Winnipeg, Manitoba – German-Russian past in Canada: the Mennonites

Northern Ontario is the home country for numerous tribes of the First Nations like Sioux and Cree, to just mention two of the most known ones. The highway warps through a country full of forested hills, basalt rocks, and small rivers. There are so many pretty log cabins to spend your fishing or hunting holiday. If you like just hop on water plane that’ll fly you to the best fishing grounds. You probably haven’t to go far for hunting. Big light brown deer jump cheerfully forth and back on the road. Later on we watch a black bear guzzling at the edge of the woods.

At lunch time a young couple speaks to us in German. They tell us they are Mennonites, a Christian denomination practising adult christening. Originally they were from Northern Germany and The Netherlands, but some hundreds of years ago they weren’t tolerated in Middle Europe. They moved on eastwards until Russia, where the tsar welcomed them. Eventually they emigrated to USA and Canada, where the first of them settled in 1776. Most of them left Russia with foundation of the Soviet Union because again reprisals were taken against them. Many tried to go back to their original home country since they have kept language and tradition during all the time. There they were considered to be “Russians”, again deprecated, and the majority of them followed their fellow-believers into the New World. The traditionalists among them still today refuse modern technologies. They harness the plough with horses and go to church by carriage. But you can’t recognize the modern Mennonite. They appear as any other person would do. They wear shorts and t-shirt, and they drive cars. The young couple invites us to their parents in Winnipeg, because this will be our next destination.

In 1693 the ultra-conservative Amish People split away off the Mennonites. Nearly completely driven out of Europe, they settled mostly in Ohio and Pennsylvania, few of them in Ontario. There is a third denomination of the so-called Anabaptists. The Hutterites, Germans being residents mainly in Moravia, were also persecuted. They moved to Transylvania, later on to Ukraine, USA and since 1918 to Canada. They live in initial Christian communities of property. A couple of families run a community together. Still many of them wear their traditional clothes in muted colours and discreet patterns as well as suspenders and goatee beards. Most of these denomination members are pacifists and refuse military service; that was tolerated by Canadian government.

In the evening we visit in Winnipeg the father of the couple we met at lunch. We learn a lot more about the Mennonites. Our host has been a film producer in former times. Among others he had shot a well-awarded movie about the history of the Mennonites. He hands us a copy, so that we can watch the DVD later on our laptop.

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