Skip to Main Content

Peace Research at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario: Introduction

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

About the Photographs

Photographs in this guide are from the Mennonite Archives of Ontario. Most photos are listed in the Mennonite Archival Image Database.

Conscientious objectors arriving at Montreal River camp

Conscientious objectors arriving at Montreal River Alternative Service work camp in northern Ontario, 1940s. Credit:  Mennonite Archives of Ontario (XIII-

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.

This guide highlights primary source materials for peace research at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario

Mennonite bicentennial memorial dedication

Mennonites celebrating the 200th anniversary of migration to Canada in Vineland, Ontario, dedicate a monument rich in peace symbolism, 1986. Credit: David L. Hunsberger/Mennonite Archives of Ontario (1988-8.56)


Who are the Mennonites?
With roots in 16th-century European religious reform movements, Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish (often known in the 16th century as “Anabaptists”) have shared a common commitment to non-participation in war and a rejection of violence. Along with the Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ, and Society of Friends, these groups are sometimes referred to collectively as “peace churches.” Many of the peace churches evolved during a period of persecution for their beliefs, which profoundly influenced their understandings of Biblical interpretation, peace, community, duty to the state, and loyalty to God and the church. The peace position also had a profound influence on the migration patterns of these groups. Mennonites originated in the Netherlands, Switzerland and southern Germany. By the 18th century, there were also major Mennonite settlements in Prussia (northern Poland), south Russia (Ukraine), and Pennsylvania.

What is “nonresistance”?
Mennonite understandings of what it means to be a peace church have been shaped both by internal dialogue and experiences in the wider world. One of the most notable changes evident in primary source materials is in language. Based on interpretations of the Gospel of Matthew (particularly verses in chapter 5), Christians were to practice “nonresistance,” defined as the renunciation of war, violence and coercion. The word “nonresistance” would have been familiar to the Anabaptists and in Mennonite congregations well into the 20th century. For many conservative Mennonite groups, "nonresistance" is still the primary way to describe their peace position. In the mid-20th century, Mennonite groups with more interaction with the wider world began to use terms such as "pacifism," “nonviolence” and “peacemaking,” previously considered to be secular concepts.

How is the guide organized?
The guide is organized chronologically by four historical periods in Ontario Mennonite peace history. Within each period, entries are listed according to source type (congregational records, personal records, etc). Most entries are linked directly from the guide to their detailed archival descriptions and file listings on the Archives website. Each period is introduced by a brief historical orientation.

How was the guide developed?
Researchers from family historians to school children to academics have shown a growing interest in how Mennonite historical narratives of peace and war relate to more predominant peace and war narratives. Since archives are organized by creator or source, and not by subject, identifying peace-related primary sources in the Archives can be time consuming.

In 2012, Ross W. Muir, Managing Editor on sabbatical from Canadian Mennonite, combed through Archives listings to identify primary source materials related to peace. In 2013, Archivist Laureen Harder-Gissing arranged and annotated the results, wrote the introduction and historical orientation texts, and published the online guide using LibGuides. Sam Steiner and Ross W. Muir provided editorial advice. The guide is hosted by the University of Waterloo Library.

How were entries chosen?
The guide is not exhaustive. During the process of identifying primary sources, the guide’s scope was considered. Under the broadest definition of peace research, primary sources illuminating congregational conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, church splits, inter-faith dialogue and inter-denominational reconciliations, for example, could all be included under the peace research umbrella. It could be argued that the Mennonite peace position as a response to military conflict played a significant role in the formation of every Mennonite institution, from elder care to education to mutual aid. Similarly, the actions of many individuals would include the pursuit of peace as a motivation.

It was decided that for the first iteration of this guide, the focus would be limited to sources illuminating the responses of Mennonites to military conflicts at home (such as the War of 1812, and Russian Civil War) and around the world (such as the World Wars and Vietnam). Some events not directly related to military conflict (such as the struggle to convince government to permit immigration of Mennonites in the 1920s) are included if military conflict significantly influenced the course of the event.

How will the guide evolve?
The electronic format allows for the guide’s expansion. This could occur in several ways: as the Archives receives, processes, and makes available primary source materials related to peace research; as researchers discover previously unidentified peace-related materials; and as new questions in peace history expand the guide's scope. Feedback for future iterations is encouraged, and should be directed to the Archivist.

How do I access the materials?
Formats held by the Archives include print, photographs, oral histories, microform, audio and audiovisual recordings. Most materials are in English; German is the next most predominant language. Except for photographs, archival descriptions, and file listings, most materials are available for research only at the Archives. Copies of materials, within reason, may be provided on a cost-recovery basis. Contact the Archivist to arrange for access. More information

What is a fonds?
A fonds, in archival terms, is the body of materials created by an individual or organization. For example, the “S.F. Coffman family fonds” is the title given to all of the materials created by the family of S.F. Coffman which are located in the Mennonite Archives of Ontario. Often in this guide, the word collection is used interchangeably with fonds, though strictly speaking a collection is a body of materials collected by, but not created by, an individual or organization.

See the More Sources  and Bibliography pages for additional background reading.