Waterloo, was built on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted in 1784 to the Six Nations that includes10 kilometres on each side of the Grand River from its source in Dundalk to its mouth at Lake Erie.
The Mennonites were the first permanent white settlers in the area we know today as Waterloo Region. In the early 19th century, the initial settlers were led to the Grand River, with its surrounding fertile soil and forests by a guide from the Mississauga of the Anishinaabe peoples who lived here and understood the land. In 1805 Mennonites from Pennsylvania purchased 60,000 acres of land – Block 2 of the Haldimand Tract – in present-day Kitchener-Waterloo.
Mennonites now live, and continue to settle, on the full length of the Haldimand Tract. The land was granted to support the Six Nations in perpetuity, but this did not happen. Our work at reconciliation with Indigenous peoples includes decolonizing our historical narratives, our minds, and our hearts. This is an ongoing process, and we have a long way to go. We do this in humility and gratitude to our Indigenous neighbours, past and present.
Read Grebel's full acknowledgement.
Further Context to the Territoriality of Our Collections
Records in the Mennonite Archives of Ontario reflect not only the Archives' particular situation on the Haldimand Tract, but many places of encounter in Canada and beyond.
Mennonites, a Christian sect, originated in the Netherlands, Switzerland and southern Germany out of "Anabaptist" church reform movements. By the 18th century, there were also major Mennonite settlements in Prussia (northern Poland) and south Russia (Ukraine). In the 19th century, Mennonite settlements would later extend to many areas of the Russian Empire. Mennonite theologies and practices vary from group to group. Mennonites do not have a central church hierarchy though many cooperate through Mennonite Central Committee (an international relief, development and service organization) and Mennonite World Conference. Mennonites of many nationalities now exist in many parts of the world.
The first Mennonite settlers on Turtle Island arrived in 1683, seeking religious freedom to practice pacifist beliefs and achieve community stability, land ownership and economic prosperity in William Penn's colony on Lenape land (Pennsylvania). Several waves of European immigration would follow. Mennonites are implicated in numerous subsequent colonial projects including in present-day Canada the settlement of Ontario (beginning in 1786), Manitoba (beginning in 1874), Saskatchewan (from 1891), Alberta (from 1894) and British Columbia (most after 1928). In the twentieth century, Mennonites from western Canada and Europe established communities in Mexico, Paraguay and other areas in South America. Mennonites have also encountered Indigenous peoples through mission, settlement, personal travel, service and development activities around the world.
Direct Mennonite involvement in Indigenous communities in Canada increased significantly in the second half of the 20th century, through residential schools, "Indian hospitals," development projects, social justice advocacy, and missions. Mennonites have also met Indigenous peoples in urban contexts, through land claims processes directly affecting Mennonite-settled land, and through adoption and family ties.
We encourage our researchers to learn more about the land, Indigenous peoples, and treaties associated with the collections you are researching. One resource recommended by the University of Waterloo Office of Indigenous Relations is Native Land.
The language in this guide is meant to be respectful, accurate and inclusive. The presence in this guide of terms that are not recognized as such today are confined to names of organizations or terms used in the creation of original documents. We welcome feedback and suggestions for improving the language we use to describe First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples.
Do you, your family or organization think you may have records of Indigenous-Mennonite encounters? Your records may be able to contribute to a deeper understanding of Indigenous and Mennonite histories. Please contact the Archivist to begin a conversation about the possibilities of contributing records to us. If there is another memory-keeping organization that is a better home for your records, we can advise you on this as well.